Steaks


I’ve eaten plenty of barbecue in my time. When I was a youngster and visiting my folks in Texas, we’d favor a barbecue joint on the south and west of Forth Worth with sawdust floors. When I lived in Houston for grad school, Goode Company Barbecue was my favored hangout. In Saint Louis? There were some fine K. C. Masterpiece stores. In Durham, North Carolina, I was introduced to Brunswick stew and Carolina style ‘cue. While living in Florida, I had some of the best ribs I’ve ever eaten, smoked forever, at a small joint near railroad tracks in the greater Orlando area. I learned most of what I know about smoke, though, from the original owners of Spiced Right Barbecue.

In Atlanta, where I do most of my blogging, I can name at least six first rate barbecue joints: Fox Brothers, Big Shanty Smokehouse , Heirloom Barbecue, Grand Champion Barbecue, Community Q, and ironically, Hottie Hawgs can bring it at their best (make that 7: Mad Dog’s is also quite good). What do the best barbecue joints offer? Usually they have consistently smoked meats, excellent sides, and they rarely run out of product as the day goes on. They know their audience well enough they don’t often get caught with their pants down. Smoking meats a long time limits the quantity of food you can prepare, much more so than creating “fall off the bone” ribs, which could be done in a pot of water over the stove, in an oven, or perhaps by sous-vide, with a quick finish on the grill.

Silver Star's brisket plate is a winner.

Coming from Atlanta, I have plenty of people I can talk to about barbecue, such as Mike Stock of 285 Foodies, David Jones of Eat Buford Highway, and Dustin from Georgia Barbecue Hunt. Some of my reference points are no longer in Atlanta: 3rd Degree Berns is up in New York these days.

I just want people to have a clue when I start talking about the Silver Star.

I went there during my high school’s 25th class reunion. I hadn’t seen some of these people in decades, and we had a long table in this restaurant that we filled; perhaps 30 or more people were at our table. However, there were tables longer than ours and they were full as well. The place was packed.

One of the many lovely staffers at Silver Star. Geaux Tigers!

The date: it was the first LSU-Alabama contest of 2011, and many of the staffers were in gold shirts with purple trim. It wasn’t hard to see who the crowd was rooting for.

The point I’m trying to make is that this was about the worst possible circumstance to see the best possible food this eatery can deliver. I know the Silver Star folks are paying attention to their ‘cue. You don’t invest in a competition smoking rig and leave it outside your restaurant simply to let it rust in the rain.

Two meat plate, with a loaded potato.

Mixed plate. Only the brisket impressed.

Side shot of a rib, looking for a smoke ring.

That said, I had a mixed plate, with 3 meats, and only one of the meats was good enough to be culinarily significant. I had brisket, sausage, and ribs. The ribs were simply ordinary, and it was hard to tell if they had any smoke at all. The sausage was sausage: good, but again, hard to tell if it was a smoked product. The brisket was quite good, had a visible smoke ring, tasted like smoked meat, and delivered the kinds of flavors I expect from brisket.

The best way to test the rest of their meats would be to come back at lunchtime, on an off day, when they are seriously smoking, and try their food out.

Ribs run out quickly. And when they do, it’s a significant event. The chef at Fox Brothers came out one day, spoke to my wife because she got the last rack of ribs they had (it was a mid afternoon meal, iirc). In discussions with the chef, owner, and manager of Hottie Hawgs, I know they have “competition” style ribs and “sneaky ribs”, and the latter rely on tenderness and sauce. HH uses them when they can’t supply huge quantities of the “good stuff”.

I’m a little puzzled why a place that competes on a BBQ circuit would have such an inconsistent product, though. I’m going to chalk it up to the sheer volume of customers that day. I really can’t do anything else. Other bloggers are high on their steaks, but a perfect steak is much easier to make than good cue.

Service was really good, considering the crush the Silver Star had that day. It can handle large crowds, and feed plenty effectively. But, just my ought two, if you want their best meats, come when the crowds are small and you can see the smokers working. You’re more likely to run into a consistent product.

