Sunday, December 14, 2014

Barrelhouse - a Gastropub in Midtown Atlanta

(shorter review posted to Yelp)
The Barrelhouse is located at 22 5th St N W, Ste B, Atlanta, GA 30308 near the Eastern side of the Georgia Tech campus (near the hotel and in the same block as the gigantic Barnes and Nobel Book Store). I love that you can shop for books while drinking a nice Starbucks Americano (vente with two extra shots for me!) while doing some research or attending a meeting, then end up at a beer-and-burger joint to wind down the night!

I've had occasion to visit the Barrelhouse several times this past year - usually after TAG meetings or other technology meetups (often hosted at the Synergy building at 75 5th St) - this is a great location for after-meeting beers and food. I'll admit to mostly enjoying the beer and the social aspect, but of the food I've tried here (mostly apps like the Dr Pepper wings - try those for something different!), I've got nothing but great comments. The other reason to try Barrelhouse is the great service, especially when you sit at the bar.

I've been enjoying the Lagunitas Dogtown IPA - this California pale ale has really captured the essence of a good IPA and I recommend it highly. Another to try is the Boulevard Single Wide IPA - I rate it as good if just slightly different from the Lagunitas Dogtown and if you're an IPA fan like me, you'll get by just fine with either.

Thus far I've tried the following food items:

Fired Pickle Chips, Fried Green Beans, Chipotle Pimento, Sweet Potato Fries and the wings (a couple of varieties). All were good pubish items, mostly fried and swell accompaniments to the various beer selection. I've found that just about anything that isn't sweet goes well with the IPAs. As already mentioned, try the Dr Pepper wings - there's something special and different that you won't find anywhere else.

As an entry, there's really only one thing to order here - the Bobby Dodd burger! This gigantic burger will surely please any burger lover especially if you like them loaded. This is a feast of a sandwich will many over-powering flavors, fighting each other like those players on the field beloved by it's namesake. I do also love the slab fries and the onion ring!

So further comments? Although this place is called a gastropub, I feel like that label is pushing it a bit. Usually when you go to a gastropub you get more non-bar selections of food and to me, this place is a bar all day and every day. They do have a good selection of brews on tap, but nowhere near the selection of some other gastropubs I've visited. Don't get me wrong, Barrelhouse can stand on its own-two-legs just fine as a bar and the food is indeed above average, but I would hope to see more interesting items on the menu to entice fans of a gastropub, but that may just be the foodie in me.

The place can be rather on the dark side in the evenings - I like the outside patio when it's open. You'll see the occasional nebbish or lumbersexual roaming around outside but mostly what you'll see inside are students (not too many hipsters coming to Barrelhouse - they're mostly at the Starbucks in the same block). There's parking across the street (paid for, as most parking in this part of town) or you can do what I do and take MARTA to midtown - this is 5 blocks South of that station).

-- John

Barrelhouse on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Harbour House Pub - Decatur GA

(shorter version also published on Yelp)
Harbour House Pub is located at 129 Church St, Decatur GA 30020, a bit down the hill on Church to the south of Ponce (I think of this as the back-side of Decatur). I'm not quite sure what the place was previously, but I think it was formerly a seafood restaurant? I was invited to a birthday party in late July and was eager to try Harbour House as it had been recommended to me. The interior was more of a converted house with chopped-up rooms and seating along walls - the back of the building seems to hold the kitchen. The owners were well able to instill the "fish shack" feel that they intended, I believe (although it was a lot cleaner than any fish shack I ever visited on any coast!). The hard interior surfaces did produce a high noise level, however - I think what makes this place special is the exterior seating, especially around the bar.

The party was well underway when we arrived (actually I believe there was more than one going on) - seating was mostly covered by umbrellas along a gravel path throughout the back, fence enclosed yard. I loved the old-growth trees that help shade the are in back - these are really special and one of the reasons Decatur in general is a great place to visit. There's also a stage in back with above-average music going on - this night a duet with jazzy-vocals and great guitar.

There were a few appetizers offered up to get the party going - but I also ordered one of my favorite local brews - the Monday Night Brewing Drafty Kilt. So glad Harbour had this (along with some other faves like a Terrapin Brewing's Hopsecutioner and Recreation Ale, Wild Heaven Ode to Mercy and my old standby, Sweetwater 420). The wings offered as an app were very good - more of the dry-rub variety than the sauce-drenched.


 The menu had a few anticipated items of the seafood variety, cooked in your choice of: Asian Curry, Piccata or Low Country. There were some chef specials along with oysters on-the-half-shell, a variety of sandwiches and tacos.

I ordered the Shrimp, Andouille & Grits which I considered good but not great. I think it could have used a bit more spice as the cream-sauce didn't differentiate itself too much from the underlying grits. I started with a very good House salad while another at our table had the Ahi Tuna Tartare which I thought very good. I also tried the Fish-and-Chips which was good (still doesn't compare to the grouper I had at Red Bar but what can you do?)


