Thursday, June 14, 2018

Lucky Key Chinese Restaurant - Tucker Atlanta Georgia

You can find Lucky Key at 4135 Lavista Rd, Tucker, GA 30084 in the first shopping center as you exit west from I285 into Lavista Rd - this center is anchored by Best Buy and a relatively new Aldi store - there's also a decent Mellow Mushroom one one end (the end with the tower). Parking is out front and there's typically plenty.

Lucky Key is owned by the same people who have Fuji Ya Japanese Steakhouse - the two restaurants are internally open to one another through a breach in the adjoining wall and I believe you can order from either menu from each side. On this evening we tried the Chinese side (I've eaten at both restaurants in the past but it's been quite a long time, I'm thinking more than 10 years). They typically have very inexpensive specials - $5.95 lunch and $11.95 dinner (but it varies a little) - I know people that work in the area to take advantage of the super cheap lunch.

As Chinese restaurants go, this would fall into what I call swag-Chinese - your basic Chinese-influenced food designed with western ingredients and your typical American in mind. You'll find all the classics here - actually there's so much better Chinese food on Buford Highway that we usually don't venture to Lavista unless we're eating pizza (Mellow Mushroom) but for some reason we were nearby, it was late and we were hungry having missing the typical dinner hours, so here we are. The interior is relatively clean with cloth tablecloths covered in hard plastic for easy cleaning. There are your typical Chinese iconography on the walls and an attempt at elegance via ceiling fixture. Not bad if a bit dated but there's a lot of comfort to be found in places that retain this look.

For dinner we did the Hot and Sour soup (included) - this was dark and peppery with dropped-egg, perhaps not as sour as I typically like but it's a good way to start the meal. I've had better but I've also had much worse. We also had chicken with Chinese vegetables (it rang up as "Fragrang Chicken" - not sure if that's at item or what - I asked for it extra spicy) and a Chicken Lo Mein (also supposed to be spicy) - as usual they really weren't spicy - seems most of these places just throw in some dried whole red-chiles when I'm really looking for blazing hot. At least they're consistent, right?

 Overall the food was neither good nor bad - sort of right in the middle but nothing spectacular. I can see why some of my local friends like the place - it's cheap, filling and very predictable, good but not great. Service was good considering we arrived late and we could tell they wanted to close (we were the only table seated). We hurried through the meal - I think we left shortly after 9:00 PM. Total spent was around $20 with tax, $24 with tip.

(also posted to Yelp)
Lucky Key Chinese Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Thai Tom Kha Gai - Chicken Coconut Soup

One of my neighbors posted in our local network group that she had some leftover goodies from making Thai food, specifically Fresh Thai chiles, Galangal, Lemongrass and Kaffir leaves. I raised my hand and received them from her and then did a little shopping to buy what I needed - luckily I was only missing a few dollars worth of ingredients to make Tom Kha Gai soup. If  you haven't had this soup, it's a delicious, slightly spicy coconut soup that usually has mushrooms and chicken. It's nice because of the contrasts of the citrus (lime, lemongrass and kaffir (lime) leaves) to the fat in the coconut milk to the heat. The acids in the citrus immediately get your mouth watering and the soup is very satisfying, perhaps more in winter but I like it year round.


The recipe I have I garnered a few years ago online - unfortunately I didn't add a link so I'm not sure who to attribute it to - I found it while thinking about a similar soup we made at my last cooking job at Indigo Coastal Grill (as I recall we offered a Thai inspired seafood stew that used something similar to this recipe only with seafood instead of chicken - we did take some shortcuts like using sambal paste instead of chiles but I think this recipe is more authentic). I've made some adjustments to the original recipe but the basics are there - for authenticity you should search for and find: either dried thai chiles or or fresh red thai chiles; galangal (Thai ginger), kaffir lime leaves, coconut sugar (trust me on this) and some good fish sauce (I have and use Three Crabs as my preferred brand - it's cheap and very flavorful). You can substitute much of these ingredients with something more local but every substitution will take you further from the authentic flavors. Everything on this list can be found at our local farmers markets (Buford Highway Farmers Market has everything but Your Dekalb Farmers Market has most of the items)

Clockwise: kaffir leaves, lemongrass, sliced galangal, red Thai chillies minced, button mushrooms, lime juice

