Monday, May 25, 2015

Mimi's Cafe - Perimeter Center

Mimi's Cafe is located at 1221 Ashford Crossing, Atlanta GA 30346 in the same live/dine complex anchored by Target. Also available are Taco Mac and Outback nearby or a string of smaller restaurants a block over. This area is one of my favorites due to the proximity to my old office and now to my new.

I've had several dinners and lunches at Mimi's and in general the experience has been mediocre to good. The servers here, when they care, can be exceptional. While the food isn't spectacular, it's filling and you can generally find something on the menu to make your own. Well, that's if you're visiting on a regular week-day or evening.

Now for Mimi's Cafe's darker side. This past Mother's Day we called two weeks in advance to acquire a reservation, knowing that the day would be busy - this was for a party of 8 at 1:00 PM. We thought that this would be a good compromise time after the initial brunch. The entire party arrived about a quarter to 1:00 and we were told that there was a wait of about 30 minutes. While this seemed a little excessive, we figured that the restaurant got a bit more of a crowd than usual and it still seemed worthwhile to wait. We added a couple of Bloody Marys from the bar and of course that made things a bit better - also someone came out with some spice cake for us to munch on while we waited.

After about an hour, we were both getting impatient and very hungry, but we figured that by now everyplace nearby was probably just as packed - and indeed the sea of humanity had hardly subsided. There were still parties standing around everywhere, bleeding outside waiting for tables. We were informed that the previous group are sitting longer than usual. The staff were running around not knowing what to do about the crowds still waiting to be seated. We were told that we had the next table. 30 minutes later we were finally seated and greeted by a server, who started off very well until she found out it was the wrong table. 10 minutes later we finally got a server who managed to get our drink order to the table (pretty much all water). By now, approaching 3:00 PM we finally got our food order into the kitchen and the crowd had started to diminish.

A bread basket hit the table and disappeared before anyone could blink. The empty water glasses should have been a clue, but I think we became resigned to whatever would happen at this point. When the food started to arrive, about half the table was served and then the food runners seemed lost. 10 more minutes before the rest of the table was served - we ate quickly and asked for our check. Of course the muffins that came with the meal were never served - once this was pointed out we were given two boxes to take with us.

Surprisingly, our waiter was both charming, well informed and for the most part, very good. I think during a regular day and shift, he would be exceptional. I felt bad for the staff, but really felt worse for my family (most in-laws) as what should have been an exceptional day was made craptastic. Having had days like this in the past (I worked 10 years in restaurants), I know that some things are beyond your control - I certainly don't blame any of the staff. However, let an exceptionally low rating be a warning to this company for future, similar events. I think Mimi's would have been better served with a first-come, first-served policy on Mother's Day - I doubt if we were the only customers entirely dissatisfied with the experience. No one in our party will be coming back.

-- John

(shorter version published on Yelp)
Mimi's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Your Pie - at Perimeter Center

Your Pie is located at 123 Perimeter Center W, Suiite 200, Atlanta GA 30346 in a large live/shop complex anchored by Target near Perimeter Mall. Nearby are Mimi's Cafe, Taco Mac, Long Horn Steaks, Fleming's and next door, Shane's Rib Shack. This is a favorite haunt for me as it's close to my old office location, and actually not very far from the new office.

Similar in concept to Maddio's down the street a way at the Walmart shopping center on Ashford-Dunwoody, Your Pie is hand's down superior for several reasons:

  1. Brick oven instead of a conveyer belt
  2. Availability of one of Atlanta's best craft beers, Orpheus Brewing
  3. Unlimited ingredients on your pie for one low price

You order at the counter at Your Pie - you can select one of about a half-dozen specialty pies or load up your own - I choose the latter but I have sampled several of their suggestions. I've tried the Lineage, the Southern Heat and the Great White - all are quite tasty and worth ordering if you're not up to the task of creation. Any of these pies can be found on a wheat, traditional or gluten free crust. Or choose a salad or panini, any for $7.99. Although you can get a cheaper pie at Maddio's, you're generally limited to three ingredients (for Maddio's Monday) - and really the oven makes all the difference.

The pies come out crisp and delicious (provided you didn't put too much stuff on it) - if you're preference is a neapolitan pie, limit your ingredients and put some fresh herbs on there. Otherwise, load up and eat if with a fork. Also, make sure you order an Orpheus Brewing Transmigration of the Soul - it's superb and you'll thank me for that one.

As a finale, order up some of the delicious gelato. Yeah Your Pie has all three of the food groups: pizza, beer and gelato. It doesn't get much better than this folks.

