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.

The Snellville edition of Texas Roadhouse is on Dogwood Road, close to the intersection of Scenic Highway (124) and Dogwood. The restaurant is in the same large mall area as Men’s Wearhouse and O’ Charley’s, but on the Dogwood side of things. The steakhouse is actually much easier to get to down Dogwood, as that part of Scenic Highway gets a little crowded with traffic. From Ronald Reagan you could exit Web Ginn Road, head towards Brookwood High School, and then hang a left on Dogwood to get to Texas Roadhouse.

As compared to Outback Steakhouse, which we reviewed recently, the atmosphere here is more informal. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Peanuts are served in small metal buckets, all you can eat. There were times when I had a hungry impatient daughter.  Giving her some peanuts kept her hands busy, kept her from complaining until she received her meal.

Occasionally the waitstaff will dance. I’m not sure what the rhyme or reason is, but it’s entertaining when it happens. Items on the menu, for what it’s worth, go by common names here, as opposed to something made up.  You can order a choice sirloin without any feeling of guilt. Steaks are good, competitive in price in my memory and served with good sides. My wife has had good luck with chicken, or ribs, or some combination of the two. Among the appetizers I’ve tried are the buffalo wings and the rattlesnake bites (stuffed jalapenos), both good. In terms of salad dressings, my wife favors the ranch dressing and I’ve had good luck with the italian. My daughter eats all kinds of things here, though I think lately she’s been getting chicken tenders. Service, in my experience, has been good to very good here. Waitstaff will come by, refill drinks, ask how you are doing, and make food suggestions if you need them.

If I haven’t said, this is a popular place and can get crowded for dinner. It might be worthwhile to choose times carefully if you want to just stick your head in and eat.  But in summary, this is a good steakhouse, worth going to, a bit more informal than Outback. I recommend this steakhouse highly.

Texas Roadhouse
1969 Dogwood Road
Snellville, GA 30078
(770) 985-1450

Texas Roadhouse on Urbanspoon

Red Robin is on the the corner of Scenic Highway (124) and Webb Ginn Road, on the far right side if you’re driving from Snellville to Lawrenceville along 124. This is the same side as On the Border, Ted’s Montana Grill and Doc Greens.  Strictly speaking this is a Lawrenceville location but I’ve never felt I was in Lawrenceville when I was there.  Once inside it has a bright cheery ambience, with televisions embedded in the floor of the waiting area, and bright posters on the walls.  There is a bar in the restaurant and you can get alcoholic drinks. They have beer and fancy mixed drinks for the adults and fancy lemon and limeades for the young at heart.

Historically, Red Robin is a chain that started on the west coast. The restaurant is based on the idea of a gourmet burger.  Their burgers are full sized and come in at least 30 different varieties. You can get beef, chicken, salmon, turkey, fish, and vegetarian burgers. Toppings? They have plenty of them. French fries are meaty and they will give you fries until you can’t eat any more. Most burgers are topped with a fancy mayonnaise. If you don’t like mayo, they have mustard and ketchup on the tables.  If you don’t want a bun because you’re on an Adkin’s diet, they can accommodate that as well. My favorite is the 5 Alarm Burger, which has a spicy pepper jack cheese, jalapenos, chipotle mayo, and a ‘tangy salsa’.

Service here has been generally good, with an emphasis on the generally. I’ve come into the restaurant when they were short of cooks and the time to meals was horrible then, well in excess of 90 minutes. I’ve had the occasional mediocre server. For the most part they do get back to your table, ask if you want refills, top off your fries, etc.

My only complaint is that they are a bit pricey compared to the alternatives. It’s hard to get a burger cheaper than $9.00 here, and the Prime Rib Dip is priced at $12.99. Quesadillas are about $10.00 and the side salads are close to $5.00 each. Onion rings? $7.99. I find that I spend about as much here as I do Ruby Tuesdays.

Take home? It’s a nice place, but an ounce on the pricey side. If you’re on a budget, a fast food burger spot may be in order. If you want a little pampering, good inventive burgers, all you can eat french fries, pretty drinks, and a place to sit down, Red Robin may be the place for you.

