Sheik Burritos n Kabobs, Atlanta GA (CLOSED)

I had been planning to stop by Sheik Burritos n Kabobs for weeks and weeks, and it sort of slipped down the to-do list. In time, another burrito joint opened on Howell Mill and started getting some buzz. I thought about heading that way, but remembered that I owed Sheik Burritos a visit first. It’s only fair to get them crossed off the list before I try a (relative) upstart. Continue reading “Sheik Burritos n Kabobs, Atlanta GA (CLOSED)”

Buckhead Burrito Grill, Kennesaw GA (CLOSED)

There are coincidences and connections all around in the restaurant business. Sometime in 2008, I read some people on a message board raving about Big Shanty Smokehouse, up in Kennesaw off Wade Green Road. I took the children up there for what would be the first of many terrific meals, and we noticed, along the way, this little burrito place in a strip mall closer to the interstate. I said then that, one of these days, we needed to stop by and give them a try. It was not a priority, as longtime readers might have read, as I have been losing my taste for, and interest in, American-styled burritos and tacos. Somebody really needs to prompt me to go get a burrito anymore.

So several months passed, and we drove up there one Sunday, only to find them closed. They don’t open on Sundays. They also take a short vacation and close down around the Fourth of July every year. I know this because around that date in 2010 and again this year, we tried coming by and, stymied, left with a shrug.

A couple of Fridays ago, we decided it was time to let Marie relax for a weekend. We complement each other very well, I think, but one way that we have really started to differ since we had the great emotional drain that is a baby is that I spend all week antsy for the freedom to get out and drive and relax by getting up at the comparatively late hour of about seven and finding someplace miles and miles away to eat, and Marie, who’s much more of a workaholic and has a more demanding desk job than I do, and could, given the chance, sleep for a whole lot longer than anybody, enjoys the occasional weekend where she can stay in bed until ten – ten! – and not do anything for two and a half days. Weekends where I really, really relax leave her completely exhausted, and weekends where she really, really relaxes leave me completely unfulfilled. We compensate by allowing me weekends where I overplan and completely fill it with things to do – oh, and I’m two months away from the most awesome weekend ever – and, once in a while, allowing a weekend with not a single thing on the agenda.

This was one of those Fridays. I asked what we were doing for supper and she said that she’d simply like to get a burrito from Willy’s. I suggested that we might could go a few exits up and give Buckhead Burrito Grill one last try. If they weren’t open, we’d come back to Willy’s. Not only were they open, and excellent, but we also learned that they moved to this location from the very space into which Big Shanty Smokehouse, the restaurant that we visited when we first saw these guys, opened. If the Buckhead Burrito Grill had not been successful enough to move into a bigger place with more parking, then the Smokehouse would not have started up in the space that they vacated, and we would never have seen this “California-style” place. Well, I think that it’s weird, anyway.

Bob and Melissa Ross started the restaurant, so named because, when they opened about ten years ago, they felt that you had to drive down to Buckhead to get a decent burrito, and they still own it. We didn’t know when we arrived that their signature item was the fish taco, and so Marie and I each had burritos. She had the “house” style, made with your basic chicken, rice, beans, cheese and pico de gallo, and I had the “Rio” style, which was chicken, rice, cheese, lettuce, and two sauces, one a hot red sauce and the other thick, creamy and peppery. They were both perfectly acceptable and tasty, probably better than what we would have had at Willy’s and leagues better than what they sell you at Moe’s. I feel like they could probably spare a few more chips in the basket, however. The salsa bar here is stocked with really terrific and tasty blends, even if, like most places, they offer little plastic dipping cups that are just too darn small, and I would have gladly indulged in many, many more chips after I finished the puny number that came with my meal.

There are a couple of newspaper reviews on the wall here, and after we read those raves, we realized we probably needed to try the fish taco. This thing deserves the hype. It’s tilapia fried in a batter full of ingredients that the woman at the register would not divulge, and served with onions, cabbage, cilantro and a really unique jalapeno yogurt that they call “Mexican tartar sauce.” Marie liked it more than I did, and I liked it a lot.