Left-to-Right: fish sauce, coconut oil, 2 cans coconut milk, coconut sugar (chicken stock in back)

Thai Tom Kha Gai (Thai Coconut Soup)

Serves: 4


  • 1/2 tablespoon organic coconut oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon Thai dried chiles, finely ground or 3 fresh red thai chiles finely chopped) - add more of the fresh if you like the heat but a little goes a long way
  • 1 cup organic low sodium chicken stock
  • 2 cans full fat coconut milk
  • 2 inch piece of Galangal (Thai Ginger, you can use regular ginger but this is more accurate in flavor), skin on and thinly sliced
  • 2 stalks lemon grass, sliced diagonally into 3-4 pieces and slightly bruised/flattened with butt of a knife (just the white part)
  • 8 fresh kaffir lime leaves
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 chicken breasts, very thinly sliced (think about what will fit in your soup spoons)
  • 1.5 cup white button mushrooms, sliced (or a can of straw mushrooms)
  • 2 fresh limes, juice only
  • 1/2 tablespoon coconut sugar (honey will work too, but coconut sugar will taste the most authentic)
  • fresh cilantro and scallions for serving (garnish)


  1. Melt the coconut oil in a soup or stock pot over medium-high heat or in a wok, then add the ground/chopped chiles and stir for 1-2 minutes until you can smell the chiles.
  2. Pour in the coconut milk and bring to boil. Add the chicken stock, galangal, lemon grass, kaffir leaves, fish sauce, and chicken and simmer for 10 minutes until the chicken is cooked through (why you slice them thin).
  3. Add the mushrooms, lime juice, and coconut sugar and simmer for another 5 minutes until the vegetables are tender but not mushy.
  4. Serve into four bowls with fresh cilantro and scallions sprinkled on top as a garnish.


As I've already noted, the roots and herbs used add a lot to this dish - I'm pretty heavy handed in their use - the bad thing is that most are inedible so you have to fish around them in the bowl. Some people do a fine julienne so they can be eaten but I don't believe that's typical in Thailand. I also add more lime than I think most people are used to but I do love lime. I'll sometimes add extra chiles if I want it hotter (for instance, during winter months).

Juice of two limes
You want to have everything ready to go before you start cooking (in French cuisine it's called "mise en place" - to put in place or everything in it's place). This is a fast dish that's mostly assembly instead of something you cook over a length of time - this contributes to the freshness of the soup. You will also want to stand over this dish and not walk away as it's easy to overcook things or allow the coconut milk to boil over.
For the coconut sugar - it comes in a cylinder-shaped cake. Carefully open the tied end under the outer rapper an push some of the sugar out of the bag on your cutting board. Carefully shave off enough for the recipe with your chef knife.

Shaved coconut sugar
You should end up with something that looks similar to this.
 Bowl of Homemade Tom Kha Gai

Let me know if you have any comments or questions.

-- John

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Tucker Brewing Company - Tucker Atlanta Georgia

You can find the Tucker Brewing Company at 2003 South Bibb Dr, Tucker, Ga 30084 in the industrial park behind the Sam's on Mountain Industrial Blvd. They have some parking but for this event, the Grand Opening, parking extended for about a half-mile radius along the streets and lots for closed businesses - luckily there was Dekalb police and hired help around to direct traffic - it was a bit of a madhouse.

I first became aware of this brewery on Facebook as a page was created and some posts began targeting this date. I went with my wife and a friend - for this occasion there was a $10 admission charge where you get a "Tucker Brewing Company" gold printed glass (they started with tall pilsners, went to a stemmed and finally a regular pint - we arrived when the stems were being given - about 4:00 PM but later traded for the normal pint as it was heavier and frankly, fit our cabinets better) - you also received two tickets so you could fill your glass twice. Afterward you could be additional fill-ups. There were also sodas available for the non-beer drinkers with a small charge to cover the glass.

You walk into the front and emerge into an expansive bar area with a brilliant sun-logo on the wall. You could fill your glass at this bar or at a small station setup in the patio. The interior is industrial modern with exposed wood surfaces and metal finishes. One negative was that at some point a pipe broke (or something) int he men's restroom so there was water all over the area directly behind the door - some guys were quickly addressing the issue so I would call this a normal, opening day hick-up. The place was a madhouse with a few hundred inside sitting at tables drinking or standing at counters trying to get refills. There were plenty of people behind the bar for refills but I think it would have been better if they didn't allow seating at the bar stools - either that or designated lines as you had to reach over the people who were seated at the bar.

