Sunday, July 27, 2014

There, a Gastropub in Brookhaven

(shorter review also posted on Yelp)
There is a self-proclaimed gastropub located at 305 Brookhaven Ave Ste 1200 in Brookhaven, right across from the Costco. The building is brownstone-brick and the first thing you'll see is a green awning with tables for the exterior seating. I parked at the edge of the Costco parking lot and crossed Brookhaven Ave and walked in - basically it was love at first sight.

Before I get too much into the restaurant itself I should explain the concept of the gastropub - this is/was a term that was relatively unknown in the US until the 1990's. I believe it all started in the UK with a bit different pub tradition than is known in the US. If you've ever traveled into the British Isles you'll know that pubs are less about going to a place and getting drunk (like in the US) and more about a neighborhood gathering place - you'll frequently see whole families with "wee lit'l babes" and everyone else in the household enjoying a family meal while the adults enjoy a pint of bitters. Things were originally different - more about the drink and less about the food (foods offered would typically center around cold and pickled snacks). This changed when the movement towards real foods began (the pubs started serving shepherd's pie, fish and chips, etc.) in the late 20th century. Neighborhood pubs now are more about community and less about drunkedness (not that this doesn't also occur, the emphasis is just different). In the US pubs frequently surrounded the blue-collar factories up north, to offer up a  beer-or-three for workers exiting shifts as a spot to kill some time before returning home. The emphasis here has always been more on the drink, and less on the food, thus the preponderance of snacky-fried-foods as US pub-foods. .

The movement towards the gastropub in the US, I think coincided with the expansion of craft beers - the kids who most appreciated the "art of beer" wanted something more than a greasy chicken-finger to accompany the higher quality beers that are now available. From this was born the gastropub (basically a portmanteau of gastronomy and pub) currently sweeping the nation. The gastropub There is no exception in regards to this latest and fine obsession with fine beers and upscale foods.

Walking through the front door the first thing you see is the bar - what else? There are tables along the walls and the aforementioned exterior seating - all very homey and pub-like. I arrived around 1:00 PM-ish and originally picked out There as a brunch spot (this was a Sunday) - most of the crowd had already departed so there were only people at about half the tables - I chose to sit at the bar and had a very pleasant conversation with Bill tending bar - it started with a discussion of the menu and naturally gravitated towards the beer - I noticed a lot of Monday Night Brewing taps - and immediately went with the Coffee Imperial IPA - something I hadn't yet tried. It was delicious and I was responsible for demolishing several pints.

Due to my change of plans (I don't drink beer with breakfast foods - the best laid plans and all that), I started looking over the other menu items - quite a bit to digest there (sorry about the puns). I settled on the Seared Pork Belly with fresh Kimchi and Cascabel sauce.

I really enjoyed this dish as it reminded me of  Sam-Gyup-Sal (inverted wok pork-belly - if you haven't tried Honey Pig in Duluth you're missing out). The pork-belly was on the edge of crispy with a fair bit of caramelization topped with "kimchee" - in all quite good and worth ordering. My only thought and something I voiced to Bill when he asked how I liked it was that the kimchee could use a bit more fermentation and his reply was that it was fresh and he asked if I was a chef? I told him that even a week of exposure would give it a bit of fermentation and improve the acid, something that the fat needed in my opinion and told him about my cooking experience. This is when the usual 5-degrees of separation conversation happens and I was introduced to many people in the kitchen who knew some of my former coworkers at Indigo. Small world in the Atlanta culinary scene.

For an entrée I ordered the Crab Cake Sandwich - blue claw crab with fresh poblano slaw. This was also quite good and could use a little punch in my opinion (I like a stronger contrast in flavors than most - I think most of you would find it just fine) - next time I order a side of spicy mustard or a remoulade if they have it. Not that I would slater the sandwich with it, but it's nice to have something vinegary with the richness of the crab. The fries were nothing to write home about - fresh cut but a bit limp - next time I'll sub something else.

Some other selections that looked interesting: Smoked Salmon wrapped shrimp with red be3ans and rice; There burger - grass fed beef, sautéed onion and poblano pepper; Roasted Duck Leg with braised turnip greens and butternut squash puree; Garlic Rosemary fries.

After sitting for a bit a trio of jazz musicians set up and began playing by the entry. Nothing better than fine live music, a full belly and a great pint of beer! I think I spent about an hour-and-a-half in the pub and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Brookhaven certainly deserves and needs this fine establishment and hope them great success. I plan on investigating the location for our seasonal holiday party at work - I think the setting and food would endear my coworkers to this gastropub much as it has impressed me towards returning.

