Peace Love and Pizza, Kennesaw GA (CLOSED)

There have been a few instances over the course of this story where I have written about, and sneered about, the fake nostalgia of “fifties diners.” You know the ones that I’m talking about. In the actual 1950s, there were probably no posters of James Dean or Marilyn Monroe in diners, any more than today you see posters of, I dunno, George Clooney or Jennifer Lawrence in contemporary-designed restaurants. And you certainly didn’t see any posters of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, drawn by some barely-adequate airbrush artist, sharing a chocolate malt back then. I like authenticity. Continue reading “Peace Love and Pizza, Kennesaw GA (CLOSED)”

Mas Tacos Por Favor and The Wild Cow, Nashville TN

When we first told our friends that we were going to make a blog out of our hobby of traveling and eating at fun local places, our good buddy Brooke piped up with a suggestion in Nashville. She told us that we needed to try Mas Tacos, a food truck that has, in the nearly two years since she told us about it, found a brick-and-mortar base and has been serving up some ridiculously good Tennessee-styled takes on traditional Mexican dishes. We visited Nashville twice in 2010, but neither visit really coincided with a good time to go meet up with Mas Tacos, either the truck or the shop, during their limited hours. Continue reading “Mas Tacos Por Favor and The Wild Cow, Nashville TN”

The Green Sage, Asheville NC

I’m not going to better one of my peers in his description of downtown Asheville’s Green Sage. Asheville Foodie calls this place “part restaurant and part ecological statement”. That’s definitely the case, and I think a guest’s experience here will mirror precisely how they feel about that statement. I think that’s an incredibly neat concept, and the more that I have read about the restaurant’s goal of minimizing their environmental footprint, through solar-powered heating of the water, through waterless urinals and through composting, the more impressed I am. We actually enjoyed very little food here, however, and I look forward to returning and trying some of the interesting things on the menu. I understand that the black bean burger is really something else. Continue reading “The Green Sage, Asheville NC”

Saravanaa Bhavan and Mirch Masala, Decatur GA

It has been several months since I went out for any Indian food. Longtime readers might recall that my favorite Indian restaurant in the region, Roswell’s Moksha, had closed, and I made a couple of fitful attempts to find a replacement. I found some pretty good food, but nothing remarkable, and I got a little discouraged and bored and resumed finding more barbecue and burger places.

In April, writing for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s “Food and More” blog, Gene Lee recommended three Indian restaurants in Decatur. This was part of the blog’s “Spring Dining 2011” guide and got me thinking. Maybe Marie and I could do a tour of all three one Saturday…?

Well, I was sort of stymied here, as Marie really doesn’t care all that much for Indian food. You’ll notice she has been absent from this blog’s few trips to Indian restaurants. She does like a little curry powder with her chicken salad, but otherwise most of that region’s cuisine does not appeal to her. Nevertheless, she agreed that we could give it a try if I would compromise and drop it to two restaurants. We took the baby and my older son and our good buddy David along and figured out the best way to plan these two lunches.

First up, we went to a vegetarian restaurant, where we planned that Marie would have a full meal, I would have an appetizer, and our older son would drum his fingers impatiently and wait for his larger meal at the next destination. I was sweet; I let him have an order of plantain bhaji that was quite delicious and had a nice level of spice to it.

Saravanaa Bhavan is the second restaurant by that name to occupy this space. The earlier version closed in 2008 and was bought by an international chain of hotels and vegetarian restaurants. This particular location doesn’t actually have any guest rooms, but the chain itself is kind of like a Howard Johnson’s that specializes in dosa. This is a huge, thin filled crepe and I think of it as a counterpoint to an uthappam, which is thicker, like a pancake. There’s a big window into the kitchen where you can watch the staff make the dosas and other treats.

Taking Lee’s recommendation, Marie ordered the masala dosa, which is the crepe filled with a curried mashed potato. It’s enormous, and served with four different dipping sauces. She also had an order of buttered naan and this was more food than she felt like tackling. In her defense, unfortunately, the atmosphere here did her in. While the food was all indeed very good, the restaurant ruined the air inside with the most noxious, repugnant incense by the entrance. Frankly, we couldn’t wait to leave. My tomato and pea uthappam was genuinely good and I enjoyed the flavor of everything here, but I sure do wish that I could have enjoyed it in better circumstances.

