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GRAZING: Cheap eats on the run

Don’t bother to wrap it, I’ll eat it here

8ARM 1535 Web
Photo credit: Cliff Bostock
8ARM: The burger, slathered with beet mayo.

I eat too much.

In recent months, I’ve been lunching and dining with friends four times a week. I can’t cover all those meals in depth in a monthly column, so what follows is blurb-o-mania. Please note that all of these are mainly inexpensive venues, which become harder and harder to find in paradise. 

 

BOXCAR: The lamb sliders, offered as a starter, but enough for an entree. Photo: Cliff Bostock.
BOXCAR: The lamb sliders, offered as a starter, but enough for an entree. Photo: Cliff Bostock.

Boxcar: If you’re old enough, you remember the West End as a relatively poor, almost exclusively African-American neighborhood whose main claim to fame was (weirdly) the Wren’s Nest, the home of Joel Chandler Harris, author of the Uncle Remus stories. That has changed, and it’s now one of Atlanta’s most diverse areas. (Yeah, it’s on the BeltLine.) Recently, Boxcar opened in the gigantic Lee + White development, a repurposed railroad facility. It’s on the second level, above Hop City Craft Beer and Wine, which owns the restaurant. 



The huge space is lots of fun. Despite its enormity, acoustics allow you to talk to your friends and the servers instead of texting them across the table. Try the appropriately messy poutine — fries, wild mushrooms, and cheese curds, all covered with a brown gravy. I also like the lamb sliders served on Hawaiian rolls with tzatziki, peach jam, mint, and grilled red onions. The cheese steak is made with shaved ribeye on grilled ciabatta, with caramelized onions, fontina cheese, kale-almond pesto, and garlic aioli. Not your typical Philly specialty, but well worth ordering. Service is real. 

Boxcar, 1000 White St. S.W., 470-788-8171, boxcaratl.com.

TUZA: The table's best taco — a huge hunk of fried fish draped in pickled cabbage. Photo: Cliff Bostock.
TUZA: The table's best taco — a huge hunk of fried fish draped in pickled cabbage. Photo: Cliff Bostock.

Tuza: This fairly new taqueria in the Westside is something of a mystery. It is certainly fun, with bright tile, a cheerful staff, and slurpable margaritas. But the food is oddly off (even with the much-vaunted house-made corn tortillas). There is no salsa bar and all you are offered is a good house-made red. There’s no green sauce at all, except for an Argentina-style chimichurri which is delicious but too strong for, say, the very dry carnitas I ordered. There is a bottle of house-made hot sauce on every table. It’s fiery, but it ain’t a juicy salsa. Everybody’s favorite taco rightly seems to be the one featuring a gigantic chunk of tempura-fried fish scattered with pickled cole slaw and a chipotle-spiked crema. Friends liked the “classic” hard-shell taco with seasoned ground beef. Do not order a quesadilla. Mine tepidly wrapped tasteless shrimp and unmelted cheese.


Tuza, 1523 Howell Mill Road N.W., 404-343-4088, tuzataco.com.

DELIA’S CHICKEN SAUSAGE STAND: The restaurant’s namesake dish, topped with weirdly grilled mac 'n' cheese and collards. Photo: Cliff Bostock.
DELIA’S CHICKEN SAUSAGE STAND: The restaurant’s namesake dish, topped with weirdly grilled mac 'n' cheese and collards. Photo: Cliff Bostock.

Delia’s Chicken Sausage Stand: It was cheap. That’s the best I can say about my visit to the Westside location of this restaurant that, I’m guessing, caters to students at nearby Georgia Tech, all of whom were apparently on spring break. It was probably crazy to order it, but I went for the “Smack ‘n’ Cheese,” a link topped with collards and two smushed triangles of grilled mac ‘n’ cheese in a squishy hoagie roll. I also got some mushy fries. No way. Never again. My friends were happier with their clucker this and slider that, but we agreed the best part of the meal was eating on the upstairs balcony, watching an endless stream of cop cars dash by, pulling three drivers over in 20 minutes. I guess that’s what happens when nobody’s mugging drunk students. I do commend the staff for their great attitude and sense of humor. “WTF happened to this place?” I asked. I never heard three people (and two customers) shout “I know!” at greater volume.


Delia’s Chicken Sausage Stand, 881 Marietta St. N.W., 404-254-0408, thesausagestand.com.

8arm: I don’t have the several thousand words necessary to tell the tragic-but-triumphant history of this place or explain the complicated menus. Let it be sufficient to say that 8arm leads the growing pack serving brunch 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. I love it — especially a pumpkin soup with turmeric cream, fried sage, and radicchio. I admit I remain confused about the ingredients, but I’ve not tasted anything as good in a long time. I’ve also enjoyed the burger with the formerly unfashionable American cheese and a viciously pink sauce of beets and mayo. Definitely try the McMuff. Yeah, it’s a bit trendy with its avocados, scrambled eggs, cilantro mayo, and bacon (if you choose), but it tastes good to be hip for an hour. The fried chicken sandwich, glowing with chili oil and bacon fat, is fine, but really does cross that give-me-a-break line. The biscuits are still primo. The service is … oy. I had to actually go to the window and pick up my own meal during one visit. The server trailed me back to the table, complaining, but, as I told him, I’d waited at least five minutes while the dish sat in front on the counter. 

8arm, 710 Ponce de Leon Ave. N.E. 470-875-5856. www.8armatl.com. 

AREPA MIA: A cachapa, a sweet and savory corn pancake, wrapped around the meat of your choice. Photo: Cliff Bostock.
AREPA MIA: A cachapa, a sweet and savory corn pancake, wrapped around the meat of your choice. Photo: Cliff Bostock.

Arepa Mia: I raved about Lis Hernandez’s Arepa Mia at Sweet Auburn Market here a few months ago. I finally made it to the Avondale Estates location a couple of weeks ago. The place has been an overnight hit. You get an expanded menu of the 100-percent gluten-free fare, longer hours, and an easy seat. It’s not that I don’t enjoy sitting at the Sweet Auburn location’s community tables, quizzing Grady employees on their lunch hour about deadly hospital infections. But the new location, open evenings, allows you to have a leisurely dinner with your friends at a table inside or on the roomy front patio that is strung with lights. The go-to is of course the arepa, a crunchy corn patty stuffed with sourced proteins and vegetables. My favorite has always been the pabellon, which is filled with shredded grass-fed beef, black beans, fried sweet plantains, and crumbled white cheese. Now, you can order what is basically a deconstructed arepa — a large plate of the meats with the sweet and savory additions on the side. But honestly, I think these deprive you of the interplay of texture and flavor that makes the arepa so compelling. I do admit that I’ve now forsaken the arepa in favor of the cachapa, a large, sweet corn pancake that is the most addictive thing I’ve eaten in a long time. You can eat it with a fork and knife instead of having to unhinge your jaws like a cobra to eat a chubby, compact arepa. Hernandez has added specials, like grilled salmon, to the menu. We tried a couple of starters including fluffy fried yuca with a green sauce and a plate of sliced avocados and hearts of palm in a corn vinaigrette. They were good but you might also consider splitting an empanada to begin.


Arepa Mia, 10 N. Claredon Ave., Avondale Estates, 404-600-3509, arepamiaatlanta.com

CAFE LAPIN: The ladies who lunch — with me. Photo: Cliff Bostock.
CAFE LAPIN: The ladies who lunch — with me. Photo: Cliff Bostock.


And so forth: Every six months or so, I have to visit Café Lapin in Peachtree Battle Shopping Center and I always seem to end up with the pimento cheese and bacon sandwich and a (sort of) caprese salad. My friend always orders the coconut cake. He’s gluten-free, so he only eats the icing, leaving the rest of the cake on the plate. It’s kind of creepy — the way some monsters eat only the skin of their prey — but it’s a score for me. The really fascinating thing about this place is that it really, truly is home to the “ladies who lunch.” Three of us were the only men in the packed restaurant on a recent Friday …. I’ve been having to ferry Pat the Cat to a vet near Toco Hills Shopping Center every week and the payoff has been visiting Spiller Park, Hugh Acheson’s coffee shop with the motto “Coffee so good we drink it ourselves.” It really is that good and while Pat sits in the car, I throw back a macchiato in the parking lot … because … you know … there’s never a single seat unoccupied by a laptopper. I’m not complaining. Really. Could be me. -CL-

STILLER PARK COFFEE: Every inside table is a work station. Photo: Cliff Bostock.
STILLER PARK COFFEE: Every inside table is a work station. Photo: Cliff Bostock.

 



More By This Writer

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  string(10409) "Every plague has its silver lining. For the first two weeks of March, I unsuccessfully tried to get a table at Jarrett Stieber’s greatly anticipated new restaurant, Little Bear, in Summerhill. Then the plague arrived and turned the restaurant — six years in the making — into a takeout joint. So, the silver lining is that you and I get to more easily score five or six courses of Stieber’s prix fixe menu. 

But that’s the only silver lining I’ve encountered lately. When I wrote my last column in March, the mayor had not yet locked down the city. Since then, the coronavirus has created a tsunami of misery, sweeping through all sectors of the economy. Layoffs, furloughs, cutbacks, closings, and firings have been especially difficult for restaurants. Most operate on a slim profit margin to begin with and — let’s be honest — most employees are poorly paid and living paycheck-to-paycheck. For many, it’s a transition or side job while they seek a more stable career opportunity. Since the crash, many forms of assistance, from free meals to fundraised cash, have become available to unemployed restaurant workers, but we are standing on the precipice of a second Great Recession, which caused reorganization of the entire economy. We’re likely destined again for a new “normal.”

As it happens, “normal” is not a word that would suit Jarrett Stieber, regardless of the economy. I, like most of Atlanta, have been intrigued by his cooking ever since he opened the pop-up, Eat Me Speak Me. He started out miserably unappreciated by the public at Candler Park Market and The General Muir in 2013. High points of that time included cooking blood sausage on a panini press and being overshadowed by matzoh balls. In 2014, he moved EMSM to Gato and it arguably become the city’s favorite pop-up. In 2017, he moved the operation to SOS Tiki Bar, which he vacated last year to get Little Bear rolling.

While many other restaurants have cut staff and turned to takeout, Stieber’s business is doing so well that he has not had to lay off any of his small crew or reduce pay. There are many reasons why. The food is of course the preeminent one. It’s often described as “whimsical.”  Stieber guesses that’s partly because of the menu’s humor. An example is the standing title of his shareable prix fixe menu: “Just fuck me up, fam’,” sarcastically referring to the true experience of family dining. The restaurant’s proprietor, by the way, is the greatly anthropomorphized Pyrenees mountain dog that Stieber and his wife Hallie own. His real name is Fernando but his nickname is, yes, Little Bear. (Please, no ABBA jokes.) Maybe the clearest example of linguistic whimsy is the front window’s announcement that the restaurant has won a rating of 2.5 tires from Michelin Tire Dining. It’s goofy but it all adds up to a pointedly satirical attitude toward the pretensions of fine dining.

The funny thing is that Stieber is a James Beard semifinalist and, on the surface, his food resembles contemporary fine dining: smallish plates of strictly local produce and proteins, unexpected flavor combinations, artful presentation. Consider the Spanish-inspired menu featured during the week I fetched a meal there. One dish was a rectangular portion of a Spanish-style tortilla made with baked eggs and mild turnips, covered with a “ropa vieja sauce” and “an egregious amount of olive oil.”  WTF is ropa vieja sauce? I’ve eaten a ton of ropa vieja, a favorite Cuban dish, but I don’t think of it as a Spanish dish or as a sauce. Stieber clarified in an email: “We thought it would be fun to include some flavors from places Spain forced their will on… Ropa vieja as more of a red-wine, braised meat gravy sauce to serve on another dish sounded fun to us.” So, there you have it: a classic tor-tilla that deliciously dishonors Spanish colonialism.


 

There were also the inevitable patatas bravas, but Stieber makes them with sweet potatoes, cooking them to addictive crispy-creamy perfection in a concoction of pork fat, coffee, and chili oil, then drizzled with aioli. The protein of the week was Catalan-style pork meatballs combined with a fetish of Catalonia — roasted green onions under salbitxada, a usually red sauce turned weirdly green by Stieber. The opening soup, caldo de Gallego, was absolutely the best version I’ve ever had. I opened the container and the odor of fennel blasted the room like the sins in Pandora’s box. It was made with red peas instead of white beans and was hellishly fiery. Stieber swears it wasn’t intentional, but the meal ended with a pastry, a pestiño — fried, honey-glazed dough flavored with benne and anise, which echoed the licorice flavor of the fennel that began the meal. It was apparently also coincidental that pestiños are only available during Christmas and Holy Week in Spain and were indeed served by Little Bear during Holy Week. The meal also included a stunning salad of gem lettuce, dill, radishes, and shavings of sharp idiazabal cheese, made from sheep’s milk. There was, finally, a second dessert of traditional almond cake, dusted with powdered sugar, allegedly flavored with strawberries.

 

So, what, besides the satirical approach, makes this food actually different from fine dining? For one significant thing, there’s the cost. The menu I’ve described was $55 for two. On the brink of recession, that may not sound inexpensive — and you better tip $15 minimum — but it’s as many as seven dishes of entirely local ingredients for two! Still, to me the truly notable thing is the artistry. Stieber, chef de cuisine Jacob Armando, and executive sous chef Trevor Vick work just the opposite of most kitchens. Instead of going shopping with a recipe, they go shopping and then dream up a recipe. Stieber describes the process: 

“The thought process for making a dish is pretty simple, actually. Unlike most restaurants, we order from the farms we buy from first, then use what we get to put together our menu instead of thinking of a dish then ordering whatever product we need to make it happen. So from there, we kind of use the ingredients like pieces in a puzzle so we can make dishes that have a balance of color, texture, and eye appeal. Usually the formula is basically to balance those elements, then make sure there’s something a little unusual or unique so that we can remain creative and stand out. That twist could be an unusual flavor combination, a different technique, or preparation for something which might be done a different way more often, etc. Another thing we like to do is layer condiments/sauces in our dishes so that every bite has the intended starting flavor of the dish, and you don’t have to struggle to get a solid bite, but, as you eat the dish and drag things around, elements mix together and create new flavors by the end.”

This is an impressive description of how creativity spurns originality, similar to the Greeks’ explanation. In their view creativity is not internally generated but arises outside of us. They personified that process as an encounter with the muse. In the same way, Stieber is saying that inspiration begins with the available ingredients. That’s often demonstrated as a game on the nightmare known as food TV, but the process is impossible to sustain in a high-volume restaurant, using ordinary ingredients. I don’t mean to suggest that Stieber is a complete savant. He’s been cooking half his life, having begun at 15 when he haunted Alon’s before getting a paid job there at 16. Also a musician, he enrolled at UNC-Asheville to study music recording but rapidly realized he wanted to continue playing and writing music, not engineering it. He came back to Atlanta, where his practical parents told him he was going to need a real job to back up his music making. So he landed at Le Cordon Bleu in Tucker. That was in 2007. While there, he got a job at Hector Santiago’s restaurant, Pura Vida, which was my favorite restaurant in the city during its few years of preternatural existence. It was there that Stieber learned how an uninhibited, inventive chef can radically transform the experience of dining.


 

After Stieber graduated, he migrated from kitchen to kitchen in Atlanta. Restaurants on his resume include Restaurant Eugene, Holeman & Finch, and Empire State South, all of which employed Ryan Smith, now the chef/owner of Staplehouse. If you’re familiar with Smith’s brilliant work, you’ll instantly spot its influence in Stieber’s. The main difference, I think, is rigor. As I told a friend, Stieber’s cooking is what you would get if Hector Santiago fucked with Ryan Smith’s food. It’s a bit messier, compellingly so, but almost in a conversely studied way. Sort of like perfect “messy hair.” In fact, I jokingly accused Stieber of being OCD. He explained — elaborately — why he was not. 