They seem to rotate their unusual desserts, which are usually deep-fried American snack foods served in a burrito with whipped cream. When we went, Snickers were on offer. Personally, I don’t like Snickers at all – a friend in middle school once described the sensation of spitting out little peanut crumbs two hours after he had a bar and I’ve never forgotten the accuracy – and so I passed, but my daughter just loved it.

Honestly, it was good to finally try this place. It’s not my favorite type of food in the world, and, to be honest, I’d be happier driving a little further down to the Smokehouse, but the fish tacos were quite surprisingly good. The next time that Marie gets a hankering for California-styled Mexican food, we’d do all right to see whether this place is open before trying anybody else in the area.

Blue Water Cafe and Barberitos, St. Simons Island GA

Here’s a first for our blog. Today, I’m writing about a restaurant where I did not get to eat. Before anybody harrumphs about any lack of journalistic integrity, however, it is a place where I have eaten previously. About four months before we started the blog, Marie’s father took us to dinner at Blue Water, a nice casual American restaurant on Mallery Street in the last building on the right as you’re approaching the Saint Simons Pier. On that occasion, I had the Mardi Gras pasta and really enjoyed it. Continue reading “Blue Water Cafe and Barberitos, St. Simons Island GA”

Willie Rae’s, Marietta GA (CLOSED)

Here’s another long overdue visit to a very popular destination in Marietta, this one right on the square. I added Willie Rae’s, which is about to celebrate its eleventh anniversary, to my to-do list many months ago after seeing a good writeup of it somewhere. This is a place that tries, with some success, to mix up a menu of southwestern, southern, and Creole-styled dishes in an upscale environment surrounded by lovely, folksy artwork on the walls.

They don’t always pull it off. One black hole on the menu is the inclusion of Lay’s potato chips as a side to some of their dishes. Try as I might, I just don’t see the point of lavishing attention on a burger in the kitchen and then serving it with plain Lay’s. But when they get it right, the results are magnificent.

Location is everything in the world of restaurants, deciding what is hip and cool. If Willie Rae’s was inside the perimeter, people would have been raving about it for ages. Sitting quietly on the Marietta Square, it’s easily ignored by the ITP crowd. Interestingly, walking around the square, you can see quite a few very good restaurants, none of which attract much commentary or blogging. Hollie Guacamole! and Tommy’s Sandwich Shop are both pretty good, as are Johnnie McCracken’s and the Marietta Pizza Company. There are four or more very nice, upscale restaurants, at least three places to get desserts, including a cupcake place – one of the latest trends – and Traveling Fare, which sells wonderful pot pies at the weekly farmer’s market, but despite ample free parking, nobody wants to venture up here except office workers and people with court business.

Well, if you do feel like braving the mean streets of Cobb County, you’re certain to get a pretty good meal at Willie Rae’s. I arrived early and looked around in a cute toy store two doors down while waiting for them to open. Within twenty minutes, there was a pretty good crowd in the place, proving that just because us weirdos with blogs aren’t yammering about it, business is still pretty good.

I was a little disappointed that I would have to pay a bit more than I wanted for some chips and salsa – apparently you can only get some by paying six bucks for a really big appetizer with cheese dip and an avocado sauce as well – so I had a small cup of very good jambalaya instead. It was served piping hot in a coffee mug on a little saucer and they didn’t scrimp on any of the meats. This was really tasty, although I don’t know that I’d like a full-sized serving of it with so many other interesting things on the menu.

I had the chicken burrito, served with a very good Caesar salad. The burrito was absolutely packed with really tasty chicken and just a few peppers. I was so pleased to pay a good price for a meal here and really get my money’s worth in very good, seasoned meat, not a big pile of rice or other fillers. The burrito was covered in a wonderful cheese sauce. I think I might have asked for a very small cup of salsa for the chicken, but it was just fine without it. It’s really a good feeling when a place meets your expectations so fully, you know?

