While commuting to my  father’s this last winter, I ran past a chain in Mississippi named Mc Alister’s Deli. Thinking initially it was a small chain, I was surprised to find out it was in 22 states and in fact there was one in Lawrenceville. Despite cabin  fever I’ve managed to find that restaurant, eat there, and talk with some of the staff there.

To note, there is a substantial difference between the published menu for Mc Alister’s in Mississippi and the one in Georgia. However, I’m told almost all the items not on the Georgia menu can be made, if you will ask for them. In particular, if you’ve never had a muffuletta and are in the area of the Lawrenceville Mc Alisters, consider droppin g in and asking for one. You probably will be pleased at the results.

I’ll probably complete a formal review of Mc Alisters early next week.

While researching Mc Alister’s, I’ve heard interesting things on the web about a Lawrenceville shop called Deli Boy (near 5 Forks and Sugarloaf Parkway). Next to Deli Boy is a Loco’s Bar and Grill. I’ve eaten at a Locos, but not that one. Three interesting (enough) restaurants leads to the idea of looking at various sandwich shops, checking them out, summarizing their strengths and weaknesses.

I’ve reviewed a few sandwich shops near Snellville. I’d count places such as Paneras, Summit’s Tavern, Jen’s New York Deli, Jason’s Deli,  Applebees, Johnny’s PizzaRuby Tuesdays, and at lunch, even Gary’s Bistro as places people can go to get a good sandwich. But you might have favorites, ones I haven’t touched on here. If you have one of note, drop me a line. If we extend the scope a little bit, north to Suwanee for example, you  have to start including places such as Gourmandises in the mix!

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I picked up my family in South Atlanta and they were starving. They had no food of consequence and I needed a place to feed them. I suggested Holy Taco on the way home, and it worked out well (though their excellent quinoa salad wasn’t available that day).

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Beef tongue and shrimp tacos. The beef tongue was the better of the two, so says my daughter.

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Chicken and steak tacos.

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A pork cheek sandwich. It was very good, with very tender meat.

Jen’s New York Deli: at the corner of Five Forks Trickum Road and Oak Road, across the street from the Rite-Aid pharmacy is this little hole-in-the-wall. Unlike most chain food at this corner, this is a Lawrenceville original, in a location that might as well be part of Snellville. Open essentially for breakfast and lunch, Jen’s Deli offers bagels and good, inexpensive sandwiches for people on the go.

The outside of Jeni's Deli

The outside of Jen's Deli

The inside is small, with just a few chairs and tables, and there is a really nice mural, a take off on old movie posters from years past, opposite the steel cabinets stuffed with bagels and meats.

The walls of Jen's Deli are covered in a mural of movie images.

The walls of Jen's Deli are covered in a mural of movie images.

If this deli lacks anything relative to the bigger sandwich shops closer to the perimeter, it’s the prepared foods a shop like Alon’s might have. But what it has is good, and inexpensive. A sandwich and coke costs less than $7.00, for example.

A grilled ham and cheese with slices of banana pepper, from Jen's.

A grilled ham and cheese with slices of banana pepper, from Jen's.

Verdict: If you’re in the area, give this place a try. You won’t be disappointed.

Jen’s New York Deli
875 Oak Road
Lawrenceville, GA 30044
(770) 978-7653‎

Jen's New York Deli on Urbanspoon

Uncle Betty’s BBQ is a new restaurant born on the ashes of an old one, Whitt’s. It has a cute sign and a smoker noticeable in the back. It was the smoker that attracted my attention. Could this be a hole in the wall with real smoked flavor? I wasn’t able to tell that day, because it was a Sunday and they close early on Sundays.

Recently however, we picked up food from Uncle Betty’s, two pulled pork sandwiches and a half rib plate, to see what we thought of it. The plates came with some sides, baked beans, Brunswick stew and collard greens. They had a tomato based sauce in cute little plastic containers. The sandwiches could come with and without slaw on them.

The short and sweet of it is while the sandwiches were good and tasty, and the beans were good, there was no way to tell if there was any smoke in the ribs. My wife is a rib eater only for the most part, and the original owners of Spiced Right in Lilburn made very good ribs and spoiled her. While Uncle Betty’s ribs are tender and have flavor, they have no detectable smoke.

As a consequence, I’ll call my mark an incomplete for now. This is an eatery that is raising the expectation level with a pretty smoker out back. And unfortunately with barbecue this means they compete over a large radius, bumping up against places like Mad Dog’s or Fox’s. I like a lot of what I ate; this is a great little place to get an inexpensive sandwich. But they’ll never be taken seriously in the ribs sweepstakes until smoke comes off on people’s  fingers, until they can taste it in the meat.

Uncle Betty’s Barbecue
1795 Presidential Circle
Snellville, GA 30078
(678) 344-6095

Uncle Betty's Barbecue on Urbanspoon

This was a last minute choice on a day when my wife wasn’t feeling well. She asked me to pick up some food and bring it home. Usually that means heading to an ethnic restaurant and getting a few items to go. But we had been wanting to find Alon’s Bakery and Market for some time. So I didn’t tell her I was heading that way. I wanted it to be a surprise.

Alon’s can be difficult to find. As you near it from the north, it seems a dozen roads spin off in every direction. It’s easy to get lost. This time, though, I stayed to the right when the road split. Soon, I spied the sign I had seen in so many web pages and managed to find a parking spot. Once parked, I called and let my wife know where I was.

Once inside of Alon’s, the store has a way of just making you stop, look, and stare at the items they offer. I can’t begin to encompass all they sell, but the first thing you see are danish and cookies, then small desserts. Alon’s sells breads as well, but I didn’t see any, as it was late in the day. Next was a sandwich ‘booth’, then prepared foods. And that’s just the left side. On the right there were fine cheeses, other dairy products, items like truffle oil, an assortment of hard to find soft drinks, and fine canned goods.

