Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Monday Night Brewing - Westside - Home Park Atlanta

Monday Night Brewing is located at 670 Trabert Ave NW, Atlanta GA 30318 off of Howell Mill Rd above 17th Street and the water treatment plant. It's tucked away in a bit of an industrial appearing area at the end of Trabert - parking is a bit haphazard but there's a lot across the street where you can usually find parking. It's only open on Monday and Thursday evenings from 5:30 to 7:30 PM and Saturday from 2:00 to 4:00 PM. Attire is casual to the extreme with many visitors and regular scheduled events, especially for the in town technology crowd.

When you pull-up to the street you may think you've taken a wrong turn, however Google Maps is your friend (in this instance) and is steering you right. You'll start to see signs with direction arrows in yellow and the familiar logo. The building itself looks like a warehouse with a huge "Weekends Are Overrated." sign above some parking - the main entry is on the other side. When you walk in, typical of most brewers, they don't sell the beer - seems there's some dumb Georgia law that prevents that, however at the counter you can purchase a custom glass and get 6 tickets for $10. You redeem the tickets (each is good for 1/3rd pour, but it's more like half the glass) from the employees pouring at the main counter towards an adjoining wall. The space is huge and there's usually some fairly long lines, especially when there's an event going on, which is frequent. If you're there during a nice clear evening, you'll find many fans outside in a patio area - sometimes you'll also find King of Pops out there with popsicles - sounds weird but the unusual flavors work well with most of the brews.

You can view the vats and brewing equipment via windows-in-doors past a huge wall of ties - if you haven't gotten it yet the theme is "take off your tie and kick back" - there are tie displays and many a bearded hipster lounging around with their buddies. It's also a great place for IT folk to hang, I recognized many familiar faces.

The highlight, though is the beer - Monday Night Brewing is a great purveyor of fine Atlanta-produced craft beer - if you've lived in Atlanta for the past 3 or so years you've probably noticed a bit of a takeover in the taps of your favorite pubs, with Monday Night Brewing replacing most of the familiar Sweetwater and Terrapin handles, for good reason. Don't get me wrong, those local beers are fine indeed and a good substitution for the Buds, Millers and Coors of the world, but they have become the transition beers to something better, something...craftier. Monday Night figured out the right formula quickly - most beer drinkers want something with a bit more tooth than even those craft introductory beer - something that's distinctly more bitter, more flavorful and with much more kick. The brews at Monday Night definitely have that, with all that I've tried coming in above 6% ABV. The recent trend is for the larger local brewers to come out with limited edition concoctions - like Sweetwater's Dank Tank progeny, so the crafty-craft beer is catching on. Here are a few I've sampled on tap (with an honorable mention):

Drafty Kilt Scotch Ale - this is my favorite so far - a very robust ale darker than most with a bit of red tint. Very malty with hints of molasses and lots of buttery caramelization and aromas. It also comes in at 7.2% ABV - a solid and delicious beer good with anything from casual drinking, through most meals and into dessert. AND you can get your buzz on with this delicious brew. If they're pouring the Bourbon Barrel go with that at 8.5% ABV - all the goodness of the regular with intensified flavors (I haven't seen it poured here, only had it in bottles)

Eye Patch Ale - this is an American IPA with your typical hoppy flavors, a bit downplayed but enhanced with citrus and some floral aromas. I find it interesting as you get both the bitterness of the hops and some sweetness from the malt - not your typical ale and a good intro if you're not into the heavy flavors of some of the alternatives - at 6.2 ABV it wont knock you back as much as the Drafty.

Blind Pirate Double IPA - wow, this one will get your buzz on quickly at 8.2% ABV. Lots of aroma and similar to the Eye Patch, but much intensified. You'll get a lot more pine from the hops in this one an it comes in as my second favorite.

In any case, this is a place well worth visiting - I had quite a good time. My only complaint is that the hours are a bit short - just long enough to sample a few but not long enough to complete out an evening. Luckily there are plenty of place nearby to get food and more to drink.

Here's to the beer!

-- John

(also reviewed in shorter form to Yelp)
Click to add a blog post for Monday Night Brewing on Zomato 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Chris Pizza House - Toco Hills - Atlanta Georgia

Chris' Pizza House is located at 2911 N Druid Hills Rd NE, Atlanta GA 30329 near Famous Pub and Petite Auberge in the Toco Hills Shopping Center - around the corner is a "Kosher" Kroger (great location to shop for all your Passover needs). There's also the venerable Goldberg's Deli and Bagel (which has moved from the old location to the Eastern most side of the shopping center). I've been coming to Chris' for about 20 years, off-and-on and the food has been consistently good. Recently the restaurant is under new management and has been spruced up quite a bit with a modern interior (previously it was a bit garish in bright "Greek" blue and white - also the huge ficus trees under the skylight have been removed). Luckily the food is every bit as good as it was 20 years ago.