Walking through this main area there's a pretty great patio in back that stretches to the side - the band was to the right doing mostly southern rock favorites - on the left side in back were a pair of food trucks. Between there were several patio tables filled with people and kids running around - a couple of corn hole stations were along the left leading up from the main hall opening to the food trucks. This is an awesome patio with plenty of space for large gatherings - I can see some fire pits being added in the future. In fact the entire space was very well executed, inside and out.

For beer, The Tucker Brewing Company has as part of it's mission the brewing of German style beer - on this day they had three different: a Pilsner, a Dark Lager and a Hefeweizen. I started with this last - I found it light, slightly oily to the mouth and very refreshing - a very solid 3.5/5 if a bit green (I think with some age it would be a 4/5). Note that all three beers seemed a bit green to me and could have used a bit of age before serving, but that's not to be unexpected with a new brewery (the only one I haven't found this to be true at was Arches down in Hapeville and I've attended a lot of early brewery openings). I also thought the Dark Lager quite palatable, once again a bit green - about a 3.5/5 lacking a bit of complexity and tasting a bit hoppier than I would have expected. I'm not a fan of Pilsners at all (I grew up drinking the stuff and the acidic taste makes me gag) so I only tasted some from a companion's glass. This one fit right into the flavor profile I expected. I won't rank it since it's not something I particularly like, preferring the range from IPA to Porter/stout and higher ABV.

Trying to get my second glass filled became a bit of a challenge - not sure what happened but they put a stop to the pours at the bar and suggested going to the station outside (which only had the pils at the time). Once they got back up and running there was quite a bit of foam they were trying to pour through - not sure if it was keg changes, an issue with the CO2 tanks or what, but again, these are common opening day hick-ups. I think they were quite happy with the turnout and community response.


Overall I liked this place a lot and think it will make a huge impact on Tucker. I think with some broadening of their catalog they will become a  big hit as they seem to be doing things right.

(also posted to Yelp)
The Tucker Brewery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, June 2, 2018

2018 Atlanta Food and Wine Festival

Attended the 2018 Atlanta Food and Wine Festival yesterday evening - this was the single day "Tasting Tent" event at Piedmont Park's Greensward/Promenade (1065 Peachtree St
Atlanta, GA 30307) 
- this is an area right outside the parking deck shared by Piedmont park and the Atlanta Botanical Garden - quite convenient. Full disclosure, I received the tickets (usually $100 per person) for free, but after visiting the event I would have no problems in thinking that it wasn't worth the price of admission - there's much more here than you can take in during the 3 hours you're provided.

For 2018, there was quite a bit of rain leading to the event and a continuing light drizzle as we lined up - the event was supposed to start at 7:30 and continue to 10:30 but was delayed, both the opening time and the extended closing time. Trust me though, there's no way you can get through everything. The rain was both a good thing and bad thing - good because I'm sure the turnout was lighter than usual so you didn't feel like you were bumping sweaty elbows and abandoning long lines but bad in that the grounds became a mess - I had thought about wearing rubber boots and should have - mud got into my Keens.  I tried to prepare a bit by looking at maps, a list of chefs, etc provided by an excellent Eater Atlanta article - but we decided to basically wing it once we arrived. Apparently in previous years the booze and food were separated, but this year they were intermingled which I think made things much better.

I tried a total of 37 vendors and skipped over much including the wine, focusing on the bourbons, beer and food. You're give a plastic stemless wine glass for tasting - initially, the very light pours made me think "Wow, how stingy" but as I progressed I realized what a good idea this was. My wife became quite full before we hit the Lower Oval Tents (there's a cascade of two tent groupings, and upper and lower separated by stairs). Before I run out of space, my favorite things in no particular order:

  1. Beef Brisket by 4 Rivers Smokehouse (GA) - melt-in-your-mouth goodness.
  2. Pork Rib from Grand Champion BBQ (GA)
  3. Larceny Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey - best I tried
  4. Caroline's Cakes - assortment of bites
  5. Hattie B's Hot Chicken (TN) Hot Chicken Bite
  6. Tequila Fortaleza - blanco was so smooth
  7. Restaurant 356 (GA) Lobster Roll - one of the best bites I had
  8. Chef Shay Lavi's delicious lamb-filled pita (at Creature Comforts booth).

