The next best thing in this store are their chicken fingers, full and richly flavored. Their four pack is worth a lot of trouble. The *best* thing are the people coming in to buy this food, young men who would be equally at home in a Marine Corps recruiting poster or draped in T shirt and shorts on the pages of GQ magazine, or the young willowy cheerleaders with their drill sergeant dads.

The sandwich was drenched in sauce.

Best bang for buck is the four finger combo.

The worst thing about this place are the staff, sullen and indifferent, with a ‘eff you’ attitude and no real ability to respond to requests. My wife asked that no sauce be put on her fingers; her fingers were drenched with sauce. Nothing she asked for she received, and staff seemed annoyed that she bothered to ask.

Enjoy the fingers. Enjoy the eye candy customers. The staff here, be warned, are wretched.

Raising Cane’s
659 N. Service Rd. East
Ruston, LA, 71270
(318) 254-0354

Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers on Urbanspoon

Seven Hens is a new fast food concept, located at the strip mall on the northeast corner of North Decatur Road and Clairmont. It features schnitzel sandwiches, though it can serve its meats grilled or tossed in a salad. Actually I should use the singular, as Seven Hens serves either chicken or tofu. You choose the style of your meal, a country (this defines the seasonings), and any sides you might prefer.

Seven Hens

Indian with french fries. I found the fries to be good ones.

Mexican with side salad.

My daughter and I both had grilled sandwiches. She chose Indian spicing, and I chose Mexican. Now both spice blends, to be fair, were okay, but both potent and tasted a little off. I wish, after the fact, that I’d tried the American or the French.

Now my wife is really the chicken eater in the family and she tends to well done meats and milder flavors. The flavors in these two sandwiches are hardly mild, and may be off putting to people just getting used to the concept. Marie Let’s Eat noted the French is the most popular; perhaps the flavor blends there won’t seem as jarring as the Indian or the Mexican did. I’m going to recommend the restaurant because it’s a nifty concept and if they get their flavors down pat they’ll have a winner. Right now this eatery is more “proof of concept”. In my opinion, Seven Hens is an attractive, appealing try.

Seven Hens
2140 North Decatur Plaza
Decatur, GA 30033
(404) 633-3000

Seven Hens on Urbanspoon

Southern’s Best is pretty outside and inside, and manages to be cute at the same time. In many ways, it would be a good place for a casual first date. The menu is simple and straightforward. Meats tend towards chicken or turkey. One of a fistful of vegetables are made without meat, and retain plenty of flavor.

Roughly at the corner of Five Forks and Sugarloaf Parkway, across from Fronteras and Athens Cafe, and completely opposite the Publix at this corner.

I enjoyed my cornbread roll, but the spices in the roll might not work for everybody. Please don’t mistake this simple menu for plain spicing, because the people here do know how to draw flavor out of their food.

Southern’s Best Cafe
3315 Sugarloaf Parkway
Lawrenceville, GA 30045
(770) 864-9495

Southern's Best Cafe on Urbanspoon

Eating food at the Johns Creek Smashburger is a kind of Russian Roulette. You pay your money and you take your chances. I saw plenty of happy people there on the day we arrived, a store dealing with a restaurant perhaps 70 to 80% full. If, on the other hand, they manage to mess up your order, you end up in a kind of living hell, because this restaurant currently lacks the people skills to overcome multiple staff mistakes.

That’s a little unfortunate, as the menu is dynamic and versatile and very diabetic friendly. That versatility is one reason that we went back to Smashburger as my wife spied it on the way home. Further, glowing reviews, such as the one Grant Goggans gave here, led me to believe this place was a step above most fast food fare and comparable to a poor man’s Farm Burger.

No, unfortunately, what we experienced is a version of the classic bad fast food experience, with all the problems and mistakes one comes to expect of bad fast food restaurants. I’ll simply quote what I recently posted on Urbanspoon.

The manager of this restaurant took the order and he messed it up in multiple ways. The food in the ticket delivered to his staff was not the food delivered to our table. When my wife went to ask for the things that were forgotten, she was asked to stand in line once again, a rather long one. 20 minutes after she made her second order, my daughter asked, “Isn’t the guy who was standing behind you now eating?” 10 minutes after that, my wife went up to ask what happened to her order, and they ignored her one more time.

At that point we left.

This was the worst customer experience I’ve suffered in the ATL since I began food blogging over 3 years ago.