Chris' Pizza House is a Greek style pizza restaurant. I think I first encountered this style while living in Florida and indeed, the first time I took my friend Eric to Chris' he called it "a treasure" - Eric is originally from the Daytona Beach area and knows his food. Athens Pizza is another Greek style pizza establishment, with a few more menu options - I go to the location near Emory. What you'll find here are pizzas with a bit thicker crust that are a bit airier than neapolitan, more like a soft flat-bread. They can be had with gyro meat, feta cheese and delicious kalamata olives which changes the flavor composition quite a bit. The salads also feature similar compositions and a quite handy Greek-style dressing. You'll also find the typical gyro wrap and plate options you'd except of your typical Greek restaurant. All here are quite good.

Honestly, I usually come to this location for the pizza or gyro so I can't tell you much about the other Greek options. I expect the souvlaki and mousaka to be quite good, if the pizzas and gyros are any indication. The lunch deals here are also quite good and affordable and there's plenty of parking (the shopping center is quite large and busy), although the parking is a bit haphazard with weird throughways, probably due to the site being reconfigured over many years. Chris' is also a great source for takeout food.

My preference is to split a salad and have either a veggie or Chris' Special Pie (Pepperoni, Hamburger, Sausage, Feta Cheese, Mushrooms, Peppers, Onions). Or the salad plus the Gyro Plate will surely satisfy your appetite. I like the very thin-sliced onions, fresh tomato and the tsatziki sauce - quite good. I also like the avgolemono soup - quite lemony and something that really takes me back.

I love the exterior neon, especially the dancing Greek! Prices are reasonable and service is very good. Try it like Mikey!

-- John

Chris' Pizza House on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Cafe Bombay - Briarcliff Rd - Atlanta

(Shorter version also published on Yelp)
Cafe Bombay is located at 2615 Briarcliff Rd NE, Atlanta GA 30329 - I'm not sure if this area is called Briarcliff or if there's a better term for it, perhaps North Druid Hills? - I generally access the restaurant either from the North Druid Hills Exit on I85 (restaurant is East of the interstate) or the back way from Clairmont Rd turning sound onto Briarcliff Rd.

The restaurant is in the end of a shopping-center row sort of on the back side of Target so it's a bit hard to see. It is however, well worth trying. I've now eaten here about a dozen times, first visiting for a friend's party (they have a great large dining area in the back and can easily handle large-ish groups of say 25 or so at one long table) and more often visiting for an excellent lunch buffet. In general the flavors are a bit muted compared to those foods I sampled in India, more Northern style I believe.I particularly like their vindaloo dishes which will provide a level of heat and flavors that make you say "Oh yeah!" Bombay also has some great naan varieties like their chile and garlic naans.

Service at Cafe Bombay is top notch with very attentive, even throughout their very busy lunch buffet. Evenings the place is busy and filled with a broad spectrum of locals and visitors to Atlanta. You'll find your water glasses filled frequently and a lot of availability of the staff. The bar is better than most similar restaurants I've experienced and they even have the very good Lion Stout from Sri Lanka which I recommend - it's more effervescent than most stouts and lacks the chalkiness you sometimes get with a black beer, with more smokiness, caramel and less chocolate.

The lunch buffet has a good mixture of vegetarian and meat options (mostly chicken and a little goat or lamb - I haven't seen fish or shellfish) including tandoori chicken and chicken 65. There's usually a pan of veggie biryani along with some seasoned basmati, a few dols and sambar or similar soup. You'll also typically find sag or aloo paneer, some type of curried vegetables and pakora. The seasoning seems a bit muted in the buffet in regards to the amount of heat.

For dinner I've tried:

Aloo Gobi - this is a cauliflower dish primarily, though at Bombay it's about half potatoes too. I liked this dish but prefer the all cauliflower version. It's especially good with a bit of mint chutney.

Vegetable Vindaloo - one of my favorite dishes here with good spice levels and flavors.This dish is deceptively hot and made with a bit of vinegar so you'll feel those spices embed themselves into your tastebuds.