Trying going There, I think you'll like it.

-- John

There Brookhaven on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Southbound in Downtown Chamblee

(shorter review also published on Yelp)
Southbound is best described as a Nouveaux Southern American restaurant (don't worry, I'll explain) built in the rather restaurant starved city of Chamblee. In fact, it's right down the street from the Chamblee courthouse on 5394 Peachtree Rd, occupying the location 100 year-old (or so) Masonic Lodge. Southbound was first suggested to me by my old friend Robbie C. who had eaten there for lunch - from his descriptions I could tell he was mightily impressed, and he's not one to impress easy. I've really been looking forward to a visit - when one of my friends suggested getting a group there for dinner Friday night I was like "Let's do it!"

I looked for the location using Google Maps and basically went right past it - the restaurant is in a row of attached buildings that I was familiar with - one of my friends once owned a vintage toy store in one bay and right in the middle was at one time a tofu processing plant. Driving back I entered from the South end and saw the old, inadequate parking and found a brand new lot had been added on the Northern end - good thinking there. Nothing kills a business more, especially in Atlanta, than to have poor or no parking. This became even more relevant as I learned who one of the owner's of Southbound is, as I'll relate later.

Walking up there's a hand-fashioned wooden sign with "SOUTHBOUND" carved into it vertically - it was laying to the left of the back entrance and with the eyelet screws visible at the top, will presumably be hung nearby. The double doors and above-the-entry (transom?) window has certainly been added as I don't have any memory of it being there from my previous visits, prior to the restaurant being there. Walking in I received a really fantastic shotgun-shack view through the dining room and into the exit on the opposite end (turned out to be the front entrance) - this was my first indication that the restaurant was something really special - my second was the very high ceilings with exposed brownstone brick and wood and third, being immediately greeted by an extremely attentive staff. Outside the front door is lacking in signage, but there is a small chalk board noting that Southbound is open for dinner.

I looked for my dining companion and when I figured out she wasn't there, I went to the end of the bar and took a seat. After looking at the menu I decided to order a very nice Boulevard Tank No. 7 Farmhouse Ale - it's so nice having something other than the usual to sample and this was indeed a treat. Tank No. 7 is a saison style ale, something like a Belgian but with a bit more fruit - much more robust that the weiss beers that I despise, with a bit more yeast and none of that silly sweetness you find in some Belgians. This was a delicious choice which I continued through dinner and thus far, Southbound felt more like a gastropub than fine dining - must have been my vantage at the bar. My former colleague showed up a few minutes later and ordered a house white which she found very good.

While seated at the bar I was noticed by someone who appeared to be the owner to me (he was helping out doing some bar-back work and answering questions from servers and hosts) - I introduced myself and he addressed himself as Dennis (Lange) - I soon found out through conversation that he was one of the partners. As we talked he realized that I was also one of the many "restaurant people" in the area and through discussion we noted that there were about three degrees of separation between us. He was the owner of a restaurant I would occasionally visit called Yakitori Den Chan that existed in Buckhead across from the Roxy. He was also one of the partners of 5 Seasons Brewing - I remember that place in the Prado fondly (it was originally Phoenix Brewing? I don't remember as it seems it's always been 5 Seasons) - now we get to the part about parking I referenced earlier - 5 Seasons basically got screwed (my opinion) by the builders when the Prado was being revamped to house Target and Home Depot - the parking was so screwed up there that what was a thriving business become decimated - it's hard to believe anything survived in the Prado while all the building was going on. In any case I spoke about my own experiences working for the Buckhead Life Group and finally at Indigo Coastal Grill - turns out he got married there - and that's where the 3 degrees of separation comes from. The other partner is Mike Plummer - who I didn't get the chance to meet but hope to at some point.

We talked at length regarding the attention to detail that is very evident in Southbound - it took a lot of time to put together this wonderful space. His desire was to reuse as much of the existing materials as possible so a lot of the space is recycled from the old. I think he's done a fantastic job and that alone makes Southbound remarkable. I also met several of the other staff members including someone (I don't remember her name) who is working on turning new handles for the beer taps on a lathe - it's really tough to assemble a multi-talented, cross-functional team like what Dennis has done here - well worth the visit. The space is large, with two long galleys, a separate room to the right of the front door and stars to an outside deck (that overlooks the back of the space - the front overlooks the train tracks and is very industrial, so the back is a much better choice).