The state of Mississippi had a fantastic group represented - loved the entire setup and way they coordinated. Complete list from my notes:

* Woodford Reserve - Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey - Spice mix @WoodfordReserve
* Heaven Hill Brands - Larceny Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey @heavenhill
* Wicked Moon Foods (GA) - Wicked Pimina Cheese #WickedPiminaCheese
* Caroline's Cakes - these were delicious and garnered my wood token (best of vote)
* Southbound Brewing Belgian Witbier @SouthboundBrews
* Hope Springs Distillery Absinthe #HopeSpringsDistillery
* Todd Richards Soul: A Chef's Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes (GA) @ChefToddRichards
* Rivulet Artisan Pecan Liquer (KY) - delicious pecan @RivuletLiqueur
* Myrtle's Chicken + Beer (TN) - Chick and Peas @MyrtlesChickenandBeer
* Ralph Taylor - City Grocery Restaurant Group (MS) Shrimp bites @CityGrocery
* Meridith Pittman - CAET Winebar - Pickled Melon Salad @MerePittman
* Taylor Bowen-Ricketts - Fan and Johnny's (MS) @TravelGreenwood
* Cole Ellis - Delta Meat Market (MS) Delta Style Tamales @DeltaMeatMarket @VisitMS
* Ty Thames Restaurant Tyler (MS) @RestaurantTyler
* Tony Chachere's (LA) Bloody Mary Mix and Red Beans @tonychacheres
* Fudgy Flourless Chocolate Pecan Cookies
* John Rivers - 4 Rivers Smokehouse (GA) - amazing melt-in-your-mouth beef brisket @4Riverssmokehouse
* Grand Champion BBQ (GA) @gcbbq - awesome pork rib
* Ian Winslade Mission + Market (GA) @missionandmkt - refreshing goat cheese and fruit puree
* Gentry Bourbon Whiskey - veterans benefit
* Foothills Brewing (NC) Jade IPA and People's Porter @FoothillsBeer
* Good People Brewing (AL) IPA and Coffee Stout @gpbrewing - loved the Coffee Stout
* Revelator Coffee (AL) Ice Cream Floats @revelatorcoffee - very refreshing
* John Lasater - Hattie B's Hot Chicken (TN) Hot Chicken Bite @HattieB's - these were delicious - the spicy (medium) and pickle were the bomb!
* Frankly by the Spotted Trotter @trotterretail
* Second Self Triforce IPA @secondselfbeer
* Tequila Fortaleza @drinkfortaleza - loved the blanco
* El Buho Mezcal - @elbuhomezcal - very distinctive flavor and aroma
* Springer Mountain Farms Chicken - Knox Mason, Chef Matt Gallaher -Pate @KnoxMason
* Hendrick's Gin - wacky steampunk drinkerizer @HendricksGin
* Glenfiddich Whisky @GlenfiddichSMW
* Red Eye Rye (TN) Old Fashioned and neat @drinkredeyerye
* Restaurant 356 (GA) Lobster Roll - one of the best bites I had @restaurant356
* Trim Tab Brewing (AL) IPA and Paradise Now @trimtabbrewing
* Urban Mason Atlanta National Golf Club - Shrimp and Grits
* Ghost Coast Distilling - Savannah's first operational distillery since prohibition - sampling Vodka 261 @GhostCoastDist
* Creature Comforts - Chef Shay Lavi discussed plans for his new beltline restaurant while munching on delicious lamb-filled pita

Overall, I had a fantastic time. I've attended similar events in the past but none this extensive (in fact I usually don't bother with these types of events because of the long lines and Georgia heat, but this night was awesome due to the rain). I managed to get through the upper Oval Tents but hardly hit the Lower - and by then many of the purveyors had begun to run out of samples - probably a good thing as I was buzzed enough that things were starting to mix together and my note taking is really light. The highlight of the evening was a short discussion with Chef Shay Lavi - we discussed his plans to open a new restaurant along the beltline - that will be one to keep your eye on. Thanks to all the contributors to a fantastic event.

(shorter version posted on Yelp)