First Look: Grindhouse Killer Burgers

Plus, visits to Dulce Vegan and Peter Cheng

We're eating fat, healthy and hot this week. Here are some quick takes:

The second location of Grindhouse Killer Burgers (1842 Piedmont Ave., 404-254-2273) opened last week. The restaurant's original location inside the Sweet Auburn Curb Market was an instant hit with lunchtime diners. Now you can satisfy your craving for the iconic Apache burger (made with roasted chilies) at dinnertime, too. The diner is open until "late" every day.

Owner Alex Brounstein's new location has been slammed with crowds, but the food doesn't seem to have suffered. The menu is about the same as the original's, with a few new burger styles that plop themselves into the ubiquitous pimento cheese mud pit. (Yes, I'm sick of 'menter cheese.) There's the Dixie that mingles the stuff with bacon, a fried green tomato and coleslaw. The Hillbilly adds beef chili, jalapeños and sliced onion to the pimento cheese. You can, of course, design your own burger, single or double, with various toppings. Freshly ground Angus beef is the standard, but turkey and veggie patties are also available.

The décor borders on hilarious. It's retro, but instead of featuring the usual '50s diner kitsch, Grindhouse is populated by toy robots reminiscent of the dawning of popular space-age fantasy. But it stays down to earth with a few images of wholesome carhop sleaze.

I've visited twice. I ate in with my favorite Apache burger and fries the first time and found it as good as always. The second time, I stopped by around 10 p.m. to take out the menu's new trio of sliders (available only after 9 p.m.). You get to choose the style of each slider. I tried the new Dixie and Hillbilly plus, of course, the Apache.

I'm afraid, like most fast food, my order did not travel well. The sliders were wrapped together in tin foil and their buns were steamed to sogginess by the time I got home. My fries likewise lost their crispness. Despite the wet bread and my frustration with pimento cheese, I liked the fillings of the sliders. But for the real experience, you should eat in.

The most notable addition to the menu here is beer, wine and boozed-up milk shakes, $7.50 each, with names like El Duderino, vanilla ice cream spiked with vanilla vodka and Kahlúa.

Enough with meat

I raced by the new Dulce Vegan Bakery & Cafe (1994 Hosea L. Williams Drive, 404-624-7417) in Kirkwood last week, too. Howell Belser and Idalys Sansores, who have been in business for four years as nomadic bakers renting kitchens around the city, own this vegan bakery/café.

My visit was during its "soft opening," so the menu was limited to a couple of sandwiches and a few pastries. I picked up a sandwich made with marinated tofu, arugula, tomato and pesto. I also bought two scones — one made with lavender and chocolate chips, the other with almonds and cherries.

All three were fantastic. The sandwich, made with springy bread, was a shock. I usually find tofu in sandwiches virtually gratuitous because they can be so flavorless. But Ducle Vegan's tofu is marinated in balsamic vinegar and a bit of agave, making it quite assertive and exactly right with the rest of the ingredients. The note of sweetness is especially nice. I'm talking crave-worthy.

The scones were likewise easily habit-forming. There's no butter or milk in them, but you won't notice. I particularly liked the lavender one. Groove on the faint flavor of the lavender infused in the crumbly pastry and suddenly hit a tiny morsel of chocolate that seems to burst in the mouth. The lavender requires your focus and the chocolate momentarily breaks it. That is cool.

The bakery uses nothing but organic products, is strictly vegan and also bakes pastries that are gluten-free or otherwise mindful of allergies. Belser told me that the cafe menu will be expanded during the coming weeks. You might want to call ahead before you visit.

Back to Scorchville

I was pretty amazed when I successfully made a last-minute reservation for six at Peter Cheng Cuisine (6450 Powers Ferry Road, Sandy Springs, 678-766-8765) last Friday. I've been to the restaurant three times for dinner since its opening in December and it's been a madhouse each time.

When my friends and I arrived at the restaurant, I learned why the reservation was so easy to get: The restaurant was only about half full. I don't know whether to blame this on Easter — it was Good Friday — or flagging interest in the Sichuan palace.

One obvious change for the better, at our table at least, was vastly improved service. Our young server knew the enormous menu and made excellent suggestions. He did, however, let two of us order the same thing. When I observed this to him, he replied, "I told you so!" Oh well.

My faint-of-palate friends broke into sweats eating much of the orange-tinged food but agreed the meal was exceptional. I made sure we ordered the usual apps of dan dan noodles, shredded tofu skin with hot chili oil, fried pork belly, fried eggplant and the puffy puri-like bread. I found our entrées actually less compelling than the starters and, even though my compadres were wiping their foreheads, I once again found the food mysteriously mild for the most part.

[Admin link: First Look: Grindhouse Killer Burgers]

Spider for First Look: Grindhouse Killer Burgers