 

Stieber doesn’t deny that his particular method — refined for seven years with Eat Me Speak Me — is risky, so that he’s constantly testing, tweaking, giving up, and restarting. But creativity always risks occasional failure and, even more painful, mediocrity. The only problem I had with my Little Bear experience was trivial — the effect of takeout itself. The crew arranges every dish in detail in its own sturdy black takeout box, so transferring anything to a plate is going to disrupt the beauty. I did find most of the food more tepid than I like, but we all know that hot food in a box ain’t pretty by the time you get it home. The restaurant also vends “Fernando’s Liver Stimulus Package” —  boutique wines, spritz kits, beer, and cider.

I suggest you order now, because when Donald Trump reopens the gates to Moneyland, you won’t get a table at Little Bear. —CL—

Little Bear, 71-A Georgia Ave. S.E., 404-500-5396, littlebearatl.com. Open for takeout only, Wednesday–Sunday. You can order by phone, 10:30 a.m-8 p.m., for pickup 5-8 p.m. Vegetarian and vegan options are available when ordered a day in advance. The menu and photos are posted weekly to Twitter and Instagram, @littlebearatl. Unemployed restaurant workers who need a meal may DM chef de cuisine Jacob Armando via Instagram, @fourtimespicy. He is preparing and delivering free meals on Tuesday nights."
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But that’s the only silver lining I’ve encountered lately. When I wrote my last column in March, the mayor had not yet locked down the city. Since then, the coronavirus has created a tsunami of misery, sweeping through all sectors of the economy. Layoffs, furloughs, cutbacks, closings, and firings have been especially difficult for restaurants. Most operate on a slim profit margin to begin with and — let’s be honest — most employees are poorly paid and living paycheck-to-paycheck. For many, it’s a transition or side job while they seek a more stable career opportunity. Since the crash, many forms of assistance, from free meals to fundraised cash, have become available to unemployed restaurant workers, but we are standing on the precipice of a second Great Recession, which caused reorganization of the entire economy. We’re likely destined again for a new “normal.”

As it happens, “normal” is not a word that would suit Jarrett Stieber, regardless of the economy. I, like most of Atlanta, have been intrigued by his cooking ever since he opened the pop-up, Eat Me Speak Me. He started out miserably unappreciated by the public at Candler Park Market and The General Muir in 2013. High points of that time included cooking blood sausage on a panini press and being overshadowed by matzoh balls. In 2014, he moved EMSM to Gato and it arguably become the city’s favorite pop-up. In 2017, he moved the operation to SOS Tiki Bar, which he vacated last year to get Little Bear rolling.

While many other restaurants have cut staff and turned to takeout, Stieber’s business is doing so well that he has not had to lay off any of his small crew or reduce pay. There are many reasons why. The food is of course the preeminent one. It’s often described as “whimsical.”  Stieber guesses that’s partly because of the menu’s humor. An example is the standing title of his shareable prix fixe menu: “Just fuck me up, fam’,” sarcastically referring to the true experience of family dining. The restaurant’s proprietor, by the way, is the greatly anthropomorphized Pyrenees mountain dog that Stieber and his wife Hallie own. His real name is Fernando but his nickname is, yes, Little Bear. (Please, no ABBA jokes.) Maybe the clearest example of linguistic whimsy is the front window’s announcement that the restaurant has won a rating of 2.5 tires from Michelin Tire Dining. It’s goofy but it all adds up to a pointedly satirical attitude toward the pretensions of fine dining.

The funny thing is that Stieber is a James Beard semifinalist and, on the surface, his food resembles contemporary fine dining: smallish plates of strictly local produce and proteins, unexpected flavor combinations, artful presentation. Consider the Spanish-inspired menu featured during the week I fetched a meal there. One dish was a rectangular portion of a Spanish-style tortilla made with baked eggs and mild turnips, covered with a “ropa vieja sauce” and “an egregious amount of olive oil.”  WTF is ropa vieja sauce? I’ve eaten a ton of ropa vieja, a favorite Cuban dish, but I don’t think of it as a Spanish dish or as a sauce. Stieber clarified in an email: “We thought it would be fun to include some flavors from places Spain forced their will on… Ropa vieja as more of a red-wine, braised meat gravy sauce to serve on another dish sounded fun to us.” So, there you have it: a classic tor-tilla that deliciously dishonors Spanish colonialism.

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There were also the inevitable patatas bravas, but Stieber makes them with sweet potatoes, cooking them to addictive crispy-creamy perfection in a concoction of pork fat, coffee, and chili oil, then drizzled with aioli. The protein of the week was Catalan-style pork meatballs combined with a fetish of Catalonia — roasted green onions under salbitxada, a usually red sauce turned weirdly green by Stieber. The opening soup, caldo de Gallego, was absolutely the best version I’ve ever had. I opened the container and the odor of fennel blasted the room like the sins in Pandora’s box. It was made with red peas instead of white beans and was hellishly fiery. Stieber swears it wasn’t intentional, but the meal ended with a pastry, a pestiño — fried, honey-glazed dough flavored with benne and anise, which echoed the licorice flavor of the fennel that began the meal. It was apparently also coincidental that pestiños are only available during Christmas and Holy Week in Spain and were indeed served by Little Bear during Holy Week. The meal also included a stunning salad of gem lettuce, dill, radishes, and shavings of sharp idiazabal cheese, made from sheep’s milk. There was, finally, a second dessert of traditional almond cake, dusted with powdered sugar, allegedly flavored with strawberries.

 

So, what, besides the satirical approach, makes this food actually different from fine dining? For one significant thing, there’s the cost. The menu I’ve described was $55 for two. On the brink of recession, that may not sound inexpensive — and you better tip $15 minimum — but it’s as many as seven dishes of entirely local ingredients for two! Still, to me the truly notable thing is the artistry. Stieber, chef de cuisine Jacob Armando, and executive sous chef Trevor Vick work just the opposite of most kitchens. Instead of going shopping with a recipe, they go shopping and then dream up a recipe. Stieber describes the process: 

“The thought process for making a dish is pretty simple, actually. Unlike most restaurants, we order from the farms we buy from first, then use what we get to put together our menu instead of thinking of a dish then ordering whatever product we need to make it happen. So from there, we kind of use the ingredients like pieces in a puzzle so we can make dishes that have a balance of color, texture, and eye appeal. Usually the formula is basically to balance those elements, then make sure there’s something a little unusual or unique so that we can remain creative and stand out. That twist could be an unusual flavor combination, a different technique, or preparation for something which might be done a different way more often, etc. Another thing we like to do is layer condiments/sauces in our dishes so that every bite has the intended starting flavor of the dish, and you don’t have to struggle to get a solid bite, but, as you eat the dish and drag things around, elements mix together and create new flavors by the end.”

This is an impressive description of how creativity spurns originality, similar to the Greeks’ explanation. In their view creativity is not internally generated but arises outside of us. They personified that process as an encounter with the muse. In the same way, Stieber is saying that inspiration begins with the available ingredients. That’s often demonstrated as a game on the nightmare known as food TV, but the process is impossible to sustain in a high-volume restaurant, using ordinary ingredients. I don’t mean to suggest that Stieber is a complete savant. He’s been cooking half his life, having begun at 15 when he haunted Alon’s before getting a paid job there at 16. Also a musician, he enrolled at UNC-Asheville to study music recording but rapidly realized he wanted to continue playing and writing music, not engineering it. He came back to Atlanta, where his practical parents told him he was going to need a real job to back up his music making. So he landed at Le Cordon Bleu in Tucker. That was in 2007. While there, he got a job at Hector Santiago’s restaurant, Pura Vida, which was my favorite restaurant in the city during its few years of preternatural existence. It was there that Stieber learned how an uninhibited, inventive chef can radically transform the experience of dining.

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After Stieber graduated, he migrated from kitchen to kitchen in Atlanta. Restaurants on his resume include Restaurant Eugene, Holeman & Finch, and Empire State South, all of which employed Ryan Smith, now the chef/owner of Staplehouse. If you’re familiar with Smith’s brilliant work, you’ll instantly spot its influence in Stieber’s. The main difference, I think, is rigor. As I told a friend, Stieber’s cooking is what you would get if Hector Santiago fucked with Ryan Smith’s food. It’s a bit messier, compellingly so, but almost in a conversely studied way. Sort of like perfect “messy hair.” In fact, I jokingly accused Stieber of being OCD. He explained — elaborately — why he was not. 

 

Stieber doesn’t deny that his particular method — refined for seven years with Eat Me Speak Me — is risky, so that he’s constantly testing, tweaking, giving up, and restarting. But creativity always risks occasional failure and, even more painful, mediocrity. The only problem I had with my Little Bear experience was trivial — the effect of takeout itself. The crew arranges every dish in detail in its own sturdy black takeout box, so transferring anything to a plate is going to disrupt the beauty. I did find most of the food more tepid than I like, but we all know that hot food in a box ain’t pretty by the time you get it home. The restaurant also vends “Fernando’s Liver Stimulus Package” —  boutique wines, spritz kits, beer, and cider.

I suggest you order now, because when Donald Trump reopens the gates to Moneyland, you won’t get a table at Little Bear. __—CL—__

''Little Bear, 71-A Georgia Ave. S.E., 404-500-5396, littlebearatl.com. Open for takeout only, Wednesday–Sunday. You can order by phone, 10:30 a.m-8 p.m., for pickup 5-8 p.m. Vegetarian and vegan options are available when ordered a day in advance. The menu and photos are posted weekly to Twitter and Instagram, @littlebearatl. Unemployed restaurant workers who need a meal may DM chef de cuisine Jacob Armando via Instagram, @fourtimespicy. He is preparing and delivering free meals on Tuesday nights.''"
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  string(11385) " GRAZ B10 LITTLE BEAR: The nondescript exterior in Summerhill reflects the tamer side of Jarrett Stieber's carefully imperfect aesthetic. It's like the black takeout boxes that contain food fit for eating with your very best magic mushrooms. Photo credit: Cliff Bostock 2020-05-11T17:50:48+00:00 GRAZ__b10.jpg    grazing Jarrett Stieber ‘radically’ transforms the dining experience 31012  2020-05-01T04:09:00+00:00 GRAZING: Little Bear: In planning for six years, open two weeks, currently takeout only jim.harris@creativeloafing.com Jim Harris Cliff Bostock  2020-05-01T04:09:00+00:00  Every plague has its silver lining. For the first two weeks of March, I unsuccessfully tried to get a table at Jarrett Stieber’s greatly anticipated new restaurant, Little Bear, in Summerhill. Then the plague arrived and turned the restaurant — six years in the making — into a takeout joint. So, the silver lining is that you and I get to more easily score five or six courses of Stieber’s prix fixe menu. 

But that’s the only silver lining I’ve encountered lately. When I wrote my last column in March, the mayor had not yet locked down the city. Since then, the coronavirus has created a tsunami of misery, sweeping through all sectors of the economy. Layoffs, furloughs, cutbacks, closings, and firings have been especially difficult for restaurants. Most operate on a slim profit margin to begin with and — let’s be honest — most employees are poorly paid and living paycheck-to-paycheck. For many, it’s a transition or side job while they seek a more stable career opportunity. Since the crash, many forms of assistance, from free meals to fundraised cash, have become available to unemployed restaurant workers, but we are standing on the precipice of a second Great Recession, which caused reorganization of the entire economy. We’re likely destined again for a new “normal.”

As it happens, “normal” is not a word that would suit Jarrett Stieber, regardless of the economy. I, like most of Atlanta, have been intrigued by his cooking ever since he opened the pop-up, Eat Me Speak Me. He started out miserably unappreciated by the public at Candler Park Market and The General Muir in 2013. High points of that time included cooking blood sausage on a panini press and being overshadowed by matzoh balls. In 2014, he moved EMSM to Gato and it arguably become the city’s favorite pop-up. In 2017, he moved the operation to SOS Tiki Bar, which he vacated last year to get Little Bear rolling.

While many other restaurants have cut staff and turned to takeout, Stieber’s business is doing so well that he has not had to lay off any of his small crew or reduce pay. There are many reasons why. The food is of course the preeminent one. It’s often described as “whimsical.”  Stieber guesses that’s partly because of the menu’s humor. An example is the standing title of his shareable prix fixe menu: “Just fuck me up, fam’,” sarcastically referring to the true experience of family dining. The restaurant’s proprietor, by the way, is the greatly anthropomorphized Pyrenees mountain dog that Stieber and his wife Hallie own. His real name is Fernando but his nickname is, yes, Little Bear. (Please, no ABBA jokes.) Maybe the clearest example of linguistic whimsy is the front window’s announcement that the restaurant has won a rating of 2.5 tires from Michelin Tire Dining. It’s goofy but it all adds up to a pointedly satirical attitude toward the pretensions of fine dining.

The funny thing is that Stieber is a James Beard semifinalist and, on the surface, his food resembles contemporary fine dining: smallish plates of strictly local produce and proteins, unexpected flavor combinations, artful presentation. Consider the Spanish-inspired menu featured during the week I fetched a meal there. One dish was a rectangular portion of a Spanish-style tortilla made with baked eggs and mild turnips, covered with a “ropa vieja sauce” and “an egregious amount of olive oil.”  WTF is ropa vieja sauce? I’ve eaten a ton of ropa vieja, a favorite Cuban dish, but I don’t think of it as a Spanish dish or as a sauce. Stieber clarified in an email: “We thought it would be fun to include some flavors from places Spain forced their will on… Ropa vieja as more of a red-wine, braised meat gravy sauce to serve on another dish sounded fun to us.” So, there you have it: a classic tor-tilla that deliciously dishonors Spanish colonialism.


 

There were also the inevitable patatas bravas, but Stieber makes them with sweet potatoes, cooking them to addictive crispy-creamy perfection in a concoction of pork fat, coffee, and chili oil, then drizzled with aioli. The protein of the week was Catalan-style pork meatballs combined with a fetish of Catalonia — roasted green onions under salbitxada, a usually red sauce turned weirdly green by Stieber. The opening soup, caldo de Gallego, was absolutely the best version I’ve ever had. I opened the container and the odor of fennel blasted the room like the sins in Pandora’s box. It was made with red peas instead of white beans and was hellishly fiery. Stieber swears it wasn’t intentional, but the meal ended with a pastry, a pestiño — fried, honey-glazed dough flavored with benne and anise, which echoed the licorice flavor of the fennel that began the meal. It was apparently also coincidental that pestiños are only available during Christmas and Holy Week in Spain and were indeed served by Little Bear during Holy Week. The meal also included a stunning salad of gem lettuce, dill, radishes, and shavings of sharp idiazabal cheese, made from sheep’s milk. There was, finally, a second dessert of traditional almond cake, dusted with powdered sugar, allegedly flavored with strawberries.

 

So, what, besides the satirical approach, makes this food actually different from fine dining? For one significant thing, there’s the cost. The menu I’ve described was $55 for two. On the brink of recession, that may not sound inexpensive — and you better tip $15 minimum — but it’s as many as seven dishes of entirely local ingredients for two! Still, to me the truly notable thing is the artistry. Stieber, chef de cuisine Jacob Armando, and executive sous chef Trevor Vick work just the opposite of most kitchens. Instead of going shopping with a recipe, they go shopping and then dream up a recipe. Stieber describes the process: 

“The thought process for making a dish is pretty simple, actually. Unlike most restaurants, we order from the farms we buy from first, then use what we get to put together our menu instead of thinking of a dish then ordering whatever product we need to make it happen. So from there, we kind of use the ingredients like pieces in a puzzle so we can make dishes that have a balance of color, texture, and eye appeal. Usually the formula is basically to balance those elements, then make sure there’s something a little unusual or unique so that we can remain creative and stand out. That twist could be an unusual flavor combination, a different technique, or preparation for something which might be done a different way more often, etc. Another thing we like to do is layer condiments/sauces in our dishes so that every bite has the intended starting flavor of the dish, and you don’t have to struggle to get a solid bite, but, as you eat the dish and drag things around, elements mix together and create new flavors by the end.”