The food? Decent, though really the burgers here show none of the verve or skill that impressed food bloggers in the Piedmont or the Kennesaw locations. When Erion, a blogger on Urbanspoon, said of the meal:

If McDonald’s is your standard for burgers then this place is an upgrade for you …slightly though.

at this point I can only agree. The lack of skill at this location is telling.

Caesar salad. Tomatoes struck me as a little odd, but they’re listed as part of the online menu. The mixture of greens is also off putting. IMO, they should simplify this salad to classic caesar ingredients. Tastes fine, though.

Spicy Baja burger and veggie fries. The veggie fries were a little oily, but the kind of thing that could make this chain useful to diabetics. Certainly, it’s a superior side to the classic french fry. The burger was decent, not really impressive.

My daughter’s BBQ burger and fries. We found the sauce too sweet. And for want of some fries, our patronage was lost.

The burgers weren’t the highlights of our meal. My wife regarded her chicken as good. My daughter had a disagreement with the sauce on her barbecue burger, but otherwise the ingredients weren’t bad. The best thing about the meal were the oversized $4.99 salads, which had plenty of greens and were served in enormous bowls.

The fries – my daughter actually received hers – had a mixed reception. She didn’t like them much, I thought they were a fine enough version of the thin fry.

The burgers? I’m on record as thinking smashing a burger is a bad idea, but the crusty juicy meat has no complaints on my part. I found the buns to be a little limp, a little unimpressive. In fact this “meh” reaction to the burgers and meat here seems a theme that’s being repeated. Let’s quote a Yelper this time, Vania H:

i had my first smashburger experience when i visited charlotte, nc for the weekend – and either i was STARVING, or it really was one of the best burgers i’d ever had. upon hearing that smashburger was opening up in johns creek, i got really excited!…until i actually ate here.

i came here with a friend for dinner one evening, the first thing i noticed when i came in was that the restaurant was FREEZING. it was very uncomfortable to even sit inside, so luckily there was patio seating outside. when we went up to the counter to order, we were greeted by a very unenthusiastic cashier who didn’t really know the menu (or the cash register) that well, and ordering our food took a very long time. i created my own burger, and the portion was extremely small and not very filling. i ordered the regular fries, which were bland, limp, and cold. my friend ordered the smashfries, which supposedly had rosemary, olive oil, and garlic – but just tasted exactly like my regular fries, with a few sprigs of rosemary tossed on the top. disappointing.

but like all hopeful foodies, i came back here once more with another friend, hoping that i just had one bad experience, and that smashburger wasn’t really that bad. nope.

probably won’t be coming back here again.

In short, I don’t think the chain is a bust, but I do believe this location is a misheard order away from becoming a food disaster. Staff are well meaning I believe, but incompetent when it comes to service. How much do fries cost Smashburger? Ten cents of potato, perhaps? How big a loss would it have been to have just comped my wife’s fries when they were found to be missing? The notion that you can do these kinds of things and please customers is exactly what’s missing at this Smashburger.

If I may be allowed an entirely politically incorrect notion, I’ll note that this store is just across the road from a Tilted Kilt. This class of restaurant, including the better known Hooters, are places where service is everything. Without waitresses that can serve and charm, there is no business model for these eateries. So, in a fantasy world where I would be king for a day, I’d fire the entire staff of this Smashburger and replace the manager with a Tilted Kilt bartender. Whether that person could run the restaurant, I do not know, but that person would have forgotten more about customer service than this staff currently displays.

9775 Medlock Bridge Road
Johns Creek GA 30097
(770) 497-6274

Smashburger on Urbanspoon

Guthries is a small chain, a place to get nicely done chicken fingers, well covered in a blog post by Grant Goggans. It’s one of the places that’s pretty safe for someone like me to eat, as long as I avoid chips and fries. The dish that fits my style of eating best is the sauce and seven, seven fingers and two sauces, which I can add to a salad to make a nice little meal.

I also dropped by because there were reports of wireless at this location. I wasn’t able to find any such signal. The two tan sauces that came with the chicken fingers had a flavor much like a thousand island dressing. The yellowish dressing was an Italian, and not bad.

3219 Holcomb Bridge Road
Norcross, GA 30092
(770) 248-4244

Guthrie's on Urbanspoon

It’s a pretty place inside, with gold records on the walls and a sultry sound. The clientele are largely black, but that shouldn’t be surprising in this part of Georgia, because it’s the same in the nearby Olive Garden. The menu is relatively simple, the serving sizes are enormous.