So, to start, I got some cookies and a danish. I picked up three desserts, a lemon square, a small apple based dessert, and a cheesecake tart. Three sandwiches followed (turkey, pastrami and ham), then small salads: chickpea and feta, a tabouleh salad, and orzo, chicken and cashews.  I ended with a couple sodas (Fentiman’s Ginger Beer, and Gale’s Root Beer).

Once home, I unpacked everything and people took what they wanted. I ended up with the roast beef sandwich and the beef was fresh and cool, the bread crusty and excellent, the sandwich quite good. My wife really liked the turkey, commented on the quality of the meat and my daughter’s sandwich was finished before I could ask her about what she ate. The salads went over well. I like the orzo salad the most, my wife was partial to the chickpea salad. My daughter came back for seconds on all of them.

The desserts were very good. I thought the apple dessert was exceptional, the cheesecake tart very good. My daughter liked the lemon square, but wanted a bit more flavor from it. The cookies, oatmeal raisin bites, were popular as well.

For those who don’t want to treat this as a place ‘to go’ there is outdoor seating though not a whole lot of it. The sightseeing in the area is pretty special, though. It’s not every day you see someone park their greyhound outside and then go shopping for food.

Verdict: Unusually good place to buy sandwiches, bread, prepared foods and desserts. Charming, a visual eyeful. Highly recommended.

Alon’s Bakery and Market
1394 N. Highland Ave
Atlanta, GA 30306
(404) 872-6000

Alon's Bakery and Market on Urbanspoon

This restaurant is at the corner of 124 and Springdale, in a shopping mall that has a really big Kroger. You’ll see the Kroger long before you see the Johnny’s, while heading south down 124 in the direction of Lithonia. The mall itself is ‘V’ shaped, with a point, and the Johnny’s is located right at the point. The store itself is modest, with about 8 booths along the far side, 2 booths on the near side, and 6 tables scattered in the middle.  There are bar chairs alongside a gaming machine, a Johnny’s clock on the wall, and 3 televisions scattered through the store. Wall decor is largely beer advertisements and neon.  This Johnny’s tends to have one cook and one active waitstaff.

The taste of Johnny’s Pizza is worth some trouble. At one job location, Johnny’s was our favorite eatery. 5 or 6 of us would pile in a car and head to the restaurant. Since no one had money at lunch, it was a lot of pizza slices, meat ball subs, the occasional pepperoni calzone. One of their large slices and a soft drink is often more than enough to keep going for another 4 hours.

Slices at Johnny’s start at $1.85, and go up by the ingredients added. Johnny’s has 19 specialty pies, from a simple pesto pie to their Johnny’s Deluxe. Medium pizzas start at about $10.95 and large pizzas start at $12.95. Their oven baked subs run about $5 to $6 and the parmigiana subs are close to $6. They have lunch specials Monday through Thursday and they will deliver, for a $10.00 minimum.

Service is pretty good, considering. Because staff is limited, you won’t be waited on hand and foot every minute of your stay. But in my experience this is a very honest little restaurant and they’ll give you the best they can. The last time I went, a discussion of “Twilight” broke out among customers and staff. There is very little pretense here.

Verdict: Recommended. Crisp tasty pizzas, good sandwiches, and calzones.

Johnny’s New York Style Pizza and Subs
3035 Centerville Hwy
Snellville, GA 30078
(770) 978-8180

Johnny's New York Pizza & Subs on Urbanspoon

I’m down to 2 boonie pepper plants as the others managed to die. I suspect, after some consideration, that surrounding peat pellets with fertilized potting soil just isn’t enough, and that you need to fertilize the plants in the pellets. I’ve been doing that (using Miracle Gro at indoor strength) and the size increase in my remaining two plants is substantial. They are in pop bottle greenhouses for now, which does wonders for their humidity:

Boonie pepper in 2 liter soda bottle greenhouse.

Boonie pepper in 2 liter soda bottle greenhouse.

And in the meantime, 12 seeds from floralys are in a Jiffy ‘box’ for now:

floralys boonie seeds in jiffy peat pellets

floralys boonie seeds in jiffy peat pellets

I’ve been collecting links about banh mi, reading them when I can.  Articles in the New York Times and in the Village Voice reference a food writer named Andrea Nguyen in part of their stories. Andrea’s blog, Viet World Kitchen, is certainly a worthwhile read. Andrea’s claim is that banh mi is not a Vietnamese-French hybrid, but rather distinctly Vietnamese. What interests me in this trio of stories is the evolution of the sandwich and the care necessary to make it. For example, in the Times article, they note that to be really good banh mi, the bread can be no more than three hours old.

But to run a banh mi shop is to race against death.

“Bread dies after three hours,” said Michael Huynh, a Vietnamese-American chef who has recently opened two new-style banh mi shops, both called Baoguette, in Manhattan.

The Vietnamese dedication to excellent, fresh baguettes is total. Using stale bread is the gravest offense a maker of banh mi can commit. In Vietnam, and in high-tech local bakeries (like Paris Bakery, in Manhattan’s Chinatown), baguettes for banh mi are baked all day long; one chain in California claims fresh baguettes every 20 minutes.

For those who might be interested in making banh mi, there is this intriguing post by the blogging couple A Good Appetite, who riffs off an Emeril recipe to make their own banh mi.

In Lilburn, a block east of the turnoff to Ronald Reagan on Pleasant Hill, there are a pair of Dominican stores, one of which calls itself a Dominican restaurant and bakery. I’m hoping to find time to visit there in the near future.