On that note, “couldn’t wait to leave” has proven, in my experience, to be a common problem at Indian restaurants from here to Toronto. There has not been a one, except the ones where you pay up front, where flagging a server down to get a blasted check has not been a chore. Neither of the places that we visited on this trip were in a hurry to see us go. We wanted to leave Saravanaa Bhavan because the air stank. We wanted to leave Mirch Masala because we were stuffed.

My heart sank as we entered Mirch Masala, which is located about three minutes’ south of Saravanaa Bhavan. It’s one of those Indian restaurants that suggests upscale by way of nice napkins and tuxedo-clad servers, but it’s hopelessly artificial. The menus are in leather cases, but the laminate on the heavy paper pages is peeling, comically, as they fall apart. There’s a 15% service fee on tables of four. Not six; four. Frankly, I hated the place so much that the best Indian food I ever had wouldn’t bring me back. Then I had some of the best Indian food I ever had and I was conflicted.

Gene Lee had recommended the chicken tikka masala here and I wanted to try it. Unfortunately, it was not on the buffet – $9.95 for weekend lunch – but priced at $11.95 for an order. I bit the bullet and was completely thrilled with it. The chicken was tender and flavored and seasoned just perfectly, and served in a deep red sauce that reminded me of molten lava. “It looks,” observed my son and channeling Ralph Wiggum, “like… hot.” He wasn’t kidding. I’ve had more lethally spicy food than this, but not often. It was majestic.

Marie ordered some rice called kashimiri pullao (basmati rice cooked with dried fruit) that she enjoyed, and they gave her enough to last for a subsequent lunch. My son and David each enjoyed some of the food on the buffet, which included both curried goat and chicken, and a spinach paneer that David said was excellent and as good as he’d ever had it. Food-wise, this place really was a winner. It’s a shame they had to spoil it by giving us such pathetic service and presentation.

Adding insult to injury, it took us about fifteen minutes after finishing our food to get a check. I don’t think this is all that complicated, really.

I’ll try again in a few months. There has to be a place in town that will give me excellent Indian food outside of a plastic quasi-upscale environment with attentive service at a fair price. Somewhere.

(Note: Saravanaa Bhavan briefly closed at the end of 2012 before reopening as Madras Bhavan, no longer affiliated with the hotel Saravanaa chain. I understand that it is still a vegetarian restaurant.)

OU for U Cafe, Dunwoody GA (CLOSED)

I first heard about OU for U Cafe several weeks ago, and was excited about having such a neat-sounding place available just a traffic light away from Marie’s job. Since I have a couple of short days each week, then, assuming she’s not trapped all day in meetings, I could take her to lunch somewhere in Dunwoody and get her back before her employer falls apart without her.

That might just happen when she takes maternity leave.

Despite a glowing review from Food Near Snellville, it was several weeks before Marie and I could get our schedules synched enough to have lunch together. It was certainly worth the wait; if there’s a better lunch place in this neighborhood, it’s news to me. There’s a Rising Roll Gourmet about a stone’s throw from OU for U, and it’s not a tenth as good as the delicious, kosher food in this deli.

(If, unlike me, you actually have a brain, the “OU” pun might have clued you into this being a kosher business. Me, I read that it was kosher, and I saw the name, but was somehow unable to connect the dots. Then again, it took me more than a decade to figure out why comics writer Pat Mills named a squabbling double-act “Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein.” Being married to a punster like Marie has not helped; it’s just made me close my eyes.)

Considering the suggestions made by other writers, I told Marie that both the egg salad and the falafel came recommended. That worked for her; she ordered the egg salad and a small cup of cream of mushroom soup. I thought the egg salad was pretty good but not extraordinary, but the soup was really excellent. My own lunch was sort of the inverse of hers; I had a tomato-and-stuff soup that was okay, and not nearly enough bread along with it. I should have gone with the lentil soup; everybody seems to be raving about it.

Now, that falafel on the other hand… let me tell you about this. For many years, I have told and retold the story of these unbelievable falafels that I used to get in Athens.

