Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thumbs Up Diner - Roswell GA

(also published on Yelp)
This Thumbs Up location is in Roswell Rd at 1140 Alpharetta St, Ste 100
Roswell, GA 30075,
South of Holcomb Bridge and on the right (West) side if your headed towards Atlanta. Specials are posted on a couple of boards to the left and right of the entrance - at a different time I would have tried the porkchop and I know a few people who would go for the strawberry waffles.

We hit the restaurant the Friday after Thanksgiving (yeah I know...) to a packed house at slightly before noon. Told there was a 15 minute wait but able to sit after 10 at the bar. Our drink order (coffee, water and juice) came promptly as we perused the rather extensive menu. Coffee is served in ginormous coffee cups - it was good, diner coffee (not on par with a dedicated coffee shop but still better than what you would typically find in Waffle House or similar).

 As you can see the menu has quite a selection and should be able to satisfy even the most picky breakfast eater, with fine examples of waffles, challah-made French toast, egg combinations, scrambles and just about anything in-between.

I thought the Hippy Omlette looked interesting and might have gone for that. Instead, after a few minutes I decided to go for the Chicken and Waffles - I've basically made it my goal to seek out this dish and do some comparison. So far the best I've had in Atlanta has been at Bantam and Biddys (the trick is to serve this dish with honey rather than syrup if you're wondering). The version at Thumbs Up did not disappoint - the waffle was cooked to the point of being still-moist but not wet, the over-easy eggs were, in a word "perfect" and the chicken tenders were lightly breaded and fried. You usually don't see eggs on this dish so I was very happy to see them here - also, Thumbs Up has definitely gotten eggs down - I don't know how many breakfast places I've eaten where the eggs just weren't right. An extra star for this!

My companions had two very different dishes: the "Carb Buster" and a single French Toast with grits and a side of turkey bacon. I tasted the grits and, as my friend John stated while there "these are more like polenta than grits" in excitement. The grits were infused with herbs and encrusted with cheese - very good.

The service was exemplary, at least at the counter with a very attentive server who also manned the register. She was quick to fill water glasses and coffee mugs and did a great job of both answering our questions and making food suggestions. In all we had a great experience.

-- John

Thumbs Up Diner on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Blue Mountain Beach Creamery - Santa Rosa Beach, Florida

(also posted to Yelp)
Blue Mountain Beach Creamery is located at 2129S County Rd 83, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459. It's on the end of a building with a gravel parking lot. We came by after dinner one evening and it was packed - the line went down the steps and into the parking lot.

The place is a bit hard to find - look for a sign that just says "Ice Cream" with a topped-cone from the street. There's a single small window with an attendant  and a menu of what flavors they currently have. As with many other businesses along this area of the panhandle, Blue Mountain Beach Creamery takes cash only so make sure you have enough prior to ordering.

The guy behind the window was quite charming and many of the ladies we're quite taken by him. I can see him being a rising star in this remote part of Florida.I laughed as I saw him taking orders - it was quite a show.

Prices range from $3.95-5.95 for single or double scoops. This seems to be about the going rate for local, boutique ice cream (ask me how I know?). From the line of people, this is a favorite among locals (we were there off-season in mid-Sept). The list of flavors had many favorites along with a few unusual combinations. I choose the Coconut Chocolate Almond and found it quite good - this was a white coconut Ice Cream with chocolate chunks and almonds. A single scoop had me quite satisfied after a big dinner at Local Catch.

I didn't try the homemade waffle cone but others in our party did so I got a bite - quite good. I also tried a few other varieties of ice cream and they were all very creamy with rich, distinct flavors. I'll be coming back.

-- John

Blue Mountain Beach Creamery on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Chai Pani Indian Street Cuisine - Decatur Geogia

(a shorter review posted to Yelp!)
Chai Pani is located at 406 W Ponce de Leon Ave, Decatur, GA 30030. If the address sounds familiar, it's the original location of Watershed. As with the previous restaurant, parking is a bit limited so you may find yourself parking down the street and walking back up to the restaurant. The space is open with many tables, with an interesting foyer area to wait for seating. There's also a gaming table where you can let all your Indian friends show-you-up on something unfamiliar to most Americans - you flick checkers to attempt pockets in the corners (sort of a cross between corn-hole, pool and shuttle-board scaled down to a table-top game). Have yourself a Kingfisher and enjoy the wait - on most nights it's fairly packed but worth it!

While you wait you can order a beer from an interesting beer menu - I ordered a draft Wild Heaven Ode to Mercy which was quite good - I'm glad Chai Pani offers some local craft beer as so many Asian restaurants tend to do a few basic imports while ignoring those of us who want something with a bit more heft. While you wait you can order some individual Pani Puris - these are small puffed pasties containing a confit of potato, corn and other veggies along with some chutneys, sauces, and then individually dipped in "magic water" - you eat them one at a time and put the whole thing in your mouth. Quite delicious and typical of something you'd find in the streets of Mumbai or Bangalore (I've been to both and should know). Take a gander around and notice the wall art - I love what they've done to decorate the space - it's interesting, unusual and provides a little insight into what you might find while traveling the Asian sub-continent.