Silver Star Smokehouse
1201 Dixie Overland Rd
Bossier City, LA 71111
(318) 752-3633

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My first impressions of Ten Bistro were good. The food was respectable, the atmosphere something else, a sonic essay by Dave Brubeck in 5/4 time. Perhaps such a look is ‘meh’ to ITPers, but to the commuting/OTP crowd, this place stands out. I’d compare it most directly to an eatery on Canton Street in Roswell or perhaps Lilburn’s “Three Blind Mice“.

"The King" sandwich, with grilled veggies.

For cold winter days, this place is warm, soothing comfy. Inside, there is a long bar backed by an equally long extended table along the back, speckled in between by tables for two or four. There is art on the walls, real oils, with the gouges, scratches, and raised rough edges to prove it. With the sounds reflecting an authentic early 1970s groove, the menu itself has its share of puns and allusions to groups, singers or bands of the period. I haven’t been at dinner, or had their wines, it doesn’t really fit along my commute back home, but as a lunch place? It has a lot going for it.

Lamb sloppy joe with a bit of Perfect Ten salad.

One item I prefer, and try to work into my meals is the Perfect Ten salad. It has tender  greens, some artichoke, and shades of the old “Badayori“,  a bit of heart of palm. There are  useful grilled vegetables on the lunch menu, and  plenty of sandwiches. The clientele, if you listen carefully, are some of the most astute, smart people I’ve ever overheard, and I’ve had plenty of lunches in the cafeterias of the University of Pennsylvania. It’s attracting an erudite crowd.

Yes, I’m aware that some people have had mixed results with this eatery, but the owner is engaged, active, friendly, cordial. And when I started a long discussion with his staff about what music might set off his restaurant the best — seriously, where  in my 400+ reviews have I ever gotten into it about a restaurant’s music – he listened attentively. And yes, they need to sneak in a little more jazz into their 1970s mix.

It’s an upscale bar, better looking than most, more friendly than many, convenient to my work, so I bothered to find it, and it surprised me a little. Whether others find it as appealing, I can’t tell, but watching the good looking and active customers over repeated visits, I think this place will find its niche.

 

Ten Bistro
5005 Peachtree Parkway
Norcross, GA 30092
(770) 375-8330

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Joey D’s is a classic steakhouse, claiming components of Italian, Cajun, and New York steakhouse heritage. Inside, it’s very pretty with white shirted waiters everywhere, and plenty of metal, wood, and glass. Seating is fine, the restaurant is well lit. The ‘L’ shaped bar has shelves that extend 20 feet off the floor, full of liquor. Those of you that have seen the ladder routine at Leon’s Full Service in Decatur will be at home here.

I came in for lunch, looking for something I could have that wouldn’t bust a lunch budget. Steaks here are in the 20s, so they wouldn’t do. I settled for a filet mignon sandwich, some mussels and a salad.

The salad was good. The mussels I had were also good, with an excellent marinara.
But the star of the evening were the two small circles of filet mignon in the sandwich. They were cooked a perfect medium rare, seared outside, and as tender as can be inside. The meat was perfect.

Joey D’s Oak Room
1015 Crown Pointe Parkway
Atlanta, GA 30338
(770) 512-7063

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Two words: grilled meats. That’s what Fuego Mundo does, and does it well. It’s a pretty restaurant, perhaps a little confusing if you have never been there. I stood for a while, and I eventually asked if I were going to be seated. Turns out the drill is: order first, then sit. They’ll hand you a card you use to ID that you’re waiting for your order.

They have interesting meat choices: things like skirt steak (churassco), lamb chops, and various tapas choices abound. A few of the choices drift to a bit too much sugar for my comfort. I’d really like a couple more grilled vegetables and a way to avoid starches on their “side plates.” That said, meat skewers and nicely grilled asparagus fit well within my dietary plan, and they’re good looking enough I ordered 2 skewers instead of 1 after looking at their setup.

