Chequers is an exceptionally good looking restaurant at the corner of Perimeter Center Parkway and Hammond Road, just south and west of Perimeter Mall and next to the local Fuddruckers. The inside of Chequers is also appealing, with waitstaff dressed in white shirts, black ties, black vests, and knee length smocks. Blackboards seem to sprout from everywhere, and a ton of wood is used to give a luxurious country club experience. This quote from a reviewer at Citysearch sets the tone appropriately:

Luxury reminiscent of New York’s Union Station reigns at this neighbor to Perimeter Mall. Mirrors extend space into infinity; stained glass gives off a soft glow.

Entrance to Chequers Seafood Grill.

Entrance to Chequers Seafood Grill.

Lobster specials during Happy Hour.

Lobster specials during Happy Hour.

Inside,  I was with a large group and we were more worried about food. They had a fistful of fresh fish choices. Our waiter announced that halibut had become available and sea bass no longer was on the menu.  Others in the party wondered about Chequer’s cioppino, and yet others puzzled out the details of keeping their food kosher. We all ordered. I ordered a cup of gumbo because I like gumbos, and also their rainbow trout, in part because it was a North Carolina product (hence close), and because I’ve had good luck with trout at seafood restaurants.

A good gumbo, flavorful and nicely spiced.

A good gumbo, flavorful and nicely spiced.

A nice grilled trout.

A nice grilled trout.

The gumbo was a pleasant surprise, with bits of sausage, fish, tomato, and okra floating in a nice dark broth.The spicing was what I like, rich and full with enough pepper to let you know it was there.  Others had a lobster bisque, a pretty soup with a light brown to tan color. None of it was waiting in bowls by the time the entrees arrived.

I was generally pleased with my trout. It was white, and most trout I’ve seen has been pink. Diet, I’m told, controls the color, and this was a tender, tasty chunk of fish. Googling on pink and white trout turned up a charming New York Times archive from 1884. If our 19th century cousins are to be believed, color has little to do with the flavor of the fish.

Service, if I haven’t said, was very good to excellent.

Verdict: A very good seafood restaurant that delivers the goods. Good to excellent service. Highly recommended.

Chequers Seafood Grill
236 Perimeter Center Parkway Northeast
Atlanta , GA 30346
(770) 391-9383

Chequers Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Provino’s Italian Restaurant is a well regarded Italian restaurant located in the strip mall at the corner of highway 78 and 124 (Scenic Highway). Provino’s is in the same general area as Sri Thai and the Snellville Diner. It’s a chain, with at least one other location near the corner of Pleasant Hill Road and Satellite Boulevard, near Haru Ichiban and Cho Wan BBQ.

I’ve eaten there once, perhaps three years ago, and my strongest memory of that time is my conversation with the waiter, who leaned in close to me and whispered, “They don’t put much spice on the food here.” And that’s been what I recall of it. I have tried to get my family to come several times, as it’s conveniently located, but without much luck.

Recently, however, we were in the “what to eat for dinner” mode, and I suggested we order food to go from Provino’s. This review will be based on that food, and really won’t say much about the experience of eating inside Provino’s. While I was waiting for our order, however, what I saw looked good. They have a well stocked bar, a collection of antique food gear up front (an ancient coffee maker, a now obsolete meat grinder, etc), and what looks like a lot of booth seating that is well separated and semi-private. I should also note they had a steady stream of customers and seemingly happy ones.

We ordered two seafood dishes and an angel hair pasta. The food came with salads and small tasty bread rolls. But the first thing to note is the servings sizes are large and the food is rich. I’m becoming aware of this kind of thing because I’m having to control my portion sizes these days.

The salads were large, with a large portion of the salad devoted to iceberg lettuce and grated cheese. There was a slice of beet, a bit of tomato and red cabbage, mushrooms, chick peas, and a couple tiny slices of cucumber. The rolls were small, maybe the size of a plum, and they were heavy with butter.

My dish was the angel hair dalvina, a mix of fine noodles, artichokes, tomatoes, and spinach, in an alfredo sauce. Great stuff, tasty, mild, and too much for dinner for me at this time. I saved about a quarter of it for later. My wife had the seafood trio with a marinara sauce, with shrimp, scallops, and clams. She liked it quite a bit. She also had leftovers. My daughter ordered a dish called the cioppino, a very rich mix of seafood, in a ‘spicy sauce’.  The cioppino had mussels, crab, shrimp, clams, scallops and snapper and the dish was by far the largest, best tasting, and most spectacular of the three. My daughter was still eating parts of it three days later.