This is an impressive description of how creativity spurns originality, similar to the Greeks’ explanation. In their view creativity is not internally generated but arises outside of us. They personified that process as an encounter with the muse. In the same way, Stieber is saying that inspiration begins with the available ingredients. That’s often demonstrated as a game on the nightmare known as food TV, but the process is impossible to sustain in a high-volume restaurant, using ordinary ingredients. I don’t mean to suggest that Stieber is a complete savant. He’s been cooking half his life, having begun at 15 when he haunted Alon’s before getting a paid job there at 16. Also a musician, he enrolled at UNC-Asheville to study music recording but rapidly realized he wanted to continue playing and writing music, not engineering it. He came back to Atlanta, where his practical parents told him he was going to need a real job to back up his music making. So he landed at Le Cordon Bleu in Tucker. That was in 2007. While there, he got a job at Hector Santiago’s restaurant, Pura Vida, which was my favorite restaurant in the city during its few years of preternatural existence. It was there that Stieber learned how an uninhibited, inventive chef can radically transform the experience of dining.


 

After Stieber graduated, he migrated from kitchen to kitchen in Atlanta. Restaurants on his resume include Restaurant Eugene, Holeman & Finch, and Empire State South, all of which employed Ryan Smith, now the chef/owner of Staplehouse. If you’re familiar with Smith’s brilliant work, you’ll instantly spot its influence in Stieber’s. The main difference, I think, is rigor. As I told a friend, Stieber’s cooking is what you would get if Hector Santiago fucked with Ryan Smith’s food. It’s a bit messier, compellingly so, but almost in a conversely studied way. Sort of like perfect “messy hair.” In fact, I jokingly accused Stieber of being OCD. He explained — elaborately — why he was not. 

 

Stieber doesn’t deny that his particular method — refined for seven years with Eat Me Speak Me — is risky, so that he’s constantly testing, tweaking, giving up, and restarting. But creativity always risks occasional failure and, even more painful, mediocrity. The only problem I had with my Little Bear experience was trivial — the effect of takeout itself. The crew arranges every dish in detail in its own sturdy black takeout box, so transferring anything to a plate is going to disrupt the beauty. I did find most of the food more tepid than I like, but we all know that hot food in a box ain’t pretty by the time you get it home. The restaurant also vends “Fernando’s Liver Stimulus Package” —  boutique wines, spritz kits, beer, and cider.

I suggest you order now, because when Donald Trump reopens the gates to Moneyland, you won’t get a table at Little Bear. —CL—

Little Bear, 71-A Georgia Ave. S.E., 404-500-5396, littlebearatl.com. Open for takeout only, Wednesday–Sunday. You can order by phone, 10:30 a.m-8 p.m., for pickup 5-8 p.m. Vegetarian and vegan options are available when ordered a day in advance. The menu and photos are posted weekly to Twitter and Instagram, @littlebearatl. Unemployed restaurant workers who need a meal may DM chef de cuisine Jacob Armando via Instagram, @fourtimespicy. He is preparing and delivering free meals on Tuesday nights.    Cliff Bostock LITTLE BEAR: The nondescript exterior in Summerhill reflects the tamer side of Jarrett Stieber's carefully imperfect aesthetic. It's like the black takeout boxes that contain food fit for eating with your very best magic mushrooms.  0,0,18    grazing                             GRAZING: Little Bear: In planning for six years, open two weeks, currently takeout only "
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Friday May 1, 2020 12:09 am EDT
Jarrett Stieber ‘radically’ transforms the dining experience | more...
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  string(9977) "It’s hard to write enthusiastically about restaurants when they’ve become precarious stages for a public health drama. As I am writing this, Mayor Bill de Blasio has ordered New York City restaurants and bars to close and, just as I turn this in, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has mandated the same for Atlanta. The coronavirus pandemic is causing mass hysteria unlike any most Americans have seen since 9/11.

It will get better. I am unfortunately old enough that I remember several scary national dramas. One that keeps coming to mind is the Cuban Missile Crisis, when neighbors were building fallout shelters to survive a nuclear attack by the Soviet Russians. Like now, everyone was hiding at home except to rush to the grocery store to buy canned food to eat while the expected radiation kept them underground. Many parents kept their kids out of school for a few weeks. Years later, it was clear that the nuclear flames of catastrophe were greatly fanned by our government’s lack of preparedness and its wounded ego. Sound familiar? Fast forward to the early ’80s and we had a president — a showman like today’s — who ignored the AIDS epidemic for several years, giving the disease a head start. Conservatives, backed by evangelicals, used the crisis they first ignored to validate their homophobia and authoritarianism, even threatening to put gay men in concentration camps. That is what worries me most. Authoritarians like Trump amplify crisis and fear to seize more power. Trump is gloating, for example, because the crisis has led the Fed to feed his greed.

My apocalyptic political fears aside, what are reasonable responses? A growing number of states and municipalities have closed restaurants and bars, but not entirely. It’s important to keep in mind that it’s not food itself that poses a hazard. The closings are mainly related to the need to create “social distance” to reduce the ease of transmission. Thus, customers suffer no risk by ordering food to go or for delivery. Many restaurants that did remain open for full service before the mayor’s decision, had taken precautions, such as clearing space by reducing the number of tables, and radically increasing sanitation practices. When I sat at Starbucks soon after the panic began, staff members were wiping tables clean every 30 minutes. Nonetheless, an employee told me that the iconic coffee shop may limit business to window takeout (like so many others). On March 21, Starbucks issued the following statement: “We have temporarily closed our in-store cafes, but select grocery and drive-thru locations remain open. Starbucks Delivers on Uber Eats is also available in select markets. Visit our store locator for the latest store hours and open locations. — editor

It’s also important to keep in mind that a radical reduction in clientele has devastating effects in an industry with a relatively narrow profit margin. Too many restaurants are employing the well-known tactic of denial. When I asked Jason Hill, owner-chef of Wisteria, if he had lost business as of March 15, he said, “We all have. Anyone who says different is lying.” He is nonetheless optimistic, noting that people have emptied grocery stores. “Because of that alone, we will all be slow for a few days.” He hopes diners will return, at least for take-out, when their cupboards are bare and their panic has subsided. Meanwhile, please don’t fall for creepy offers of $40 hand sanitizers or buy discount coupons for restaurant meals without calling ahead.

If you want a view of the way people in the industry are being affected personally, check out Bon Appetit’s ongoing reports from industry workers on their website. One of the writers is the always pull-no-punches Deborah VanTrece, owner-chef of Twisted Soul in Atlanta. She explains that she is at high risk herself because of asthma. While dealing with the duress of that, she saw her reservations drop 60 percent. Many report even greater loss of catering gigs. I’ve heard these complaints from other restaurateurs but they often are quickly followed with — I’m paraphrasing — a statement like, “Please don’t identify me; I don’t want to discourage customers and employees with disastrous predictions.”

VanTrece, however, points eloquently to the possibly immense personal cost of the epidemic: “Emotionally, I’m like, ‘What the fuck? What the fuck?’ To have gone through all I’ve gone through: trying to get a brick and mortar opened in the first place, being an African American woman in a man’s field, fighting my way through that to get into a position of respect and being able to mentor others, figuring out where the money’s gonna come from, struggling to survive the past few years, looking for good employees. Finally I’m up there at the top of my game. Who could’ve imagined a virus might be the thing to take small businesses like mine out of the game?”

It’s particularly difficult to see the way restaurant closings and cutbacks threaten the general well-being of industry workers. They are at high risk of infection, of course, but they are also notoriously low-paid, so losing hours has a quick and dramatic effect on many. One source of assistance to food service workers in crisis is Giving Kitchen (404-254-1227, #givingkitchen). The organization has invited those diagnosed with coronavirus in need of financial assistance to contact them quickly. They can also help those who have otherwise been affected by the epidemic. Giving Kitchen has assisted more than 4,000 workers since 2012, and I urge you to make a contribution.

A source of news and advice for staff and customers alike, is a new social media campaign, #AtlRestaurantsUnite, created by restaurant owners. You’ll find tips on everything from maintaining financial stability to creating social distance inside a restaurant. [https://garestaurants.org|The Georgia Restaurant Association provides industry updates. The incredibly prolific Beth McKibben of Eater Atlanta has been reporting the epidemic’s effects virtually minute-by-minute.

This will pass. The consequences may be overwhelming. Some estimates of infection — not death! — run as high as 60 percent of the population. Please help by continuing to patronize restaurants in any way you can (did I mention gift cards?). Make donations. Restaurants and bars have made Atlanta a vibrant city. If you act out of fear instead of kindness and reason, you will fuel those of our society who enlarge fiscal and political power by scapegoating and lying.



GOING LATINO

I’ve hit two new Latino spots in the last month. First up is My Abuelas (“Our Grandmothers”), a Puerto-Rican café at the Spindle Kitchen. The owner-chefs are Luis Martinez and Monica Martinez, who have been hosting pop-ups for nearly two years. If you’re not familiar with the Spindle, it’s a bike shop attached to a dining space in the Studioplex. It has hosted innumerable pop-ups and short-term tenants, but My Abuelas will be there for a year.

My Abuelas is not the first Puerto Rican venue in Atlanta. Hector Santiago of Pura Vida (R.I.P.), El Super Pan, and the new (more Mexican) El Burro Pollo set the bar here, but My Abuelas may give him a run for the money. The Abuelas menu is brief and changes frequently. During my recent visit, three entrees were offered. Two of them were vegetarian lasagna (pastelon), one vegan and one not. The third entrée, which my companion and I both ordered, was pernil — marinated, roasted pork. It was super juicy but I missed the crunchy skin that usually distinguishes the dish. It was served with tasty red beans and rice and basically tasteless, dry tostones. I have to say that the kitchen needs to work on presentation. Our (paper) plates were dominated by the bowl of rice and beans, while the pernil seemed to be hiding off to the side, masquerading as a smooth stone. It proved to be a larger portion than it looked. And that’s a good thing, given that the entrees are $15 each. Part of that is due to the restaurant’s use of sourced ingredients.

You can easily reduce the cost by grazing on starters and sweets. I ordered a chicken empanada that was huge and — no joke — among the best I’ve ever eaten. Others are available stuffed with meat or a meat substitute. Two of these would make an adequate lunch — especially if you order dessert, which you should. La Dolce Madness, a bakery, has joined My Abuelas at the Spindle. Definitely try the tres leches, a huge serving that you will devour all on your own. Because of a mix-up in our orders, Monica Martinez gave me a free, cakey pastry with, I think, a guava topping. It deserves praise, but I can’t imagine anything better than the tres leches.
My Abuelas, 659 Auburn Ave., 404-823-2046 thespindleatl.com

I’ve also visited Lazy Llama Cantina, a Tex-Mex pub that has replaced Hobnob at the corner of Piedmont and Monroe. Although I was annoyed that nobody could explain the name of the place, I did like most of the food. Consulting chef Jeffrey Gardner has created a menu of impressive tacos. I especially recommend the al pastor and the carne asada. These, like everything else, are composed in the kitchen so that you don’t get to ruin them by dumping, say, red sauce on top of green sauce fetched from a salsa bar.

I also liked a gigantic quesadilla filled with charred corn, browned mushrooms, red and green peppers, and a very small amount of cheese. I’ve sampled one dessert — the churros. They are fried until super-crunchy and served with chocolate and caramel sauces. The bar has a gigantic menu of tequilas, and the staff is great. They serve brunch on weekends, and there are regular nightly events. There are 20 TV screens for watching sports and about 12 portraits of llamas you can talk to after the mescal kicks in.
Lazy Llama, 1551 Piedmont Ave., 404-968-2288, lazyllamacantina.com"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_raw"]=>
  string(10303) "It’s hard to write enthusiastically about restaurants when they’ve become precarious stages for a public health drama. As I am writing this, Mayor Bill de Blasio has ordered New York City restaurants and bars to close and, just as I turn this in, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has mandated the same for Atlanta. The coronavirus pandemic is causing mass hysteria unlike any most Americans have seen since 9/11.

It will get better. I am unfortunately old enough that I remember several scary national dramas. One that keeps coming to mind is the Cuban Missile Crisis, when neighbors were building fallout shelters to survive a nuclear attack by the Soviet Russians. Like now, everyone was hiding at home except to rush to the grocery store to buy canned food to eat while the expected radiation kept them underground. Many parents kept their kids out of school for a few weeks. Years later, it was clear that the nuclear flames of catastrophe were greatly fanned by our government’s lack of preparedness and its wounded ego. Sound familiar? Fast forward to the early ’80s and we had a president — a showman like today’s — who ignored the AIDS epidemic for several years, giving the disease a head start. Conservatives, backed by evangelicals, used the crisis they first ignored to validate their homophobia and authoritarianism, even threatening to put gay men in concentration camps. That is what worries me most. Authoritarians like Trump amplify crisis and fear to seize more power. Trump is gloating, for example, because the crisis has led the Fed to feed his greed.

My apocalyptic political fears aside, what are reasonable responses? A growing number of states and municipalities have closed restaurants and bars, but not entirely. It’s important to keep in mind that it’s not food itself that poses a hazard. The closings are mainly related to the need to create “social distance” to reduce the ease of transmission. Thus, customers suffer no risk by ordering food to go or for delivery. Many restaurants that did remain open for full service before the mayor’s decision, had taken precautions, such as clearing space by reducing the number of tables, and radically increasing sanitation practices. When I sat at Starbucks soon after the panic began, staff members were wiping tables clean every 30 minutes. Nonetheless, an employee told me that the iconic coffee shop may limit business to window takeout (like so many others). [[On March 21, Starbucks issued the following statement: “We have temporarily closed our in-store cafes, but select grocery and drive-thru locations remain open. Starbucks Delivers on Uber Eats is also available in select markets. Visit our store locator for the latest store hours and open locations. — editor]

It’s also important to keep in mind that a radical reduction in clientele has devastating effects in an industry with a relatively narrow profit margin. Too many restaurants are employing the well-known tactic of denial. When I asked Jason Hill, owner-chef of Wisteria, if he had lost business as of March 15, he said, “We all have. Anyone who says different is lying.” He is nonetheless optimistic, noting that people have emptied grocery stores. “Because of that alone, we will all be slow for a few days.” He hopes diners will return, at least for take-out, when their cupboards are bare and their panic has subsided. Meanwhile, please don’t fall for creepy offers of $40 hand sanitizers or buy discount coupons for restaurant meals without calling ahead.

If you want a view of the way people in the industry are being affected personally, check out [bonappetit.com/story/food-businesses-covid-19|''Bon Appetit''’s ongoing reports from industry workers on their website]. One of the writers is the always pull-no-punches Deborah VanTrece, owner-chef of Twisted Soul in Atlanta. She explains that she is at high risk herself because of asthma. While dealing with the duress of that, she saw her reservations drop 60 percent. Many report even greater loss of catering gigs. I’ve heard these complaints from other restaurateurs but they often are quickly followed with — I’m paraphrasing — a statement like, “Please don’t identify me; I don’t want to discourage customers and employees with disastrous predictions.”

VanTrece, however, points eloquently to the possibly immense personal cost of the epidemic: “Emotionally, I’m like, ‘What the fuck? What the ''fuck?’'' To have gone through all I’ve gone through: trying to get a brick and mortar opened in the first place, being an African American woman in a man’s field, fighting my way through that to get into a position of respect and being able to mentor others, figuring out where the money’s gonna come from, struggling to survive the past few years, looking for good employees. Finally I’m up there at the top of my game. Who could’ve imagined a ''virus'' might be the thing to take small businesses like mine out of the game?”

It’s particularly difficult to see the way restaurant closings and cutbacks threaten the general well-being of industry workers. They are at high risk of infection, of course, but they are also notoriously low-paid, so losing hours has a quick and dramatic effect on many. One source of assistance to food service workers in crisis is Giving Kitchen (404-254-1227, #givingkitchen). The organization has invited those diagnosed with coronavirus in need of financial assistance to contact them quickly. They can also help those who have otherwise been affected by the epidemic. Giving Kitchen has assisted more than 4,000 workers since 2012, and I urge you to make a contribution.

A source of news and advice for staff and customers alike, is a new social media campaign, #AtlRestaurantsUnite, created by restaurant owners. You’ll find tips on everything from maintaining financial stability to creating social distance inside a restaurant. [https://garestaurants.org|The Georgia Restaurant Association provides industry updates. The incredibly prolific Beth McKibben of [http://atlanta.eater.com|Eater Atlanta] has been reporting the epidemic’s effects virtually minute-by-minute.

