Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Heirloom Market BBQ - Akers Mill Rd SE

Heirloom Market BBQ is located on 2243 Akers Mill Rd SE, Atlanta GA 30339 - I always think of Akers Mill is "the shortcut to the Galleria" so it's in a bit of a hidden corridor if you aren't familiar with the area. If you've been to Peter Chang's now defunct Tasty China 2 you'll know the way I go to access - I285 to Powers Ferry Rd, inside the perimeter, zig-zag on Cumberland Blvd to Akers Mill and you'll see the market on the left.

I first encountered Heirloom Market BBQ a few years ago attending a party - sort of a friend-of-a-friend occasion that was catered by this place. I was simply wowed by the quality, quantity and usual flavors presented and have since had if a few times at similar occasions, always as part of a pick-up or catered event. The thing that immediately struck my was the "kimchee slaw" which has become a favorite. I finally had a chance to visit the actual location with my friend Sangam. This was on a less-than-busy afternoon where we were both starving at work and had the extra few minutes to explore this out-of-the-way location. It actually took much less time than we had anticipated, probably due to the time (we left Northbrook at Abernathy/Peachtree Dunwoody at 11:00 and made it there in about 10 minutes). We took our time and made it back in slightly more than an hour.

Some of you may be aware of Heirloom as it was part of Jim Stacy's "Get Delicious" special in October 2014 on BBQ. The great thing about that "expose" was that you you got to meet the chef/owners and learn a bit about what they do and their overall philosophy - I'd invite anyone to watch it (it cycles through on PBS or you can probably find the episode online). Heirloom manages a perfect melange of Korean and Texas BBQ - I believe they have achieved the best combination of the two cuisines in the perfect subject, the BBQ brisket. More on that later, meanwhile back to the restaurant.

Restaurant may be a bit of a stretch - don't expect your typical waiters or metal utensils. As the name "Market" might imply, Heirloom is more of a lunch counter where you order bagged items from a counter and wait for your number (don't worry, they are quick to deliver). The guys behind the counter are true magicians, producing these huge stacked sandwiches that threaten to fall-over and yet survive to be wrapped in paper. They are also surprisingly super-quick to put massive sandwich orders together - very impressive.

If you're lucky there's space at the STANDING tables outside in a small area behind their event trailer. You can share tables with total strangers and wax poetical on the delicious food. We all speak a common tongue while eating Heirloom - sort of a cross between Korean, English and satiation.Drinks can be ordered at the counter or pulled from a standing reach-in but really, you should just opt for the sweet tea. The menu is simple - order sandwiches with one or two sides or by the pound. Prices may look a bit high but the portions are large and the food is hands-down delicious.

On this occasion we ordered an assortment of food including: Pulled Chicken Sandwich with Kimchee Slaw, Beef Brisket with Kimchee Slaw and Korean Sweet Potatoes, and a one pound order of Wings.

I'll start with the Korean Sweet Potatoes which I forgot to photograph - these were thin sliced with a super-sweet glaze and quite delicious - more of a dessert than a side - I think I'd go for something more savory in the future as many of the other items have a sweet edge.

Pulled Chicken Sandwich - this is a really impressive sandwich with chicken slivers sauced and served on a large bun - it's difficult to realize the scale. The kimchee slaw makes a perfect side, but really, putting a good bit on the sandwich makes it extra, extra awesome.

Even if you don't like the pickled texture or smell of kimchee, don't worry as this is "fresh" style - basically many of the same heated ingredients mixed into fresh cabbage, so there's little of the fermentation (smell, texture, etc) that you get with real kimchee.

I mentioned it before, but I'll say it again. I think the brisket at Heirloom is the best I've had in Atlanta (I sampled quite a bit of Brisket while in Texas - of course in that great state BBQ means beef and in particular brisket, not pork like the rest of the south). For some reason the various BBQ establishments in this region only think about pork when doin' the smoke - and since beef tends to be an afterthought, it's usually super riney (good) but dry-as-a-bone (bad). I'm happy to say that Heirloom takes their brisket seriously and delivers a delicious, juicy pile that's sure to make even the pickiest BBQ aficionado happy. This meat is smoky, juicy to the point of running-down-your-arm and oh, so good. I'm not sure if they do the super tenderizer method (like in Texas) or some other but the results are the best I've found, hands-down.

As a bonus I also ordered a pile of wings - these were smokey, sweet and spicy - in a word, perfect. I think I could live off of the wings alone, but if I were to settle on a single item, it would be the brisket.

