Flavor Cafe Bakery is easy to miss. It’s near the corner of Johnson Ferry Road and Roswell Road, on the left hand side as you travel north down Roswell, but it’s behind a Wendy’s and opposite the eye catching Sandy Springs Plaza. That’s unfortunate, as they offer good deals on sandwiches and salads at lunch, and it’s a pretty place in which to eat.

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What attracted me to this place is the diet potential it has. I’m looking for sandwich shops where I can eat a low calorie lunch. I want portion control and I also want flavor and variety. This bakery has several good looking salads and a lot of choice in sandwiches. Their menu for lunch, for example, is available as a pdf. What’s more they have a half and half special they call a Any Way Meal. That’s what I was aiming for when I arrived.

Of course it will take a certain amount of willpower to diet here. They have some good looking cakes and muffins and other sweets. They have breads and you see them all at the counter where you place your order. Once you order they give you a stand with a cardboard square and a number on it, and you take this to your table and wait.

It wasn’t that long before I had my half of a grilled vegetarian sandwich and half of the eponymous flavor salad. It is a pretty impressive amount of food for a half and half special.

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The sandwich was good but was really juicy. I was using a lot of napkins while eating it. The salad had nice greens, nice pistachios, nice fresh strawberries. I liked it a great deal. The bread on the side was good eating, with a nice solid crust.

I haven’t been here for dinner, so I can’t speak of this place under those circumstances, but this is a fine lunch spot.

Flavor Cafe Bakery
236 Johnson Ferry Road
Sandy Springs, GA 30328
(404) 255-7220

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Sweet Tomatoes (also Souplantation; evidently there has been some kind of merger) is perhaps the most successful chain restaurant in Atlanta focusing on the soups and salads market. These are restaurants where people line up to get a plate full of lettuce, carrots, celery, and other sliced vegetables, plus dressing perhaps, as the focus of the meal. There are a few Sweet Tomatoes in Atlanta, but not too many. Unlike McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken, they seem to expand slowly and selectively. The closest one to Snellville that I know of is the Duluth restaurant, close to Gwinnett Place. This review will largely focus on that location.

Over the years Sweet Tomatoes has expanded their repetoire to include prepared salads.   These will be at the front of the line, before any other vegetable choices can be made. At the end they now have chicken strips you can add, for a small fee. We tend to ignore these, because one of the staple soups of Sweet Tomatoes is their chicken soup, which has much the same meats for free.

I’ve eaten here so often that I’m liable to forget something in my familiarity with this place. If it happens please forgive me. But once you’re through the line you have an abundance of other foods at your disposal. There are usually 5 or 6 soups, of which chicken soup and a chili are staples and the rest rotate. There are muffins, small cornbreads, foccacia, whole grain breads of various kinds, and usually a sourdough bread. There are slices of melons available, usually watermelon, cantelope, and honey dew melon. There is frozen yogurt, with sparkles. There are usually three different pastas served, usually in rich alfredo style sauces.  There was also a bowl of chocolate chip cookies this last time I went.

Some things to note about the Duluth location: the fancy flavored lemonades are available, but you have to ask waitstaff to get some of those. Otherwise it’s mostly soft drinks in the main drink island. Seating: there are a lot of booths, and some tables in the middle. The restaurant can easily handle dozens of patrons.

Verdict: The best and closest of the soup and salad chains, and highly recommended.

Sweet Tomatoes
3505 Mall Boulevard
Duluth, GA 30096
(770) 418-1148

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Alon’s Bakery and Market, Dunwoody edition, is the bigger, brasher, brighter counterpart to the Virginia Highlands location. Gone is the small quaint shop, but in return there is more access, and more space. Included in the size increase is a richer selection of sweets and breads, more market items, a coffee shop, substantial amounts of inside and outside seating, and loads more parking space.

For people who commute along 285 to get home, this location offers much more access to Alon’s sandwiches and goods. I’ve been here at least three times since I located it.  It’s relatively easy to get to once you exit 285 onto Ashford Dunwoody and head north. It’s opposite Perimeter Mall, and it’s the largest component of the complex of restaurants and shops it is found in. Like Buford Highway Farmer’s Market, it’s close enough to the loop to make it a very short detour on the way home.

Things I like about this Alon’s: they have a lot of sandwich sized breads, and they are inexpensive. Between the breads, a lot of vegetarian prepared foods, and at least one vegetarian sandwich, they make it easy to drop meat for a day or more, should you desire. If you want to feed your inner carnivore, the meats they do offer are high quality and delicious. Need something cold and sweet? They have gelato and sorbet at this location.