This will pass. The consequences may be overwhelming. Some estimates of infection — not death! — run as high as 60 percent of the population. Please help by continuing to patronize restaurants in any way you can (did I mention gift cards?). Make donations. Restaurants and bars have made Atlanta a vibrant city. If you act out of fear instead of kindness and reason, you will fuel those of our society who enlarge fiscal and political power by scapegoating and lying.

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GOING LATINO

I’ve hit two new Latino spots in the last month. First up is __My Abuelas__ (“Our Grandmothers”), a Puerto-Rican café at the Spindle Kitchen. The owner-chefs are Luis Martinez and Monica Martinez, who have been hosting pop-ups for nearly two years. If you’re not familiar with the Spindle, it’s a bike shop attached to a dining space in the Studioplex. It has hosted innumerable pop-ups and short-term tenants, but My Abuelas will be there for a year.

My Abuelas is not the first Puerto Rican venue in Atlanta. Hector Santiago of Pura Vida (R.I.P.), El Super Pan, and the new (more Mexican) El Burro Pollo set the bar here, but My Abuelas may give him a run for the money. The Abuelas menu is brief and changes frequently. During my recent visit, three entrees were offered. Two of them were vegetarian lasagna (pastelon), one vegan and one not. The third entrée, which my companion and I both ordered, was pernil — marinated, roasted pork. It was super juicy but I missed the crunchy skin that usually distinguishes the dish. It was served with tasty red beans and rice and basically tasteless, dry tostones. I have to say that the kitchen needs to work on presentation. Our (paper) plates were dominated by the bowl of rice and beans, while the pernil seemed to be hiding off to the side, masquerading as a smooth stone. It proved to be a larger portion than it looked. And that’s a good thing, given that the entrees are $15 each. Part of that is due to the restaurant’s use of sourced ingredients.

You can easily reduce the cost by grazing on starters and sweets. I ordered a chicken empanada that was huge and — no joke — among the best I’ve ever eaten. Others are available stuffed with meat or a meat substitute. Two of these would make an adequate lunch — especially if you order dessert, which you should. La Dolce Madness, a bakery, has joined My Abuelas at the Spindle. Definitely try the tres leches, a huge serving that you will devour all on your own. Because of a mix-up in our orders, Monica Martinez gave me a free, cakey pastry with, I think, a guava topping. It deserves praise, but I can’t imagine anything better than the tres leches.
''My Abuelas, 659 Auburn Ave., 404-823-2046 [http://thespindleatl.com|thespindleatl.com]''

I’ve also visited __Lazy Llama Cantina__, a Tex-Mex pub that has replaced Hobnob at the corner of Piedmont and Monroe. Although I was annoyed that nobody could explain the name of the place, I did like most of the food. Consulting chef Jeffrey Gardner has created a menu of impressive tacos. I especially recommend the al pastor and the carne asada. These, like everything else, are composed in the kitchen so that you don’t get to ruin them by dumping, say, red sauce on top of green sauce fetched from a salsa bar.

I also liked a gigantic quesadilla filled with charred corn, browned mushrooms, red and green peppers, and a very small amount of cheese. I’ve sampled one dessert — the churros. They are fried until super-crunchy and served with chocolate and caramel sauces. The bar has a gigantic menu of tequilas, and the staff is great. They serve brunch on weekends, and there are regular nightly events. There are 20 TV screens for watching sports and about 12 portraits of llamas you can talk to after the mescal kicks in.
''Lazy Llama, 1551 Piedmont Ave., 404-968-2288, [http://lazyllamacantina.com|lazyllamacantina.com]''"
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  string(10758) " My Abuelas Restaurant at the Spindle Kitchen PUERTO RICAN PRIDE: The interior of My Abuelas at The Spindle. Photo credit: Cliff Bostock 2020-04-06T16:00:58+00:00 GRAZ_G9JLrQx8THuvzjIDZDLq0A_web.jpg    grazing  30457  2020-04-06T15:32:15+00:00 GRAZING: Eat calmly: Your panic is weaponized by the authoritarians jim.harris@creativeloafing.com Jim Harris Cliff Bostock  2020-04-06T15:32:15+00:00  It’s hard to write enthusiastically about restaurants when they’ve become precarious stages for a public health drama. As I am writing this, Mayor Bill de Blasio has ordered New York City restaurants and bars to close and, just as I turn this in, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has mandated the same for Atlanta. The coronavirus pandemic is causing mass hysteria unlike any most Americans have seen since 9/11.

It will get better. I am unfortunately old enough that I remember several scary national dramas. One that keeps coming to mind is the Cuban Missile Crisis, when neighbors were building fallout shelters to survive a nuclear attack by the Soviet Russians. Like now, everyone was hiding at home except to rush to the grocery store to buy canned food to eat while the expected radiation kept them underground. Many parents kept their kids out of school for a few weeks. Years later, it was clear that the nuclear flames of catastrophe were greatly fanned by our government’s lack of preparedness and its wounded ego. Sound familiar? Fast forward to the early ’80s and we had a president — a showman like today’s — who ignored the AIDS epidemic for several years, giving the disease a head start. Conservatives, backed by evangelicals, used the crisis they first ignored to validate their homophobia and authoritarianism, even threatening to put gay men in concentration camps. That is what worries me most. Authoritarians like Trump amplify crisis and fear to seize more power. Trump is gloating, for example, because the crisis has led the Fed to feed his greed.

My apocalyptic political fears aside, what are reasonable responses? A growing number of states and municipalities have closed restaurants and bars, but not entirely. It’s important to keep in mind that it’s not food itself that poses a hazard. The closings are mainly related to the need to create “social distance” to reduce the ease of transmission. Thus, customers suffer no risk by ordering food to go or for delivery. Many restaurants that did remain open for full service before the mayor’s decision, had taken precautions, such as clearing space by reducing the number of tables, and radically increasing sanitation practices. When I sat at Starbucks soon after the panic began, staff members were wiping tables clean every 30 minutes. Nonetheless, an employee told me that the iconic coffee shop may limit business to window takeout (like so many others). On March 21, Starbucks issued the following statement: “We have temporarily closed our in-store cafes, but select grocery and drive-thru locations remain open. Starbucks Delivers on Uber Eats is also available in select markets. Visit our store locator for the latest store hours and open locations. — editor

It’s also important to keep in mind that a radical reduction in clientele has devastating effects in an industry with a relatively narrow profit margin. Too many restaurants are employing the well-known tactic of denial. When I asked Jason Hill, owner-chef of Wisteria, if he had lost business as of March 15, he said, “We all have. Anyone who says different is lying.” He is nonetheless optimistic, noting that people have emptied grocery stores. “Because of that alone, we will all be slow for a few days.” He hopes diners will return, at least for take-out, when their cupboards are bare and their panic has subsided. Meanwhile, please don’t fall for creepy offers of $40 hand sanitizers or buy discount coupons for restaurant meals without calling ahead.

If you want a view of the way people in the industry are being affected personally, check out Bon Appetit’s ongoing reports from industry workers on their website. One of the writers is the always pull-no-punches Deborah VanTrece, owner-chef of Twisted Soul in Atlanta. She explains that she is at high risk herself because of asthma. While dealing with the duress of that, she saw her reservations drop 60 percent. Many report even greater loss of catering gigs. I’ve heard these complaints from other restaurateurs but they often are quickly followed with — I’m paraphrasing — a statement like, “Please don’t identify me; I don’t want to discourage customers and employees with disastrous predictions.”

VanTrece, however, points eloquently to the possibly immense personal cost of the epidemic: “Emotionally, I’m like, ‘What the fuck? What the fuck?’ To have gone through all I’ve gone through: trying to get a brick and mortar opened in the first place, being an African American woman in a man’s field, fighting my way through that to get into a position of respect and being able to mentor others, figuring out where the money’s gonna come from, struggling to survive the past few years, looking for good employees. Finally I’m up there at the top of my game. Who could’ve imagined a virus might be the thing to take small businesses like mine out of the game?”

It’s particularly difficult to see the way restaurant closings and cutbacks threaten the general well-being of industry workers. They are at high risk of infection, of course, but they are also notoriously low-paid, so losing hours has a quick and dramatic effect on many. One source of assistance to food service workers in crisis is Giving Kitchen (404-254-1227, #givingkitchen). The organization has invited those diagnosed with coronavirus in need of financial assistance to contact them quickly. They can also help those who have otherwise been affected by the epidemic. Giving Kitchen has assisted more than 4,000 workers since 2012, and I urge you to make a contribution.

A source of news and advice for staff and customers alike, is a new social media campaign, #AtlRestaurantsUnite, created by restaurant owners. You’ll find tips on everything from maintaining financial stability to creating social distance inside a restaurant. [https://garestaurants.org|The Georgia Restaurant Association provides industry updates. The incredibly prolific Beth McKibben of Eater Atlanta has been reporting the epidemic’s effects virtually minute-by-minute.

This will pass. The consequences may be overwhelming. Some estimates of infection — not death! — run as high as 60 percent of the population. Please help by continuing to patronize restaurants in any way you can (did I mention gift cards?). Make donations. Restaurants and bars have made Atlanta a vibrant city. If you act out of fear instead of kindness and reason, you will fuel those of our society who enlarge fiscal and political power by scapegoating and lying.



GOING LATINO

I’ve hit two new Latino spots in the last month. First up is My Abuelas (“Our Grandmothers”), a Puerto-Rican café at the Spindle Kitchen. The owner-chefs are Luis Martinez and Monica Martinez, who have been hosting pop-ups for nearly two years. If you’re not familiar with the Spindle, it’s a bike shop attached to a dining space in the Studioplex. It has hosted innumerable pop-ups and short-term tenants, but My Abuelas will be there for a year.

My Abuelas is not the first Puerto Rican venue in Atlanta. Hector Santiago of Pura Vida (R.I.P.), El Super Pan, and the new (more Mexican) El Burro Pollo set the bar here, but My Abuelas may give him a run for the money. The Abuelas menu is brief and changes frequently. During my recent visit, three entrees were offered. Two of them were vegetarian lasagna (pastelon), one vegan and one not. The third entrée, which my companion and I both ordered, was pernil — marinated, roasted pork. It was super juicy but I missed the crunchy skin that usually distinguishes the dish. It was served with tasty red beans and rice and basically tasteless, dry tostones. I have to say that the kitchen needs to work on presentation. Our (paper) plates were dominated by the bowl of rice and beans, while the pernil seemed to be hiding off to the side, masquerading as a smooth stone. It proved to be a larger portion than it looked. And that’s a good thing, given that the entrees are $15 each. Part of that is due to the restaurant’s use of sourced ingredients.

You can easily reduce the cost by grazing on starters and sweets. I ordered a chicken empanada that was huge and — no joke — among the best I’ve ever eaten. Others are available stuffed with meat or a meat substitute. Two of these would make an adequate lunch — especially if you order dessert, which you should. La Dolce Madness, a bakery, has joined My Abuelas at the Spindle. Definitely try the tres leches, a huge serving that you will devour all on your own. Because of a mix-up in our orders, Monica Martinez gave me a free, cakey pastry with, I think, a guava topping. It deserves praise, but I can’t imagine anything better than the tres leches.
My Abuelas, 659 Auburn Ave., 404-823-2046 thespindleatl.com

I’ve also visited Lazy Llama Cantina, a Tex-Mex pub that has replaced Hobnob at the corner of Piedmont and Monroe. Although I was annoyed that nobody could explain the name of the place, I did like most of the food. Consulting chef Jeffrey Gardner has created a menu of impressive tacos. I especially recommend the al pastor and the carne asada. These, like everything else, are composed in the kitchen so that you don’t get to ruin them by dumping, say, red sauce on top of green sauce fetched from a salsa bar.

I also liked a gigantic quesadilla filled with charred corn, browned mushrooms, red and green peppers, and a very small amount of cheese. I’ve sampled one dessert — the churros. They are fried until super-crunchy and served with chocolate and caramel sauces. The bar has a gigantic menu of tequilas, and the staff is great. They serve brunch on weekends, and there are regular nightly events. There are 20 TV screens for watching sports and about 12 portraits of llamas you can talk to after the mescal kicks in.
Lazy Llama, 1551 Piedmont Ave., 404-968-2288, lazyllamacantina.com    Cliff Bostock PUERTO RICAN PRIDE: The interior of My Abuelas at The Spindle.  0,0,10 jason.hill@creativeloafing.com (itemId:470520 trackerid:9), deborah.vantrece@creativeloafing.com (itemId:470521 trackerid:9), monica.martinez@creativeloafing.com (itemId:470525 trackerid:9)   grazing                             GRAZING: Eat calmly: Your panic is weaponized by the authoritarians "
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Article

Monday April 6, 2020 11:32 am EDT
It’s hard to write enthusiastically about restaurants when they’ve become precarious stages for a public health drama. As I am writing this, Mayor Bill de Blasio has ordered New York City restaurants and bars to close and, just as I turn this in, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has mandated the same for Atlanta. The coronavirus pandemic is causing mass hysteria unlike any most Americans have seen... | more...
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  string(8324) "Almost 20 years ago, on September 12, 2001, I was sitting in my favorite café in Seville, feeling very lonely after the horrifying events of the preceding day. The chef came out of the kitchen with a plate of ham and a newspaper. He sat at the table, telling me how happy he was to see me and asked how I was feeling. I told him I was numb. He opened the newspaper to show me page after page of the devastation that had occurred the day before at the World Trade Center in New York City. I was completely unnerved. Soon, other customers gathered around the table, looking at the pictures. Five or six of them sat down, and for the next few hours we grazed and talked about America. 


I wanted more than anything to move to Spain. That’s where, as I’ve often put it, I felt more like myself than anywhere else. An avalanche of obligations — that plus the Euro — made moving impossible, but Spain remains the place where my imagination still roves. For that reason, it’s always a bit difficult for me to visit a restaurant here that features Spanish food. In the same way immigrants are never quite content with restaurant versions of the food their mothers cooked back home, nostalgia makes me hypercritical.

For many years, it was virtually impossible to find Spanish food in Atlanta. Now, it’s not so hard. The latest restaurant to open is Buena Vida Tapas & Sol. Most of the Spanish venues here seem to emphasize the cuisine of Barcelona and the Basque region. Buena Vida draws its inspiration from southern Spain — from Ibiza off the eastern coast and from the interior region, Andalusia, where Seville is located. It’s where flamenco originated; where Moors, Christians, and Jews coexisted, especially aesthetically; and where the poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca lived. It’s hot as hell most of the year and that, I assume, explains “the sol” — the sun — of the restaurant’s name. 

I could hardly wait to visit. After two foiled attempts, I finally made it on a Sunday afternoon when, alas, the extensive tapas menu is radically abbreviated for a brunch menu featuring fusion entrees like shrimp and grits. There are a couple of appealing dishes made with morcilla (blood sausage), such as the hash with piquillo peppers, sweet potatoes, mushroom confit, poached eggs, and Hollandaise. Tempting, but I was there for tapas and did manage to find some classics that are also on the dinner menu. My favorite was the croquetas — four crunchy-fried orbs filled with a luxuriously creamy béchamel in which diced Serrano and Iberico ham were suspended. They were dotted with a smoky, slightly tangy pimentón (paprika) aioli. You’re probably going to be a bit annoyed that the ham isn’t more substantial, but understand that this dish originated to make use of scraps of meat. In any case, believe me, the ham’s taste will come forward after a few bites. I’m not sure why two varieties of ham are used — Iberico is the more exotic and costly — but it reminded me of the many plates of ham I ate at that café in Seville. The owner/chef knew the pedigree of every pig — where it was raised, what it was fed, how long it had lived. If you want a more generous taste of a variety of hams, you can order a plate of it along with cheeses at Buena Vida.