They have a braised oxtail on the Lithonia menu, but I was told it wasn’t available that day. Two of my party ordered the “Midnight Train”, which was a mix of waffles and chicken wings. The wings were larger than some drumsticks I’ve bought, simply enormous. I bought a plate whose name escapes me, but in essence was three pieces of chicken and two sides. Many of the sides were starchy, so it was a little tricky to find sides I could eat. This restaurant has good collard greens, but I couldn’t try their green beans because they were out of green beans as well.  When you have so few entrees,  I’m not sure what the issue is with keeping adequate stocks of things like oxtail and green beans.

I had two thighs, and they managed to tread the thin line between “juicy” and oily. The chicken wings, by contrast, ran a little dry. My wife’s chicken breast, which seemed to cover half the plate, was touched but not entirely consumed. This is a place where a single chicken piece could be an entire meal.

For those who are curious, the menu suggests that chicken and waffles was a combination that began in Harlem. So it’s not a ‘Georgia’ thing. Given that my wife told me when we were dating that she could eat chicken seven days a week, this was a useful place to explore. It’s a couple dollars more than Popeyes or KFC, but the seating is pleasant, the music is good, the food is decent, and the serving size has to be seen to be believed.

Gladys Knight and Ron Winian’s Chicken and Waffles
7301 Stonecrest Concourse
Lithonia, GA 30038
(678) 619-4570
Gladys Knight & Ron Winans' Chicken & Waffles on Urbanspoon

There is a feeding frenzy going on in Lawrenceville, all around this South Florida chain that’s moved in at the corner of 316 and 120. Pollo Tropical has opened, and the wait to get into this modest chain is something like half an hour, cars are lined up out of the lot to get to the food. The crush for $5.99 chicken plates is tremendous. It’s been open since August 16th and taking the local area by storm.

The crush is amazing.

If you examine Urban Spoon for typical Pollo Tropical chain locations, they are rated anywhere from the low 70s to high 80s, quite a spread. Central Florida’s Good Eats (an Urban Spoon prime reviewer) has an article here on the Sanford location, which might give you a feel for one blogger’s perspective on the restaurant.

I haven’t eaten there. For work and home reasons I can’t really wait this out. When the crush becomes bearable, I’ll try, but heads up for those of you who are “into” the fusion of Florida and Caribbean cuisine this chain represents.

Pollo Tropical
825 Duluth Highway
Lawrenceville, GA 30043
(866) 769-7696

Pollo Tropical on Urbanspoon

PS – Kudos to Lawrenceville Patch, which has a nice intro article on Pollo Tropical. This chain is also referenced in the Wikipedia.

Joes to Goes is a small, largely Atlanta based chain, and there is one at the corner of Highpoint Road and Highway 124 in Snellville. That puts this restaurant just a few blocks from my house. I had never gone to this particular restaurant because the signage was garish, and featured, more than anything else, buffalo wings. My experience has been that restaurants that feature wings before anything else tend to be dreadful.

The kicker this weekend, though, was they had a smoker. And someone was out there, tending it. That was enough of an excuse to ignore the bright signs and step inside.

Inside, staff was without pretense and polite. “Yes sir, no sir” was the order of the day. Prices ran a little steeper for the basics than I expected. It took a while to get my order together. You could see through the counter and into the back, and watch their staff preparing the order. This wasn’t being microwaved, that I could tell.

Given that they were smoking, and they had product (I did ask that question), I went ahead and ordered a pulled pork sandwich, some ribs, and then later, a grilled chicken sandwich.

baby back ribs

The grilled chicken sandwich is pretty large

The pulled pork had a clearly visible bark, was rich in smoky flavor, and was excellent quality meat. The pulled pork I had that day was as good as any I’ve had in the city. The ribs were a good cut of baby backs, pink through and through, and very tender. The ribs were heavy on the sauce and there was smoke flavor, but the emphasis was on a tender product, not a smoky product. I’m definitely a smoke head, so these weren’t my favorite style of ribs.

The grilled chicken sandwich was large, a full serving of food. It was a bit spicy, a little kick in the sauce they dropped onto the chicken.

So count me surprised. I was expecting something so plain I was avoiding this place. But the smoker intrigued me, and my first try yielded a pretty terrific pulled pork sandwich, and the remainder of the order was respectably good.

