I was shopping for meat at the supermarket, and not finding many bargains among the beef offerings. There were some interesting cuts among the pork, though. Hormel had these pork loin roasts for around $5.00, but they were as much as 30% water by weight. I wasn’t interested in buying water at 3-4 dollars a pound. There were also some pork loin roasts though, that had been priced reduced to 3.50 a pound and that sounded interesting. I picked one up.

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Looking around for pork loin sous vide recipes, the one I found first was this one, by Dan Gourmet. I will note he brines his meat overnight, and uses maple syrup as his sweetener. I’m diabetic, and I didn’t want to add anything too ridiculously sweet to the meat. Further, I wasn’t wanting to brine overnight, or for that matter, use any potent brining recipes (this one, for example, has a fair amount of negative comment on the web, if you’ll look around. See here, or here). I decided I’d find a simple basic recipe, and work from there.

A generic introduction to brining is this About.com article. This article on CookShack.com talks about brining in the context of smoking meats. (1) More to my purposes, two online resources that are good for simple brining formulas are found on food.com and thekitchn.com. The first resource, from food.com, is a generic brine for multiple meats, useful, for example, in plumping up a chicken. The second reference, from thekitchn.com and Emma Christensen, is a base brine plus some aromatic suggestions.

In terms of aromatics (spices) that might go well with a pork loin roast, a place to start is here.

As a sweetener, my wife has found Truvia to be reliable. With Truvia, 3/4 tablespoon of the product replaces 2 tablespoons of sugar. In terms of aromatics used in pork brines, Dan Gourmet uses peppercorns, and I saw another brine that used 3 cloves of garlic. Those were the aromatics I used. Often when infusing flavors through the brine, you will see recipes that use 1 part hot water (steep the aromatics in these), one part room temperature water, and then two parts ice cubes. (2) I didn’t do anything fancy. I started with cold water, and once my sugar and salt were dissolved, added my aromatics.

Used to make the brine.

Used to make the brine.

So, ultimately, for a pound and a half of pork, I used:

  • 1.5 quarts of water.
  • 3 tbsp of salt.
  • Truvia equivalent to 3 tbsp of sugar.
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed.
  • 1 tbsp of crushed black pepper, from a pepper mill.

A note: When dissolving salt and sugar, use the least amount of water possible to dissolve these two items, and then add the remaining liquid and aromatics.

This was just enough brine to cover the roast. I let the meat soak in the refrigerator for an hour and 45 minutes, and then removed it.

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I washed the meat under the faucet, dried it with paper towels, and then chose a couple spices to add to the meat once we bagged it.

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Along with thyme (pictured above) I added a bit more crushed black pepper and some onion powder. I made the working assumption that garlic flavor was imparted by the brine. This then was sealed and placed in the fridge for an hour or two, until it became time to cook.

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I cooked the meat in a sous vide apparatus at 140 F for 6 hours.

Pork in the pot.

Pork in the pot. Because of the algorithm used by the Auberge to control temperature, the temperature peaks above 140 degrees for a while.

Afterwards, we fished the meat out of the pot. The smell of the meat was fantastic. There are plenty of juices, so if you can follow Stefan Gourmet’s formula for handing sous vide juices, you can make a reduction from this liquid.

Finished.  The aroma is notable coming out of the pot.

Finished. The aroma is notable coming out of the pot.

The meat, sliced. Slices didn't last long.

The meat, sliced. Slices didn’t last long.

The meat itself was essentially white, was flavorful, and was really juicy. The word that comes to mind is amazing. The chunk of meat lasted about 10 minutes. We cut off slices and ate it on the spot. In terms of pleasing just about everyone in my family, this compares to a sous vide buffalo sirloin, and my wife much prefers pork to steak.

Notes:

(1) An important point made in this article is that the combined osmotic effect of both sugar and salt are important in “sugar” brines (i.e. brines that contain sugar). Both the amount of sugar and the amount of salt are important. This was not something I caught onto until after I had made the brine above, and probably affects the ability of Truvia to really replace sugar in a brine.

(2) Indian cooks “break open” spices by pan frying spices in ghee, and I can’t help but wonder if something similar could be done in a non-stick pan with a very minimal amount of oil or cooking spray. That’s an experiment for another time.

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We’ve spoken about the Brooklyn Cafe before, but never had the initiative to get past their vegetable plate, until now. This is the Brooklyn Cafe’s pork tenderloin sandwich, with a side of grilled zucchini.

pork tenderloin sandwich

Brooklyn Cafe
220 Sandy Springs Circle
Atlanta GA 30028
(404) 843-8377

Brooklyn Cafe on Urbanspoon

Longhorn Steakhouse is a well established chain in the US, roughly equivalent to Outback or Texas Roadhouse, that serves steaks, chicken, and seafood in a clean modern setting.  I’ve been to various Longhorn Steakhouses many times, and all in all I prefer Outback slightly, because I think Outback’s entrees are a little cheaper and their service is a little better. I have friends I hold in high regard, however, who hold exactly the opposite opinion. I suspect the difference between the mid priced steak houses is mostly a matter of personal taste.

There are two Longhorns in Snellville,  and this review covers the one at the corner of Web Ginn Road and Highway 124, in the open mall known as Avenue Web Ginn. This is a Snellville location, though just by crossing Web Ginn Road, you are then in Lawrenceville.

When this restaurant first opened it was packed and impossible to get into. The wait was well over an hour and the receptionists were unable to accurately estimate time. I left lines for this place at least twice because a “half hour” wait stretched into an hour or more.