(shorter version of this review also posted to Yelp)
Your Pie on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

E. 48th Street Market and Deli - Dunwoody GA

E. 48th Street Market and Deli can be found at 2462 Jett Ferry Rd, Dunwoody GA 30338 near Dunwoody Village and Dunwoody Club. There's a J. Christopher's "To Go" place across the street.

I visited E. 48th Street Market without any expectations or recommendations. My dining companions were looking for some place new and something we hadn't tried before. A quick proximity search found this great Italian market with 80+ reviews and 4.5 stars on Yelp. That's always a good start - the other thing to look for is the number of Yelp Elites who have reviewed (Elites are those who have pretty much committed themselves to providing good and plentiful reviews wherever they go - in general their opinions account for about double those with few reviews in my opinion). This is a good method to scout out areas that aren't familiar to me and should work in similar fashion for you.

The exterior of the Market (and shopping center) is quaint with a bit more class than the tired facade you typically find in Dunwoody - if there was ever an area that needs a facelift, this is one. That being said, there were only a handful of places I've found worth visiting in this area - Singha Thai is passable, the dine-in J. Christopher's, a local Mellow Mushroom (mostly due to the spacious back room - great for large groups), Dunwoody Burgers, the now defunct Old Hickory House (those are all down the street off of Chamblee-Dunwoody Rd) and now E. 48th St Market. No offense but I pass on the local C'om (not related to the one behind Lee's Bakery on BufHwy) - it's rather marginal for Vietnamese.

Entering you're provided an expansive wall of Italian wines - there's quite a selection. There are also glass cases with the current viands artfully presented with white boards with the daily picks along with pricing for cold cuts - you can basically just point, pay and go or you can do what we did and have a conversation with the person behind the counter to find out first what's the normal process (which we did - she was very friendly and helpful to us noobs), see what the daily specials look like and if you decide to eat there (small tables in the enclosed patio out front) - they will heat up any dishes that need heating and deliver to your table.

After taking a peek and a calculated discussion we tried the following:

Sicilian Eggplant Lasagna - this is a large cut of reheated lasagna with a bold, meaty tomato sauce. This was good but I found the eggplant rubbery - I won't order it again. It came with a side-salad and a bread-stick so very filling and satisfying. I loved the sauce - worth it's weight in gold to me.

Chicken Cutlet Hero - your basic chicken and cheese sandwich with red sauce - my friend Sangam liked it quite a bit and offered up a taste. I could definitely do that one.

Mozzarella, Red Peppers and Pesto Sandwich - our resident veggie Sidd enjoyed this quite a bit. I can imagine that they would do a fantastic job with the pesto here.

While seated I noticed that one of my Yelp friends had written an expansive review - make sure to read Lindy F. for the real skinny on this place. She loves sandwiches and gives it 5 stars on Yelp. I'm not a big sandwich fan so it's tough for me to do the same with a single visit - 4 stars this time with the potential for improvement on the next visit. I'll keep you posted.

Overall the service was good considering it was a counter order - the food took about 10 minutes to hit the table and it wasn't packed (suspect my Lasagna was the culprit). Paying took some time as the line started to pick up steam (it was lunch time). I'll certainly come back. Next time I'm going for the Muffalette or Italian beef - the former is tough to find in any passable form in this town (for Italian Beef I still go to Mike's Hot Dogs in Sandy Springs)

 (shorter version posted to Yelp)
E 48th Street Market Italian on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts - Old Fourth Ward on Ponce

This is one of the oldest Atlanta area Krispy Kreme Doughnut locations still standing and viable. It can be found at 295 Ponce De Leon Ave NE, Atlanta GA 30308. It's also the first Krispy Kreme that I ever visited during a short stay in Atlanta before moving here in the mid-80s. Until I had my first hot donut, I had no idea what I've been missing, growing up with the likes of cake donuts found at my local, small-town bakery. We'll have none of that now - the Krispy Kreme doughnut (and yes they use the proper spelling here - none of that do-nut label you find at other, inferior establishments) is produced with dough that expands when heated, providing a delicate, less-cake interior texture. Add the hot glaze and you have something really special.

Full of neon lights and brilliant graphics, this KK still have its classic facade - none of that current Dwell-modern look here! This is still an ongoing operation where you can see huge conveyer-belt equipment that moves the doughnuts through various stages until purchase. It's quite a treat to stand on the other side of the glass partition and watch the skilled workers make magic in milled-flour and confectioners sugar! From what I recall, it originally had more equipment, but like so many restaurants much of the Krispy Kreme operations have moved to dedicated production facilities where the doughnuts can be made in massive bulk (it's also where the doughnuts sold in grocery stores comes from). No issues with those doughnuts, however you do miss out on the hot glaze experience that no microwave can reproduce.