Fuego Mundo is neither expensive nor cheap. Tres Tapas is $10, $11 if you choose a steak skewer. A chicken skewer with side runs about  $7.75. The most expensive single entrée ran around $16 (There are meals for 2 in the 25 dollar range). Flavors are rich. I liked my chicken skewer more than the steak, and I’m not really a big fan of chicken. I’m not sure if they marinated the chicken, or if I caught a bland first chunk of steak. The steak ended well, with a very tender and flavorful square of meat.

Staff tend to keep their heads down and work. They’re good looking. They wear black outfits with a lot of red bandannas. The restaurant has a modern look, with a lot of steel, glass and wood.  Music is constant and festive.

Fuego Mundo
5590 Roswell Road, Suite 120
Sandy Springs, GA 30342

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Fogo de Chao is a well run and popular chain of restaurants, perhaps 20 so far, whose presence ranges from our local city to as far east as Beverly Hills, as far west as Philadelphia, with half a dozen locations in Brasil as well. It’s is very popular in Atlanta, and very popular in other urban areas as well, such as Dallas. Trying to tell the blogosphere that this is a good place to eat seems about as pointless as trying to convince people that the sun rises in the east, but on this one day, I had an excuse.

Yes, my daughter had a birthday and we were looking for a gift a little more distinctive than a new iPod. So we made reservations. I put on a nice shirt, wore a tie even. And I really don’t like the traffic jam that is the drive into Buckhead, but for one day, and for my daughter, it’s excusable.

For those who haven’t been to a churrascaria (Brazilian steakhouse) the drill is this: it’s an all you can eat buffet, but except for the salad bar, the food comes to you (much as in a dim sum restaurant). There is a card on your table with a red and green side. Flip the card to green when you want meat, flip it back to red when you want to digest what you’ve eaten.

Fogo de Chao is a smaller place than I might have expected. Or at least it gives no real impression  of size. Of course, you get to see meat grilling from the outside as you enter.

Fogo has an excellent salad bar. Not visible in this photo are a slice of artichoke heart and three excellent cheeses. Smoked salmon is pretty much ground zero for my diet, and guarantees I get my omega 3s in the middle of this meal.

Meats, once we were ready for them, came fast and furious. This is unlike Fire of Brasil where the pace is a lot more stately. There were, at times, three gauchos were around our table at once. It became a little confusing sorting out what we wanted to eat.

Service was superb. Everyone had more than enough to eat. The birthday girl was especially fond of the lamb, though there were some excellent and smoky cuts of sirloin. The pork tenderloin was a little hit or miss. My wife found her piece a little chewy, whereas mine had a wonderful smoky flavor.

Verdict: Reigns supreme among ATL churrascarias. Great food, great meats, over the top service. Very highly recommended.

Fogo de Chao
3101 Piedmont Road
Atlanta, GA 30305
(404) 995-9982

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Pampas Steakhouse is an Argentinian style steakhouse, well dressed on the outside and graceful inside. I came there recently, curious, knowing that the serving size of the steaks was huge and trying to get a more normal sized meal out of the eatery. One of the keys to my weight loss has been portion control, and the smallest meat serving at Pampas is about twice the size of my typical serving. More typically, 14 to 20 ounces of meat will end up on your plate.

It’s hardly cheap. Meat cuts ran this day from 19 to 56 dollars, averaging in the 30s. An 8 ounce filet mignon was 25 dollars, one of the more reasonable cuts. I ordered that, some asparagus, and a salad. Later on, I asked if they had any cheeses to finish the meal. That was off the menu but they were able to conjure something up.

The steak was melt in your mouth tender and perfectly prepared. Salads were decent sized. The asparagus I ordered were huge, grilled, wonderful, but there were only 6 stalks, hardly enough for 1 person, much less 2. That was about my only food complaint on a day I felt pampered. Service was lush and omnipresent. My water glass was never empty.