Parking is a bit limited and with the standing-room-only dining situation I believe most take-and-go. It might be worthwhile to call ahead, pick up and take this great food to a local park (gotta be places along the Hooch, right?). Closed on Sunday and Monday so take that into consideration.

On the available sauces - I don't think there's anything special there but the assortment is good, from sweet to spicy to vinegary to mustardy - sort of the standards you usually see. I'd like to see something that's a bit soy-saucy, sweet and special but to each his own.

So what are you waiting for?

-- John

(shorter version posted to Yelp)
Heirloom Market BBQ on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 20, 2015

Ernest Hemingway's Macho Burger

Not a restaurant, but I did promise to post an occasional non-restaurant thingy, right? In this case a post from OpenCulture.com in 2013 caught my eye:

Now for my friends that aren't into beef, realize that ground lamb or chicken will also work quite nicely (you might want to cook chicken to "well" if you don't trust the source). Here's the recipe if you don't care to follow the link:

  • 1 lb. ground lean beef
  • 2 cloves, minced garlic
  • 2 little green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 heaping teaspoon, India relish
  • 2 tablespoons, capers
  • 1 heaping teaspoon, Spice Islands sage
  • Spice Islands Beau Monde Seasoning — 1/2 teaspoon
  • Spice Islands Mei Yen Powder — 1/2 teaspoon
  • 1 egg, beaten in a cup with a fork
  • About 1/3 cup dry red or white wine
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
What to do–
Break up the meat with a fork and scatter the garlic, onion and dry seasonings over it, then mix them into the meat with a fork or your fingers. Let the bowl of meat sit out of the icebox for ten or fifteen minutes while you set the table and make the salad. Add the relish, capers, everything else including wine and let the meat sit, quietly marinating, for another ten minutes if possible. Now make your fat, juicy patties with your hands. The patties should be an inch thick, and soft in texture but not runny. Have the oil in your frying pan hot but not smoking when you drop in the patties and then turn the heat down and fry the burgers about four minutes. Take the pan off the burner and turn the heat high again. Flip the burgers over, put the pan back on the hot fire, then after one minute, turn the heat down again and cook another three minutes. Both sides of the burgers should be crispy brown and the middle pink and juicy.

Ernest Hemingway

Something for my friends to try this summer, no? I'd serve with a side of spicy BBQ sauce.

-- John

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Bo Bo Garden Asian Cuisine - Buford Hwy ITP

Bo Bo Garden is located at 5181 Buford Hwy NE, Doraville GA 30340 in the Pine Tree shopping plaza on the Eastern side of the highway. It's in the crook of the elbow made up by a long string of shops and restaurants. Many of you will know this shopping center as host to Chef Liu (on the far Northern end) - Bo Bo Garden is on the Southern end. Or to be more provincial, right across from the McDonald's. As with most establishments on Buford Hwy many restaurants can be tricky to find - luckily Bo Bo Garden is plainly written on signage on the front of the facade.

We tried out Bo Bo Garden on the recommendation of my friend and neighbor Paul, who tends to find out-of-the-way places to fulfill his culinary explorations. He had warned us beforehand that the restaurant was much larger than what you would expect from the facade and we weren't disappointed - it occupies much of the building to the end on the right but that isn't immediately apparent. We visited around 7:30 on a Sunday night and it was quite busy, mostly with Asian customers and a smattering of Doraville locals. We waited about 10 minutes to be seated and were immediately served some delicious lightly salted peanuts.

The restaurant had  a variety of seating and was medium-lit so the menu was easy to read (I only  mention this as many BufHy establishments have glaring bright lights that are a bit blinding). The atmosphere was quite hectic with lots of Asian languages from all sides. When we first sat, we were the only non-Asians (although I'm not sure if I qualify there) but soon there was another largish table). The menu, in a word is quite beautiful - I was taken aback at the nice embossing and gilt - the design is awesome. Inside you'll find several orange pages of items to explore - most of the pricing was on the low end of the $10-20 range, with a few items above. I only photographed a few pages (hate to be too obnoxious, especially the first go-around).

We had a really amazing server, an older gentleman who seemed to have good English (he at least understood us and made good suggestions). Upon his recommendation we did the following:

Wanting to try something a bit different, our waiter recommended the "Three Kinds Dumpling" as a soup. What was delivered was quite divine - this was a clear fish broth with fresh ong choy (water spinach, similar to watercress but with a bit more heft) stuffed with 3 different types of dumplings (but mostly some combination of shrimp and/or pork). This was really very special and delicious but some might not like the fishy broth - if that's you, I'd recommend the steamed version (served on a plate with the same ong choy).