Joes to Goes
2595 Highpoint Road
Snellville, GA 30078
(770) 972-1131

Joe's To Goes on Urbanspoon

US 23 Wings and Grill is near the corner of Jimmy Carter and Buford Highway, on the north side of the intersection. It’s always been an attractive building, if you like classic diner decor.  I’ve driven past it many times, wondering what it would be like to try, wondering what the food was like – was it any good? I don’t have to wonder any longer.

They do wings, chicken, burgers, tacos, and quesadillas. I suspect the tacos and quesadillas are a hat tip to the rainbow coalition of eaters that come through this small place. Food offerings in general are complete and cheap: $5 specials including drinks, $4 specials including drinks. There is a counter where you order, booths and chairs to sit in, and not really a lot of space.

The wings I had were decent. Not great, not bad, but decent. The wings sauce was reasonably spicy, the wings were cooked to order and the fries big, thick, meaty. The taco they provided was close in character to those you can get at a mom and pop taqueria: two smaller flour tortillas, bits of flavorful beef, plenty of lettuce and cheese, two bits of lime with the taco and a decent asada sauce on the side, for a dollar and a quarter. It’s a better taco than 90% of the chain tacos, and probably the better food buy here.

This isn’t a place for foodies, really, except those specialists who like the diner ethic and the sights and sounds of people on the edge. If you need to plumb your inner Sal Paradise, exume your personal Tod Stiles, this is a place to do so. As a place to get a bite to eat, with only the dollars and change in your pocket, I’d call this place a success.

Verdict: Diner styled eatery, aimed at the cash poor. Recommended.

US 23 Wings and Grill
6119 Buford Highway
Norcross, GA 30071-2404
(770) 449-9771

US 23 Wings and Grill on Urbanspoon

It’s a classic Chinese eatery, Little Szechuan is, one of those forgotten places that Gene Lee once spoke of, once high on foodie’s lists but too old, too familiar to consider hot anymore. These days they proudly post that they are one of America’s top 100 Chinese restaurants as chosen by Chinese Restaurant Review, over a 5 year span by Yan of Yan Can Cook (is he the new hottie on the Food Network?), and older AJC articles praising their string beans have yellowed and faded away.

I guess I really should be reviewing Bocado or Yeah! Burger, but Howell Mill Road just isn’t that close to Snellville, and I’m still recovering from relatives.

What Little Szechuan is, is a place whose clientele is still far more Asian than Causasian, whose servings are simply enormous, a place that understands how to make foods spicy and good in a town allergic to well spiced food. Yes, the staff sometimes are more enthusiastic than pretty, and they don’t understand English particularly well. Maybe people prefer the well bred young male staff you can find in “What the Pho?” or the graceful elegance of, oh, Sushi Nami, but in sheer quantity and quality of food Little Szechuan delivers.

It’s also one of my wife’s favorite restaurants and she gave me grief for not calling her when I was there. Yes, it clearly was a mistake. I have no excuses, other than I’ve been getting off work hungry these days.

Once seated the staff placed a starter on my table. Sprouts, carrots, daikon, but I ate them eagerly. The egg rolls that followed I split open and pulled out the good cabbage inside. I can’t get enough of cooked vegetables these days. The side of rice was enormous, and of course I could have about two spoonfuls of that. My entrée was steamed mussels in black bean sauce. The mussels were large, the largest serving of seafood that’s been placed in front of me since I was hospitalized. I ate all of it, with gusto.

I had skipped lunch this day, so it didn’t interfere at all with my diet, and purine rich or no, after having lost 4 stones 2 pounds since February, I just don’t seem as sensitive to high purine foods as I once was. 3 ounces of mussels, I understand, have 700 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids, and this is a bit more than 3 ounces of meat. I think I counted 15 mussels in the batch. I may have skipped one or two.

Orange slices to end the meal.

In summary, not a hot restaurant anymore, but still a good food value. Entrées here still can feed two, or one exceptionally hungry salary man.

Verdict: The old warhorse is still going strong. Highly recommended, perhaps very highly recommended.

Little Szechuan
5091-C Buford Highway
Doraville, GA 30340
(770) 451-0192

Little Szechuan on Urbanspoon

Note: Amy on Food has a nice review of Little Szechuan. And my wife made me pick up food from here the day after this review was written.

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