Verdict: Good rich food served in generous portions. If you love rich foods, Provino’s is highly recommended.

Provino’s Italian Restaurant
2252 Main Street East
Snellville, GA 30078
(770) 972-8411

Provino's Italian Restaurant (Snellville) 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

Pure Taqueria isn’t your Dad’s Taco Bell. It isn’t your Mom’s Del Taco. It’s a shockingly good place to eat, with food that looks as if it could be on the menu of any fine restaurant. Pure Tacqueria is also in the process of becoming a chain. They openly promote franchise opportunities on their website, and there are two  locations now, one in Alpharetta Georgia and one in Woodstock Georgia. This review will cover the Alpharetta location.

I came during a lunch hour recently, and the first thing I noted was the total lack of parking at the site. There are about 10 parking spaces by the restaurant. About 1 block down Roswell Street, there is public parking, and plenty of it. And I’m thankful for that, because I then seemed to be in a foot race with 6-7 other people to get into Pure.

Once there, since there was one of me, I was quickly seated. People with larger groups were taking longer this day, maybe 5 minutes or so. Once seated, I had waitstaff asking for drinks almost immediately. To note, the look of the staff is pretty casual. The waiters, bartenders and cooks are dressed in T-shirts. And although the eatery is built from an old wooden frame house, the tables and chairs are of a modern, clean design.

The menu is a single laminated sheet, with one side reserved for drinks and the other a list of foods. Food here isn’t cheap, nor is it expensive. Appetizers run from $5 to $12, and entrees run from $8.50 to $15.00. A typical entree is about $10. Tacos, which run about $10, come 3 at a time at that price. I called my coworkers (this was a work day) and took orders. As for myself I was going to eat there, and ordered the Pescado Veracruz.

Chips came quickly. They were a little thicker than some corn chips, but dry and crisp and tasty. The salsa that came with it was bright with cilantro and moderately spicy. I can see some Atlantans complaining about the heat in this salsa, but I loved it, myself.

The Pescado Veracruz surprised me. I was expecting a fish dish, not fish surrounded by 8 mussels. The look of the meal was fantastic. And the taste was there too. I love mussels, and the fish was really fine as well.

As far up Highway 400 as this restaurant lies, Pure Taqueria isn’t convenient to Snellville. But there is a buzz about this place. It’s currently the #1 restaurant as ranked by Urban Spoon, and throughout lunch, there were people coming into the place. For those who work along “IT corridor” during the days, or have time on weekends, this place would be a worthwhile investment in time.

Verdict: Great little restaurant, really good food and a casual air. Highly recommended.

Pure Tacqueria
103 Roswell St
Alpharetta, GA 30o09
(678) 240-0023

Pure Taqueria on Urbanspoon

They call them flats, but they look like pizzas to me. They’re oblong ovals, covered with a light sampling of toppings. Mine was an Italian sausage flat, and it was crisp, tasty, and certainly worth the $9.50 I spent to get it.

I wasn’t intending to go to Urban Flats. All I wanted to do was find it. It turns out to be in the same mall area as Red Robin and Ted’s Montana Grill. If you head to Red Robin, you’ll pass Urban Flats on your left.

It was a peculiar time of the day. No one was around, but once I stepped inside I had to see a little more. This is a place with some very promising reviews (here from the AJC and here from Chow Down Atlanta). And it is pretty. Urban Flats has high ceilings, a kind of industrial roof. Most of the clientele this time of the day were female, with cell phones glued to their ears.  Below the roof it has a kind of modern look. I asked to sit at the bar, as it made some sense. They have inside and outside seating, for those wanting some breeze with their food.

Urban Flats is part wine bar, part restaurant and by my count, they had 24 wines on tap, and about 10 different beers on tap. The wines.. I don’t know wine well, but I’m sure they have something you like if you’re into that kind of thing. Beers on tap included Yuengling, Guiness, Bass Ale. In bottles they have a wide range of beers, from Bud Light and Corona to exotic microbrews. I ordered a Guiness and their Italian sausage flat. Atop the glass doors and steel enclosing the wines being tapped is a selection of liquors and liqueurs (I recall a nice big bottle of Drambuie, which my father favors).

Service was very good,  considering the hour I arrived. I had no trouble getting attention when I wanted it, but staff were chatting among themselves, since it was so slow. I can’t give you any indication of how it would be at, say, 9pm at night.

Prices are better than you might expect. If you compare Urban Flat’s prices to Red Robin or Ted’s, they’re about the same. If you compare their flats to Mellow Mushroom‘s small, once you add toppings, they’re about the same. The flatbreads are not competitive with Mellow’s medium or large pizzas, but then again, that’s an entirely different market altogether.