Another tapa that is ubiquitous is the Spanish-style tortilla — a wedge of a thick, browned omelet usually packed with creamy potatoes. Here, the kitchen uses a changing variety of vegetables in addition to the potatoes — namely red peppers, zucchini, onions, and kale during my visit. The omelet was topped with a spoonful of intensely aromatic aioli that drizzled into a pool on the chive-scattered plate. Next up was a serving of three piquillos stuffed with Georgia goat cheese. You’re going to immediately notice a fruity taste. That’s because the kitchen uses Arbequina olive oil from Catalonia, complemented by an acidic shot of lemon. The piquillos are crazily scattered with fried chickpeas — a really ingenious foil for the creamy textures. The dinner menu includes many vegetarian and vegan choices, including Beyondigas — albondigas (meatballs) made with Beyond Meat. There are also seafood and meat tapas including a Sevilla-style hot chicken. I mean …. Basta with the hot chicken! There are three major items for the table — a roasted chicken, a gigantic rib eye, and a whole fish. 

The talent behind the food here is executive chef Landon Thompson, a James Beard semifinalist who was chef de cuisine at Iberian Pig and executive chef at Cooks & Soldiers, both owed by the Castellucci Hospitality Group. Those two restaurants are without argument the best Spanish venues in the city. While Cooks & Soldiers has a much fancier menu, Buena Vida has a friendlier price point — surprising, given its location in the North and Line apartment complex which, according to its website, is very “refined” and exists “at the crossroads of everything that matters.” That means, of course, that it’s on the BeltLine and, like its neighbors, mimics the residential architecture of Soviet Russia. Buena Vida’s owners — Adam Berlin and Juan Sebastian Calle — have remedied that to some degree with an obviously Ibiza-inspired, pastel-drenched interior. Pink is everywhere, backgrounding some cool murals and pottery. At the front entrance there’s a neon greeting, in memory of Calle’s younger sister, which says “Te quiero mucho.” It’s that sincerity in the face of inevitable darkness that made me fall in love with southern Spain, and, while Buena Vida is still a work in progress, I’m looking forward to returning despite my estrangement from the place I belong.  (Buena Vida Tapas & Sol, 385 N. Angier Ave., 404-948-2312, buenavidatapas.com)

A NEW VEGAN OPTION: The people who own Mamak, the Malaysian favorite on Buford Highway, have opened Mamak Vegan Kitchen nearby in Chamblee. It’s next to their other new venue, Chom Chom Vietnamese Kitchen, which I wrote about last month. I visited recently with two friends and we had a meal that lived up to the quality of the meat-eater’s Mamak. 

I really wish I had the depth of character and self-discipline to become a vegetarian, but I do not. Because I know I can get up in the middle of the night and eat fried chicken, I have no desire to eat faux meat when I go to a vegetarian restaurant. I just want inventive vegetable dishes. Nonetheless, I felt compelled to try the rendang made (à la Buena Vida) with Beyond Meat at Mamak since my two companions stuck to undisguised vegetables and tofu. The original Mamak makes a superb rendang, and everything about the vegan version was as good on my first bite. But as I continued to eat, I felt like I was chewing a tenderized sponge. It had springy, meaty texture but it was too uniform. Likewise, all of the flavor at first was from the sauce, with nothing behind it like the natural flavor of meat. I could cope, but then there emerged an increasingly strong taste of, um, nothingness. I used to hate tofu, but tofu doesn’t pretend to be something else, and it doesn’t really deviate from the flavor it absorbs.

My friends’ choices were awesome. My favorite was the kari sayur, a slightly piquant curry of creamy eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, chunks of tough tofu, and especially delicious crispy okra. My other friend ordered chow kway teow — flat rice noodles tossed in a wok with tofu, bean sprouts, snow peas, and a chili paste. My miniscule problem with it was the presence of a bit too much soy sauce for my taste but, honestly, I have a low tolerance for it. My friend thought I was an idiot, but, really, I’m not. The menu’s picture was barely tinted with the sauce. (Mamak Vegan Kitchen, 2390 Chamblee Tucker Road, 678-909-8188, mamakvegan.com)

BUENO AND CHEAP: I admit that while I was eating at Buena Vida, I kept thinking about Eclipse di Luna, where I’ve frequently eaten lunch over the years. Its menu offers inexpensive tapas — artful classics and novelties — along with specials. Recently I had an easily fetishized sandwich of pork belly, arugula, tomatoes, and roasted jalapeno aioli on ciabatta. Plus they got paella. (Eclipse di Luna, 764 Miami Circle, 404-846-0449, eclipsediluna.net)"
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I wanted more than anything to move to Spain. That’s where, as I’ve often put it, I felt more like myself than anywhere else. An avalanche of obligations — that plus the Euro — made moving impossible, but Spain remains the place where my imagination still roves. For that reason, it’s always a bit difficult for me to visit a restaurant here that features Spanish food. In the same way immigrants are never quite content with restaurant versions of the food their mothers cooked back home, nostalgia makes me hypercritical.

For many years, it was virtually impossible to find Spanish food in Atlanta. Now, it’s not so hard. The latest restaurant to open is Buena Vida Tapas & Sol. Most of the Spanish venues here seem to emphasize the cuisine of Barcelona and the Basque region. Buena Vida draws its inspiration from southern Spain — from Ibiza off the eastern coast and from the interior region, Andalusia, where Seville is located. It’s where flamenco originated; where Moors, Christians, and Jews coexisted, especially aesthetically; and where the poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca lived. It’s hot as hell most of the year and that, I assume, explains “the sol” — the sun — of the restaurant’s name. 

I could hardly wait to visit. After two foiled attempts, I finally made it on a Sunday afternoon when, alas, the extensive tapas menu is radically abbreviated for a brunch menu featuring fusion entrees like shrimp and grits. There are a couple of appealing dishes made with morcilla (blood sausage), such as the hash with piquillo peppers, sweet potatoes, mushroom confit, poached eggs, and Hollandaise. Tempting, but I was there for tapas and did manage to find some classics that are also on the dinner menu. My favorite was the croquetas — four crunchy-fried orbs filled with a luxuriously creamy béchamel in which diced Serrano and Iberico ham were suspended. They were dotted with a smoky, slightly tangy pimentón (paprika) aioli. You’re probably going to be a bit annoyed that the ham isn’t more substantial, but understand that this dish originated to make use of scraps of meat. In any case, believe me, the ham’s taste will come forward after a few bites. I’m not sure why two varieties of ham are used — Iberico is the more exotic and costly — but it reminded me of the many plates of ham I ate at that café in Seville. The owner/chef knew the pedigree of every pig — where it was raised, what it was fed, how long it had lived. If you want a more generous taste of a variety of hams, you can order a plate of it along with cheeses at Buena Vida.

Another tapa that is ubiquitous is the Spanish-style tortilla — a wedge of a thick, browned omelet usually packed with creamy potatoes. Here, the kitchen uses a changing variety of vegetables in addition to the potatoes — namely red peppers, zucchini, onions, and kale during my visit. The omelet was topped with a spoonful of intensely aromatic aioli that drizzled into a pool on the chive-scattered plate. Next up was a serving of three piquillos stuffed with Georgia goat cheese. You’re going to immediately notice a fruity taste. That’s because the kitchen uses Arbequina olive oil from Catalonia, complemented by an acidic shot of lemon. The piquillos are crazily scattered with fried chickpeas — a really ingenious foil for the creamy textures. The dinner menu includes many vegetarian and vegan choices, including Beyondigas — albondigas (meatballs) made with Beyond Meat. There are also seafood and meat tapas including a Sevilla-style hot chicken. I mean …. Basta with the hot chicken! There are three major items for the table — a roasted chicken, a gigantic rib eye, and a whole fish. 

The talent behind the food here is executive chef Landon Thompson, a James Beard semifinalist who was chef de cuisine at Iberian Pig and executive chef at Cooks & Soldiers, both owed by the Castellucci Hospitality Group. Those two restaurants are without argument the best Spanish venues in the city. While Cooks & Soldiers has a much fancier menu, Buena Vida has a friendlier price point — surprising, given its location in the North and Line apartment complex which, according to its website, is very “refined” and exists “at the crossroads of everything that matters.” That means, of course, that it’s on the BeltLine and, like its neighbors, mimics the residential architecture of Soviet Russia. Buena Vida’s owners — Adam Berlin and Juan Sebastian Calle — have remedied that to some degree with an obviously Ibiza-inspired, pastel-drenched interior. Pink is everywhere, backgrounding some cool murals and pottery. At the front entrance there’s a neon greeting, in memory of Calle’s younger sister, which says “Te quiero mucho.” It’s that sincerity in the face of inevitable darkness that made me fall in love with southern Spain, and, while Buena Vida is still a work in progress, I’m looking forward to returning despite my estrangement from the place I belong.  (Buena Vida Tapas & Sol, 385 N. Angier Ave., 404-948-2312, buenavidatapas.com)

A NEW VEGAN OPTION: The people who own Mamak, the Malaysian favorite on Buford Highway, have opened Mamak Vegan Kitchen nearby in Chamblee. It’s next to their other new venue, Chom Chom Vietnamese Kitchen, which I wrote about last month. I visited recently with two friends and we had a meal that lived up to the quality of the meat-eater’s Mamak. 

I really wish I had the depth of character and self-discipline to become a vegetarian, but I do not. Because I know I can get up in the middle of the night and eat fried chicken, I have no desire to eat faux meat when I go to a vegetarian restaurant. I just want inventive vegetable dishes. Nonetheless, I felt compelled to try the rendang made (à la Buena Vida) with Beyond Meat at Mamak since my two companions stuck to undisguised vegetables and tofu. The original Mamak makes a superb rendang, and everything about the vegan version was as good on my first bite. But as I continued to eat, I felt like I was chewing a tenderized sponge. It had springy, meaty texture but it was too uniform. Likewise, all of the flavor at first was from the sauce, with nothing behind it like the natural flavor of meat. I could cope, but then there emerged an increasingly strong taste of, um, nothingness. I used to hate tofu, but tofu doesn’t pretend to be something else, and it doesn’t really deviate from the flavor it absorbs.

My friends’ choices were awesome. My favorite was the kari sayur, a slightly piquant curry of creamy eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, chunks of tough tofu, and especially delicious crispy okra. My other friend ordered chow kway teow — flat rice noodles tossed in a wok with tofu, bean sprouts, snow peas, and a chili paste. My miniscule problem with it was the presence of a bit too much soy sauce for my taste but, honestly, I have a low tolerance for it. My friend thought I was an idiot, but, really, I’m not. The menu’s picture was barely tinted with the sauce. (Mamak Vegan Kitchen, 2390 Chamblee Tucker Road, 678-909-8188, mamakvegan.com)

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  string(8963) " GRAZ Mar 2020 3523 Hero  2020-03-02T21:10:18+00:00 GRAZ_Mar_2020_3523_hero.jpg    grazing The good life invades the BeltLine, Mamak offers vegan, the Harp spurts 40 intoxicants 29631  2020-03-02T21:08:27+00:00 GRAZING: Sketches of Spain jim.harris@creativeloafing.com Jim Harris Cliff Bostock  2020-03-02T21:08:27+00:00  Almost 20 years ago, on September 12, 2001, I was sitting in my favorite café in Seville, feeling very lonely after the horrifying events of the preceding day. The chef came out of the kitchen with a plate of ham and a newspaper. He sat at the table, telling me how happy he was to see me and asked how I was feeling. I told him I was numb. He opened the newspaper to show me page after page of the devastation that had occurred the day before at the World Trade Center in New York City. I was completely unnerved. Soon, other customers gathered around the table, looking at the pictures. Five or six of them sat down, and for the next few hours we grazed and talked about America. 


I wanted more than anything to move to Spain. That’s where, as I’ve often put it, I felt more like myself than anywhere else. An avalanche of obligations — that plus the Euro — made moving impossible, but Spain remains the place where my imagination still roves. For that reason, it’s always a bit difficult for me to visit a restaurant here that features Spanish food. In the same way immigrants are never quite content with restaurant versions of the food their mothers cooked back home, nostalgia makes me hypercritical.

For many years, it was virtually impossible to find Spanish food in Atlanta. Now, it’s not so hard. The latest restaurant to open is Buena Vida Tapas & Sol. Most of the Spanish venues here seem to emphasize the cuisine of Barcelona and the Basque region. Buena Vida draws its inspiration from southern Spain — from Ibiza off the eastern coast and from the interior region, Andalusia, where Seville is located. It’s where flamenco originated; where Moors, Christians, and Jews coexisted, especially aesthetically; and where the poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca lived. It’s hot as hell most of the year and that, I assume, explains “the sol” — the sun — of the restaurant’s name. 

I could hardly wait to visit. After two foiled attempts, I finally made it on a Sunday afternoon when, alas, the extensive tapas menu is radically abbreviated for a brunch menu featuring fusion entrees like shrimp and grits. There are a couple of appealing dishes made with morcilla (blood sausage), such as the hash with piquillo peppers, sweet potatoes, mushroom confit, poached eggs, and Hollandaise. Tempting, but I was there for tapas and did manage to find some classics that are also on the dinner menu. My favorite was the croquetas — four crunchy-fried orbs filled with a luxuriously creamy béchamel in which diced Serrano and Iberico ham were suspended. They were dotted with a smoky, slightly tangy pimentón (paprika) aioli. You’re probably going to be a bit annoyed that the ham isn’t more substantial, but understand that this dish originated to make use of scraps of meat. In any case, believe me, the ham’s taste will come forward after a few bites. I’m not sure why two varieties of ham are used — Iberico is the more exotic and costly — but it reminded me of the many plates of ham I ate at that café in Seville. The owner/chef knew the pedigree of every pig — where it was raised, what it was fed, how long it had lived. If you want a more generous taste of a variety of hams, you can order a plate of it along with cheeses at Buena Vida.

Another tapa that is ubiquitous is the Spanish-style tortilla — a wedge of a thick, browned omelet usually packed with creamy potatoes. Here, the kitchen uses a changing variety of vegetables in addition to the potatoes — namely red peppers, zucchini, onions, and kale during my visit. The omelet was topped with a spoonful of intensely aromatic aioli that drizzled into a pool on the chive-scattered plate. Next up was a serving of three piquillos stuffed with Georgia goat cheese. You’re going to immediately notice a fruity taste. That’s because the kitchen uses Arbequina olive oil from Catalonia, complemented by an acidic shot of lemon. The piquillos are crazily scattered with fried chickpeas — a really ingenious foil for the creamy textures. The dinner menu includes many vegetarian and vegan choices, including Beyondigas — albondigas (meatballs) made with Beyond Meat. There are also seafood and meat tapas including a Sevilla-style hot chicken. I mean …. Basta with the hot chicken! There are three major items for the table — a roasted chicken, a gigantic rib eye, and a whole fish. 

The talent behind the food here is executive chef Landon Thompson, a James Beard semifinalist who was chef de cuisine at Iberian Pig and executive chef at Cooks & Soldiers, both owed by the Castellucci Hospitality Group. Those two restaurants are without argument the best Spanish venues in the city. While Cooks & Soldiers has a much fancier menu, Buena Vida has a friendlier price point — surprising, given its location in the North and Line apartment complex which, according to its website, is very “refined” and exists “at the crossroads of everything that matters.” That means, of course, that it’s on the BeltLine and, like its neighbors, mimics the residential architecture of Soviet Russia. Buena Vida’s owners — Adam Berlin and Juan Sebastian Calle — have remedied that to some degree with an obviously Ibiza-inspired, pastel-drenched interior. Pink is everywhere, backgrounding some cool murals and pottery. At the front entrance there’s a neon greeting, in memory of Calle’s younger sister, which says “Te quiero mucho.” It’s that sincerity in the face of inevitable darkness that made me fall in love with southern Spain, and, while Buena Vida is still a work in progress, I’m looking forward to returning despite my estrangement from the place I belong.  (Buena Vida Tapas & Sol, 385 N. Angier Ave., 404-948-2312, buenavidatapas.com)

A NEW VEGAN OPTION: The people who own Mamak, the Malaysian favorite on Buford Highway, have opened Mamak Vegan Kitchen nearby in Chamblee. It’s next to their other new venue, Chom Chom Vietnamese Kitchen, which I wrote about last month. I visited recently with two friends and we had a meal that lived up to the quality of the meat-eater’s Mamak. 