In the mid-nineties, there was a gentleman – I used to think he was from Turkey, but a part of me is saying that’s wrong – who came to Athens to clean house for his daughter while she was in a doctoral program at UGA. During the day, he rented a cart and started serving the sort of grub that he used to have back home from a little space on whatchacallit street, beneath Park and Leconte Halls and across from the P-J plaza, a discreet distance from the guy with the hot dog cart. I had a couple of pretty good sandwiches from him and then I tried his falafel and that was that. I had another falafel for lunch from this guy every single day for the rest of the quarter. Then the term ended, my work and class schedule became stupid, his daughter got her doctorate, and that was the end of the falafel cart.

OU for U didn’t serve me a falafel that good, but it was the first time in fifteen years that I’ve had a falafel come close enough to remind me of what I’ve missed. Alternating between a little extra chilled tahini from a squeeze bottle and some punch-packed hot sauce, this was a remarkable little sandwich. I would not mind another trip out that way at all.

In July 2012, OU’s owners, while still keeping kosher, elected to change their name and also changed the menu quite considerably. Now called Cafe Noga, they are no longer vegetarian.

Other blog posts about OU for U / Noga:

Atlanta: 365 Days, 365 Things to Do (Apr. 9 2010)
Food Near Snellville (Dec. 8 2010)
Atlanta Etc. (Jan. 24 2011)
ATL Food Snob (Sep. 1 2011)

Vatica Indian Vegetarian Cuisine, Marietta GA

I’ll tell you, friends, this was not the meal that I was hoping to find. It was very, very good, and calls out for investigation from more people who love unusual flavors and unique foods. Well, I knew going in that a vegetarian Indian restaurant was unlikely to replace the dearly-missed Moksha in my affections, and this didn’t, but it was a very different and very positive experience all the same. This is definitely a restaurant that Atlanta’s foodie community should quit overlooking and come visit.

For one thing, Vatica’s owner is by leagues the most engaging, friendly and welcoming host of any Indian place that I’ve ever visited. Having done just a cursory bit of research into what I could expect here, I explained to him that I knew virtually nothing of vegetarian Indian dishes, but that I understood this place specialized in something called thali, which is basically a buffet brought to your table. He told me that he’d make me a very good thali and tell me all about it.

About five minutes later, I had a huge circular tray in front of me, with small bowls of a variety of foods. He told me what each was. My meal included rice, a spicy stew called dal, potato curry, lentil curry, sweet potatoed curry, an onion yogurt called raita, a pita-like bread called roti, the delicious, thin spicy wafers called papadam, a potato and onion samosa and a little fruit cup. I apologized for inconveniencing him, but I’m actually allergic to sweet potatoes. So those went, and he brought me a small bowl of curried squash instead.

This place definitely has it down right. That sounds like a heck of a lot of food, but everything was in very sensible, small portions. If you’re looking for a broad sampling of flavors, you can do pretty well here, getting ten different things for nine bucks and change. I was most taken with the dal and with the potato curry, but everything was very tasty. I was further surprised when, about halfway through my meal, another fellow came by with a tray to refill whatever I wanted more of, so I had second helpings of the dal, the potato curry, the lentils and another couple of papadam wafers.

Honestly, this was a good – no, a very good – lunch, but I also realized as I ate that really, what I’ve come to expect, unfairly, from Indian cuisine is really tasty meat in a really spicy, scorch-yer-tongue sauce. This was one heck of a good meal, but not at all what I was looking for. I wonder where my ongoing search to replace Moksha will take me next?

The Grit, Athens GA

I used to work with a girl in Athens named Alexia who was militantly, albeit comedically, vegetarian. She took her comedic militant vegetarianism to extremes, even suggesting that with a little conditioning, lions could be taught to enjoy a healthy salad instead of a nice gazelle. Well, maybe I suggested that and she just agreed with it; it’s not the sort of thing that rational people propose. Anyway, she ate at the Grit almost exclusively for ages. As the city’s pre-eminent vegetarian restaurant for years, the Grit has had many proponents and champions, but none, perhaps, louder than Alexia. So, to me, the restaurant’s sort of intrinsically linked with her. And to lions and gazelles. Continue reading “The Grit, Athens GA”