Others at the table ordered the Southern Fried Shrimp Platter (one as presented with slaw and the other with Mac-n-cheese). The Fuji Apple slaw was excellent as was the pasta - the shrimp were good but once again not great (but then again I'm not a huge fan of fried shrimp so I may not be the best to judge). To me, much of the frying of seafood tends to destroy the delicacy of the flavor and certainly,, the texture changes quite a bit - but then again, many don't like the texture of seafood so this can improve things for some.

Plenty of available parking in a gravel lot to the rear. I haven't mentioned service yet but in general I thought it was a bit spotty (that may have been more due to the party experience, with people milling around. In our case we stayed at the same table and it took a long time to get a drink order, for the drink to arrive and ultimately for our ordered food to arrive. I got a feeling that they don't quite have this part down yet and hopefully that will improve).

As the evening got into dusk the atmosphere really changed and enhanced the experience. I can't imagine anyone not enjoying a pint of bitters while listening to the excellent music. I'm coming back this spring when things warm up a bit to see about some of the other menu items, but mostly to re-experience that great back yard and stage.

-- John

Monday, December 1, 2014

Shoya Izakaya - Doraville GA

(also updated my review on Yelp)
Shoya Izakaya is located at 6035 Peachtree Rd Ste A101, Doraville GA 30360 in the Super H Mart shopping center - at the Northern-most end. I've reviewed this restaurant before and was surprised to learn that it had been almost 4 years since the last time I visited, so I've decided to make up for it by taking many photos of a great variety of food, and providing some details lacking in my first review.

Shoya is my favorite restaurant to inform my friends about, when they want to get some traditional Japanese food (my other favorite is Nakato but for different reasons). To get an idea of how long it's been, the last time I ate here the menu was, from what I recall, about 4 pages of text. The current menu is this ginormous volume with tons of glossy photos. If you can't find something on the menu to turn you on then there's something wrong with you. By any standard, this is a fantastic and memorable restaurant. I'm happy to say that the service and quality is still up to par, even with my long absence.

Shoya was more of a type of "drinking" restaurant in the past - what I mean by that is that there are these, well let's call them pubs, in Japan that I experienced while living there, that feature many cask-aged bourbon and better-quality drinks, with small dishes that could be ordered to specifically enhance the drinking experience. These are mostly the kushiyaki that are on the current menu and much of it is served in small portions as yakitori (grilled bits of fish and veggies) in salt or covered with yakitori sauce (the thicker cousin on teriyaki that most Americans are familiar with) - if you're unsure of what to order, try a few of these - they're served on small plates like tappas. I'm happy to say that Shoya has greatly expanded the menu to include many other traditional Japanese treats like udons, soba, ramen and yakisoba (all noodle dishes).

Shoya has many interesting drink items on their extensive menu, however I elected to start things off with one of my favorite Japanese beers, Asahi Dry - note that it may seem expensive on the menu but these come in the big, honking liter bottles so they're actually a great deal.

For dinner, I choose the Tonkotsu Ramen (based on a great review by my friend Debby L.) and asked the waiter about something spicy as a Shoya special roll - he recommended the Red Dragon Roll (which I didn't find very spicy at all but it was still very good).

My dining companions ordered the following:

Orion Premium Draft - I got a sip of this and frankly, this will be what I order the next time. It was a bit crisper than my old standby Asahi Dry and quite good.

Duck and Scallop Kushiyaki - this looked quite delicious and smelled divine

King Oyster Mushroom Kushiyaki - another standby of mine

Tonkotsu Ramen - the non-spicy version of what I ordered

Chicken Karaage - your basic Japanese fried chicken with ginger sauce (my apologies about the blurry photo but you get the idea)

Hibachi Steak and Beef with Asparagus - fantastic cuts of meat

Eel Omelet - I've never had this, but it's basically unagi wrapped in tamago

Agedashi Tofu - tofu deep fried in potato starch

Doraville Roll - yellow tail, salmon roe, avocado and miso sauce

Shoya Box - bento boxed smoked salmon, flounder and salmon roe. This was quite good and had a rather delicate consistency, sort of like eating cake!

Totoro Tataki and Hamachi - fatty bluefin tuna - not cheap but well worth it!... and a piece of yellow tail.

Red Dragon Roll - spicy tuna, smelt roe, unagi, avocado and cucumber - this is the not-so-spicy roll that I ordered - it was served with a bit of whimsy to make it dragon-like, I guess. Good but it could easily have been twice as hot.

Spicy Tonkotsu Ramen - port broth, slice of roasted pork, bamboo shoots, hard-boiled egg - I really, really loved this dish. It's really hard to find good pork broth and Shoya does this right. The chili oil floating on top really makes this dish - I didn't leave a drop!

Service, in a word, was fantastic. In typical fashion the waiter talked really fast, was very accurate and did a great job following up with us. We got to the restaurant without a reservation about 6:30 PM on a Saturday evening and managed to get seated within about 30 minutes - the place was getting packed as we sat. If you decide to try Shoya, call ahead for a reservation. Plenty of parking and a waiting area off to the side.  Still 5 stars in my book, and yes, I'm keeping score!


-- John

Shoya Izakaya on Urbanspoon