I really wish I had the depth of character and self-discipline to become a vegetarian, but I do not. Because I know I can get up in the middle of the night and eat fried chicken, I have no desire to eat faux meat when I go to a vegetarian restaurant. I just want inventive vegetable dishes. Nonetheless, I felt compelled to try the rendang made (à la Buena Vida) with Beyond Meat at Mamak since my two companions stuck to undisguised vegetables and tofu. The original Mamak makes a superb rendang, and everything about the vegan version was as good on my first bite. But as I continued to eat, I felt like I was chewing a tenderized sponge. It had springy, meaty texture but it was too uniform. Likewise, all of the flavor at first was from the sauce, with nothing behind it like the natural flavor of meat. I could cope, but then there emerged an increasingly strong taste of, um, nothingness. I used to hate tofu, but tofu doesn’t pretend to be something else, and it doesn’t really deviate from the flavor it absorbs.

My friends’ choices were awesome. My favorite was the kari sayur, a slightly piquant curry of creamy eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, chunks of tough tofu, and especially delicious crispy okra. My other friend ordered chow kway teow — flat rice noodles tossed in a wok with tofu, bean sprouts, snow peas, and a chili paste. My miniscule problem with it was the presence of a bit too much soy sauce for my taste but, honestly, I have a low tolerance for it. My friend thought I was an idiot, but, really, I’m not. The menu’s picture was barely tinted with the sauce. (Mamak Vegan Kitchen, 2390 Chamblee Tucker Road, 678-909-8188, mamakvegan.com)

BUENO AND CHEAP: I admit that while I was eating at Buena Vida, I kept thinking about Eclipse di Luna, where I’ve frequently eaten lunch over the years. Its menu offers inexpensive tapas — artful classics and novelties — along with specials. Recently I had an easily fetishized sandwich of pork belly, arugula, tomatoes, and roasted jalapeno aioli on ciabatta. Plus they got paella. (Eclipse di Luna, 764 Miami Circle, 404-846-0449, eclipsediluna.net)    Cliff Bostock SWEET: Piquillos are sweet by nature and Buena Vida adds fruitiness with Arbequina olive oil from Catalonia, plus a tempering shot of lemon. The peppers are stuffed with herbed goat cheese and garnished with fried chickpeas.  0,0,10    grazing                             GRAZING: Sketches of Spain "
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Monday March 2, 2020 04:08 pm EST
The good life invades the BeltLine, Mamak offers vegan, the Harp spurts 40 intoxicants | more...
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  string(8353) "I’ve been everywhere in the last month, so what follows is a random sampling of my peripatetic palate. These are descriptions of first visits, but there are nonetheless clear winners, losers, and mystifyingly boring oddities.

MTH Pizza: I’ve been eating with the same bunch of friends every Friday night for years. One of them lives in Kennesaw and is constantly pulling us northward to exotic locales like Smyrna. Recently, we visited this newish pizzeria from the super-talented Muss & Turner deli guys. The restaurant is decorated with graffiti art, including a warning that pineapple is not permitted in the kitchen. I’m down with that! The first “Hawaiian” pizza I ate was in Germany 25 years ago and I’ve mainly avoided the monstrosity ever since.

The pizzas here are a bit difficult to classify. They are not squishy-thin Neapolitan pies. Nor are they as thick as New York pies. So they have heft, but not so much that you can’t fold the slices. All pies are 16 inches and will feed four people, especially with starters. We ordered two of the eight house-composed pies, including a margherita and one called “the hell boy.” The latter featured the usual mozzarella, provolone, and tomato sauce, plus some hot chilies, pepperoni, and nduja, which is a spicy pork pate that originated in the Calabria region of Italy before becoming an obsession with many American foodies a few years back. I much preferred this spicy pizza to the margherita, which, in its simplicity, is regarded as the test of a pizzaiolo. Unfortunately, MTH’s tomato sauce completely overwhelmed the basil and the rather stingy portion of fresh mozzarella. I’d definitely order something different. You can construct your own pie, if none of the six other house-composed pies attracts you.


We also tried two starters. First was the well-executed if rather retro roasted cauliflower and broccoli with chili flakes, bread crumbs, and sultana grapes. I insisted we also order the burrata di bufala, a usually decadent orb of mozzarella that is supposed to be firm on the outside and lusciously creamy inside. I’m sorry to say that the burrata here came to our table ice-cold – it should be room temperature – and the interior was barely spreadable on the accompanying flat bread. I won’t completely condemn it because it came with a fig spread and figs make everything better. During our meal, by the way, a toddler began screaming with a marinara-curdling intensity that reminded me I am human and that this is a family restaurant, not a fussy pizzeria. It’s quite enjoyable. (1675 Cumberland Parkway, Smyrna, 678-424-1333, mthpizza.com.)

Street Bistro: This weird venture replaces Hong Kong Harbour, the 40-year-old restaurant that introduced many Midtown diners to authentic Cantonese cooking. For years, it was the place many local chefs went for late-night dining. Now, it looks like a nearly empty, gigantic hangar with a concrete floor and a comparatively tiny bar for ordering inexpensive chicken wings, burgers, sandwiches, fried seafood, and rice dishes. Some dishes have an Asian accent, like my Korean “burger” made with shaved slices of bulgogi. My friend ordered a straightforward plant-based burger. Honestly, both tasted okay, as did our sides of fries, but the restaurant needs focus, a coherent menu, and some kind of décor. Until then, you could smoke a ton of weed and go there around 11 p.m. to make selfies of yourself as a refugee inside a post-apocalyptic waystation on your way to a New World. (2184 Cheshire Bridge Rd., 404-325-7630, atlstreetbistro.com.)

Wonderkid: Speaking of post-apocalyptic refugees, this new diner in Reynoldstown could be an entry to a paradoxically retro New World. It is located in the 60-year-old, redeveloping Atlanta Dairies complex which inspires rosy memories of cheerful milkmen and cows with names like Bossy and Buttercup. (Could they be grazing along the nearby BeltLine?) Wonderkid itself recalls that same era’s crypto-fancy diners with plush pleather booths, moody lighting, and ice clinking in cocktails while Peggy Lee croons during evening hours. The place is the work of super-creative types like designer Smith Hanes, the owners of the Lawrence and Bonton, and the King of Pops bros.

Executive chef Justin Dixon’s menu is largely Waffle House on entheogens plucked from a garden on the BeltLine. There are two breakfast menus. One serves five dishes like avocado toast with smoked salmon, and eggs Benedict with biscuits and country ham, available 8-11 a.m. The other menu provides “breakfast all day,” including fried catfish and shrimp grits; poached eggs over braised, spicy tomatoes with a grilled-cheese sandwich; a pan-roasted sirloin steak with eggs and black-pepper gravy; omelettes; and a burger. We didn’t order any of these dishes but chose from the main menu of 11 heavier dishes. First up was a brilliant starter of three classic deviled eggs topped with razor-thin country ham and a long spike of pickled okra. Our entrees instantly reminded us of nachos. Mine included a falafel waffle (yes, that’s right) with capers, cheddar cheese, horseradish, and bone-marrow aioli. The second entree was steak tatare with hash browns, too much horseradish, capers, and odd bone-marrow aioli. Both were messy, without much form, but I also ordered a comical chicken pot pie full of root vegetables, black pepper gravy, and, of course, chicken. It was covered with a football-size balloon of puff pastry, which could cause more delight than a kid’s first birthday cake. Of the entrees, it was my favorite even though I doubt the pastry is house-made.

::::

There is also a bar inside that sells mad soft-serve ice cream treats from the King of Pops guys. We didn’t try that. We also missed the changing daily menu of specials. One such menu online was offering cassoulet, one of my favorite dishes on the planet. When you go, look for this menu which likely gives Chef Dixon extra room to riff on classics. (777 Memorial Dr., 404-331-0720, wonderkidatl.com.)

Chris’ Carribbean Bistro: I don’t get it. This Smyrna restaurant’s owner grew up in Jamaica, so you’d expect some spicy food. Au contraire. For the most part, the food here is unrelentingly bland, even though it’s mostly well prepared. I’m assuming this is a concession to the lame palates of Smyrna, but I don’t know. We had jerk wings, mango wings, eggrolls, and, my favorite of everything, crispy conch fritters. The restaurant is known for its jerk-chicken lasagna, which two of us ordered. It’s a deliriously seductive mess, and everything works – except for the tiny strands of shredded jerk chicken which were literally unrecognizable in both portions on our table. The best entrée was a rich seafood stew, while blackened snapper topped with shrimp and a butter sauce took second place. (4479 S Cobb Dr., Smyrna, 678-695-3133, chriscaribbean.com.)

Chom Chom Vietnamese Kitchen: It’s hard to believe yet another large Vietnamese restaurant has opened in Chamblee. This one is inside a towering white building with a big sign that says “Magnum” in gold letters, just like the condom maker’s logo. It’s a mystery. Chom Chom’s particular space was previously occupied by China Delight. It’s sparely decorated with heavily windowed green walls and a high ceiling with some quirky lighting. There are six varieties of spring and summer rolls to begin your meal, but I suggest you go for the fried soft-shell crab with tamarind sauce. We also liked the pork-filled fried wontons. I highly recommend the restaurant’s classic “shaking beef,” cubes of rare tenderloin served with the usual coarse salt and lime to amp up the already intense flavor. You’ll find plenty of bun (rice noodle) bowls, but I recommend you avoid the “Hanoi” one. It’s basically a deconstructed version with lemongrass pork sausage patties, pork belly, bean sprouts, garlic, noodles, and herbs plated separately with a shallow bowl of fish sauce. You mix and match, rather than toss it all together as you would the typical bowl. Too much work. The restaurant also has lunch specials and you will want to take home one of the splendid banh mi (sandwiches) for a 3 a.m. snack. (2390 Chamblee Tucker Rd., 470-375-3190, chomchomatl.com.) —CL­—"
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The pizzas here are a bit difficult to classify. They are not squishy-thin Neapolitan pies. Nor are they as thick as New York pies. So they have heft, but not so much that you can’t fold the slices. All pies are 16 inches and will feed four people, especially with starters. We ordered two of the eight house-composed pies, including a margherita and one called “the hell boy.” The latter featured the usual mozzarella, provolone, and tomato sauce, plus some hot chilies, pepperoni, and nduja, which is a spicy pork pate that originated in the Calabria region of Italy before becoming an obsession with many American foodies a few years back. I much preferred this spicy pizza to the margherita, which, in its simplicity, is regarded as the test of a pizzaiolo. Unfortunately, MTH’s tomato sauce completely overwhelmed the basil and the rather stingy portion of fresh mozzarella. I’d definitely order something different. You can construct your own pie, if none of the six other house-composed pies attracts you.

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We also tried two starters. First was the well-executed if rather retro roasted cauliflower and broccoli with chili flakes, bread crumbs, and sultana grapes. I insisted we also order the burrata di bufala, a usually decadent orb of mozzarella that is supposed to be firm on the outside and lusciously creamy inside. I’m sorry to say that the burrata here came to our table ice-cold – it should be room temperature – and the interior was barely spreadable on the accompanying flat bread. I won’t completely condemn it because it came with a fig spread and figs make everything better. During our meal, by the way, a toddler began screaming with a marinara-curdling intensity that reminded me I am human and that this is a family restaurant, not a fussy pizzeria. It’s quite enjoyable. (1675 Cumberland Parkway, Smyrna, 678-424-1333, mthpizza.com.)

__Street Bistro:__ This weird venture replaces Hong Kong Harbour, the 40-year-old restaurant that introduced many Midtown diners to authentic Cantonese cooking. For years, it was the place many local chefs went for late-night dining. Now, it looks like a nearly empty, gigantic hangar with a concrete floor and a comparatively tiny bar for ordering inexpensive chicken wings, burgers, sandwiches, fried seafood, and rice dishes. Some dishes have an Asian accent, like my Korean “burger” made with shaved slices of bulgogi. My friend ordered a straightforward plant-based burger. Honestly, both tasted okay, as did our sides of fries, but the restaurant needs focus, a coherent menu, and some kind of décor. Until then, you could smoke a ton of weed and go there around 11 p.m. to make selfies of yourself as a refugee inside a post-apocalyptic waystation on your way to a New World. (2184 Cheshire Bridge Rd., 404-325-7630, atlstreetbistro.com.)

__Wonderkid:__ Speaking of post-apocalyptic refugees, this new diner in Reynoldstown could be an entry to a paradoxically retro New World. It is located in the 60-year-old, redeveloping Atlanta Dairies complex which inspires rosy memories of cheerful milkmen and cows with names like Bossy and Buttercup. (Could they be grazing along the nearby BeltLine?) Wonderkid itself recalls that same era’s crypto-fancy diners with plush pleather booths, moody lighting, and ice clinking in cocktails while Peggy Lee croons during evening hours. The place is the work of super-creative types like designer Smith Hanes, the owners of the Lawrence and Bonton, and the King of Pops bros.

Executive chef Justin Dixon’s menu is largely Waffle House on entheogens plucked from a garden on the BeltLine. There are two breakfast menus. One serves five dishes like avocado toast with smoked salmon, and eggs Benedict with biscuits and country ham, available 8-11 a.m. The other menu provides “breakfast all day,” including fried catfish and shrimp grits; poached eggs over braised, spicy tomatoes with a grilled-cheese sandwich; a pan-roasted sirloin steak with eggs and black-pepper gravy; omelettes; and a burger. We didn’t order any of these dishes but chose from the main menu of 11 heavier dishes. First up was a brilliant starter of three classic deviled eggs topped with razor-thin country ham and a long spike of pickled okra. Our entrees instantly reminded us of nachos. Mine included a falafel waffle (yes, that’s right) with capers, cheddar cheese, horseradish, and bone-marrow aioli. The second entree was steak tatare with hash browns, too much horseradish, capers, and odd bone-marrow aioli. Both were messy, without much form, but I also ordered a comical chicken pot pie full of root vegetables, black pepper gravy, and, of course, chicken. It was covered with a football-size balloon of puff pastry, which could cause more delight than a kid’s first birthday cake. Of the entrees, it was my favorite even though I doubt the pastry is house-made.

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There is also a bar inside that sells mad soft-serve ice cream treats from the King of Pops guys. We didn’t try that. We also missed the changing daily menu of specials. One such menu online was offering cassoulet, one of my favorite dishes on the planet. When you go, look for this menu which likely gives Chef Dixon extra room to riff on classics. (777 Memorial Dr., 404-331-0720, wonderkidatl.com.)

__Chris’ Carribbean Bistro:__ I don’t get it. This Smyrna restaurant’s owner grew up in Jamaica, so you’d expect some spicy food. Au contraire. For the most part, the food here is unrelentingly bland, even though it’s mostly well prepared. I’m assuming this is a concession to the lame palates of Smyrna, but I don’t know. We had jerk wings, mango wings, eggrolls, and, my favorite of everything, crispy conch fritters. The restaurant is known for its jerk-chicken lasagna, which two of us ordered. It’s a deliriously seductive mess, and everything works – except for the tiny strands of shredded jerk chicken which were literally unrecognizable in both portions on our table. The best entrée was a rich seafood stew, while blackened snapper topped with shrimp and a butter sauce took second place. (4479 S Cobb Dr., Smyrna, 678-695-3133, chriscaribbean.com.)

__Chom Chom Vietnamese Kitchen:__ It’s hard to believe yet another large Vietnamese restaurant has opened in Chamblee. This one is inside a towering white building with a big sign that says “Magnum” in gold letters, just like the condom maker’s logo. It’s a mystery. Chom Chom’s particular space was previously occupied by China Delight. It’s sparely decorated with heavily windowed green walls and a high ceiling with some quirky lighting. There are six varieties of spring and summer rolls to begin your meal, but I suggest you go for the fried soft-shell crab with tamarind sauce. We also liked the pork-filled fried wontons. I highly recommend the restaurant’s classic “shaking beef,” cubes of rare tenderloin served with the usual coarse salt and lime to amp up the already intense flavor. You’ll find plenty of bun (rice noodle) bowls, but I recommend you avoid the “Hanoi” one. It’s basically a deconstructed version with lemongrass pork sausage patties, pork belly, bean sprouts, garlic, noodles, and herbs plated separately with a shallow bowl of fish sauce. You mix and match, rather than toss it all together as you would the typical bowl. Too much work. The restaurant also has lunch specials and you will want to take home one of the splendid banh mi (sandwiches) for a 3 a.m. snack. (2390 Chamblee Tucker Rd., 470-375-3190, chomchomatl.com.) —__CL__­—"
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  string(8843) " GRAZ 3209  2020-02-04T19:15:14+00:00 GRAZ_3209.jpg    grazing First visit, first impressions 28518  2020-02-04T18:45:54+00:00 GRAZING: Five restaurants to please, repulse, and bore you will.cardwell@gmail.com Will Cardwell CLIFF BOSTOCK  2020-02-04T18:45:54+00:00  I’ve been everywhere in the last month, so what follows is a random sampling of my peripatetic palate. These are descriptions of first visits, but there are nonetheless clear winners, losers, and mystifyingly boring oddities.

