Po Boys

I’ve spoken about Johnny’s NY Style Pizza before, and really didn’t expect to be talking about one of these restaurants again. But Terrapin Beer Company (@TerrapinBeerCo) sponsored what they called a Tap at the Grayson Johnny’s, and as it was just a drive down Webb Ginn Road and turn right for 1.3 miles, yes I went.

The Johnny’s is a little past the Kroger on Grayson Highway, and is impressively built. Plenty of glass and nice brick make this one of the best looking Johnny’s I’ve ever seen. As I was there to drink and eat, I spent most of my time at the bar. The bar top is three sides of a square, seats perhaps 15-20. There are tables clustered around the bar, where you can also eat and drink.

I liked this bar, as it’s friendly, very Cheers-like. They have 24 beers on tap (8 were devoted to Terrapin product this night), plenty of them quality beers, and the bartenders (there were a pair of them this day) were engaging. Terrapin staff were in the mix as well, talking with customers, handing out swag.

Terrapin's Wake N Bake Coffee Oatmeal Stout, in a tulip glass. A richly flavored beer with significant bitterness from the coffee.

Terrapin is a local brewery, headquartered in Athens, GA. Terrapin’s product, aimed at the craft beer crowd, is very American in character, tending to higher ABVs, plenty of hops, plenty of flavor. Beers such as their Hopsecutioner are very well received, and accessible. I can find Hopsecutioner at my local Kroger.

At times, though, their enthusiasm leaves people like me a little concerned. It wasn’t that long ago selling most of Terrapin’s product in Georgia would have been illegal. Being sessionable is something you see a lot of experienced beer heads concerned about.

I spoke a bit with Justin Gwin late in the day, a manager with Terrapin, about a lot of things. To some extent, I asked about Terrapin’s philosophy, a bit about their site, whether they give tours (they do, on Wednesdays through Saturdays). He tells me that they’re considering a beer with 4.5% ABV. That’s not DING’s definition of a sessionable beer, but certainly one closer to the mark.

In terms of food, I had Johnny’s meatball sub and some wings. The sub was up to standard, cheesy, meaty, with a good marinara. The wings were good, the hot buffalo sauce a milder hot. I’d show a photo but all the food photos ran bad this day, just my luck.

It was an interesting crowd overall. I got a food tip from a chef who works at Bonefish Grill, I saw the owner of this Johnny’s in the distance, the Terrapin staff were friendly  and talked knowingly of their product.

Verdict: One of the prettiest Johnny’s I’ve seen. One of the best local bars I’ve seen, in terms of how they treat customers. The food otherwise is up to Johnny’s standards.

Johnny’s New York Style Pizza
2023 Grayson Highway
Grayson, GA 30017
(770) 962-9181

Johnny's New York Style Pizza on Urbanspoon

It’s a small pretty place, in a strip mall on the left hand side as you’re going south. It’s easy to miss, the thin line of brown buildings (or building perhaps, as there is only one). Map it before you go, if you’ve never been. It’s also often crowded. The first time I came the crowd was so substantial I never tried getting in the door. This time I arrived a little early for lunch.

The staff were largely young men, well groomed, in black t-shirts with crawdads on ’em. There was an older lady whom the patrons called “Mom”. I can only guess she helps run herd on the crew here. The walls are covered in  the kinds of ridiculous sayings intended to amuse, but mostly, this place comes off as clean and.. cute. Yes, I said it: cute. You could take a date or a wife here and not be embarrassed.

The staff here is also largely Vietnamese. The story has been told, I know, but in short, we have had a wave of Vietnamese immigrants that settled in places like southern Louisiana, Kemah Texas and Mobile Alabama who took up fishing. They learned the ways of their peers who were often Cajuns. So, these days, the best Cajun in Atlanta comes from the Vietnamese community. Makes sense, in a historically transformative way.

You get into a line and order. Staff ask you if it’s a “to go” order or eat in. You sit and wait for food to be delivered. It might take a while but the pot in which they serve steamed seafood could fit in almost any restaurant. Ironically for a shack, they pay a lot of attention to the way things look.

Crawfish poboy.

I liked what I ate. I’d have ordered food “to go” for my family, but I worried about the commute. This is the kind of eating that is best fresh and steaming. You don’t want to be caught an hour driving with a batch of boiled crawfish. But it is a nice restaurant, the crawfish have a dash of spice to them, and you can wear a T shirt and a “John Deere” hat here and not seem out of place.

Highly recommended.

Crawfish Shack Seafood
4337 Buford Highway
Atlanta, GA 30341
(404) 929-6789

Crawfish Shack Seafood on Urbanspoon

Mad Italian. Easy to find, just off 285 heading east, perhaps the easiest of the Savoy Drive restaurants to see along the Interstate. Great commuter stop, especially when the Loop resembles a parking lot. Known for cheese steaks, so I was developing an interest, yes.