The lines have calmed down in the meantime, and my daughter and I came recently during lunch. We were seated quickly and a waiter was with us shortly. Drinks were rapidly served and we both ordered salads, my daughter a salmon salad and I had the 7 pepper sirloin salad, medium rare.

In the meantime, we were served Longhorn’s bread. It’s a round loaf, as opposed to the elongated loaf of other stores, and it was already sliced, a handy convenience. Longhorn’s bread is quite good.

Both salads were good. My daughter’s salmon was cooked, as opposed to undercooked, and while my salad ended up with medium well steak as opposed to medium rare, the steak was quite good and full of flavor. At points I thought the 7 pepper crust was a little potent, but in a salad with steak, blue cheese, balsamic dressing, and a pepper crust, there will be some strong flavors.

I found the service to be good, but not great. They seemed surprised when our glasses were empty. Some of that could simply be the time we came. Lunch isn’t as hectic as dinner.

Verdict:  Recommended.  Very good steaks, good seafood, good service.

Longhorn Steakhouse
1350 Scenic Highway
Snellville, GA, 30078
(770) 972-6552

Longhorn Steakhouse 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
(678)-209-0209

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.

Fresh Air is an inconspicuous restaurant in Macon Georgia, that is near exit 167 on Interstate 75. If you exit 167 while heading south, turn right on the feeder and follow it for 2-3 miles. When you see a Gold’s Gym sign and then a Longhorns, start looking. Fresh Air is a bit behind the Longhorns.

The location of the restaurant is good, near the intersection of I-16 and I-75, and it is the winner, by far, of a AJC blog article that asked what the best barbecue in Georgia was. We have been traveling a bit recently and decided to stop here while passing through Macon.

Inside, it’s as modest a restaurant as it was outside. There was an equally modest menu, with three plates, a BBQ plate, a pulled pork plate, and a chicken plate. My wife ordered the rib plate (around $9.20), I had the pulled pork plate (less than $7.00), and my daughter had their pulled pork sandwich ($2.49 iirc). On the table there were two barbecue sauces, one hot and one mild.

The pulled pork was moist and tender, and covered a bit with a reddish sauce. When I first tried the pork, the taste hit me and I wasn’t quite used to it. After trying the hot barbecue sauce, it became apparent that the sauce (and therefore the pulled pork) had a really big vinegar based kick. And though the first sensation you taste in the sauce is the sour of the vinegar, the sauce then gives a fair amount of spicy heat, showing a bit of complexity.

I’m not much for vinegar sauces, but I liked Fresh Air’s sauce. I’ve never been able to eat Brunswick stew before, but I could eat Fresh Air’s Brunswick stew. My wife loved the beans she had. All the sides were good, in our estimation.  The ribs were not bad, not the best. They were tender, but didn’t have as much smoky flavor as I’d like. My daughter gobbled down her sandwich. She obviously wasn’t complaining.

Overall, I thought the restaurant was good. The inexpensive plates and especially the pulled pork sandwiches make this restaurant a great value, especially for families on a budget.

Fresh Air Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

I’ve never been much for the fake exotic theme. As exemplified by a swell of ‘Hawaiian’ bars in the 1960s, usually with a name like Kon-Tiki and an emphasis on tropical fruit flavored drinks, these things were as realistic as liquid smoke. And the succession of bad themed restaurants hung with me. It was an association that was easy to pass on. For that reason I avoided Outback for years.

Thankfully, just before reaching Atlanta I tried an Outback. I had the Outback special. I ordered a medium rare steak and I received a medium rare steak. Bread, a salad and steamed vegetables came with the meal. Prior to this time I never ate zucchini, but I devoured the squash Outback provided. The steak was square and a little thicker than I was used to, but otherwise a flawless sirloin. The tangy tomato dressing was fine, a nice riff off of catalina. The service was surprisingly good.

Over the next decade and change Outback has managed to hold onto these fundamentals and the Outback in Stone Mountain (just off highway 78, near the 78 and  East Park Place intersection, completely opposite the Best Buy found there) is no exception. My family was eating at this Outback when we were in Norcross, and we’ve continued since moving to Snellville. Be warned that this is a popular restaurant and if you head here on a mother’s day, you could be waiting 90 minutes to a couple hours.

The steakhouse genre is a crowded one and yet we still prefer Outback to most steakhouses for two reasons. The first is the price, as Outback tends to be a little cheaper for the same amount of food, and the second is generally excellent service. I say generally because this location has on occasion simply had service that was merely good. However, the odds you’ll get great service here are higher than at the other steakhouses close to Snellville.

The menu for Outback has recently changed, adding newer, less expensive items. You can go to the Outback web site and download a PDF of the menu for this store. Most of the favorites are still there. I tend to order the Outback special, my wife likes an off-the-menu item called a Drover’s platter (chicken and bbq combination), and my daughter is fond of  the Royal Port Tilapia. New are things like a new pepper mill steak, a marinated sirloin, and ribs and Alice Springs chicken — this last seems a resurrection, in a smaller serving size perhaps, of the old Drover’s platter.

Other items we’ve had and liked include the rack of lamb, the Outback grillers (shish-kebabs), the towoomba pasta, the ribeye, the prime rib, and the Kookaburra wings. We’ve done mother’s days and birthdays here, times where we wanted to be treated a little better than average and were in no particular hurry. This place is highly recommended.

handy tip:

If it’s crowded, watch the seating around the bar. That seating is first come first served. If you can wait until someone leaves, you can often get seating faster than if you let your server seat you.

Outback Steakhouse on Urbanspoon