It’s a bar in Little Five Points, much longer than it is wide. There isn’t much to it physically, a couple tables up front, a long bar, a couple tables in back. Outside, it looks like another small place where locals go to medicate their problems away. It’s only when you’re inside that Porter begins to shine.

I counted 36 taps the day I came, and there wasn’t a dull beer in any of the taps. The beer selection is wicked good, with no filler. Further, given the diverse and exotic nature of the brews, the drinks are fairly priced. The typical tap beer ranges from around 4 to 6.5 dollars.

Brooklyn Brewery’s saison.

Some scallops. Plenty of potatoes.

I had the cheese plate and some scallops. I thought both were quite good. The serving size was small, and the price a couple dollars higher than I would have liked for that serving size. A neighbor ordered calamari, and that seemed a better food deal than what I ate.

But really, the star here is the alcohol. Work through the list of bottled beers sometime. Maybe you’ll find a beer you’ve been looking for, for months. I sure did. Will I be back? Very likely, about as soon as my family decides it needs to window shop the stores of Little Five Points once again.

Porter Beer Bar
1156 Euclid Ave
Atlanta, GA 30307
(404) 223-0393

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Local Republic was a chef’s recommendation, a bar, and on Urbanspoon, it’s classed as a gastropub. On a bright spring day, I was able to head up Highway 29 and into Lawrenceville and try it out recently.

To note, ‘gastropub’ is a moniker that is controversial in this town, because of Meridith Ford Goldman’s negative use of the term in her review of Salt Factory Pub (named Red Salt at the time). And of course this represents a problem, because her review really never bothered to say what a gastropub was.

So what is a gastropub? If only a name chef is required, then HD1 is a gastropub. If only great food is required, then Ria’s Bluebird is a gastropub. And since no one has bothered to tell Meridith Ford that an absence can’t define, we’re more or less left with a critical status quo that has Holeman and Finch as a gastropub, perhaps Leon’s Full Service as well (but maybe Leon’s is just too 2010 to count anymore), and that Red Salt isn’t (because, of course, burgers disqualify you as a gastropub, unless you’re Holeman and Finch and only sell them when vampires are afoot).

What is clear is that Local Republic is an ambitious eatery for its place and location, that serving escargot in a bar is not typical fare, and that putting a nice little proto-gastro-eatery right across the street from McCray’s is also quite gutsy. The owner isn’t afraid to take risks; witness his excellent looking Johnny’s in Grayson. The location is cute, has its own parking (important for an eatery close to the square in Lawrenceville), and some good outdoor seating.

In terms of beer selection, Local Republic has ten craft beers on tap. The selection varies, and they don’t print a beer list. On a blackboard, they keep a list handy.

So, the question: is Local Republic a gastropub? Let’s talk about the food we had and get back to that.

Local Republic has some very attractive small plates, and that’s what we focused on. Yes, the signature dish here is supposed to be shrimp and grits, but that’s dinner fare and we had been nibbling before lunch began.

My daughter had their escargot. That was the most successful dish of the night. She liked it, and my sample was flavorful, buttery, earthy at times.

Escargot. Our favorite dish when we ate.

The salad was a delight, tender leafy greens, but not in any sense ambitious.

Chicken and sausage gumbo.

The gumbo was something of a quandry. Yes, it was good tasting, smoky, some complexity in the broth, but really didn’t “hit the mark” as a gumbo, and there was no spice, or heat, to speak of. I’d had a good gumbo recently at the Froghead Bar and Grill in Mississippi, with on point flavor and spicing. Local Republic’s fare isn’t anything like the gumbos I grew up on in Lousiana. Nevertheless, it was interesting.

Huge serving of mussels.

The mussels were an enormous serving, and the size of the serving presented a problem. The mussels were better when dipped in the broth that came with the seafood (milky, with bits of garlic in it), but there were so many mussels, you really needed 3 bowls, one for the mussels, one for the shells, and a third for the broth. Dry, the mussels weren’t as delicious as they were when dipped.

So, is it a gastropub? Personally, there weren’t enough “wow” moments to class this eatery in the same strata as H&F or Leon’s. A more appropriate comparison would be Salt Factory Pub. That said, any eatery with this level of ambition and execution automatically becomes a factor on the northeast side. Any foodie from Tucker to Suwanee to Lithonia would be well served by the trek to Lawrenceville Square to try this eatery out.

Local Republic
225 W Crogan St
Lawrenceville, GA 30046
(678) 205-4782

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Miso Izakaya was one of two high profile izakaya that opened in 2009, and of the two, had the longer gestation period into a critically regarded restaurant. It had been on my radar for some time, but my weekends had been dominated by Friday night maintenance issues, and I hadn’t been in condition to crawl the city on Saturdays until recently.  Finally, timing and circumstances allowed my family to get there, and I’m very glad the three of us went. It was a terrific place to take my family.