Chicken 65 - I'm not quite sure of the original recipe as I've had this a number of different ways - it's most commonly white meat chicken marinated in curd (similar to tandoori) - at Bombay it's fried and some sliced onion and cilantro is added. The flavors of this dish gets a bit lost with those spicier flavors in the other curry dishes but it's still very good - I think most Americans would enjoy this as a fried chicken dish, Indian style. Personally it could use a bit more heat for me.

Saag Paneer - this mostly green leaf vegetable dish is quite good - I really like the paneer they have at Bombay as the consistency is more like homemade. Now if we only had some roti with this dish...

Garlic Naan - they use real chopped garlic here with a bit of ghee - very authentic tasting to me.

Pepper (Bullet) Naan - I do love me some bullet naan and the version I've gotten at Bombay is exceptional. It is covered with chopped green chiles and very tasty - not for the faint of heart or weak palate.

The exterior of the restaurant is a bit deceptive - it makes the place look small and the heavy window treatments and lack of lighting will make you think the restaurant is closed - do indeed come inside - you'll thank me later. There's plenty of parking.

-- John

Cafe Bombay on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Gu's Bistro - Doraville Georgia

Gu's Bistro is located in the old Burlington Warehouse shopping center on 5750 Buford Hwy NE just North of I285 in Doraville, just South of the intersection at McElroy Rd - if you hit Winter's Chapel you've gone too far. There's a Chickfila anchoring the shopping center on the Southern end (with a new Krispy Kreme) and a McDonald's on the Northern end - best bet is to pull in on the Chickfila side and park as the restaurant is in the Southern elbow of this long "L" shaped shopping center.

Prior to the last 5 years or so the most authentic Szechuan cuisine would be found at Little Szechuan - one of my favorites for over 15 years. Alas, Chef Kong suffered the fate of many restauranteurs as his multi-layered, very saucy food fell into disfavor forcing him to move closer to Atlanta and eventually selling to an investor who has now completely changed the menu and style of cooking. Hopefully the new management and chef will redefine that venerable establishment and bring it back from the brink. But I digress - even as Little Szechuan maintained the highest level of authenticity for close to 20 years, it was still more of a "schwag" Chinese restaurant, adapting Americanized Chinese food for the masses. With the continuing influx of Asian immigrants, the bounty of authentic ethnic food, especially on Buford Hwy, provides opportunities to sample flavors and styles of cooking only hinted at when visiting most Americanized Chinese restaurants. You're basically getting the washed-down, over-and-under spiced version of Chinese, and in particular Szechuan cooking, when visiting the like of Golden Panda or similar Chinese restaurants. It's with the advent of places like Man Chun Hong and Peter Chang's that you begin to get the real, intense and peppery flavors of genuine Szechuan cuisine. Gu's falls into this latter category and does it extremely well.

I've had occasion to sample many of the dishes at Gu's on several occasions. The service and presentation are impeccable and the flavors consistent along with large portions. I especially like that Gu's offers more than the traditional Asian beer selection with some local craft-in-bottles available. The menu has many color photos to help you decide - if you're not used to the more authentic Szechuan dishes - you'll find more wok saute and frying to the point of being dry - the spices in general provide an additional layer of flavor to the components (mostly chicken and pork with some beef and seafood), heavier on the garlic and herbal-side. There's also the liberal use of cilantro and spring onion and a few lamb dishes. You'll also find the use of the famous "flower pepper" - which provides a distinctly metallic flavor to food that leads to a numbing that can be distressing if you aren't prepared for it. It's an unusual effect that provides contrast and really expands the multi-layered sensations encountered when eating this style of food.

Some of my favorites:

Zhong Style Dumplings - these are steamed and more like the mandu my mom would serve - in a spicy chili sauce with sesame oil - quite delicious

Dry Fried Eggplant - lightly breaded and deep fried, these little morsels will keep you filling your plate.

Chili Szechuan Chicken - my favorite and something we always tend to order - sauteed "dry" chicken with tons of cut dried red pepper and garlic cloves. This will get your motor running....

Stir-fried Sno-pea leaves with garlic - think of this is your veggie side-dish as most of the dishes are more about the meats and spices.

Crispy Fish with Peanuts and Red Chili - loved this fish dish, and it has a few surprises...

Do yourself a favor when eating here and try the dishes that look good in the photos and don't rely on the traditional Chinese dishes. You'll be glad you did.

(Also published on Yelp)

-- John 

Gu's Bistro on Urbanspoon