Foodie Buddha, the Enlightened One, has troubled more with cheesesteaks than many (posts here and here), and on the latter link some time back, I said what I thought of steaks. It is indeed true that the best I ever had came from a basement cafeteria at the University of Pennsylvania, using provolone cheese and a lot of those spicy cherry peppers the Philadelphians favor. I had my share of street steaks back in the day. The basics of a cheese steak are simple: inexpensive cheese, lots of onions, inexpensive thin sliced steak. It’s in the execution that it succeeds or fails.

By that criterion, I think Mad Italian’s steak is a success. Dripping with cheese, I’d have liked a few more onions, and I was slow asking if they had hot cherry peppers. Otherwise I think this steak is pretty stinkin’ good. Drippy cheese is everywhere. The onions they do have add to the flavor. The roll is soft and doesn’t get in the way. A pair of thumbs up from this commuter.

Mad Italian
2197 Savoy Drive
Chamblee, GA 30341
(770) 451-8048

Mad Italian on Urbanspoon

Jimmy John’s is a 27 year old Illinois chain, established, according to their literature, “to add to students GPA and general dating ability.” They feature sandwiches for the most part, and the ability to deliver sandwiches to a location. They have good looking breads, and large breads at that. And they are open past 3 pm, which means I could have my mid evening meal with them.

They’re on Roswell Road, a bit north of Hammond, on the west side of the street. This means, because of traffic, you would be best to get to them traveling south. Their storefront is modest, part of a small strip mall, and easy to miss.

Once inside, the signs are done in a professional and breezy black and white. There is a lot of humor in the various sayings on the walls. They have bread options with their sandwiches, one of which, the seven grain wheat, makes Texas toast seem tiny. So of course that’s what I got, the seven grain, on a sandwich Jimmy John’s calls a Turkey Tom.

With the seven grain wheat, this sandwich weighs in at 610 calories, of which 320 come from the thick tasty bread alone. That’s too much bread for me these days, so I ate half of it. If I had come here at noon, I just would have eaten half the sandwich and saved the rest for 3 pm, but it was a little later in the day for me. The sandwich, though, in a word, was delicious.

The store itself can deliver, and they were pushing that when I entered. I was told they can deliver as far east as Peachtree Dunwoody. I’m not sure how far west they go. But if you’re in the mood for a decently priced, over the top sandwich with good, enormous bread, this place has the goods.

Verdict: Good, inexpensive, oversized sandwiches. Highly recommended.

Jimmy Johns
6064 Roswell Road
Sandy Springs, GA
(404) 252-1052

Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches on Urbanspoon

Six Feet Under is really well located, about four to five blocks from the Atlanta Zoo and right across the street from the Oakland Cemetery. It’s close enough to the zoo that it lends itself to the idea of taking families to the zoo and eating at Six Feet Under afterwards. They have an appealing online menu, the prices are right, and the combination of seafood with a Southern flair should be pretty much irresistible.

I had been planning to go for some time, but with a wife that was ill, I went with my daughter. We arrived in the evening, sun bright but low on the horizon. It’s an easy drive. The driving instructions on the web site are excellent. It was a little tricky to park, however, as it wasn’t obvious where we could park. It took a few minutes, but we found a place. We were then told the wait was 45 minutes for downstairs, an hour or more for topside. They asked for our cellphone number, told us to relax and wait and they would call us when a table was ready.

We spent a great time looking around in Oakland Cemetery. I didn’t know about this bit of Atlanta history, and we were able to see the Confederate graves, the Jewish burials, mayors and other dignitaries of the times (largely, burials from 1867, when land was first allocated, to the early 20th century).  The golfing legend Bobby Jones is buried there. And as we were walking back the restaurant called. They had us seated in less than 30 minutes.

It was topside seating, out of doors and along the rail, with the view of the cemetery and the Atlanta skyline. The cemetery is shot through with large trees and the view is really nice, in a spooky sort of way.  There are also tables topside, under large umbrellas, and there is a shack, kiosk, etc, in which there are taps with an excellent selection of draft beers ( I counted 24 brews on tap). And if I hadn’t been driving, I’d surely have been drinking.

Service this day was either “on” or “off”. It took several minutes and the manager busing the chairs next to us to realize no one had asked us for drinks or anything. That was soon corrected and for a good while after, service was good to excellent. We ordered a cup of gumbo, a half dozen oysters, fish stew for my daughter and I had the combo tacos (a calamari taco, catfish taco, and a shrimp taco). The upstairs bartender who served us after was awesome. If this had been a pub with a bar top and stools, I would have had us reseated in front of her and never moved.

That wasn’t possible of course, and with the heavy volume of the day (We asked a busboy about it. His comment was, “This crowd is crazy”), and the multiple large parties they had to serve, we just had to wait at times until they would notice us. And the manager was aware, as he would come over and ask us, “Are you ok?”