Other notes. The main dining area is a large circular region, flanked on half of its sides by curved wine racks, and open through a glass window into a prep area, where you can see staff working on food. The room is thus visually impressive, but it has the same effect as the single room in Arizona’s: you’re caught in a place where conversations are magnified. You share your meal with everyone else in that space.

Otherwise, Pampas is a very graceful indulgence, certainly worth the time and effort, if a superb cut of meat handled by expert staff is what you desire.

Verdict: Excellent steaks, superb staff. Very highly recommended.

Pampas Steakhouse
10970 State Bridge Rd
Johns Creek, GA 30022-4557
(678) 339-0029

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Stony River Legendary Steaks is a small chain, perhaps 10 locations total in several different cities, that specializes in higher end premium steaks. I’ve never had much luck getting into one of these, as every time I had tried in the past, I could never get past the 90 minute to 2 hour waits and the cramped seating while people would wait. I’m sorry, but unless I’m really motivated, I don’t like it when I have to wait longer than a meal should take for a meal.

This day, however, the wait was only 30 minutes or so, and we decided to stick around. I do have to say it’s an uncomfortable wait. The couches provided are older, the space allotted isn’t adequate, and staff doesn’t pick up on the little things that can make people comfortable while waiting. Offer people a menu while they wait? No, they don’t do that. I suspect an orgy of success has cost the chain the concept of initial common courtesies.

The rolls, with a sweetened butter, went fast.

In part, staff can get away with it because the meats are, in fact, excellent. Once seated, the service wasn’t just good, it was superior, and there was plenty of space while seated. They started with breads, round balls that tasted more like a sweet bread or a donut than a traditional roll. They were good. Even I had to set my dietary issues aside, and have one.

Entrées were trout, a roasted half chicken, and I had lamb chops. The lamb was just spot on. It was cooked exactly the way I asked, and the spicing accented the flavors of the meat extremely well. The meat was tender and well marbled. Best I ever had? I might not say that, but a superior serving of lamb, yes. The chicken was really  juicy, well spiced and flavorful, and you could tell the trout was a grilled fish, the flavor of the grilling was just there.

Sides were good but not as mind blowing as the meats. I thought the asparagus was good, but they were larger stalks. I tend to prefer the smaller, finer stalks that places like Whole Foods now sell. Mushrooms were very good; the wine reduction they were cooked in was a terrific complement to the dish. Green beans suffered because of how they were presented. My wife’s roasted chicken came in a plate full of roasting juices. The juices soaked her green beans through and she wasn’t very inclined to eat them. This place tends to glory a bit in their animal fats and if you’re not a fat lover, the presentation overall can be a bit off putting.

Towards the end of the meal and as we left, we started getting a lot of questions about how we liked the meal and whether we were happy. I was glad to see this, as it shows management is trying to get the kinds of feedback they need to improve. If I would have one suggestion, they need to push some of that curiosity forward, because as good as their meats are, and as successful as their restaurants seem to be, they might be running off some people who would delight in their food and service, if a little more attention were paid to them in the beginning.

Verdict: Uncomfortable waits. Superb meats. Good sides. Superior service. Watch out for the fats. Highly recommended, overall.

Stony River Legendary Steaks
5800 State Bridge Road
Duluth, GA 30097
(770) 476-0102

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Kampai is a small chain, with locations in Duluth and Lithonia, whose focus these days is on steaks, sushi, and tapas. You don’t need to take my word for it. It’s on the side of the building of their new location in Lawrenceville, in the same plaza (Avenue Webb Ginn) that houses Ted’s Montana Grill and Red Robin. Kampai is in the building that used to house On the Border, and they’ve done nice things to the inside. It’s a good looking place. There is a lot of black stain, natural wood finish, and brick, and a decent number of flat screens.