Verdict: I haven’t been here enough to call this more than a first impression, but the restaurant is pretty, the food is good and competitive in price with surrounding restaurants. The beer collection is quite good. Highly recommended if you like wine or beer with your food. Especially recommended if you’re younger and want the possibility of a social scene with your food.

Urban Flats Flatbread Company
1250 Scenic Hwy SW
Lawrenceville, GA 30045
(678) 344-2022

Urban Flats Flatbread Co. on Urbanspoon

We’ve been traveling a bit – the first vacation devoted to something other than relatives in some years, mostly up and down the Atlantic Coast. The best of the restaurants we ate at was Paula Deen’s Lady and Sons, but I’ll reserve that for a separate review. The others I’ll concatenate here, and also update the boonie pepper status, as they have sprouted.

boonie pepper sprouts.

boonie pepper sprouts.

The details:  The seeds were soaked overnight in water, and the Jiffy Peat pellets were watered with warm water with a little hydrogen peroxide. I added a tablespoon of 3% to 370 ml of water, but I suspect that’s really too much (I’ve seen a teaspoon in a pint or quart recommended). The seeds have been incubating 13 days in a 12 pellet Jiffy peat container, sometimes in the sun, but the last 5 days just near a window, no direct sunlight, using Park Seed’s windowsill heating strip.  The window sill was getting so cold it was counterproductive, whereas warm and near some sun seemed to make more sense to me. If I can get 4 good plants fully grown, I’m in business.

We went up and down the coast the past few days, going as far north as Myrtle Beach, SC and as far south as Tybee Island, GA. We touched on a number of interesting places to eat, but as we’re largely a Atlanta area blog these will be minireviews.

Myrtle Beach

Myrtle is not a pure white sand beach, but a light brown beach. It’s long and large, with hotels as far as the eye can see both north and south. Hotels were advertising prices as low as $27.00 a day. There is a lot to see and do, but mostly my wife wanted to watch waves. There was a restaurant near our hotel, called the Pier. If you walked to the pier just north of this one, there was another restaurant there named Pier 14 (getting original here). My wife ate at the Pier. There were decent shrimp in her po boy but the bread was spongy.

A balcony view of Myrtle Beach.

A balcony view of Myrtle Beach.

South Carolina Ginger Ales

I’ve been fascinated by spicy ginger ales ever since I saw a special by Charles Kuralt where he visited a ginger ale manufacturer in Blenheim SC. I know now that Vernor’s has a bit more bite than generic ginger ale, and that if I can get Stewart’s ginger beer (also described here and here), then I can have a nice spicy treat. But what I ran into in a Piggly Wiggly in Myrtle Beach is Blenheim’s Ginger Ale, which in the version I had started smooth and ended with a really nice kick (I wonder what C. Kuralt drank?). For those interested in the comparison between the various ginger ales, there is some discussion of it on Yelp.

This ginger ale has some kick to it. Now if I could find the red cap version..

This ginger ale has some kick to it. Now if I could find the red cap version..

Crabby Mike’s Calabash Buffet, 290 Highway 17 N, Surfside Beach, SC

The nicest thing about Crabby Mike’s buffet is the way they treat people while waiting to get into the buffet. The DJ outside, along with a stack of hula hoops, is really a nice touch. It allowed impatient children of all ages to burn off energy and enjoy themselves while waiting for their meal. Once inside, the menu has no price for the buffet, other than “market price”, so I suspect their prices go up and down as crab and fish become more or less expensive. We were charged $23.99 each for our buffet.

Crabby Mike’s is really big, with three or four step tiers to the restaurant, and in the middle, 7 large islands with food on them, a wall side kiosk where you can get all kinds of fried and grilled fish, and then desserts along one wall. There was a lot of space devoted to snow crab legs and crab clusters, and one section devoted entirely to crab claws. Crab legs and clams seemed to go really fast. They had a mixed collection of clams and mussels and the mussels were enormous.

The food? Mostly good. The snow crabs were saltier than I expected, but certainly edible. My wife went back for seconds on crab. My daughter stuck to the crab claws when she could, because it wasn’t as crowded. There was a lot more seafood, a lot more southern style vegetables than the typical Atlanta based Chinese and crab buffets, but in some respects, the ambience isn’t any different. Some people were in there eating nothing but crab (and throwing half of that away).

The most surprising items I had at Crabby Mike’s were their apple stix. I wasn’t expecting the rush of cinnamon when I bit into those at all. I enjoyed those a lot.