To the food: The gumbo looked more like a brown gravy than any gumbo I had ever seen, but it had good taste, had nice spicing and flavor that grew richer and deeper on the tongue the more you ate it. The oysters were excellent, even though they forgot to deliver them as appetizers. The star of the evening was the fish stew. It had an array of seafood (shrimp, cod, huge scallops and mussels) and a spicy tomato base, red liquid and chunks of tomato scattered throughout. My daughter’s comment was, “I usually don’t like tomatoes but I really like this.”

The combo tacos came with a huge side of potato chips and also a spicy green sauce on the side. I liked my tacos, and they were good, but they were better with the spicy sauce on them and not as terrific as the fish stew.  As sides we had hush puppies (really good) and onion rings (mostly untouched).

The final issue:  the topside of Six Feet Under becomes more and more pub-like, more adult in character as the night gets older.  And while during daylight I had no qualms being there with my daughter, it left me a little uncomfortable at night. In short, if you have family and your children are not fully grown, and you expect to be there after dark, insist on downstairs seating.

Verdict: Good, inexpensive seafood in a great location. Highly recommended for adults. Should be fine for families, if seated appropriately.

Six Feet Under
437 Memorial Dr SE
Atlanta, GA 30312
(404) 523-6664

Six Feet Under on Urbanspoon

The high ranking on Urban Spoon, the fine review in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, none of this adequately encompasses the way Benny’s Bar and Grill handles food and prepares meals.  The kind of talk you can hear on the Food Channel, about how food can be “rich with flavor”, comes into sparkling clarity when you try one of Mike “Benny” Miller’s dishes. So don’t let the tough driving conditions, the menu on the outside, the rave reviews drive you away.

The restaurant is located at the site of the old Mellow Mushroom just south of Golden Corral, on Highway 78. Benny’s is a little north of the Highway 78 – Killian Hills intersection, and for those a little west of this restaurant, approaching it by heading down Killian Hills and north on 78 might save you some grief. There is some parking in front of the restaurant, but a lot more parking in the back of the building, down a ramp to the left.

Once inside, it doesn’t seem as cramped as the old Mellow Mushroom was. There is much better use of space and, it seems, a lot more places to sit and eat. The layout is graceful, but unpretentious. There are big screen TVs on the walls, a bit of bar seating, elegant tables and on the tables, no salt or pepper. I didn’t notice the lack of spices, Mike Miller pointed it out. And to be honest, I didn’t need it.

A description of the food might be a fusion between the kind of food California has made famous (more accurately, modern American cuisine) and Cajun/Creole cooking.  If that’s too high falutin’, think of it as guys in a kitchen with Louisiana roots trying to make really good food while incorporating neat tricks friends from elsewhere have taught them. The results are a lot of original dishes, entirely the opposite of the chain experience.

On to the food:

The soup of the day was a gumbo, and gumbo can be a make or break experience in a restaurant with aspirations to deliver Louisiana favorites. The bowl was appealing when it arrived, with nice chunks of sausage floating in a rich broth. It looked great, smelled good, and it was delicious. It had a lot of flavor, and it managed it with just a tiny bit of heat, enough to let you know it was there.

I also had the boudin egg rolls, perhaps because a lot of restaurants that claim Cajun roots can’t even spell boudin. They were good, bits of sausage and rice in the egg roll. The rolls looked to be a bit unwrapped, and there was cheese, I think, melted into the portion of unwrapped roll.

I didn’t order an entree until I had eaten the appetizer and the soup and the jerk pork tenderloin was too much to resist at that point. And before I trip over superlatives describing how good it was, let’s just say it was exceptionally good.

The beer selection here is really well thought out, with a small number of beers that encompass a wide range of tastes. If you like light beer, you can get that. If you want an extra stout, you can get that too. If you’re like me and want something more like a brown ale or Anchor Steam, they have those as well.

For those wondering why I haven’t described the po boys or the desserts, they are very well covered by the AJC review, and I really want my wife, who has made me drive 90 miles for a good po boy in the past, to have her say first.

By the time I was into the pork tenderloin, Mike Miller came out, and we spoke for a bit. It’s impressive, his grasp of his craft. Prices in Benny’s Bar and Grill are also equally impressive. Entrees run 10 to 14 dollars, their famous po boys run about 9 dollars. You should be able to come here, have a salad and an entree, and beat the prices of every mid priced Snellville steakhouse, or even Ruby Tuesday’s. The desserts, which the AJC raved about, are also competitively priced with any low to mid priced chain.

Verdict: Exceptional food, exceptional value. This is original food, not cookie cutter stuff. The setting is appealing without being pretentious.  Despite the informality, this is the kind of restaurant that would be considered an asset in any city I’ve eaten in, from Seoul, Korea and San Francisco in the east, to Manhattan, Philadelphia, and Boston in the west.

Benny’s Bar and Grill
3902 Highway 78
Snellville, GA

Benny's Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

Update 10/27/2009: Benny’s has a letter posted on the front door saying it is temporarily closed.