Old Fourth Ward can be a little sketchy, especially at night - it's not uncommon to have someone in the evenings ask for a handout - if you intend to visit this delightful location plan your outing during the day, or better yet, near twilight so you can enjoy the incredible light show. On weekends the interior is often full of balloons and free paper hats - do partake as it's another way they make the visit special. Or better yet, take a trip to the Varsity first and down a couple of flattened chili dogs before coming here for dessert (don't forget the onion rights or frosty orange for the trifecta!) and ask for a paper hat. You can then swap hats and have two keepsakes!

Service here is very good although at times the lines can get fairly long. I like to get a dozen (make sure you bring friends!) of the glazed (and maybe a second dozen of the specialty doughnuts as they often have a 2-for-one special on the boxed dozen) but really, the glazed are where-it's-at. Or better yet, get whatever flavor is coming off the conveyer belt - which brings me to the "hot doughnuts now" sign - look for that fabulous red beacon to ensure you're getting-the-goods.

For the glazed - I can do 2, maybe 3 before my sugar levels spike to atmospheric levels (one isn't quite  enough and three may be a bit too much). Bite into a hot doughnut and allow it to melt in your mouth. If there's a heaven on earth, this might just be a brief taste. Are there better doughnuts in Atlanta? That's a tough one - if you haven't tried Sublime or Revolution then you are indeed missing out. Let's just say that these are a different type of goodness, with variety being the spice of life!

(shorter review also posted on Yelp)
Krispy Kreme Doughnuts on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Cafe Sunflower - Sandy Springs GA

This location of Cafe Sunflower can be found at 5975 Roswell Rd NE, STE 353, Atlanta GA 30328 in the South-Eastern side of Roswell Rd and Hammond Dr. It's located in the inside of an elbow formed by the building in the lower lot, close to Ship and Anchor Pub. There's a second location that I know about in Buckhead with a similar menu. Cafe Sunflower makes up one of the anchor points to Atlanta vegetarians due to its great success and longevity. I've eaten at this location several times as I have several friends that are vegan or vegan+

The interior is nicely decorated and well maintained - the restaurant seemed very clean had had just a touch of patchouli aroma (but that may have been the dirty hippies at the next table - actually I'm joking about the hippies but not about the scent - leftovers from prior diners, perhaps?). As with most vegetarian restaurants, there were a few hipsters scattered about the place, otherwise it was all locals.

Specials can be found on a blackboard - I'll try the organic kale next time I think. The menu is fairly extensive with many options and different styles of cooking. I do like the use of tofu rather than some meat-flavored substitute. I've never understood why anyone would eat vegetarian and order something that tastes like chicken instead of chicken, but that's a subject to explore another day.

I'm no stranger to veggies and for the most part I think Sunflower does a good job, however I think there are much better vegetarian restaurants nearby. Please don't take this the wrong way, but for an established omnivore like myself, I want my veg-only meals to be a bit special - this usually translates into foods that are heavily seasoned and probably why I'm so fond of Asian and Indian cuisine. Alas, for the most part my vegetarian friends like this place so I'm sure I'll visit again - heck those guys put up with my explorations into heavy-meat-content restaurants so I'm willing to make concessions.

First a bit about my own eating habits. You would think that as a former professional cook I would make fancy meals at home - in reality I cook very simply, making most of our meals using the grill for meats and the occasional veggie, and simple steamed vegetables as an accompaniment. I use almost no salt at home favoring fresh ground black pepper, spices and herbs. So when I eat at restaurants, I gravitate towards very strong flavors and spices, especially when eating vegetarian. For the most part, when I eat at vegan or vegetarian restaurants I look for the spicier items on the menu - and for some reason everything I order at Cafe Sunflower tastes bland. I don't know if it's a failing of my expectations or if I'm being unreasonable, but with the exception of the salads the food here tastes very under-seasoned. Give me a nice veggie biryani any day over this stuff or a hot veggie vindaloo.

As I've already mentioned, I've eaten at this location several times. Most recently, I had the veggie stir-fry with tofu on brown rice. It was filling if nothing else.

My dining companion ordered the veggie chili (which was offered up for a taste) - even this dish seemed vapid.

Perhaps the next time I order I'll specifically ask for the food "extra spicy" - not sure if they'll make it thus, but it's worth a try.

Service was very good and the lunch crowd was busy. I think this is a good meeting location as it's fairly laid-back.

(shorter review also posted to Yelp).
Cafe Sunflower on Urbanspoon