MTH Pizza: I’ve been eating with the same bunch of friends every Friday night for years. One of them lives in Kennesaw and is constantly pulling us northward to exotic locales like Smyrna. Recently, we visited this newish pizzeria from the super-talented Muss & Turner deli guys. The restaurant is decorated with graffiti art, including a warning that pineapple is not permitted in the kitchen. I’m down with that! The first “Hawaiian” pizza I ate was in Germany 25 years ago and I’ve mainly avoided the monstrosity ever since.

The pizzas here are a bit difficult to classify. They are not squishy-thin Neapolitan pies. Nor are they as thick as New York pies. So they have heft, but not so much that you can’t fold the slices. All pies are 16 inches and will feed four people, especially with starters. We ordered two of the eight house-composed pies, including a margherita and one called “the hell boy.” The latter featured the usual mozzarella, provolone, and tomato sauce, plus some hot chilies, pepperoni, and nduja, which is a spicy pork pate that originated in the Calabria region of Italy before becoming an obsession with many American foodies a few years back. I much preferred this spicy pizza to the margherita, which, in its simplicity, is regarded as the test of a pizzaiolo. Unfortunately, MTH’s tomato sauce completely overwhelmed the basil and the rather stingy portion of fresh mozzarella. I’d definitely order something different. You can construct your own pie, if none of the six other house-composed pies attracts you.


We also tried two starters. First was the well-executed if rather retro roasted cauliflower and broccoli with chili flakes, bread crumbs, and sultana grapes. I insisted we also order the burrata di bufala, a usually decadent orb of mozzarella that is supposed to be firm on the outside and lusciously creamy inside. I’m sorry to say that the burrata here came to our table ice-cold – it should be room temperature – and the interior was barely spreadable on the accompanying flat bread. I won’t completely condemn it because it came with a fig spread and figs make everything better. During our meal, by the way, a toddler began screaming with a marinara-curdling intensity that reminded me I am human and that this is a family restaurant, not a fussy pizzeria. It’s quite enjoyable. (1675 Cumberland Parkway, Smyrna, 678-424-1333, mthpizza.com.)

Street Bistro: This weird venture replaces Hong Kong Harbour, the 40-year-old restaurant that introduced many Midtown diners to authentic Cantonese cooking. For years, it was the place many local chefs went for late-night dining. Now, it looks like a nearly empty, gigantic hangar with a concrete floor and a comparatively tiny bar for ordering inexpensive chicken wings, burgers, sandwiches, fried seafood, and rice dishes. Some dishes have an Asian accent, like my Korean “burger” made with shaved slices of bulgogi. My friend ordered a straightforward plant-based burger. Honestly, both tasted okay, as did our sides of fries, but the restaurant needs focus, a coherent menu, and some kind of décor. Until then, you could smoke a ton of weed and go there around 11 p.m. to make selfies of yourself as a refugee inside a post-apocalyptic waystation on your way to a New World. (2184 Cheshire Bridge Rd., 404-325-7630, atlstreetbistro.com.)

Wonderkid: Speaking of post-apocalyptic refugees, this new diner in Reynoldstown could be an entry to a paradoxically retro New World. It is located in the 60-year-old, redeveloping Atlanta Dairies complex which inspires rosy memories of cheerful milkmen and cows with names like Bossy and Buttercup. (Could they be grazing along the nearby BeltLine?) Wonderkid itself recalls that same era’s crypto-fancy diners with plush pleather booths, moody lighting, and ice clinking in cocktails while Peggy Lee croons during evening hours. The place is the work of super-creative types like designer Smith Hanes, the owners of the Lawrence and Bonton, and the King of Pops bros.

Executive chef Justin Dixon’s menu is largely Waffle House on entheogens plucked from a garden on the BeltLine. There are two breakfast menus. One serves five dishes like avocado toast with smoked salmon, and eggs Benedict with biscuits and country ham, available 8-11 a.m. The other menu provides “breakfast all day,” including fried catfish and shrimp grits; poached eggs over braised, spicy tomatoes with a grilled-cheese sandwich; a pan-roasted sirloin steak with eggs and black-pepper gravy; omelettes; and a burger. We didn’t order any of these dishes but chose from the main menu of 11 heavier dishes. First up was a brilliant starter of three classic deviled eggs topped with razor-thin country ham and a long spike of pickled okra. Our entrees instantly reminded us of nachos. Mine included a falafel waffle (yes, that’s right) with capers, cheddar cheese, horseradish, and bone-marrow aioli. The second entree was steak tatare with hash browns, too much horseradish, capers, and odd bone-marrow aioli. Both were messy, without much form, but I also ordered a comical chicken pot pie full of root vegetables, black pepper gravy, and, of course, chicken. It was covered with a football-size balloon of puff pastry, which could cause more delight than a kid’s first birthday cake. Of the entrees, it was my favorite even though I doubt the pastry is house-made.

::::

There is also a bar inside that sells mad soft-serve ice cream treats from the King of Pops guys. We didn’t try that. We also missed the changing daily menu of specials. One such menu online was offering cassoulet, one of my favorite dishes on the planet. When you go, look for this menu which likely gives Chef Dixon extra room to riff on classics. (777 Memorial Dr., 404-331-0720, wonderkidatl.com.)

Chris’ Carribbean Bistro: I don’t get it. This Smyrna restaurant’s owner grew up in Jamaica, so you’d expect some spicy food. Au contraire. For the most part, the food here is unrelentingly bland, even though it’s mostly well prepared. I’m assuming this is a concession to the lame palates of Smyrna, but I don’t know. We had jerk wings, mango wings, eggrolls, and, my favorite of everything, crispy conch fritters. The restaurant is known for its jerk-chicken lasagna, which two of us ordered. It’s a deliriously seductive mess, and everything works – except for the tiny strands of shredded jerk chicken which were literally unrecognizable in both portions on our table. The best entrée was a rich seafood stew, while blackened snapper topped with shrimp and a butter sauce took second place. (4479 S Cobb Dr., Smyrna, 678-695-3133, chriscaribbean.com.)

Chom Chom Vietnamese Kitchen: It’s hard to believe yet another large Vietnamese restaurant has opened in Chamblee. This one is inside a towering white building with a big sign that says “Magnum” in gold letters, just like the condom maker’s logo. It’s a mystery. Chom Chom’s particular space was previously occupied by China Delight. It’s sparely decorated with heavily windowed green walls and a high ceiling with some quirky lighting. There are six varieties of spring and summer rolls to begin your meal, but I suggest you go for the fried soft-shell crab with tamarind sauce. We also liked the pork-filled fried wontons. I highly recommend the restaurant’s classic “shaking beef,” cubes of rare tenderloin served with the usual coarse salt and lime to amp up the already intense flavor. You’ll find plenty of bun (rice noodle) bowls, but I recommend you avoid the “Hanoi” one. It’s basically a deconstructed version with lemongrass pork sausage patties, pork belly, bean sprouts, garlic, noodles, and herbs plated separately with a shallow bowl of fish sauce. You mix and match, rather than toss it all together as you would the typical bowl. Too much work. The restaurant also has lunch specials and you will want to take home one of the splendid banh mi (sandwiches) for a 3 a.m. snack. (2390 Chamblee Tucker Rd., 470-375-3190, chomchomatl.com.) —CL­—    Cliff Bostock HE’S NOT THE JERK: The totally delicious jerkless jerk chicken lasagna at Chris' Caribbean Bistro.  0,0,5    grazing                             GRAZING: Five restaurants to please, repulse, and bore you "
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Tuesday February 4, 2020 01:45 pm EST
First visit, first impressions | more...
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  string(9387) "Here’s a question that often haunts you and me when we’re hungry: Does capitalism inevitably produce mediocrity? Specifically, we worry about what often happens when a really good restaurant produces so much money that the owners are required by the rules of the American Dream to open a second location, often followed by even more. Unfortunately, when the “it” restaurant becomes an “it’s everywhere” restaurant, quality and diners’ enthusiasm tend to diminish. We hate this, right? Sometimes it’s temporary. 

Two recent openings bring this to mind. One is B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue, which has opened a stall of sorts in the new Beltline Kroger. Second is Food Terminal, which now has a second location in West Midtown. Interestingly, they are both the offspring of restaurants that have been wildly popular in gentrifying locations. Food Terminal comes to Marietta Street from Buford Highway and B’s Cracklin’ to Ponce de Leon Avenue from Main Street in Riverside (following the burning of its full service restaurant there). 

The original Food Terminal is a gigantic Malaysian restaurant whose opening two years ago in front of the City Farmers Market represented something of a tipping point for Buford Highway. Many who long avoided the countless mom-and-pop restaurants there swamped Food Terminal, arguably rejuvenating the entire area. Owners Amy Wong and Howard Ewe long ago proved their ability to bridge cultural differences without intimidation or vapid Americanization of the diverse flavors of Southeast Asia that are assimilated to varying extents in Malaysian cooking. Wong and Ewe honed their skills at their other restaurants, including Mamak, five Sweet Hut bakery-cafes, and three Top Spice locations.  

The new Food Terminal is a comparatively small space with the same yellow-and-gray color scheme as the original. It features soaring windowed walls and acoustics that make conversation easy. The menu? Imagine one glossy page of food porn after another. By the time you get a few pages in, you are breathing rapidly and can’t remember which dish seduced you earlier. The easier way to explore what’s available is to look at the photo-free check list of dishes on which you’re going to indicate your choices. When something seems interesting on the list, then look up the full-color giant photo of it. 

I’ve probably eaten without complaint at the original Food Terminal a dozen times. I found nothing of note off-key at the newbie. I ordered everybody’s favorite — the mythically named  “Grandma Wonton BBQ T Noodle.” It’s a big bowl of noodles tossed (thus the T) in a light soy-based sauce, topped with some sweet slices of glazed pork with enough bark to add a tiny bit of crunch. There’s also mega-crunchy bok choy whose flavor keeps the pork’s sweetness from becoming cloying. You also get three twisted-up fried wontons filled with pork and shrimp. Their flavor explodes, but the exterior texture last week was a bit soggy. Finally, the noodles were topped with a fried egg. This one was way over-cooked for my taste. Isn’t the point for the yolk to add a velvety, rich component to the bowl? This egg barely yielded a drop of yolk. That’s my only complaint. 

My favorite on the table was a plate of watercress tossed with a black bean sauce. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten at Food Terminal without ordering it. I also love the Thai eggplant, purple logs of the creamy vegetable topped with a chili sauce and ground chicken. We also ordered a plate of mildly spicy beef rendang with nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk). The rendang, to which I earlier became addicted at Mamak, also included an over-cooked egg, along with some pickled vegetables, slightly fishy crackers, and peanuts. 

Understand that it would take you forever just to count what’s available here. I intentionally ordered less exotic dishes in order to set a baseline, and the good news is that capitalism hasn’t ruined the quality of Food Terminal! The restaurant, by the way, is part of the Brickworks complex, so an entryway to free parking is immediately next door. You might have a wait. I went on a Monday night, and the restaurant was quite busy.

Food Terminal, 1000 Marietta St. N.W., 404-500-2695, foodterminal.com
 




B’s Redux

Yes, you really should go to the former Murder Kroger, now called the Beltline Kroger, and make a beeline for the new outpost of B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue. Brian Furman’s original Atlanta restaurant in Riverside burned to the ground in March 2019 after a few years in which it won just about every conceivable honor imaginable and not just in barbecue categories. Eater, for example, named it restaurant of the year and Furman was a James Beard semifinalist for best chef. I’m happy to say this is not the all-too-common foodie habit of fetishizing a quirky restaurant for the sake of in-the-know novelty. It deserves the accolades. 

The fire here weirdly duplicated the burning of Furman’s first restaurant in Savannah. It was re-opened and Furman promises to do the same here. Meanwhile, you can get the barbecue at the Kroger stall and eat on the premises, if you choose. (There’s also a stall at State Farm Arena). While the Kroger setting is a bit off-putting, the barbecue is certainly not. I’ve only been once and tried the ribs and the brisket. The brisket was absolutely perfect — fatty but not too fatty, smoky but not so much that the flavors of the rub and the meat were eclipsed. Ditto for the ribs, which you can eat without emerging from the area looking like a blood-doused zombie because of Georgia’s typically ketchupy sauces. Personally, I love B’s because its sauces are made with vinegar or mustard like the barbecue sauces I grew up eating in the Carolinas. In truth, you don’t even need a sauce with this meat. 

The chopped barbecue, by the way is “whole hog.” That means Furman smokes an entire, pedigreed pig, and the meat is pulled from different areas. It’s not all butt! I’ve also sampled the collards and pork and beans. Those aren’t particularly notable. (Do try the hash.) I asked for cracklin’ cornbread but received a super-sweet corn muffin. Probably my only complaint about B’s has been its failure to match my mother’s cracklin’-heavy cornbread. You really need that with the collards.

So, as with Food Terminal, capitalism has also failed to turn the multiple iterations of B’s into mediocrities. But I won’t be really happy until the full-service restaurant re-opens.

B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue, 725 Ponce de Leon Ave. Facebook: BsCracklinBBQATL  

HERE AND THERE: I recently dined at Nuevo Laredo, the restaurant that brought so-called “border cuisine” to Atlanta 20 years ago. I was a frequent customer early on, but the long waits and burgeoning Mexican/Tex-Mex scene caused me to drift away. A few weeks ago, four of us finally scored a table. The place has not changed. It still pays kitschy homage to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the walls are covered with photos of everybody. There is one dish here to which I became addicted from day one: the chicken mole. I still think Nuevo Laredo’s mole is the best I’ve tasted in the city. I also ordered my old favorite, the grilled green onions. Get the queso with chorizo, and, if you’re craving beef, the tampiqueña steak rules …. I have no idea why, but the mainly well-reviewed Kajun Crab on Buford Highway served the same four of us a really, really disappointing meal. The restaurant features the hard-to-define Vietnamese-Cajun cuisine that developed in Louisiana. (It’s also served at the nearby Crawfish Shack.) The menu we’d seen beforehand said the restaurant served pho. There was no pho on the current menu. I thought my friend was dumb to order the seafood boil made with frozen crawfish, and I was right. A bowl of spindly pasta with seafood was tasteless. My bowl of seafood and potatoes in a nondescript sauce included sausage that would give you nightmares if I could find the words to describe it. Gumbo? It was okay ….

Do you know what the real problem with rainy, cold weather is? It makes you sit inside at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack on Piedmont. That was the situation when I lunched there recently. The ribs and chicken were delicious, as always, but the live, ear-splitting performance by a solitary man made conversation impossible. You will be fine if you know American Sign Language or don’t mind getting barbecue sauce all over your phone while you text your tablemates ….

I feel honor-bound to admit that my last visit to Popeyes was dreadful. I got the five-piece combo special. The chicken was grossly over-cooked, and the biscuits were literally burned and stony. The red beans and rice were the usual tablespoonful. I learned long ago not to leave the restaurant without checking my order, but I failed to follow my own advice. I did call when I got home. Me: “You gave me burnt biscuits and chicken so overcooked that I can hardly pry the meat off the drumstick.” Her: “I don’t have time for this.” Me: “What should I do?” Her: “Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.” Meanwhile, like the sandwich it honors, the Popeyes ugly Christmas sweater sold out in 14 hours. There are no plans to restock it. I mean, come on people! — CL—
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Two recent openings bring this to mind. One is B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue, which has opened a stall of sorts in the new Beltline Kroger. Second is Food Terminal, which now has a second location in West Midtown. Interestingly, they are both the offspring of restaurants that have been wildly popular in gentrifying locations. Food Terminal comes to Marietta Street from Buford Highway and B’s Cracklin’ to Ponce de Leon Avenue from Main Street in Riverside (following the burning of its full service restaurant there). 