Ok, let's get to the food. I had read a few reviews and knew of a few of the signature items to try. The lunch chef is Mihoko Obunai and along with Ryan Smith and their past experience at Watershed (another restaurant I'm very fond of) I came with great expectations. Turns out the evening menu is done by chef Cooper Miller, formerly of Livingston (which is what occupies the old Mayoral home of Livingston Mims and now features fine-dining in a modern setting). I knew that the menu was going to be something special - I think they refer to it as "Southern soul food with local flare and an international twist" but I like to think of it as "Nouveaux Southern American" - think of southern basics but then add some Asian fusion and interesting techniques to the mix. I thought at first to just order the appetizers however after reading some of the entrée selections, we went with two apps and two entrees:

Hand Chopped Beef Tartar: Shallot, Creole Mustard, Olive Oil, Quail Yolk
I'm a big fan of rare beef and this tartar was quite up my alley - the addition of the piquant mustard and shallot and then the creaminess of the quail egg made this appetizer my favorite of the two. Served with home-cut and hot-temperature-fried chips.

Wood Grilled Octopus: Smoked potatoes, persillade, crème fraiche, green tomatoes
I loved the smokiness of this dish but do wish the portions were about a third larger. I really enjoyed the green tomatoes (I initially though they were cucumbers - they provided some needed crunch) - personally I would have liked a bit more acidity in this dish to make it perfect, but I think it would satisfy most palates.

GA Shrimp and Grits: Leeks, Fennel, Overnight Tomatoes, Fines Herb, Crispy Smoked Pork Belly
OK, I'll admit that I'm a sucker for grits dishes prepared with seafood - back when I was at Indigo we had a Low-County stir-fry on jalapeno-cheezy grits that sold me on this type of dish. This was very good with just the right amount of smokiness from the pork belly (in my photos that's the nub sitting on top).

Smoked Bone-In Short Rib: Herbed Spaetzle, Shallots, Mustard Greens, Pickled Mustard, Jus
Now this dish basically rocked my world - somehow Southbound has managed the impossible - the meat was fork tender and basically ready to fall off the bone, and yet it wasn't dry and had an amazing amount of smoky flavor. Simply delicious. I do wish the garnish was a bit larger but I won't quibble - this is a must try.

The service was really amazing with plenty of people coming by to check on us - the bartenders were very attentive as the restaurant filled up (they became quite busy), however there was no slighting us as we spoke with several patrons. The attitude of everyone we met was very upbeat - and Chamblee certainly deserves this fine upscale establishment. I'm glad to see that Chamblee is starting to come into its own when it comes to dining (sure there are plenty of Asian nearby and Buford Hwy is close, but Southbound shows what can be done in an otherwise ignored corner of small-town, ex-industrial suburbia).

-- John

Southbound on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Nook on Piedmont Park - Midtown - Final Stop of Eat the Peachtree Restaurant Crawl!

(a shorter version of this review also posted to Yelp) 
The Nook on Piedmont Park is the ninth of nine and final stop as part of "Eat the Peachtree 2014" - I called it the "Peachtree Road Crawl" in my Twitter and Facebook posts as the event was going on. Locate all the posts along with an intro if you search my blog with ETP2014. We walked from restaurant to restaurant in search of the best flavors and drinking venues in Atlanta, while enjoying the same sights as you would while running the Peachtree Road Race.

Continuing from Tap on Peachtree, we walked down 14th St towards Piedmont Park and ended up at the bottom of the hill on Piedmont Ave - the Nook on Piedmont Park is located at 1144 Piedmont Ave NE - the venue is billed as a neighborhood tavern but the food is much more unusual in origin and presentation. The Nook has most of the trappings of a sports bar with multiple flat panel TVs, a large covered patio, a large bar including 13 beers on tap, and food offerings that are mostly organic and locally grown.

We arrived at the Nook about 10:00 PM and by this time I believe we were about done - surprisingly, none of the original seven participants had fallen to the wayside, as had been predicted. In fact, everyone's spirits were quite good and the atmosphere was still one of fun and camaraderie. The interior was very tavern-ish and reminded me of some of those bars/pubs you see in Daytona Beach - flashback city! We set up shop on the patio in front of a huge TV and ordered drinks and snacks including two fishbowls and two different tater-tots.

