Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Kool Runnings Jamaican Restaurant - Norcross

You can find Kool Runnings Jamaican Restaurant at 5450 Peachtree Pkwy, Norcross, GA 30092 at the corner of Spalding Dr and Peachtree Pky. This is the same shopping center anchored by Goodwill that also contains the very good Samui Island Thai restaurant and my favorite growler store, Peachtree Growler Company.

I was thinking about my old standby, Caribbean Fiesta only to find that the Norcross location (on Holcomb Bridge Rd where it turns into Jimmy Carter) had closed. I had heard recently that my old East Atlanta spot Kool Runnings had moved out to Norcross - it used to be on Memorial Dr and was a regular spot for me and my friend Allen. That fun location was never horribly busy (probably why the moved) and staffed by some amazing, friendly people

 I happened out this way to scout out a few restaurants and noted the new location of Samui Island - it used to be on the Northern end of the shopping center and has moved to the Southern end. I then spotted Kool Runnings and since it was close to lunch time, decided it was time to revisit my old friend, Jerk Chicken!

So I dropped into Peachtree Growler and filled up on a very nice Bell's Two Hearted Ale, took it out to the truck and wrapped it in an insulated blanket and went into Kool Runnings. Amazingly, the person behind the counter remembered me from the Memorial location! I asked her how long she's been at this new location - 22 months! Crazy, I had no idea!

Anyway, I ordered up the Jerk Chicken with Peas and Rice and a side of cabbage with a few roasted plantains, maduros-sytle. Everything was oh-so-good as I remembered it. Do be careful with the chicken though as it's coarse chopped and there are small bones. The flavors are delicious - even the hot sauce, which is more of a vinegary pepper sauce rather than the sweet-hot you find at other similar restaurants, is very good (bottle on the table so don't bother with the little side-packages). Portions are large and there's plenty to sate the appetite.

The interior of the restaurant, while not as big as the Memorial location, is spacious and painted in bright colors (the old location had bright colored paint on the exterior). There's a buffet line that's maintained during lunch (this was a weekend so no buffet) but there were still some specials. They were out of the BBQ but I usually stick with the chicken or fish.

In all a terrific, filling lunch. Do try Kool Runnings it's one of my favorites.

-- John

(review also posted to Yelp)
Click to add a blog post for Kool Runnings on Zomato

Ippolito's - Sandy Springs at Abernathy and Roswell Rds

You can find this location of Ippolito's Italian Restaurant at 6623 Roswell Rd NE, Atlanta, GA 30328 - this is the shopping center at the corner of Abernathy and Roswell Roads anchored by Publix. Ipp's is on the left arm running perpendicular to Abernathy. One of my favorite Sandy Springs restaurants (and I have many) - this is my go to Italian destination in the area.

I've been eating at this Ippolito's location for many, many years. I'm not sure if it's the first in Atlanta - it's certainly the first that I found. Tucked away as it is, it's a bit hard to see if you don't know it's there. The locals certainly know where it is as it's always packed on the weekends and very well attended during weekday evenings (always a good idea to get a reservation here, especially if you're party is 4 or more). Parking can become rather challenging - there's plenty of space but it is a shopping center so you may have to walk a bit from your vehicle. This location has a smallish-waiting area and it has little space in the bar (the newer locations have ample space) so you may be waiting outside - luckily the shopping center is friendly to people congregating on the sidewalk. There's also some outside seating - do try that if it's available and not too hot (or raining). Service here is prompt and done well but allow for some extra time for good service.

I'm not sure what Ippolito's is known best for - I can only give you my impressions and a list of favorites. The red sauce here is more on the savory side and less on the sweet - for those of you who have eaten at Italian places in New York and Chicago (seems those two are always being compared) - I find the food here to be more Chicago side with a bit more herbs and cheese, a bit more heat. There's also a touch of licorice (fennel) and clove (cinnamon) in some of the dishes, in particular the Italian sausage and lasagna (not saying that's what's in the dishes, just that there's this hint of the aromatics in them that you can detect while eating). Proportions are on the large side (you can probably do them family style and share several for the table) and most of the dinner dishes come with a side of pasta and a salad.

Speaking of salads, they have a really wonderful started salad with a lettuce mix, cucumbers and red cabbage - ask for the house (it's a red vinegar O&V with herbs) and add some gorgonzola cheese - you'll thank me. You also get some of their famous garlic knots - these are a basket of garlic oil infused rolls covered in grated parmesan and parsley - if they don't bring a side of red sauce, ask for it as the combination will certainly get the appetite going...

 To drink I usually have a seasonal draft - the last time it was a Sierra Nevada Torpedo but I've seen others, including some good local craft. The wine list is large but not so big it's intimidating, so you can get your bottle on if so inclined.

I've also had a very good Caesar salad here, the Greek salad and the wedge (classic wedge of iceberg with bleu cheese and gorgonzola) - all were more than passable. We tend to go right for the Calamari Fritti as an appetizer - it's always been very good here and not rubbery/over-cooked, if a bit over-breaded at times. Comes with a spicy red sauce (fra diavlo - basically marinara with red-pepper flakes for a bit more spice and romano cheese).