Special House Beef Filet - this amazing dish features soy-saucy bits of tenderloin on a bed of sauteed spinach. Our server told us this was very popular and I can see why. It's close to Vietnamese Shaken Wok Beef, only on a different veggie bed. I liked this quite a bit but it will be a bit salty for some (we don't use salt at home so everything is a bit salty to me so take that into consideration).

Crispy Roasted Duck (half) -  this is basically what led us to Bo Bo Garden as our friend Paul was extolling the virtues and value of this generous 1/2 duck dish. This is your basic roasted duck with crispy skin, served with a light sauce. Simple yet delicious, if you haven't tried duck this is a great introduction.

In all we had a terrific first experience with great service and way above average food.

-- John

(shorter version posted to Yelp)
Bo Bo Garden on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Banbinelli's Italian Restaurant - Northlake

Bambinelli's Italian Restaurant is located at 3202 Northlake Parkway NE, Atlanta GA 30345 in a small shopping center that has The Sports Authority as its anchor store, right across from the Sears Catalog Pick-up at Northlake Mall. While the mall itself has had its ups-and-downs, this very-good family owned restaurant has held its own since 1980 and is well worth visiting..

Bambinelli's is still consistently one of the best, family owned and independently run Italian restaurants in Atlanta. It's reasonably priced and you'll get a good smattering of New York style Sicilian flavors in their pastas, pizzas and specialty dishes.The menu is fairly extensive with several appetizer, salad, sub, pasta and pizza/calzone/stromboli selections.

I've had many great meals at Bambinelli's - their pizzas are particularly good, both the deep-dish (be prepared to wait!) and the traditional. If you want the deep dish for lunch, it might be worthwhile to call ahead and get them started on one for you - you'll be glad you did! If you live in Northcrest (howdy neighbors!) Bambinelli's is the best local pizza delivery (in my humble opinion) - some of my neighbors were regulars, sometimes ordering weekly. I'm not sure why any of my neighbors would ever bother with Dominos or Pappa Johns with such a great pizza a phone call away. Also check the Tucker Times as they do offer coupons from time-to-time.
I would call this type of Italian fair "Italian-American" or New York style with influences mostly from Southern Italy with the spicier red tomato sauces, but with a smattering of Northern garlic-y cream sauces. I don't think I've had anything with pesto so you're on your own there - however I'm sure they do a good job. Be prepared to get very full (large portions) and the smell of parmesian cheese hits you when you enter. I'd rank this on par with Ippolito's and slightly above Provino's, if you're familiar with either local chain. This is still a family-owned business and you'll often see the owner manning the front counter/register.

Most of my friends really love the garlic knots that are served here - I believe it's basically pizza dough covered in garlic butter and herbs - do I have to say more?

I'm also very fond of their basic sauces so make sure someone at your table orders the spaghetti with sausage or meat balls. The meat balls are also particularly good here.

Several of the servers have worked here for many years - it seems every time we go back we still saw familiar faces. There's plenty of parking in this little corner of the world as the lot is mostly empty during evening hours. Be prepared to wait on weekends - this is a favorite among locals.

-- John

(shorter version also posted on Yelp)
Bambinelli's Italian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 17, 2015

Athens Pizza House - Clairmont Near North Decatur and Emory

Athens Pizza House is located at 1341 Clairmont Rd, Decatur GA 30033 on the Northern side of Decatur near Emory but before you get to North Druid Hills heading north. It's in a shopping center across from Publix - there are other good restaurants in the area like Community BBQ and Bojanic.

The menu is extensive and while they offer several Greek dishes, I have a special fondness of the pizza. We've been going to Athen's Pizza off and on for 20 years or so - we love the consistency of the pizza and have a special fondness for both the Vegetarian and Santorini pies.

Most recently we split a small Greek salad and went for 1/2 Athens Special and 1/2 Santorini. The Santorini has very strong flavors (a bit salty so keep that in mind) so mixing in the veggie moderates the overall experience. We also like to do half-Veggie special and half-Santorini. If you're in a group it's actually a bit cheaper to get separate pies rather than splits as recently they've changed their pricing (splits start with a cheese the up charge for the two halves. They used to just charge for the more expensive pie - the change in pricing adds a couple of bucks).