Verdict: Great sandwiches, prepared foods, exotic soft drinks,  quality breads and desserts. Highly recommended.

Alon’s Bakery and Market
4505 Ashford Dunwoody Road
Atlanta, GA 30346
(678) 397-1781

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The DeKalb Farmer’s Market is the grand daddy of all the large markets in this city, and huge doesn’t begin to cover it.  It’s at the corner of Laredo and Ponce De Leon, and the entrance to De Kalb is one of the four ways you can go at that light.  The parking lot is about a block in size and as large as the lot is, it is equally as large inside. Once inside, there is a vast array of vegetables, about as ordered as any market could be, with the produce marked by country of origin, name, and with a drawing of the produce to boot.

The wines, two aisles of them, are separated by country of origin and type. In between the wine are stacks of beers, everything from Miller Light to Belgian ales. Grains and beans? Just to look at two examples, they had red, green, yellow, brown, and French green (a smaller variety) lentils, along with whole mung beans, and plenty of dals. Quinoa? Not only did they have the white and red varieties, but also wild black quinoa, not seen anywhere else that I’ve looked. Nuts and candied fruits are available in large quantities, neatly sealed in plastic bags.

They have good breads, and one thing I bought the day I was here was a sack full of whole wheat rolls. They were tasty and chewy once I got them home, just perfect. Just past the breads and vegetables is the fish section, which in my opinion is the very best part of this store. When my wife is after the freshest fish she can get, she comes here. She comes here because of the selection of live fish, and the ease with which this place can clean those fish. Perhaps something compares in this city, but I haven’t found it yet.

Meats are past the fish, and they serve a startling variety of product. Besides fine beef, you can get rabbit here, quail and cornish hens, duckling, goat from Australia, and lamb from Colorado. You can get bison, if you want it. A selection of fine cheeses is nearby, slices off large wheels, and the dairy section, also nearby, has items unavailable anywhere else.

Before I do nothing but sing praises to this place, I’ll note a few downsides. It is full of people and often cramped here, more so in the smaller aisles. There are shoppers who park in those narrow aisles with their flock of full grown kids for eternity it seems, blocking everything. If you take a cart inside, PUT SOMETHING IN IT IMMEDIATELY. If you do not, your cart will be taken. Though this is an international market, with international vegetables, it is not a particularly good Asian market, and Asian staples like Asian (often called “Korean”) yams just aren’t here. Go to Super H Mart for those kinds of goods. Meats tend to be pricey and if you want cheap meats, a market like Lilburn International Farmer’s Market is a better choice.

Still, there is nothing like it in the city, and it comes with the highest of recommendations.

From Snellville, perhaps the fastest way to this market would be to head down 78, then south on 285, and take the Ponce De Leon exit westward. An alternative path is to take 78 to Scott Boulevard, Scott down to Clairmont Ave. Head south, and take Clairmont until it ends at Ponce De Leon (hang a left when Clairmont ends). If you get forced left on Commerce, just keep going. It runs into Ponce De Leon as well.

Cafe Gourmandises is strikingly friendly, and it seems Christophe Houy and Jennifer Allen have all the time in the world to explain what they offer and what is unique about their food. We came on Memorial Day, on a day where they were largely “cleaned out” by a previous customer. There was no bread for sale. Trays that would contain baguettes and honey bread lay empty when we arrived.

The restaurant is on the far end of a strip mall in Suwanee and it’s easy to miss. We passed it once before turning around to come back to it. Inside, the floor and tables are clean, spare and modern in style. There is a fine bakery cabinet, glass, lighting and chrome, half empty this day. Towards the back is a stand up refrigerator with soft drinks and on the walls, a nice collection of still lifes.

I wouldn’t have known about Gourmandises but for a bang up review by Chow Down Atlanta, and my wife had been collecting articles out of the newspaper talking about the fine French bakery in Suwanee. We started discussing going there early on Memorial Day. It was promising. My wife usually cannot eat in French restaurants at all, because she doesn’t like the ingredients found in many rich sauces (e.g. milk, cream, cheese, butter). But the cafe was, among other things, a bakery, with a focus on bread. Bread and my wife get along wonderfully well.