It’s about a mile further from Snellville than is Fox Brothers Barbecue, and the route, via Google Maps, is that nasty, difficult, winding through small roads Google Maps has anyone from Snellville do to get to Fox Brothers. About a mile further down DeKalb Avenue, you turn right at Krog, and then left on Edgewood. Miso ends up on your left.

Miso is smaller than I expected it to be, and has a smaller menu than I expected as well. Staff? Asian, but seemingly pretty multicultural. We arrived between 6 and 7 and I was dreading a 30 to 45 minute wait. Nothing of the sort happened. We were seated immediately. A crowd was developing as we left.

Miso's onigiri are terrific. After the first, we ordered a second.

Pickles (oshinko).

corn kariage was a pleasant surprise.

The menu fits on two side of a place mat, and is pretty versatile. Starters, salads, entrees, seafood dishes, tofu and vegetable dishes are some of the categories offered. We started with a wakame salad, edamame, onigiri, oshinko, and corn kariage, the closest thing we could find to traditional tempura.

wakame salad

Later we ordered an assortment of sushi.

Sushi. California roll and some nigiri.

Entrees included quail (excellent!), skirt steak, and tonkatsu. We later ordered a salmon skin salad, and fried oysters to end the meal.

Quail here are a fine dish.

Skirt steak

Tonkatsu. Smaller serving but very high quality.

Our waiter was excellent, the best staffer we’ve had in a while.

Impressions? Though the menu here is relatively small, it’s very creative, and Guy Wong’s interpretation of common dishes often yields unexpected surprises, things like salmon skin in the onigiri, green tea salt as a dipping spice, or the tiny circles of Thai pepper in the quail, perfectly sized to not overwhelm. There are small touches throughout the menu, and it has the feel of someone who tinkers and experiments with food. Dish names can be multicultural puns (i.e. green tomato katsu), and there is a playfulness that pervades the whole dining experience. To drag up a word that’s often overused in food blogging, Miso Izakaya is a lot of fun, and the joy of the unexpected small detail is going to be the engine that drives people to come here again and again.

Miso Izakaya
619 Edgewood Ave Southeast
Atlanta, GA 30312
(678) 701-0128

Miso Izakaya on Urbanspoon

The Roswell Tap is a pretty restaurant, a virtue not easy to emphasize enough. There is a huge oak tree in front of the restaurant and outdoor seating in front of the oak. The house in which the Tap lives has plenty of glass, and the light through the glass makes for a wonderfully visual experience.

The food is pretty good too. They have a house salad with added bits such as pine nuts,kalamata olives, and hearts of palm. Their Pittsburgh Club sandwich has a layer of meat, a layer of peppered slaw, and then a layer of french fries. The bread is a soft white with a hard crunchy crust. Their mussels are flavorful and earthy; no heavy creams are there to drown out the flavor of the seafood.

I want to thank Northside Food for reviewing this restaurant, and without that review  I wouldn’t have tried this place. For those near Roswell, this is a bar well worth considering on your regular rotation.

One last point: the pale green house isn’t the easiest thing to see as you drive north on Alpharetta Street. Once you see the longish yellow strip mall to the left, look to the right for the house. You probably won’t see the “Tap” sign until it’s too late.

The Roswell Tap
1090 Alpharetta Street
Roswell, GA 30075
(678) 294-3620

The Roswell Tap on Urbanspoon

On a night when I ended up lost in Atlanta and finally just gave up and stopped, ironically the place I stopped was exactly where I was trying to be. Not that I’m any kind of regular along Peachtree Road, but the one thing that did stick in my head was the name of Linton Hopkins and then that Eugene sign. So I stopped there, and only when I glanced to the right in front of the valet did the Homer Simpson “duh” lights start blinking off and on.

Take home: to find Holeman and Finch, find Restaurant Eugene and turn there.

Holeman and Finch is a small restaurant, and inside, the tables had filled. I had to find seating near the bar. It didn’t take too long before seating at the bar was available, though I was stuck on one of the more extreme corners in the place. No problem, really, as this place had some of the best bartenders I’ve ever had  the pleasure of serving me (really, only the crew at Leon’s in Decatur compare). Food? Well, think about a legal sized sheet of paper full of small single spaced menu items, of the kind that make you wish for 12 year old eyes. The back is equally full of drink options.

I started with kale and collards. Both were good, but I  thought the the kale was flavored more interestingly. To note servings are relatively small, and the dining here is akin to tapas style.

I also had some cheeses. I’ve always been a sucker for the palette cleansing character of a good blue, and this cheddar started mellow and had the rich lingering flavors a good sharp should, without any bitter aftertaste.