There are many fans of the pizzas here but I've never ordered any of them - I love pizza but really, there are so many other good options I'm never tempted by them. I've had a chicken/mushroom calzone here that was excellent - I would imagine that the pizzas are of similar quality. On to the entrées...

Lasagna - I like the lasagna here quite a bit - it's always been very hot (like napalm so be careful!), with several hints of herbs and spices, slathered in cheese and sauce. Exactly how I like baked Italian dishes - no complaint from me on this - my SO however thinks it has a bit of a cinnamon/clove cast that she doesn't like so if that's not your bag, you may want to try something else.

Baked Ziti and Eggplant Rolentini - I thought these were a bit bland - however they are vegetarian so they may be good options for those of you so inclined. I know my friend Sid is a fan of both.

Shrimp Scampi - excellent, mostly made à la minute, hot, garlicy and tangy, exactly the way I like it.

Chicken and Eggplant Parmigiana - these are the dishes I gravitate towards when eating here - the classic cheese-breaded main, covered in melted cheese with a side of pasta. For a mix-up you can ask for either or both - I usually get the mix so there's a little variety in my take-home container.

Chicken Piccata - they do a really excellent job on this dish - light lemony sauce and capers over pasta. This is a lighter weight option to some of the heavier dishes.

Chicken Marsala - this is a bit rich for me but good. I ate quite a bit of it while on the Adkins diet, foregoing the pasta. You will distinctly taste the wine and demi in this dish.

They also have some great specials, like the Cajun Chicken and Shrimp pasta - delicious!

Cajun Chicken and Shrimp Pasta Special
Finish up with one of those gigantic desert portions - the coconut cake has been particularly good in the past and can easily be shared by 4 people (you pass the dessert case on the way to be sat). I'm not a big fan of cheesecake in general but the few bites I've had have been really good - also the tierra mi su is excellent. Either finish up your bottle or have coffee here at the end.

I've also had occasion to cater from this location - the catering chef is very good and accommodating, they show up on time and do an efficient job setting up - in all a very good experience - kudos for Ipp's in figuring out the right way to do it.

Finally - it always amazes me when people rave about Maggiano's (down the street and attached to Perimeter Mall - which I think is fairly mediocre) over Ippilito's. Have I had better Italian? Yes. Have I had worse? Yes. In my opinion Ippolito's is very good, especially for Atlanta and a cut-above all of the national chains that have come-and-gone in our fair city. There are many places in Atlanta where you can spend quite a bit more for inferior food - enough said about that. If you want a good Italian mean, great service and reasonable prices, go no further.

My apologies on some of the photos that are blurry - the images span over 10 years so there were 3-4 different phone cameras involved and the quality varied quite a bit. Kudos to iPhone in finally getting things right with the six plus!

Caio bella!

-- John

(slightly shorter review previously posted to Yelp)
Click to add a blog post for Ippolito's on Zomato 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Iron Horse Tavern - on the Square in Norcross

You can find the Iron Horse Tavern at 29 Jones Street NW, Norcross, GA 30071 on the far side of the downtown Norcross square down the hill from Paizano's and Zapata. This is an English/Welsh style pub and part of the same series as Royal Oak, Bat and Ball, Ship and Anchor and Ye Olde Dunwoody Tavern - most of those are near where I work so I've visited them all - besides having a similar theme, they share the same menu (for the most part - the daily specials do vary a bit though).

The interior is woody and dark, just as you would expect of a pub. There's an area to play darts and some booths to divide up the space a bit, otherwise it would be very loud and you do know it's loud when it's crowded on weekends and during trivia night. I like this place quite a bit - very cozy and great for kicking back and tipping a pint or two of bitters. This place get's some great limited-time craft beers (ask for what's on the rotating tap) - the best I've had here is New Holland Brewing's Poet Stout - this is an amazing beer and worth trying if you haven't. Otherwise they have the usual mainstays found at the other pubs: Bass, Blue Moon, Guinness, Harp, Newcastle, Stella, Sweetwater 420 and IPA and Yuengling on tap.

As for food, the best thing on the menu is the fish-and-chips - these are made with the best cut of the cod, no tough tail section here (pet peeve of mine) - you can get it with one or two pieces if you're hungry. Add some malt vinegar and enjoy yourself - you can't go wrong with this one. For some variety, get them with the sweet potato fries, sans vinegar. I like the new menu - presented newspaper style with British-related articles on the cover and menu on the inside and back.

I also like the Ahi Tuna Tacos (which I notice has been taken off the menu), the Market Meat & Cheese Platter (your basic charcuterie), the Irish Spring Rolls (stuffed with corned beef and Swiss!), the Tavern Wings, the Lamb Kabob and the Chicken Quesadilla. I've also had  the burgers and chicken sandwiches which were all quite good. Some of the other main courses that were more of your classic English pub variety I thought were OK but nothing to write home about. I think most of that food is fairly plain to begin with and for me, I prefer stronger flavors - pitted against a nice ale or stout and they tend to bland out - your experience may vary though so take my opinion with a grain-of-salt.

Service has always been more than passable and downright great at this location - they hire some real people with character, who know their food and more importantly, the bar. All-in-all a great place to hang out and chill.

-- John

(shorter version of this review also posted to Yelp)
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