When we walked in, they had some food choices and some specials in chalk up on a blackboard. When my daughter saw that escargot was an option, she suddenly became really happy about coming here. My wife chose a turkey sandwich and I had one of the daily specials, a filet mignon crusted in peppercorns. Filet mignon was something my mother would make back in the 1960s, wrapping it in bacon. And filet mignon was a little tricky to cook, because if you didn’t give the meat enough fat, it would end up tough. So yes, I was curious. And the price was reasonable, about 15.00, if I recall correctly.

As we waited for the food, the restaurant began to fill up a bit, and I heard Jennifer explain to the others that there were “no crepes, no croques, and no lamb”. It wasn’t long though before Christophe brought out the food, warning my daughter not to touch the metal plate with the escargot. “It’s hot,” he explained. My wife’s sandwich was huge, so much food I knew she would share it. And the filet mignon was spot on, tender, juicy, and a perfect medium rare. It was crusted in peppercorns and covered in a tasty gray sauce. It came with fries, the fries mixed with a bit of herb.

My daughter loved her escargot and they were finished before I could ask for a taste. Herbs were stuffed inside the shells, and on top of the hot metal plate was a layer of salt. As I expected, my wife shared about half of her turkey sandwich with the rest of us. My daughter swallowed half of the remaining sandwich and I finished off the rest of it. The bread was great, crusty, tasty and at least as good as its fillings.

Despite being low on baked goods, they still had an ample supply of sweets. My wife got a lemon meringue tart, and my daughter their lemon dome. I got a dessert they call a “Pleasure”, which has alternating layers of chocolate and light filling. The top was caramelized, and had a stripe of chocolate bits down the middle of the top.

All the desserts we tried were top notch. The lemon tart had a subtle creamy lemon flavor, the dome was a stronger lemon flavor, with a candy crust on the outside. What I remember of the “Pleasure” were the really intense chocolate flavors that dominated.

Afterwards, we meandered into the historic district of Suwanee (beautiful houses and churches, worth the couple minutes to get there) and then slipped back to the Interstate down Suwanee Dam Road. It was a terrific early afternoon jaunt, and the fantastic food just set the tone.

Verdict: Friendly, unpretentious, exceptional food, exceptional flavor, exceptional value.

Cafe Gourmandises
686 Peachtree Industrial Boulevard
Suite 200
Suwanee, GA 30024
(770) 945-6599

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Tip:

The easiest way to get to Cafe Gourmandises from Snellville is to head west down Pleasant Hill, head north on I-85, head west on Sugarloaf Parkway until it ends, and then turn right and head down Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. If, say, you want to make this a modest detour on the way to the Mall of Georgia, just head north a bit from the Cafe and turn right at Suwanee Dam Road. It will take you back to I-85.

It’s on the right on highway 78 as you are heading from Atlanta to Athens, just before the Famous Dave’s (now closed). It’s a low lying building, large but unpretentious. It’s the last surviving chain version of a once popular formula for a dinner buffet (the Ryan’s in town having closed now). And if you want to eat there you need to realize how popular it is. Whole churches seem to descend on this place on Sundays.

My first exposure to Golden Corral came when my wife was pregnant and we were living in North Carolina. In those days, the bakery was semi-separate from the eatery and you could buy fresh baked goods there.  Their rolls were one of the few things she could eat late in her pregnancy that wouldn’t make her sick. So while coming home, I would stop off, buy a baker’s dozen of Golden Corral rolls, and take them home to my wife.

These days the bakery is internal, as opposed to external, and there are a few other changes. There are more meats on the menu, which makes it relatively more expensive. There are more items on the menu, and they try to rotate the dinner items so that they’re not all the same. You need to check in advance to see what entrees are featured. But I suspect it continues to florish because it serves a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, breads, soups and other basic fare. On days when every parent in a family is exhausted and everyone wants just corn, black eyed peas and a heaping plate of collard greens, this restaurant delivers.

Complaints? Yes, a few. The restaurant doesn’t have enough seating for the people that want to eat there. Hence, it it always cramped. You are elbow to elbow with other customers, and sometimes without the room to scoot out your chair without bumping into your neighbor. Service, which can be good, is only as good as the server of the moment.  Meats, which ideally would be cooked to order, get cooked haphazardly. If the chef needs a break and walks off, then all the steaks turn well done. Prices just seem to creep up and the incremental improvements seem marginal at best. The steaks are okay, but if they dropped all meats but ham, fried chicken, and their good fried catfish, I don’t know if they would see any drop off in attendance.

And personally I’d love it if you could shop the bakery again without having to buy a whole meal.

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