I’d love to see some of my peers with larger audiences come up to the square and give these places a try. If Willie Rae’s was on Howell Mill, or in Asheville, people would be raving about the food and the atmosphere. The food certainly warrants it, and you’re guaranteed to get a kick out of all the fun artwork. Well, people are raving, just not people with blogs.

Hollie Guacamole!, Marietta GA (CLOSED)

I certainly enjoy having the small audience that Marie and I have, but sometimes I think that I’ll do a lot better by y’all once we get a book deal, an expense account and a secretary. Okay, so I’m not really counting on these things, but I bet that if we did have a secretary, then they would have pointed out a remarkable oversight that I made long before now. Back in May, I happened to spot the sign for a new burrito place in downtown Marietta, and resolved to stop in as soon as possible. About a week later, I wandered over there, hungry for such a meal, and was surprised to learn they were still about a week away from opening. I ended up driving to the Chilito’s in Kennesaw instead to get my fix and wrote them up instead. I promptly forgot that the burrito place on the square ever existed until I remembered out of the blue more than five months later. I’m serious; the place fell into a black hole of memory.

My plans for this past Wednesday got juggled around, so, having only remembered that “that burrito place” existed about 48 hours previously, I took advantage of the chance to swing by and see whether they ever opened up. I had to drive to do it, because I couldn’t remember the name, and Google couldn’t help me find the place. Now that I know the name, Google’s still not much help, because the owners have not done much of anything to let the world that they’ve been here for five months. Not even the phone company can track these people down. I’m not sure whether this might be incompetence or somebody’s very clever plan to make customers really work to find the place. But they seriously are there. Look, photographic evidence:

Okay, so let’s get one thing out of the way: that’s a really terrible name for a restaurant. All I could remember about it, once I remembered that “a burrito place on the square” existed at all, was “I think that it had some wacky name.” Amusingly, the owner had his own take on it. I asked of the couple whether one of them was “Hollie,” and he admitted that just about everybody asks that. As for why it’s spelled that way, he said he wanted something memorable. Didn’t work with me, I’m afraid.

Much like the many “fast casual” burrito places in the city, this is a build-to-order place with the ingredients on the other side of the sneeze guard and assembled per your specifications. I had the daily lunch special, which is your choice of a burrito, chips and a canned soda for six bucks. The guacamole is an additional eighty cents, but I have to tell you, it’s easily worth that. All of the ingredients of my “bowl” burrito were very tasty, particularly the fresh jalapenos, but that guac was outstanding. I highly recommend everybody give this recipe a try. While thinner, and more like a dressing than a dip, it’s actually about as good as Bone Garden’s, which has my favorite in the city.

The restaurant seems to get a pretty good crush of business from government workers during the lunch hour. I arrived at 11.30 and had the small space to myself for a few minutes before the county clerks, attorneys and deputies filed in and took up all of the handful of tables. I took from the sort of noncommital way that the owner answered when I asked how business was that as of now, Hollie Guacamole! is dependent on doing a lot of noon to one business to stay afloat, and that they haven’t been able to turn their place into a big word of mouth destination. Places on the square have always seemed to me to have a lot of trouble turning themselves into something that the public wants to search for. I’m not sure what this place is doing wrong, but when a Google search for: “hollie guacamole” marietta turns up (today) exactly five entries and three of those are echoes from one gentleman’s Twitter feed, I can only conclude that there are a hell of a lot of people missing out on this very tasty guacamole and the friendly owners. And the Lime Crush, the soda that I’ve been enjoying the most for the last several weeks.

And this is after five months. I won’t swear that I’m incredibly optimistic that they’ll make it another five at this rate, and that’s a shame*.

*They did better than I expected, but not good enough, making it to June of 2012 before the “Now Leasing” sign appeared in the window. Better luck next time, guys.