That was followed by some of the biggest clams I’ve ever had. Great broth, both creamy and full of bacon flavors, though to really enjoy it, I had to ask for a spoon. Unfortunately, that awesome chunk  of bread was mostly wasted with me.

I ended with a crunchy gentleman, an impish description for a ham n’ cheese on flavor afterburners. The ham was potent and the cheese was both on the ham, around the ham, and infused into the bread of the sandwich. Remarkable. I never got to see the famed H&F burger, but if the burger is half as amusing as this item, yes, I can see why there is such a fascination for the burger.

Any regrets? Mostly that work and  the day ahead didn’t allow me to stay longer. I outlasted two groups of people to my right, but the third was by far the most interesting and most down to earth. Excellent staff, food with plenty of subtlety (and, at times, a sense of humor), and a great ambiance made for a terrific night. No wonder people speak so highly of Holeman and Finch.

Holeman and Finch
2277 Peachtree Road
Atlanta, GA 30309
(404) 948-1175

Holeman & Finch Public House on Urbanspoon

Leon’s is a newer eatery in Decatur, well liked by print media and bloggers, long lived on “most talked about” charts and an inducer of enormous quantities of flowery and ornate prose. Something about this place induces people to indulge their writing muse. I’m not 100% sure why. Is it the gently curved walls? Is it the spacious interior setting? Is it Conehead style mass quantities of alcohol? I showed up on a weekday to find out.

One thing I’m sure of is that it’s not the receptionist, whose favorite phrase when I was trying to speak to her was “I can’t hear you.” Leons was indeed noisy and perhaps I shouldn’t complain so, as I’m partly deaf in one ear. But it’s annoying, and while I could see clean tables when I entered, I was told I had a ten minute wait to get to any table. The receptionist here isn’t the fun part of the equation.

I ended up at the bar, in front of a set of bitters and cone shaped measuring cups. Perhaps it was for the best, as the bartender that served me knew his food, his drinks, and was amiable and talkative. Particularly in bars, it’s the busiest people that seem to deliver the best service. I have a lot of trust in good bartenders and Leons appears to have a crew of them. They’re cooperative. If one can’t help you, another will.

Inside, you can actually see how this graceful building was transformed from an old gas station. The doors of the station are easily visible from the bar, as are the rails on which the doors once lifted. The bar itself is a ‘U’ shaped thing, with straight wings on the ends of the ‘U’, and by my count, 13 beers on tap. Behind the bar is a rack of tapped alcohols, so high there is a ladder so that bartenders can reach them. On the very left there is an opening into the kitchen, and above that opening is a rack of alcohol heavily in use.

Some notes about food. If you expect to eat as if you were in, oh, Golden Corral, you’ll be disappointed here. Serving sizes are smaller. The point of a bar, after all, is to drink and Leon’s doesn’t want you so full that you can’t indulge. Not that you won’t get food at Leons, but in all honesty, I was hungry when I arrived and I was hungry by the time I got home.

The beer selection is small but heavy on high gravity beers, and not just high gravity, but the kind of high gravity that could have come from brewing George Washington’s beer. A fair number of the beers had alcohol contents around 10%, and I ended up picking a brew around a mere 5%. Terrapin evidently brews a IPA these days that they call a Terrapin Hopsecutioner, and I had that. It was hoppy but not overwhelming.

Leon’s has plenty of snacks and starters, and I had two of them before the night was over. One were Leon’s chicken liver croquettes, and the other was a currywurst. I really liked the croquettes. I thought the chicken croquettes were better plain than with the pepper mayo, which did more to obscure the flavor than enhance it. The currywurst, though good, was a triumph of flowery language to fancy up a simple side. Not that a grilled fat dog doesn’t have its place, but a $6.00 dog?

The entree I had was a mountain trout. The trout serving was small but good. There was a mound of red greens with the trout and a layering of nuts, the skin was a little crispy and I really enjoyed the entree.

The best part of the evening was a special, the Belgian beignets. The story I had from the bartender is that Leon’s was making Belgian waffles and the waffle iron kept breaking, so they had to do something with the batter. So, they fried up these round treats. They were, in a word, wonderful. Spiced apples were on one side of the plate and there was just a hint of sweet syrup in the bottom of the plate. You could bite off an end and dip the soft off white dough into the syrup, and it was a bit of heaven on earth.

To summarize: Leon’s has excellent cooperative bar staff and it has a lot of smaller plates of food. The idea is to get you to explore the menu and have a good time. Because the items are smaller, you’ll end up spending a bit more than you expect if you come here to eat. But I’d recommend it. Come with an empty stomach and a full wallet. Sit where you can, and if you want a table, hope the receptionist can actually hear you.

Verdict: Fun eatery with good, interesting food and superb bar staff. Highly recommended.

Leon’s Full Service
131 East Ponce de Leon Avenue
Decatur, GA 30030
(404) 687-0500

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