Verdict: Recommended. The food is good, and Crabby Mike’s will make your wait painless.

Crabby Mike's Calabash on Urbanspoon

Sticky Fingers, 341 Johnny Dodds Road, Mt. Pleasant, SC

We knew about this restaurant before we ever saw one, due to their excellent Habanero Hot sauce, which partly replaced our use of the Texas based Stubbs BBQ sauce. We had eaten there once, while staying in Charleston, and we ate there again while driving south along highway 17. This section of highway 17 is just south of the land of the sea grass baskets, little kiosks littering the road selling hand made woven baskets.

The food at Sticky Fingers was good. They have excellent sauces, their chicken fingers are more fist sized than finger sized. Sticky Finger’s ribs are tender but there really is little if any smoke in them. There are better ribs at Mad Dogs in Conyers.

Verdict: Recommended. Meats are good, but the excellent sauces are really the star of Sticky Fingers.

Sticky Fingers - Mount Pleasant on Urbanspoon

Tybee Island

We had climbed the lighthouse before, but never really found the beaches, until this trip. It’s not as developed as Myrtle Beach, not as many things to see and do, but the beach is whiter, if smaller, and when we were there, the waves weren’t as bad and the weather was warmer.

AJ”s Dockside Restaurant, 1315 Chatham Ave, Tybee Island, GA

If you get far enough south on Tybee, this restaurant can be found by driving as west as you can. That’s how I found it, that and a peek at their Urban Spoon page.  The Urban spoon reviews recommended arriving just before sunset, as the view is excellent, but we had no such luck.  AJ’s has inside and outside seating, and I suspect during the spring and fall that the outside seating is the way to go. AJ’s is an honest to god hole-in-the-wall restaurant, as the inside seating is in line with their bar, while outside seating spills off onto a pier nearby.

My daughter and my wife had AJ’s po boy. I had a cup of their crab stew, and a crab burger, where instead of beef or chicken, you get eight ounces of crab meat patty on your burger bun. My wife substituted a house salad for her fries. That substitution came at no cost.

The short of it? Everything was good, but while I liked my crab burger (the patty was twice the size of my bun), I loved the crab stew. It was thick with crab meat, rich with cream. I told my wife if we come back, I’m getting a bowl of the stew. The salad had perfectly ripe tomatoes, the shrimp on the po boys were good, and the bread on the po boys was both fresh and a little toasted, as opposed to spongy.

The menu for AJ’s is available on their web site.

Verdict: Recommended, good to very good. We’ll have to get a bowl of the crab stew when we come back.

Aj's Dockside Restaurant on Urbanspoon

When you’re walking the riverfront of Savannah Georgia, and your feet hurt, your body aches, and your stomach is asking for a little attention, this restaurant delivers. For one, the inside walls are beautiful: cracked masonry that reminds me of my grandfather’s houses, or a drive into Amish country in Pennsylvania. For another, the food they serve comes at a cost that doesn’t induce immediate fear and panic.

This was our third visit to this restaurant, overall, and there was a wait this time, a short one. And once we were seated there was an argument as to whether we had sat in the exact same seat the last time. That ended when the waiter came. I ordered the stuffed flounder, my daughter and wife ordered shrimp po boys. We also ordered a soup to begin, the crab chowder.

The chowder isn’t the pure white you might associate with a New England clam chowder. Instead there is an ounce of yellow in the color, along with bits of potato and small bits of crab. I liked it, my daughter really liked it, my wife didn’t like it – there was a ‘taste’ in it, she said.  But my wife is picky about her food, and even more so when milk or cream is in food.

The po boys were large, not huge, with several large shrimp each. They came with a potato side (french fries, or baked potato). My dish came with a steamed vegetable side as well as a potato. The fish in my dish was a bit more football shaped than I anticipated, but that didn’t affect the taste. The flounder was stuffed with deviled crab, covered with red spice and tasty. My wife finished her sandwich. My daughter was feeling picky, so she ate the shrimp, but otherwise picked at her food. Maybe she was thinking of Savannah’s Candy Kitchen a little further down the street.

We ended with a bourbon pecan pie, which wasn’t bad at all, though I was wishing it were a little richer in pecans.

Service is largely good here. Our waitress was attentive and when we were asking about desserts, quite helpful.

Verdict: The Cotton Exchange delivers reliably good food for someone prowling the riverfront. Though nothing on Savannah’s riverfront is cheap, you won’t feel as if you’ve overpaid for the scenery here.

Cotton Exchange on Urbanspoon