What the picture says!

Competition this Saturday, Nov the 17th.

If you’re not a home brewer, show up and pony up 10.00. You’ll get a 2 oz glass and you can try as many brews as you like.

Niko’s was one of the first shops I reviewed when I started this blog. I remember thinking that I hoped he’d make it. I haven’t been back in a while, and not only has Niko survived, but he’s also expanded into the square in Lawrenceville. Recently I went into Niko’s, to window shop and pick up a bottle or two, and ended up with a case of assorted beers. For me, that day, yes, his selection of beers was that good.

Niko’s has singles, four packs and six packs of beer. There are cold beers in the fridge, and the brown carousel to your right has plenty of quality Belgian ales.

I find his tastes complementary to the supermarkets, and also a complement to Summit’s Tavern. There isn’t a whole lot of overlap between the three. So I would suggest it’s worth your while, especially if you’re into Trappist ales and Belgians, or simply a change of pace, to take a gander over to Niko’s, and cruise the beer section of his store.

Niko’s Wine Corner
2050 Scenic Highway, Suite G and H
Snellville GA, 30078
(770) 979-3111

Niko’s Wine Corner
178 Crogan Street, Suite 210
Lawrenceville GA, 40046
(770) 962-0348

One of the nicer things about the holidays is all the home made food, such as this good gumbo, from my father’s current partner.

And Zapps, which I’ve known for their Cajun potato chips, now has a salsa.

Barking Rocks winery, which is owned by relatives of mine, had a nice article written about them via the Texan News Service. The article, written by Morgan Christensen, can be found here. Another interesting link, a tasting of Barking Rocks wines, can be found here. But perhaps more pleasing is this reaction, on the blog Jundogirl, to the article I wrote about Royal Tofu House. Royal Tofu is a mom and pop eatery whose owners really go the extra mile for their customers. Jundogirl happened to be their daughter. Also, many thanks to Gene Lee for mentioning Mirak Korean Restaurant. In my opinion, Mirak has been a little overlooked in the blogging world and I’m glad to see it catch up in the hands of Korean food experts.

I got some books on beer this Christmas, and perhaps the best of them is “The Brewmaster’s Table“, by Garrett Oliver. Garrett Oliver is the owner/brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery, and this book attempts to educate people about the possibilities of good beer and how to match beer with food. Useful as a coffeetable book (though it’s small and fat) is Michael Jackson’s book “Michael Jackson’s Great Beer Guide“. It has picture and short blurbs about a host of beers. The books is alphabetized and an easy read. My brother found this book and went into “Hey, I drank this one!” mode for hours on end during the holidays.

Summit’s Wayside Tavern was a surprise to me. Walk in, and the left is full of sports memorabilia. There are helmets worn by famous football players, and bats used by well known  baseball players line walls and fill display cases. Then you get to the right and the wall of taps. There isn’t any disguising the wall of taps, the single longest series of taps I’ve seen since I’ve begun reviewing. It was 112 beer taps when I stopped counting, and the bartender says there are about 150 beers on tap counting the bar itself. Yes, this place has an amazing selection of beers available to be drunk.

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The menu speaks of some serious attempts to provide bar food with some quality. The burgers are large, they have buffalo burgers and American kobe beef burgers. The pastrami is supplied by a quality vendor of meats. That said, the food prices also reflect the cost of their ingredients. A pastrami sandwich, for example, runs about 12 dollars here.

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I had a Terrapin brown ale just to start, some buffalo wings, a pastrami sandwich. The beer was really good. The wings were also really good, though the TMI sauce is hardly over the top – I doubt it was even as hot as Tabasco. I liked the huge chunks of carrot and celery with the wings and the decent size of the serving.

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The pastrami sandwich had great meat, great cheese. The inside of the sandwich had no issues at all. The outside of the sandwich needs work. It’s a pretty soft bread, that 19th century style rye, and it isn’t hardy enough to handle this sandwich. It needs a roll, for sure, because the sandwich falls apart when you try to eat it all. Given the cost of their sandwiches, they should put as much effort into getting good bread as they do good meats. I’d love to see what Summit sandwiches would look like on an Alon’s sandwich roll.

