Tin Drum is a local chain of Asian-themed fast-casual eateries, with a variety of noodle and rice dishes for just under eight dollars. I’ve always enjoyed their food, and since I’ve somehow evolved into something of a design nerd – I swear, that was never planned – I was interested to read that the new store, which is in a brand new little strip mall on Briarcliff at the intersection with North Druid Hills, is the first to feature a new design and appearance. Normally, that wouldn’t – or at least it shouldn’t – be a pull (“Malibu Stacey has a new hat!”), but since Tin Drum quite badly needed a new look, we wanted to go see it.
It’s fair to say that Tin Drum has not had the best couple of years, but Marie and I were invited to visit this newest store on the occasion of its soft opening day last week, and got to meet with the chain’s terrific and fun owner, Steven Chan, and we left very pleased and optimistic about the changes that they’re making to improve the consistency of their food across locations, and the overall guest experience. A report two months ago at Tomorrow’s News Today – I’m hesitant to link to it, because it’s awfully pessimistic, but here it is – summed up a lot of the most recent perceived problems. Steven was very forthright with us about his chain’s recent growing pains. The first Tin Drum opened in 2003 on 5th Street in midtown, and growth was good for a few years, but in 2012 and 2013, things stumbled.
The new-look Tin Drum, which, like several of the more recent stores, is an an inline location, left Steven wondering what to do with two walls. As we’ve seen at the location nearest us in Marietta, the result had been industrial, gray, and closed-in, with the kitchen hidden in the back. Tin Drum had historically opened at the end of a strip mall, with lots of windows, encouraging a fresh and open feel. So one of the solutions has been moving the kitchen to the side, with a windowed partition allowing guests to see some of the activity to the right as they enter. Another is putting a long window along one side of the dining room, with the food storage area visible and brightly lit, shelves of ingredients stacked neatly against the glass for people to see. Marie said that it looked a little like eating in a grocery store, which is a huge improvement, and gets you thinking and talking about what you’re eating. Add to this lots of colorful circles and great big BLOCK CAPITAL LETTERS advertising the new specials, and the place is genuinely lively and fun. They’ve even modified their logo, taking the words out of the orange box that used to constrain them, and letting them live on their own.
This all might sound a little simple and unimportant, but one important key to a good dining experience is to feel welcomed. It’s very subtle and unconscious, but when you’re eating in a bright and happy place and given attention from smiling servers, it will make you want to return more often. Coupled with Chan’s excellent taste in music, playing at an appropriate and unobtrusive volume, it’s an upbeat, warm, and very pleasant place to eat. And the food is quite good as well.
(Incidentally, Bella Vivere had lunch here a couple of days after me, and it actually occurred to her to, you know, take some pictures of the interior. So go have a look at her story!)
We sampled two of the regular menu items along with the summer special. The Pad Thai, shown above and which I’d tried before, is very solid comfort food, full of flavors that complement each other, and wonderful sauteed chicken. We also enjoyed the Masamam Curry, not pictured, which was also quite good. About the only suggestion I have with this is for a few more cashews to be added to the mix.
Happily, the menu has been streamlined and simplified to go along with the new design. There are sixteen standard offerings, and the menu, which has recently just caused confusion and frustration with us, is easily categorized and a breeze to follow. (Also, it’s clearly listed that, for the vegetarians in your party, tofu is available at no additional charge in half the dishes, clearing up an issue that had been raised earlier in the year.)
As good as these are, we recommend that you run, don’t walk, to try the new Kang Yum Mango Bowl, which is on offer through August 17th and is just downright terrific. They describe it as “Sweet mango tames spicy green curry sauce on a bed of rice, fresh spinach, and sauteed chicken, topped with red cabbage, mango slaw and carrots.” It’s a wonderfully sweet summer dish that gets progressively hotter and spicier as you continue with it. I really liked this a lot and look forward to having it again before it’s too late.
Another thing that I’m looking forward to again is the Thai iced tea. Sure, you can order this drink at lots of places, but Tin Drum is the only restaurant that lets you help yourself to refills, with little portions of half-and-half to go along with it. What a super idea! They have Coke products and traditional sweet tea as well, but getting a refill of Thai iced tea for the road is, especially in this summer heat, a perfect way to finish a lunch or dinner.
Earlier this year, I was believing that Tin Drum was a good restaurant with good food suffering some unfortunate stumbles. We left believing that Steven knows what’s not working and has the resolve to fix it. He’s committed to turning things around and making Tin Drum a more consistent experience, and a great, rather than a good, restaurant. If you’ve felt as we have, please think about giving their latest location a try. I suspect that you’ll be pleased to see them moving forward and getting things right.
(As noted, this was a media event and our meal was complimentary. It’s our policy to always note when we’ve received our meal without charge. If you would like to invite us to your restaurant’s media events, please drop Grant a line at firstname.lastname@example.org .)
Other blog posts about Tin Drum Asia Cafe:
One Little Pig (Emory, Apr. 12 2012)
Iron Stef (Buckhead, Feb. 16 2013)
The Food and Me (Roswell, June 18 2013)
Spatialdrift (Roswell, June 21 2013)
Burgers, Barbecue and Everything Else (midtown Atlanta, Dec. 19 2013)
Cat the Critic (Lindbergh Center, June 17 2014)
You can see all the restaurants that we have visited for our blog on this map, with links back to the original blog posts. It’s a terrific resource for anybody planning a road trip through the southeast!