Though I arrived at lunch, after commenting on the lack of useful selection on their lunch menu, I ended up with their dinner menu. This menu is pretty large, with two pages devoted to various tapas and three pages to sushi rolls alone. This doesn’t count the extensive coverage of tempura dishes and also their hibachi meals. I’ve never been a huge tempura fan and hibachi would be dietary overkill. I focused on sushi and tapas, looking for items I could eat.

I rapidly found the edamame, which I ordered and their braised pork belly on sauteed tofu. Along with that I ordered salmon nigiri and salmon roe nigiri (or so I thought) and also what they called a diet roll. There were no tapas available that had just a vegetable. I would have liked some steamed greens, or spinach, or bok choy with my meal.

The edamame came out steamed and the serving was large. I was very appreciative of what I was offered. The pork belly was smaller than I expected, looking a lot like a thick cut slice of bacon cut into squares and placed on a bed of tofu. Still, fat is a luxury I can afford. The flavor was good and the tofu welcome.

The nigiri ended up sashimi instead. It wasn’t what I expected but this was rather a welcome mistake. The foods were on mint leaves and then placed on what looked like daikon slivers. Both were fresh and flavorful. The diet roll was just okay. Edible yes, but no mind blowing flavors. I would have dropped this if there were a single steamed vegetable tapas, but no such luck at this time.

In retrospect, this small chain seems to do well on the edges of the metro area. The style of the place, to cater to many different trends in the industry, is similar to Sakegura and indeed, Nakato. It’s not as popular the closer to the city you get, as people seem to want specialized eateries in places like Buckhead and Midtown. But it should do well in the Avenue Webb Ginn mall area. It has a nice upscale look. When I showed, it was attracting Asian and American clientele. With the local Urban Flats shut down for the time being, it fills a niche for better dining in the neighborhood, and it is far quieter than Bonefish. I like its chances, and wish this chain the best.

Verdict: Versatile upscale dining in the Avenue Webb Ginn area. Highly recommended.

Kampai
1250 Scenic Highway #1300
Lawrenceville GA 30045
(678) 951-1000

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9700 Medlock Bridge Rd
Duluth, GA 30097
(678) 417-0086

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7105 Stonecrest Pkwy
Lithonia, GA 30038
(770) 484-1801

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Notes: There have been many behind the scenes conversations with Mike Stock (Gadget Geek) about the Avenue Webb Ginn area. He was the one who pointed out to me that Urban Flats was closed, among other things.

Mitra was a recommendation by Mike Miller of Benny’s Bar and Grill. He told me, “The restaurateurs know of this eatery, but it would be good for your readers to discover it.” So I spent some time checking it out. The site was interesting (though they seriously need to turn their online menu into a PDF file), and was just intriguing enough to bite. We decided to go on a weekend, as the drive is otherwise a problem during the week.

With the exception of the very nice waterfall motif on entering the restaurant, it’s very unassuming on the outside.

mit_sign

The inside, however, is one of the best looking, most romantic places I’ve seen.  In terms of a date restaurant, among places I’ve reviewed, only Varasano’s Pizzeria comes close. The lights are low, the music is good, appropriate, and contemporary. I caught my daughter singing along at points, when otherwise she’s usually plugged into an iPod. There is inside and outside seating; outside is under fans if I recall correctly.

Service was good throughout. We were tag teamed all the time, two waitstaff watching the table generally. Our main waitress was just excellent. We really liked her. We ordered drinks, and very soon bread came to the table. Along with the bread was a bit of light pink cream cheese. The bread was excellent.

mit_bread

The bread was soon followed by the two appetizers we ordered, ceviche and calamari.

mit_ceviche

Ceviche on the left, calamari on the right.

I had a particular interest in the ceviche because in my wife’s culture, they have the very closely related dish named kelaguen. And it was a confusing dish at first, because we kept wondering where it was. It turns out they want you to use the banana chips as a kind of ad hoc spoon.

mit_ceviche_on_banana

The ceviche was good. The calamari was good as well, thin rings and crispy. The sauce was kind of lost to us; we would have preferred the calamari plain.