Verdict: Enormous beer selection. Decent eats. Highly Recommended.

Summit’s Wayside Tavern
3334-A Stone Mountain Highway (Highway 78)
Snellville, GA 30078
(770) 736-1333

Summits Wayside Tavern on Urbanspoon

Location: Summit’s is in a low lying building a block before the Highpoint Road – Highway 78 intersection while heading east on 78. While there isn’t much up-front parking, there is plenty in the back of the building.

Last Sunday, August 2, We went to Frontera in Snellville and they featured a mariachi band.

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The band, we were told, shows up every other Sunday at the Snellville Frontera. That makes their next visit into town about August 16, 2009. Their trumpet player is quite good. I played that instrument at one time, and you don’t do what he did without plenty of practice and endurance. They go to 12 other Frontera restaurants I’m told, which seems an awfully busy schedule.

Frontera also has some new foods, such as this catfish ceviche. They also have old favorites, such as their burrito al carbon.

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Some locations near Snellville I really need to write some reviews about in upcoming days:

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Some of these places I’ve eaten at and need to try again to nail down an opinion on. Others I’ve not tried yet.

Some views from inside Total Wine, which we have spoken about before.

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One of the prettiest views of a restaurant in all of Atlanta is the view of the California Pizza Kitchen in Lenox Square from the level just above it:

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And of course, one photo of Guam boonie peppers. Even the runt boonie is adding leaves these days.

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The closest Kroger to me is the one at the corner of Five Forks and Oak Road, just south of the Five Forks exit on Ronald Reagan Boulevard:

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And no matter what people think of other elements of Kroger, these stores have had a good wine and beer selection for some time now.

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New to Kroger is the Mix a Six idea, where you get to pick what you want in your six pack and take that home with you. I have to admit, that perked up my interest in their products immediately.

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Also new at Kroger are products from New Belgium Brewing. I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting to see “Fat Tire” in my neighborhood supermarket that quickly. It was just a month ago when a New Belgium representative was giving away free samples at the Vortex.

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So give kudos where kudos are due. The mainline supermarkets can be innovative. And this is to the benefit of those of us on the edge of town, in suburbia and exurbia, and not within range of specialty stores.

Kroger
3050 Five Forks Trickum
Lilburn GA 30047
(770) 978-9264

If you have been to Little 5 Points, then it is hard to miss the Vortex Bar and Grill. The flashy colors, the skull surrounding the entrance, the huge sign proclaiming the bar to be the home of “Atlanta’s Best Burger”, all come into play.  And if you take the hype a little too seriously, it would seem as if you would be stepping into a Raider’s Nation on steroids. The truth is both a little calmer and a lot more pleasing to the senses.

Once inside, almost every surface that isn’t brick is painted in black, true. Then that surface is covered with .. stuff. Stuff like old vintage posters and photos, tee shirts, license plates, old toys, plastic sharks, alligator snouts, road signs, a skeleton riding a motorcycle. I was a bit fond of Maxwell, the .. cat (you have to be there to understand the context).

But otherwise what you have is a very functional bar (with around 20 beers on tap), lots of tables, a lot of room. I’m 6 feet tall, and I felt I could stretch out here and not bump into staff or neighbors. The bartender was efficient and friendly, and staff dressed informally. There was live music this day, and rather than being a Spinal Tap clone with amp hiked to 11, he was playing a far more ordinary guitar.

The patronage seemed to be of every race, creed, and color. People were friendly, chatty. There was a man, Chris, walking around, talking up the company he works for, New Belgium Brewing, offering samples. I ended up with a bottle of Fat Tire Amber Ale, and yes, a little lighter than my usual drink, but very good. A hat tip to New Belgium and Chris for promoting their product.