The pizza was exceptional - crisp crust and think layers of toppings. I'd like to talk a bit about the difference in Greek pizza over what we think of as traditional "Italian" style pizza (those neopolitan pizza's with super thin crusts or the thick Chicago-style offerings). Greek pizza is usually made in a pan using a lighter dough - this makes the overall mouth feel different - a bit like light bread. These pizzas usually have tons of thin-sliced toppings and feature ingredients with stronger flavors, like sun-dried tomatoes, salty kalamata olives and feta cheese. The combination is heavenly and Athens does a great job.

Over the years their salads have improved over the prior iceberg lettuce offering - they now mix in some Romain. The salad flavors are typical of Greek pizza joints - very classic oil and vinegar with feta, red onion, ripe tomatoes and Greek olives. This is one of those foods if done right bring back the serendipity of first having such as a kid. Athens certainly brings back the nostalgia. Athens has also replied to changes in what people like in beer, offering Sweetwater 420 on draft which I don't mind at all.

If you have room, Athens also offers slices of those gigantic cakes you see in Greek diners - there are also occasionally specialty desserts like chocolate rats (you have to see these to understand) and their baklava is well made, with real honey instead of that sickly sweet corn-syrup stuff you find elsewhere.

The last time I reviewed, I would have given them 4 stars - call this a 3.5. The service and food were good, however getting at the restaurant at 9:15 (45 minutes before they closed at 10 PM) wasn't a great experience. I can understand that the staff wants to leave - however with a couple of still seated tables you would think they wouldn't make so much noise and turn up the ugly lights, especially in today's economy? Starting about 9:30 we noticed a strong smell of citrus cleaning solvents and the music in the kitchen was cranked up so loud it drowned out the dining music. Combine those two with the bright lights at 9:45 and we did indeed want to get the fuck out of there, so I guess their desire had the correct results. We actually thought about discontinuing as patrons at that point, but gave it another go.

I'm happy to say that the last two times we went to Athens, the experience was much better, as they seem to have their act more together. The new pricing for the half-half pies is a bit disturbing but I can live with the extra bucks. Service is always good and the food is always exceptional.

-- John

(shorter review also posted to Yelp)
Athens Pizza on Urbanspoon

Another Broken Egg Cafe - Dunwoody Georgia

Another Broken Egg Cafe is located at 4745 Ashford Dunwoody Rd, Atlanta GA 30338 in the same strip mall as Walmart but on the Western-most end. Some may remember the Border's Book Store that was the anchor on that end (now long gone).

I had the change of eating at ABEC with my usual lunch gang - one who is a vegetarian from India who also eats eggs - I try to accommodate him with the occasional breakfast place so he can get more than a couple of veggie sides. This place seemed to food-the-bill, so to speak.

I believe Broken Egg is known more for its breakfast food rather than sandwiches, but on this occasion we all bought the latter instead of the former, so please take my review with this in mind. We arrived about 11:30 during a weekday - there wasn't anyone to greet us initially so I got a chance to look around and take a few snaps. It's an interesting restaurant with plenty of farm/country/chicken/egg themes with wood-appearing floors. The colors are bright, predominately yellows with splashes of red and milk-wash. There's a counter to one side, I'm guessing for diners to wait to be seated or perhaps for a quick bite or espresso. There were two tables seated and this doubled while we ate - about a half-dozen filled when we left at 12:30 so not a real busy restaurant for lunch.

The menu is mostly breakfast and featuring, you guessed it, egg, scrambles and egg combinations. The omelets (Egg-straordinary Omelettes) looked particularly interesting but of course, we decided to go a different route and try the sandwiches. I spotted a few sea food options and the usual salads. I'm not exactly sure how sustainable an egg-themed restaurant is conceptually but if it's in the right location I can see it doing well - however this location doesn't strike me as being the best for something like this (it's a little to inconvenient to get in-and-out of and you can't really get in-your-face on branding).

Sid ordered the veggie burger (looks like black bean) with a side of homefries. He said it was good but from looking at the sandwich the burger looked a little undercooked - he still ate it.

Both Sangam and myself got the Turkey Burger - mine with a side-salad and his with fries. I thought it was good but nothing exceptional. The pricing seemed a little on the high side but still affordable.

Service was a bit spotty - it looked like a single server was handling about a half-dozen tables. In general the experience was good but nothing to write home about. I'll update after we try a second time.

-- John

(shorter version posted to Yelp)
Another Broken Egg Cafe on Urbanspoon