I recommend any of the chaat and have tried the Matchstick Okra fries, Green Mango Chaat and both the Chicken and Kale Pakoras - all were quite good.

I've had the Sloppy Jai which is basically a lamb sloppy Joe - if you like sloppy, messy, spicy goodness you can't go wrong with this. I've also had the Mixed Vegetable Uttapam which was like a big flatbread covered in flavor - carrots, peas, onion, cilantro and spices served with coconut chutney and sambar.

Sloppy Jai
For dinner, if you want to sample a lot of items, go for the Non-veg Thali. You basically get a big plate with several small bowls filled with one of the non-veg specials, rice, daal, sabji, raita, roti, kachumber, papadum and dessert. You could probably add some extra rice and bread and split this dish with your mate.

Non-Veg Thali
The Vaa Pav is basically a potato burger which may sound strange, but was quite good - and a lot spicier than I had anticipated. I'd order it again.

The Masala Paneer Wrap is also surprisingly good - think of this as a veggie burrito.

Masala Paneer Wrap

Malabar Chicken Wrap
In all,  I really enjoyed Chai Pani and think it's a fantastic addition to the Atlanta and Decatur Indian food scene.

-- John

Chai Pani on Urbanspoon

The Red Bar - Grayton Beach Florida

(also published on Yelp)
The Red Bar is located at 70 Hotz Ave in Grayton Beach FL 32459 and is easily accessible from the beach (we walked from the other side of the state park). Parking can be a bit iffy if coming from the 30A side - you can basically line up along some of the street or park on a portion of the upper beach designated for that purpose (there's also water access to locals for dropping boats) - with the shopping in this area it might be easier to walk from elsewhere.

The building itself is very beach-shack-y and super eclectic, with painted or washed gray surfaces and areas completely covered in vines - it's actually quite attractive and easy-on-the-eyes due to the soft surfaces. The restaurant/bar is quite red when you enter - partially due to the lighting and partially due to the objects collected across most surfaces, such as red tinted heavy curtains and red lighting. The ceiling has some great poster art from concerts, movies and other events - there's definitely a great vibe here, much of it associated with music. I loved the atmosphere and could see myself coming to this bar daily, either for the food or to hang out with a mixed drink or two.

We came as a group of 8 people and were seated immediately for lunch. The bar was fairly dark with spots of color coming from the openings to the outside around the edges of the bar, with the pervasive red color. There's outdoor seating but we decided to sit inside - the bar and restaurant were about half-full (this was during off-season - mid-September - so I believe most were locals). Menus were presented as slips of paper, with most featured items on a chalkboard near the front door. Today's main fish feature was the grouper and I can attest that it was quite good and very fresh.

I ordered:

Red Hook IPA - this is just a great IPA that works with about any food, but especially anything fried - the hops cut's through the fat and makes a great and refreshing palate cleaner.

Cup of Gumbo - this was a mighty fine cup of gumbo topped with white rice. There was a good amount of spice, especially the oft-missing filé (sassafras root) and to me an essential ingredient. This is also a great way to start a meal.

Fish and Chips - I was a bit hesitant to order this at first as I'm almost always disappointed when something other than cod is used for this classic British dish - however the grouper was so fresh and so good I was made extremely happy. I would come back to Red Bar for this dish alone.

The rest of the table ordered:

Grilled Grouper Sandwich - as with all of the grouper served on this day, the grilled is no exception to the overall deliciousness. I took a bite of this sandwich and no lie, could have eaten two of these.

Smoked Salmon Salad - I thought this looked impressive but otherwise I'm not sure I would have ordered it myself. Not that it's bad, just too many other choices.

Grilled Grouper Salad - as with the sandwich, an alternative to the calories I guess.

Fried Shrimp Po Boy - now this beast would make any shrimp-fan smile.

After the lunch we tried a couple of the desserts:

Key Lime Pie - not bad at all - appropriately pale, personally I like mine a bit more piquant but this was fine and well made without the over-the-top sweetness you often get in this Southern classic.

Teramisu - this layered dish was quite good with a dusting of cocoa powder and drizzle of chocolate sauce - probably my favorite of the two.

In all we had a great time with good food.If I was a local, this would become my hangout. Do make sure you bring cash as with most of the local joints, the Red Bar is cash only. I gave this 5 stars on Yelp! and those of you who know me, know that I rarely give such a high rating - the Red Bar certainly deserves it!

-- John

The Red Bar on Urbanspoon