Red Robin on Urbanspoon

Back when I was a starving student in Houston in the late 1980s, there were two outstanding burger joints. The first was Fuddrucker’s, which was way out on the west side of town, and the second was the Mexican joint that later became Goode Company Hamburgers and Tacqueria (I’m pretty sure they didn’t call it a Tacqueria back then). Both had burgers that were by the standards of the times, enormous. They offered a freshly cooked burger and you could choose your toppings, and boy did they serve lots and lots of toppings. I was a little partial to Goode Company’s burger because they were much closer to where I was living, and they served up a mean pico de gallo. And I do love some pico on my burgers.

Understand, however, it was close. And please also understand that getting out to where Fuddrucker’s was.. well, the people in the establishment in those days were all pretty affluent. They wore good clothes. They drove sedans. The section of town was nice,  and a bit upscale for a starving student. It was a bit of an “it” place back in the day.

These days the half pound burger, far from being a rarity, is a commodity. In particular there was a burger arm’s race 2-3 years back that led people to offering 2/3 pound burgers and more. Places I can think off of the top of my head that serve large burgers include Chili’s, the English pub in Norcross, Smoky Bones, Applebee’s, The Georgia Diner on Pleasant Hill, Red Robin, Ted’s Montana Grill, Hardee’s (Monster Thickburgers), and Burger King (triple Whoppers). It isn’t the rarity it once was. These aren’t the days when McDonald’s announces the Quarter Pounder because it’s actually a large burger for the times.

So, a lot of the novelty of Fuddrucker’s is gone, stolen by other chains in the ever-ongoing fast food arms race. But its base formula is still there: burgers cooked for you, toppings that you choose, big meaty french fries and nice desserts, if you want them. It doesn’t have that cachet that it did, but then again, I’m no longer a starving student either. What it does serve is a quality burger at a fair price, with beer if you want. And the store in Snellville has video games these days, which leaves my daughter begging for quarters.

The Fuddrucker’s in Snellville can be found at the corner of Ronald Reagan Boulevard and Scenic Highway. It’s in the same mall area as Target and Publix, and it’s adjacent to the Applebee’s.

Fuddruckers on Urbanspoon

Ted Turner is an Atlanta icon, who married Jane Fonda, and in the process began looking at the world and his fortune a little differently from the typical magnate. He invested in ranch land, and rather than raise sheep or cattle, he has been raising bison, more so than anyone else on Earth. Partly as an outlet for his immense bison herds, he founded a restaurant, Ted’s Montana Grill, which serves bison, among other meats.

There is a Ted’s Montana Grill nestled in the northeast corner of the intersection of Scenic Highway (Highway 124) and Webb Ginn Road. It’s in the same part of the sprawling complex of stores and restaurants that has On the Border, Red Robin, and Doc Greens, and is roughly across Scenic Highway from  Poblano’s Mexican restaurant. It’s a bit in the back, hard to see from Scenic Highway, but trust me it’s there.

The draw for me to Ted’s are the burgers. They can make them with beef, they can make them with chicken, and they can make them with bison. In my experience, bison burgers are a bit more full flavored than beef and worth the small premium you might pay for such a meal. Ted’s isn’t unique in serving bison burgers. The barbecue joint Smoky Bones also dishes up bison burgers, but the closest one of those is in Stonecrest Mall, in Lithonia.

Ted’s will serve up home made pickles (they disappear quickly at our table) and also bread  (these days you have to ask for bread). They also serve up $10 off coupons if you search for them, and when we had a supply of those we were going to Ted’s more often. But it does serve a fine plate of food, and they do so with one thing hard to come by on the edge of the greater Atlanta area: generally good service.

There are a lot of chains whose service suffers when you get further from the center of the Atlanta metro area. This one doesn’t seem to suffer nearly as badly. Waiters are generally to tables quickly. They top off drinks, ask questions about your meal, see that you’re happy, give you another plate of those pickles when your daughter asks. I have to say I like the food here, but it’s the combination of good food, and attention to the little details that have kept me coming back to this restaurant.

Ted's Montana Grill on Urbanspoon