In terms of entrees, we ended up ordering Mitra’s paella, their grilled salmon, and their jalapeno lime sea scallops. The paella and the grilled salmon arrived first.

mit_paella

mit_salmon

The paella was the favorite dish of the meal. The yellow rice especially was pleasing, as it acquired a roasted flavor from being cooked with all the other ingredients. It was bold, it was rich, it was delicious. The salmon, though a perfectly fine dish, wasn’t successful for a couple reasons. The first is my wife is a well done eater and this salmon was undercooked for her. The second was that she was expecting the plain quinoa to have the same taste as Holy Taco’s quinoa salad. It didn’t. It was perfectly fine quinoa too. My wife told me that if we come back, she’s getting the paella next time. And I ended up eating what was left of her dish.

The scallops came out a little later, and I had ordered this dish not because of the entree, but because the sides looked fantastic.

mit_scallops

And that’s pretty much how this dish was for me. This is not to say the scallops weren’t good. They were very nicely done, and prepared it seemed with a lot of verve and skill. But to be honest, if Mitra had a “sides” plate, akin to Watershed‘s vegetable plate, I probably would have ordered that, hoped for some chips, and been one happy camper. The salsa was excellent. The green tomatillo sauce had only one flaw:  there wasn’t enough of it. The yellow rice was good, but since the yellow rice in the paella was superb, it was getting short shrift by the table.

Verdict: Good entrees, great appetizers and sides. Highly recommended in general, exceptional if you’re on a date.

Mitra
818 Juniper Street NE
Atlanta, GA 30308
(404) 875-5515

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Because of construction, Mitra is tricky to get to these days. It might be best to call ahead for instructions on how to get there. Valet parking is nearby, cheap ($3.00), and recommended.

Indigo is a small, pretty restaurant on Canton Road in the old Roswell district, carved out of a brick duplex. The restaurant has perhaps a dozen tables on the outside and a couple dozen inside, and also manages to have a small bar as well, with a few seats. It’s on the left side as you head north on Canton, covered partly with trees, and was quite inviting the first time I drove by. With couples and the small dinner parties outside, Indigo looks a bit like a garden party on first glance, and the mood is not lost when you go inside.

It was a busy day when I arrived, as the restaurant was hosting a party, and music could be heard from the party’s location. It made for a couple apologies and some slowness of service that day. Not that it mattered much to me. I wasn’t in a hurry. It was a little tricky navigating the restaurant’s menu, since I have to avoid red meats and cheeses when possible, so I settled on a strawberry and romaine salad, the stuffed baby potato appetizer, and their caper and lemon grilled chicken.

Waitstaff, if I haven’t mentioned, are dressed in light blue Indigo t-shirts and jeans. They wear aprons if appropriate. They team well, and work with one another.  I enjoyed the service I had, I thought it was very good. Management was also attentive, and asked about my meal and chatted.

The salads and appetizer took a while to arrive, I suspect because of the party. I was glad when they arrived, as the salad wasn’t small. It was a healthy bowl of greens. Some places seem to think if you put a couple nuts in a salad, they can give you two bites of the greens and go on, but not Indigo. The strawberries were sliced, and the salad also had blue cheese and crunchy bits of pecans. They may have been roasted. I wasn’t 100 percent sure.

The baby potatoes were awesome but as they had a creamy filling, I could only have a couple bites of those. The chicken was .. as my waiter said it would be ..  incredibly juicy, perfectly cooked. Half a lemon was in the bowl, if you wanted more citrus flavor, and green capers danced in the bed of wide flat pasta. Again, it’s a large good looking dish.

Live music set up as I ate, and more couples came. Most were sitting outside, sipping wine, under the evening skies and green foliage. Indigo manages to pull a trick that seems easy but really is not, managing to be both graceful and informal at the same time. That the food is top notch doesn’t hurt either.

Verdict: Informal, graceful, very good service and great food.  Very highly recommended.

Indigo
1170 Canton Street
Roswell, GA 30075
(678) 277-9551

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