To the food: I ordered a Red Brick brown ale, some fried zucchini and a Ragin’ Cajun burger. Burgers are reasonably priced, given that they are half pound burgers. They also cook to order. If you ask for a medium rare burger, that’s what you get. The zucchini chips were thin sliced, covered in a brown batter and crisp. They tasted good plain or dipped into ranch dressing. The Ragin’ Cajun had a spicy pepper sauce on it. I threw on some Gulden’s brown mustard.. I thought it needed a bit more of a hit. The burgers are tall, by the way, close to four inches high once you stack it all together. It was a fine juicy burger. It’s easy to see how they contend for “best burger” in this city.

I didn’t have the nachos, but the couple next to me did. It’s an enormous plate of food.

Verdict: Informal and irreverent, Vortex does well with their signature burgers. Highly recommended, if you’re over 18 and a moderately sane adult.

Vortex Bar and Grill
438 Moreland Avenue
Atlanta, GA 30307
(404) 688-1828

Vortex Bar & Grill (Little 5 Points) on Urbanspoon

To get to the Vortex from Snellville, take Highway 78 to Scott, take Scott until it merges with Ponde De Leon, take Ponce to Moreland Avenue (please note it will be Moreland on the left, and Briarcliff on the right). Turn left at Moreland. When the stores turn psychedelic, start looking for the Vortex on the right. Please note on weekends you may have to pay to park in that part of the world.

The blog cinco2seis has a nice review of the Vortex’s largest and most heart stopping burger, the Double Coronary.

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

Niko Patel is a slim, polite man of medium height whose new store in Snellville, Niko’s Corner, features “fine wine and beer, organics and tobacco”. In all honesty I never saw the tobacco, and because there was some remodeling being done when I arrived, I didn’t spend a lot of time with the wine. I did notice a refrigerator with some rounds of cheese, and the organics spoken of are beauty aids of some kind. I have to admit not knowing wines well, but I know enough about beer to hold my own in a Taco Mac.

Among the beers I saw were a number of American and Georgia based microbrews, some varieties of Sam Smith’s ale, a nice jug of Mississippi Mud’s Black and Tan, seasonal beers from Sam Adams, Kingfisher (an Indian beer), a good looking IPA or two, and Belgian ales, including Chimay. Chimay is a Trappist beer, made by monks in a Trappist monastery. It has a history with Georgia beer aficionados because for many years, Chimay could not be sold in Georgia (as a beer, at least). Georgia laws restricting the alcohol content to 6% or less blocked its sale. In 2004 this law was repealed, and these days you can get Chimay in Georgia.

The lambic beers are prized because their brewing process (using spontaneous fermentation) results in a rich complex flavor. My glance was brief, but I’m pretty sure Niko has those too. And although you can occasionally find beers like Chimay at the liquor store on the corner of Highway 29 and Indian Trail, it’s not consistent. Niko’s appears to me to be the most reliable place to get high end ales and beers short of Hinton’s Wine Store on Holcombe Bridge Road.

Two beers that Niko's Corner sells. A Coke can is provided for comparison.

Two beers that Niko's Corner sells. A Coke can is provided for comparison.

I picked up Niko’s card before I left. It says he’ll take special orders, and there are case discounts available. And even if you only want to look at a bottle of Chimay (it’s a big bottle), please drop by. Niko is a pleasant person to deal with and happy to talk about what he sells.

Niko’s Corner is located at 2050 Scenic Highway, between the Oak Road and Dogwood intersections, roughly across the street from O’Charlie’s.

In the same strip mall as Nikos is an incarnation of Jersey Mike’s subs. While not a to-die-for favorite of mine, I had a colleague, Jeremy, who just loved the place, to the point where if people went and were not coming back, he’d scavenge their visit cards so he could collect enough visits to get free subs. In my case this means I’ve been to Jersey Mike’s (the Jimmy Carter location) exactly once. I thought I would try this one. It’s not a bad sub shop, roughly in the same class and caliber as Quiznos.

Things to note: very clean and neat. The servers were well groomed, polite, efficient. I had an Italian sub, with mustard, on wheat bread. The bread was a wider cut than say, Subway, and it was fresh. Jersey Mike’s has three sizes of subs, small, regular and giant. Regular is more than big enough for me.  Would I eat here again?  Yes. I can happily recommend Jersey Mike’s.

Jersey Mike's Submarines on Urbanspoon