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As the stomach churns

Restaurant news and views from the mailbag



I've had one of those weeks, quoth Yeats, when the center would not hold. I'm talking about my digestive center. It's one of the dirty little secrets of the reviewing biz that, yes, restaurant food literally does make us sick from time to time. That this doesn't happen more often is a tribute to the restaurant industry and health department enforcement.

So this week's column is — burp — a roundup of miscellany.

Joan writes: "I'm curious to know where you eat out the most often."

Not counting my regular lunch pulled from the Publix sushi case (you can do much worse, I promise you), I regularly eat at Grant Central, a few blocks from our house in Grant Park, frequently twice a week. The appeal is the proximity in part, but the food is mainly quite good. You can't go wrong with the white pie or the lasagnas — both gooey New York Italian-style dishes that add a quarter-inch to your waistline each time.

But the kitchen also does specials nightly, scrawled on a chalkboard that needs to be replaced. These can be good — like a dish of mussels over pasta with pancetta — or a bit rococo for my taste, including too many oddly combined ingredients. The kitchen is not limited to Italian specials. Southwestern and Thai influences show up now and then, along with straightforward American faves like meatloaf.

The staff at Grant Central also makes visiting the restaurant agreeable. The servers are just slightly weird and never brain dead. ...

Former dining critic Elliott Mackle, now a mystery novel writer, e-mails these comments: "Had a very nice lunch buffet at Madras Palace, which opened in the former Woodlands slot near North DeKalb Mall about two months ago. We found nice variety and definition of flavors and spice levels. The place has been upscaled — curtains, murals, thali platters. ...

"Bison short ribs/pot roast at Ted's Montana Grill: Yum, the perfect comfort food. I like the bison burgers, too. I thought this concept would be terrible and about the only complaint I have is the high salt level. I go to the one on Peachtree that was the Piranha Bar and Grill; they don't seem to be doing much business. ..."

Tucker writes with the perennial question: "What's the best hamburger in town?" I still love the gigantic burgers at Ann's Snack Bar on Memorial Drive, but Miss Ann always seems to be closing when I show up evenings. (I try not to take this personally.)

Maybe just as good as Miss Ann's "ghetto burger" is the bacon-blue cheeseburger at the Earl in East Atlanta. While Miss Ann posts signs that forbid cursing, the Earl is the kind of smoky spot that brings out the obscenity in you. Bands regularly play there, but I'm in love with the jukebox. Where else can you play Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, Johnny Cash and Adam & the Ants?

It can get a bit weird, too. During our last visit, we sat at the bar facing the patio and a woman on the other side of the window stretched her arm at us to reveal a big praying mantis on her wrist. She had that look of disgusted curiosity. Wayne, seeing the insect, put his hands together in a gesture of prayer and nodded slowly. Weirdo!

I find just about every entree on the menu but the burgers ignorable. But sides are great. Onion rings recall your teenage days when you thought the Varsity was way good. Red beans and rice are surprisingly good, and even the fried okra is killer.

The servers are terrific, right down to their last tattoo. ...

Nate writes to recommend Rice Sticks, a new gourmet Vietnamese restaurant at 5920 Roswell Road in Sandy Springs (404-252-6337). The restaurant has been opened by chef Paul Gregory, who has relocated to Atlanta from Minneapolis, where he was chef at Gallery 8 and The Studio.

Although his menu is not nearly as esoteric as Midtown's Nam, Gregory clearly aims to give Sandy Springers a haute taste of Vietnam with dishes like a salad of banana blossoms and grilled chicken. The 69-seat restaurant, which is dramatically designed by Restaurants Consulting Group, is also open for lunch. ...

Kyna writes to agree with my thumbs-down opinion of Moe's after a visit to the Colony Square location. She prefers Willy's and promises to try my fave, El Molino on Cheshire Bridge. ... Lesley writes to recommend Thai of Norcross. "It is the best little Thai place, looks like a hole in the wall," she says. "Bill Cosby has eaten there."

I received this voicemail: "Get out of Georgia, you crazy motherfucker." The next voicemail, delivered two minutes later, sounded like someone talking in a high voice through a handkerchief. "Get of Georgia, you crazy motherfucker," the person repeated. I would love to. I am thinking about spending September in Spain. Send money, you crazy motherfucker. And block your damn caller ID next time. Geez. ...

I had a great lunch recently at Babs on Juniper Street in Midtown — a flawless omelet with crab and, on the side, a strawberry picked from the restaurant's tiny garden out front. The restaurant specializes in healthy simple food and is open for breakfast daily. Sunday brunch is popular, in part because of the wacky themes owner Randy Adler gives the meal each week.

Adler will open his second location at Peachtree Center Athletic Club in September. The cafe there also will be available to host business meetings at the gym with the city's best view ... and close-to-highest membership cost. ...

The best arugula I've ever purchased in our city is at Whole Foods. The produce clerk told me he can't keep the stuff on the shelf. I'm also impressed with the staff at the cheese counter at the Ponce de Leon store. They can pull names of cheeses out of the air just by listening to customers' vague descriptions.



Leave Cliff Bostock a voicemail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1010, or e-mail him at cliff.bostock@creativeloafing.com.



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