The original Food Terminal is a gigantic Malaysian restaurant whose opening two years ago in front of the City Farmers Market represented something of a tipping point for Buford Highway. Many who long avoided the countless mom-and-pop restaurants there swamped Food Terminal, arguably rejuvenating the entire area. Owners Amy Wong and Howard Ewe long ago proved their ability to bridge cultural differences without intimidation or vapid Americanization of the diverse flavors of Southeast Asia that are assimilated to varying extents in Malaysian cooking. Wong and Ewe honed their skills at their other restaurants, including Mamak, five Sweet Hut bakery-cafes, and three Top Spice locations.  

The new __Food Terminal__ is a comparatively small space with the same yellow-and-gray color scheme as the original. It features soaring windowed walls and acoustics that make conversation easy. The menu? Imagine one glossy page of food porn after another. By the time you get a few pages in, you are breathing rapidly and can’t remember which dish seduced you earlier. The easier way to explore what’s available is to look at the photo-free check list of dishes on which you’re going to indicate your choices. When something seems interesting on the list, then look up the full-color giant photo of it. 

I’ve probably eaten without complaint at the original Food Terminal a dozen times. I found nothing of note off-key at the newbie. I ordered everybody’s favorite — the mythically named  “Grandma Wonton BBQ T Noodle.” It’s a big bowl of noodles tossed (thus the T) in a light soy-based sauce, topped with some sweet slices of glazed pork with enough bark to add a tiny bit of crunch. There’s also mega-crunchy bok choy whose flavor keeps the pork’s sweetness from becoming cloying. You also get three twisted-up fried wontons filled with pork and shrimp. Their flavor explodes, but the exterior texture last week was a bit soggy. Finally, the noodles were topped with a fried egg. This one was way over-cooked for my taste. Isn’t the point for the yolk to add a velvety, rich component to the bowl? This egg barely yielded a drop of yolk. That’s my only complaint. 

My favorite on the table was a plate of watercress tossed with a black bean sauce. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten at Food Terminal without ordering it. I also love the Thai eggplant, purple logs of the creamy vegetable topped with a chili sauce and ground chicken. We also ordered a plate of mildly spicy beef rendang with nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk). The rendang, to which I earlier became addicted at Mamak, also included an over-cooked egg, along with some pickled vegetables, slightly fishy crackers, and peanuts. 

Understand that it would take you forever just to count what’s available here. I intentionally ordered less exotic dishes in order to set a baseline, and the good news is that capitalism hasn’t ruined the quality of Food Terminal! The restaurant, by the way, is part of the Brickworks complex, so an entryway to free parking is immediately next door. You might have a wait. I went on a Monday night, and the restaurant was quite busy.

''Food Terminal, 1000 Marietta St. N.W., 404-500-2695, foodterminal.com''
 

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__B’s Redux__

Yes, you really should go to the former Murder Kroger, now called the Beltline Kroger, and make a beeline for the new outpost of __B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue__. Brian Furman’s original Atlanta restaurant in Riverside burned to the ground in March 2019 after a few years in which it won just about every conceivable honor imaginable and not just in barbecue categories. Eater, for example, named it restaurant of the year and Furman was a James Beard semifinalist for best chef. I’m happy to say this is not the all-too-common foodie habit of fetishizing a quirky restaurant for the sake of in-the-know novelty. It deserves the accolades. 

The fire here weirdly duplicated the burning of Furman’s first restaurant in Savannah. It was re-opened and Furman promises to do the same here. Meanwhile, you can get the barbecue at the Kroger stall and eat on the premises, if you choose. (There’s also a stall at State Farm Arena). While the Kroger setting is a bit off-putting, the barbecue is certainly not. I’ve only been once and tried the ribs and the brisket. The brisket was absolutely perfect — fatty but not too fatty, smoky but not so much that the flavors of the rub and the meat were eclipsed. Ditto for the ribs, which you can eat without emerging from the area looking like a blood-doused zombie because of Georgia’s typically ketchupy sauces. Personally, I love B’s because its sauces are made with vinegar or mustard like the barbecue sauces I grew up eating in the Carolinas. In truth, you don’t even need a sauce with this meat. 

The chopped barbecue, by the way is “whole hog.” That means Furman smokes an entire, pedigreed pig, and the meat is pulled from different areas. It’s not all butt! I’ve also sampled the collards and pork and beans. Those aren’t particularly notable. (Do try the hash.) I asked for cracklin’ cornbread but received a super-sweet corn muffin. Probably my only complaint about B’s has been its failure to match my mother’s cracklin’-heavy cornbread. You really need that with the collards.

So, as with Food Terminal, capitalism has also failed to turn the multiple iterations of B’s into mediocrities. But I won’t be really happy until the full-service restaurant re-opens.

''B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue, 725 Ponce de Leon Ave. Facebook: BsCracklinBBQATL '' 

__HERE AND THERE:__ I recently dined at __Nuevo Laredo__, the restaurant that brought so-called “border cuisine” to Atlanta 20 years ago. I was a frequent customer early on, but the long waits and burgeoning Mexican/Tex-Mex scene caused me to drift away. A few weeks ago, four of us finally scored a table. The place has not changed. It still pays kitschy homage to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the walls are covered with photos of everybody. There is one dish here to which I became addicted from day one: the chicken mole. I still think Nuevo Laredo’s mole is the best I’ve tasted in the city. I also ordered my old favorite, the grilled green onions. Get the queso with chorizo, and, if you’re craving beef, the tampiqueña steak rules …. I have no idea why, but the mainly well-reviewed __Kajun Crab__ on Buford Highway served the same four of us a really, really disappointing meal. The restaurant features the hard-to-define Vietnamese-Cajun cuisine that developed in Louisiana. (It’s also served at the nearby Crawfish Shack.) The menu we’d seen beforehand said the restaurant served pho. There was no pho on the current menu. I thought my friend was dumb to order the seafood boil made with frozen crawfish, and I was right. A bowl of spindly pasta with seafood was tasteless. My bowl of seafood and potatoes in a nondescript sauce included sausage that would give you nightmares if I could find the words to describe it. Gumbo? It was okay ….

Do you know what the real problem with rainy, cold weather is? It makes you sit inside at __Fat Matt’s Rib Shack__ on Piedmont. That was the situation when I lunched there recently. The ribs and chicken were delicious, as always, but the live, ear-splitting performance by a solitary man made conversation impossible. You will be fine if you know American Sign Language or don’t mind getting barbecue sauce all over your phone while you text your tablemates ….

I feel honor-bound to admit that my last visit to __Popeyes__ was dreadful. I got the five-piece combo special. The chicken was grossly over-cooked, and the biscuits were literally burned and stony. The red beans and rice were the usual tablespoonful. I learned long ago not to leave the restaurant without checking my order, but I failed to follow my own advice. I did call when I got home. Me: “You gave me burnt biscuits and chicken so overcooked that I can hardly pry the meat off the drumstick.” Her: “I don’t have time for this.” Me: “What should I do?” Her: “Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.” Meanwhile, like the sandwich it honors, the Popeyes ugly Christmas sweater sold out in 14 hours. There are no plans to restock it. I mean, come on people! __— CL—__
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  string(9952) " GRAZ 3148 Web AFTER THE PURPLE RAIN: Food Terminal's creamy eggplant is topped with a spicy sauce. Photo by Cliff Bostock. 2020-01-03T16:35:44+00:00 GRAZ_3148_web.jpg    grazing Check out Food Terminal and B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue 27183  2020-01-03T16:48:18+00:00 GRAZING: Does capitalism taste bad? jim.harris@creativeloafing.com Jim Harris Cliff Bostock  2020-01-03T16:48:18+00:00  Here’s a question that often haunts you and me when we’re hungry: Does capitalism inevitably produce mediocrity? Specifically, we worry about what often happens when a really good restaurant produces so much money that the owners are required by the rules of the American Dream to open a second location, often followed by even more. Unfortunately, when the “it” restaurant becomes an “it’s everywhere” restaurant, quality and diners’ enthusiasm tend to diminish. We hate this, right? Sometimes it’s temporary. 

Two recent openings bring this to mind. One is B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue, which has opened a stall of sorts in the new Beltline Kroger. Second is Food Terminal, which now has a second location in West Midtown. Interestingly, they are both the offspring of restaurants that have been wildly popular in gentrifying locations. Food Terminal comes to Marietta Street from Buford Highway and B’s Cracklin’ to Ponce de Leon Avenue from Main Street in Riverside (following the burning of its full service restaurant there). 

The original Food Terminal is a gigantic Malaysian restaurant whose opening two years ago in front of the City Farmers Market represented something of a tipping point for Buford Highway. Many who long avoided the countless mom-and-pop restaurants there swamped Food Terminal, arguably rejuvenating the entire area. Owners Amy Wong and Howard Ewe long ago proved their ability to bridge cultural differences without intimidation or vapid Americanization of the diverse flavors of Southeast Asia that are assimilated to varying extents in Malaysian cooking. Wong and Ewe honed their skills at their other restaurants, including Mamak, five Sweet Hut bakery-cafes, and three Top Spice locations.  

The new Food Terminal is a comparatively small space with the same yellow-and-gray color scheme as the original. It features soaring windowed walls and acoustics that make conversation easy. The menu? Imagine one glossy page of food porn after another. By the time you get a few pages in, you are breathing rapidly and can’t remember which dish seduced you earlier. The easier way to explore what’s available is to look at the photo-free check list of dishes on which you’re going to indicate your choices. When something seems interesting on the list, then look up the full-color giant photo of it. 

I’ve probably eaten without complaint at the original Food Terminal a dozen times. I found nothing of note off-key at the newbie. I ordered everybody’s favorite — the mythically named  “Grandma Wonton BBQ T Noodle.” It’s a big bowl of noodles tossed (thus the T) in a light soy-based sauce, topped with some sweet slices of glazed pork with enough bark to add a tiny bit of crunch. There’s also mega-crunchy bok choy whose flavor keeps the pork’s sweetness from becoming cloying. You also get three twisted-up fried wontons filled with pork and shrimp. Their flavor explodes, but the exterior texture last week was a bit soggy. Finally, the noodles were topped with a fried egg. This one was way over-cooked for my taste. Isn’t the point for the yolk to add a velvety, rich component to the bowl? This egg barely yielded a drop of yolk. That’s my only complaint. 

My favorite on the table was a plate of watercress tossed with a black bean sauce. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten at Food Terminal without ordering it. I also love the Thai eggplant, purple logs of the creamy vegetable topped with a chili sauce and ground chicken. We also ordered a plate of mildly spicy beef rendang with nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk). The rendang, to which I earlier became addicted at Mamak, also included an over-cooked egg, along with some pickled vegetables, slightly fishy crackers, and peanuts. 

Understand that it would take you forever just to count what’s available here. I intentionally ordered less exotic dishes in order to set a baseline, and the good news is that capitalism hasn’t ruined the quality of Food Terminal! The restaurant, by the way, is part of the Brickworks complex, so an entryway to free parking is immediately next door. You might have a wait. I went on a Monday night, and the restaurant was quite busy.

Food Terminal, 1000 Marietta St. N.W., 404-500-2695, foodterminal.com
 




B’s Redux

Yes, you really should go to the former Murder Kroger, now called the Beltline Kroger, and make a beeline for the new outpost of B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue. Brian Furman’s original Atlanta restaurant in Riverside burned to the ground in March 2019 after a few years in which it won just about every conceivable honor imaginable and not just in barbecue categories. Eater, for example, named it restaurant of the year and Furman was a James Beard semifinalist for best chef. I’m happy to say this is not the all-too-common foodie habit of fetishizing a quirky restaurant for the sake of in-the-know novelty. It deserves the accolades. 

The fire here weirdly duplicated the burning of Furman’s first restaurant in Savannah. It was re-opened and Furman promises to do the same here. Meanwhile, you can get the barbecue at the Kroger stall and eat on the premises, if you choose. (There’s also a stall at State Farm Arena). While the Kroger setting is a bit off-putting, the barbecue is certainly not. I’ve only been once and tried the ribs and the brisket. The brisket was absolutely perfect — fatty but not too fatty, smoky but not so much that the flavors of the rub and the meat were eclipsed. Ditto for the ribs, which you can eat without emerging from the area looking like a blood-doused zombie because of Georgia’s typically ketchupy sauces. Personally, I love B’s because its sauces are made with vinegar or mustard like the barbecue sauces I grew up eating in the Carolinas. In truth, you don’t even need a sauce with this meat. 

The chopped barbecue, by the way is “whole hog.” That means Furman smokes an entire, pedigreed pig, and the meat is pulled from different areas. It’s not all butt! I’ve also sampled the collards and pork and beans. Those aren’t particularly notable. (Do try the hash.) I asked for cracklin’ cornbread but received a super-sweet corn muffin. Probably my only complaint about B’s has been its failure to match my mother’s cracklin’-heavy cornbread. You really need that with the collards.

So, as with Food Terminal, capitalism has also failed to turn the multiple iterations of B’s into mediocrities. But I won’t be really happy until the full-service restaurant re-opens.

B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue, 725 Ponce de Leon Ave. Facebook: BsCracklinBBQATL  

HERE AND THERE: I recently dined at Nuevo Laredo, the restaurant that brought so-called “border cuisine” to Atlanta 20 years ago. I was a frequent customer early on, but the long waits and burgeoning Mexican/Tex-Mex scene caused me to drift away. A few weeks ago, four of us finally scored a table. The place has not changed. It still pays kitschy homage to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the walls are covered with photos of everybody. There is one dish here to which I became addicted from day one: the chicken mole. I still think Nuevo Laredo’s mole is the best I’ve tasted in the city. I also ordered my old favorite, the grilled green onions. Get the queso with chorizo, and, if you’re craving beef, the tampiqueña steak rules …. I have no idea why, but the mainly well-reviewed Kajun Crab on Buford Highway served the same four of us a really, really disappointing meal. The restaurant features the hard-to-define Vietnamese-Cajun cuisine that developed in Louisiana. (It’s also served at the nearby Crawfish Shack.) The menu we’d seen beforehand said the restaurant served pho. There was no pho on the current menu. I thought my friend was dumb to order the seafood boil made with frozen crawfish, and I was right. A bowl of spindly pasta with seafood was tasteless. My bowl of seafood and potatoes in a nondescript sauce included sausage that would give you nightmares if I could find the words to describe it. Gumbo? It was okay ….

Do you know what the real problem with rainy, cold weather is? It makes you sit inside at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack on Piedmont. That was the situation when I lunched there recently. The ribs and chicken were delicious, as always, but the live, ear-splitting performance by a solitary man made conversation impossible. You will be fine if you know American Sign Language or don’t mind getting barbecue sauce all over your phone while you text your tablemates ….

I feel honor-bound to admit that my last visit to Popeyes was dreadful. I got the five-piece combo special. The chicken was grossly over-cooked, and the biscuits were literally burned and stony. The red beans and rice were the usual tablespoonful. I learned long ago not to leave the restaurant without checking my order, but I failed to follow my own advice. I did call when I got home. Me: “You gave me burnt biscuits and chicken so overcooked that I can hardly pry the meat off the drumstick.” Her: “I don’t have time for this.” Me: “What should I do?” Her: “Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.” Meanwhile, like the sandwich it honors, the Popeyes ugly Christmas sweater sold out in 14 hours. There are no plans to restock it. I mean, come on people! — CL—
    Cliff Bostock GET YOUR VITAMINS: Order Food Terminal’s watercress in a black bean sauce.  0,0,10    grazing                             GRAZING: Does capitalism taste bad? "
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Friday January 3, 2020 11:48 am EST
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