Mongolian


Just to the left of the main entrance of the Mall of Georgia, a Real Chow Baby has opened. This is a welcome addition to the Mall of Georgia dining scene. It isn’t the first Mongolian stir-fry to open in this area, but as the other one suffers from serious crowding (45 minutes from the order before you can get to the food, sometimes), having another alternative eases the crunch.

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I think real Chow Baby calls their style of eating “new American stir fry”, but in my generation it was called a Mongolian barbecue, often seen in USAF officer’s clubs, but usually as a rare special, perhaps once or twice a year. In the Air Force renditions, it was also accompanied by hula girls, a local singer, and a real attempt to embarrass whatever ranking officer was attending.

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There are no hula girls at this location, just a lot of good veggies, decent meat selections, good staff. The look is a bit more open than the stir frys we have visited. Perhaps the mall itself – adding plenty of glass along the front – gives the restaurant less of a club-like atmosphere.

Talking to staff, this restaurant has been open about two and a half months.

Real Chow Baby
3333 Buford Dr, Suite 2022
Buford, GA 30519
(678) 730-2880

The Real Chow Baby on Urbanspoon

Back in the days before stir frying was common, there was the eating event called “Mongolian Barbecue.” I can’t speak for civilian culture. I grew up around Air Force bases. Mongolian BBQ was A Very Big Deal at officer’s clubs well into the 1980s. I’ve seen my share of generals making monkeys of themselves in front of hula girls on Mongolian barbecue night.

I’m trying to decide if that wasn’t a historical anomaly, 1950s culture projected forward, akin to someone still doing limbo dancing and singing folk songs on ukeleles. In any event, fast forward to the 21st century, and now you have the New American Stir Fry, as exemplified by Chow Baby.  And the advertising is so slick that someone like me doesn’t catch the hint, that this new fangled from-Mars style of eating is the old chrome plated drive on brick road Mongolian BBQ repackaged for a generation for whom the phrase “Mongolian BBQ” evokes real Mongolians serving authentic dishes.

The availability of brown rice was a plus for us.

There are three of these eateries around town, 2 of them called the Real Chow Baby and one called Big Chow Grill. And they are similar, yet not, to the chain Genghis Grill. For one, Chow Baby has the feel of a small chain. It’s not as slick or as packaged. It knows the Atlanta landscape and Where  You Have to Be to Count in the Atlanta Food Universe (places like Howell Mill Road, instead of Mall of Georgia). Staff are well dressed and plentiful, and when “Billy Jean” by Michael Jackson pops up on the omnipresent, loud speakers, staff will dance to the music.

This article will be talking about the Ponce De Leon location.

Ok, the deal. You get two bowls, one for meat and one for veggies. Fill your bowls up with what you want, and if you’re me, avoid the wet sauces as they’re full of sugars. You get a swizzle stick as well, and you’ll put that stick into your bowls when you leave your food to be stirred. You’ll write some identifying scribbles on the stick, so staff can find you. Then leave the bowls in the queue for staff to grill.

Staff then cooks the food on a round grill. After it is prepared, staff gets the cooked food back to you.

There are some important, small details that made this a better experience than alternatives, such as Genghis Grill. The lines are shorter, once you’re in the restaurant. This may not be true at Howell Mill but it is true at Ponce. Lines for Genghis at Mall of Georgia can take 45 minutes to navigate, mere minutes here. They serve brown rice at the Ponce location, and my wife was able to get a small bowl of it beside her grilled items. They have basil as an option here. You would  be surprised how much flavor a couple basil leaves add to a stir fry.

Downsides? There is complimentary valet parking at the Ponce location. I’m old fashioned, I like to park my own cars. I  know why they do it here, it’s cramped, but I’d rather park myself. This location can get crowded easily, so it’s best to arrive early. Otherwise, it’s a better managed Mongolian experience than any other I’ve had in this town, and it’s pretty convenient to those of us living along highway 78. It’s certainly a reason to go into town, visit the Fernbank and then head down Ponce for a bite to eat.

The Real Chow Baby
782 Ponce De Leon Ave NE
Atlanta, GA 30306
(404) 671-4202

The Real Chow Baby on Urbanspoon

The Real Chow Baby
1016 Howell Mill Rd NW
Atlanta, GA 30318
(404) 815-4900

The Real Chow Baby on Urbanspoon

Big Chow Grill
1 Galleria Parkway
Atlanta GA 30339
(770) 405-2464

Big Chow Grill on Urbanspoon

P.S. – I highly recommend Marie Let’s Eat’s review of these restaurants.

Coworkers talking, and conversations on the Urbanspoon message boards led to my taking a look at Genghis Grill. It’s a newly opened instance of a chain, sitting pretty close to Madeleine’s near the Perimeter. That puts it very near work and people from work have been going there for a while.

Inside, I find it a little cramped and a little loud. You’re not exactly resting elbows with other patrons, but it’s close enough nothing you say will be private. The signs that pepper the place are a little “in your face” and the signage has the attitude of someone who thinks he’s funny.  Otherwise, though they really don’t have  the space, they’re trying to be a little sports bar-ish. Televisions and a small bar can be found in here. Overall, however, though there are unpleasant edges to the seating, it’s not unbearable. I think Flip Burger Boutique is too cramped for its own good as well.

The routine here is: you’re handed a smallish steel bowl and you select meats, spices, vegetables, a sauce, and when you hand your bowl to the cooks, a starch. They  trade your bowl for a number, which you place on a stand. Then you wait. After a bit, your food comes to you, hot and piping. And though they call it a Mongolian stir-fry, I know this kind of eating as a Mongolian BBQ.

The business end of this chain are the cooks who sit around a donut shaped grill and mass process orders. I found my brief conversations with them quite enjoyable. If the place wasn’t as crowded, that would be the place to be here, watching them cook.

I liked what I ate. I went  back for seconds. At lunch, the basic one bowl is about 9 dollars and unlimited bowls are 2 dollars more. For me, needing plenty of vegetables, the second bowl is a bargain.

Bowls would seem larger if I had added a starch.

If you can control what you eat, this is a good  place for dieters. It would be better for diabetics if the sauces wouldn’t be so sweet, but they have enough dry spices you don’t need the wet ones. A spicy sesame oil would be something I’d add, if I were the wet sauce maestro of Genghis Grill.

Overall? A little rough around the edges, but the core experience isn’t bad. I heard diners comparing this place to “Chow Baby”, saying that this place had more food choices. If I recall, there were perhaps a dozen or more meat choices, including seafoods (one bowl of mine was shrimp and calamari based, the other more chicken, beef, pork), two stations of vegetables with perhaps 20-30 vegetable choices,  and over a dozen invariably sweet sauces. There were perhaps a dozen dry spice options, most good.

I haven’t seen Mongolian BBQ commercialized in this fashion before. The last place I was getting Mongolian in any fashion was  the old Badayori, now long gone. So it’s quite a concept. The action of course, is around that large shared grill, and if watching people cook is your thing, I’d come here during the off hours and hang around the grill while your food is being prepared.

Genghis Grill
1165 Perimeter Center West
Sandy Springs, GA 30338
(678) 587-0050

Genghis Grill on Urbanspoon