The Fishbowl is a whole gallon of mixed drink served in a spherical, clear "fishbowl" plastic bucket, served with multiple "jumbo" straws so a group of 4-6 can all share in the same drink. We ordered two different, one was tart and citrusy and the other was more like a vodka/cranberry. These were way over the top and really, it was much more alcohol than what we should have attempted.

We also ordered two different tater-tot dishes that the Nook calle "Totchos" - the Nacho Totchos and the Buffalo Chicken Totchos. The food was quite good and the service fantastic. We sat for a bit and I tried like hell to finish one of those fishbowls (the tart one) - I managed to drink about half before being too full to continue. In all, loved the place, the atmosphere and service. I hope to return and try that gigantic Bloody Mary and a burger.

By 11:00 PM or so, I was feeling like I needed to get home. Kevin and I started walking back to the Arts Center MARTA station to catch the train back up to Lenox and Chamblee Stations, respectively. The midtown skyline is quite beautiful in the evening, even from the sidewalks. After the walk and waiting for the train, I managed to get in my truck by 12:00 or so. By then much of the buzz had worn off (good thing, too as I would have gotten a cab otherwise).

I think we all agreed that the Eat the Peachtree 2014 was a great success, and that we had an inordinate amount of fun. Can't wait to do it again in 2015!

-- John

The Nook on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Tap a Gastropub - Midtown - Eighth Stop of Eat the Peachtree Restaurant Crawl

(a shorter version of this review also posted to Yelp) 
Tap (a gastropub) is the eighth of nine stops (one more to go!) as part of "Eat the Peachtree 2014" - I called it the "Peachtree Road Crawl" in my Twitter and Facebook posts as the event was going on. Locate all the posts along with an intro if you search my blog with ETP2014. We walked from restaurant to restaurant in search of the best flavors and drinking venues in Atlanta, while enjoying the same sights as you would while running the Peachtree Road Race.

Continuing from Watershed on Peachtree, we walked past the first structure I actually think of as the defining Buckhead-to-Midtown crossover point - the Silhouette building on the East side of Peachtree, then past the High Museum on the West side of Peachtree, where I got this fabulous dusk shot...

A bit further and you come to Tap, a Gastropub just North of 14th St at 1180 Peachtree St NE - I've visited before a couple of times for drinks, it's an especially nice location when your finished with the High, MODA or on your way to the Fox for a show. The building is all concrete and steel with glass everywhere while the interior is a combination of modernist and English pub. Tap is part of a larger chain of restaurants and pubs including Two Urban Licks, One Midtown Kitchen and Juniper and Ivy (there are about 3-4 others). They all feature interesting menus, huge beer collections and at some locations, live entertainment.

We decided that by this point (definitely evening, I think it was around 9:30 PM), we were a bit too sweaty to eat inside so we marched out to the patio. The patio is quite special, with great views of passers-by and unbroken views of Peachtree St (this would be one of the spots I would dig to watch the Peachtree Rd Race). By the time we arrived at Tap we were getting both a bit buzzed and needed some fuel, so we decided to order something a bit more definitive here. The menu is more extensive than some with a separate drink and beer list of specials/seasonals, then a small booklet containing most of the signature menu items.

I ordered one of my favorites, New Holland's Dragon's Milk Stout - if you haven't tried this you're really missing out. Rich with dark flavors and a hint of chocolate, it's truly delicious - also at 10% alcohol you get the buzz that you pay for. I only did one though - by the time I got to the bottom of the glass everything was starting to catch up with me.

For food we decided on:

Crispy Duck Wings - served with a garlic honey dip
These were quite good, cooked until most of the fatty bits are rendered out but still retaining the flavors so you don't really need the dip, it's just a bonus.

Pub Burger - 50% brisket and 50% chuck, American chees, homemade bread and butter pickles served on a whole wheat English Muffin
We ordered two so they could be quartered and everyone would get a bite. Also each came with a side, so we got fries on one and the mac-and-cheese on the other (this latter was quite good).

The service was good but slow (maybe relaxed is a better term), I didn't feel like we were being slighted but it took a while to get our food and drinks (the place wasn't busy for a Saturday night - not much going on the evening of July 5th I guess). As with other restaurants I've encountered, this might be due to our being on the patio instead of being at an interior table - I'm not sure. I'd like to return and sample more of the regular menu and make an evening of it.

We hung out at the Tap for a bit before continuing to our final location, The Nook, which is near the end of the race along Piedmont Park.

-- John

TAP on Urbanspoon