This is Marie, contributing an article about the The Capital Grille. Grant and I were invited to their media preview night for their newest location, in Dunwoody. This is a restaurant that concentrates on making their guests comfortable, in a dressy, low-light setting, as much as concentrating on presenting good food. Continue reading “The Capital Grille, Dunwoody GA”
Once upon a time, I ate at California Pizza Kitchen quite frequently. I used to meet a friend for lunch at the Dunwoody location every month or so, and really enjoyed their bruschetta and their barbecue chicken pizza. The chain claims the credit for this particular concoction, which many other pizza places have adapted over the course of the last couple of decades. Continue reading “California Pizza Kitchen’s New Adventures”
So Johnny Rockets, a deeply 1980s concept restaurant which occasionally attempts to evoke the 1950s, invited some local media to come visit their newly reopened store at Phipps Plaza and learn about their company. The store in the Phipps Plaza mall had been there for many years, but the entire mall food court was gutted last year, along with several clothing stores on the upper floors, to make way for the Legoland Discovery Center. By all accounts, this attraction is doing very good business – there seems to be a ridiculous amount of things to do here – but the restaurant’s shindig was held at the time that Legoland closes each weekday, so we didn’t see any rampaging mobs of children, or gangs of obsessed grown-ups desperately digging through the bins in the gift shop looking for the last, elusive bricks that they need in order to replace the red half-height two-by-sixes that they lost when their Harry Potter Quidditch set fell off the mantle and some of the Legos fell into the fireplace.
Yeah, that’s right, I said LEGOS. I PLURALIZED your brand, Lego. And I might do it again. Continue reading “Johnny Rockets, Atlanta GA”
Marie and I were invited to join some other local media to sample Outback Steakhouse’s new menu items, including a line of steaks and chops grilled over wood that complement their successful “Seasoned and Seared” blend. It was nice to visit with our friends from Atlanta Foodies and meet some other area bloggers, including Exclusive Eats, Insatiable and Talking With Tami, who posts more frequently than most adults breathe. Poor Marie, sadly, had to contend with worse than usual traffic coming from Dunwoody, and missed the first couple of courses. Some good steak and desserts cheered her up a bit.
Our regular readers know that we rarely patron national chains of any type, preferring to learn the stories of small restaurants. I was reminded, however, that beyond the quality of the food, which, at Outback, is reasonably solid, there are still stories to tell. I was really fascinated to learn that the whole roll-out process of the “Wood-Fire Grilled” menu – just imagine a little TM there, as we are dealing with the corporate world in today’s entry – has taken two years of testing, training and installing the new grills in close to a thousand stores across the continent. At the same time, Outback has embarked on a massive redesign of all of their stores, apparently the first face lift that many of these places have seen in twenty years. In a hobby where locals scrutinize, for example, the four months between the start-up and the crash landing of LeRoy’s Fried Chicken, being taken through the two years it takes to roll out a new product line is actually quite intriguing.
We met with Dave Ellis, who came up from Tampa for the event and who has been with the company since its beginnings. He told us a little potted history of the chain and shared a few fun anecdotes. I enjoyed hearing about the development of the popular Bloomin’ Onion appetizer, which required the help of a professor at Texas A&M to get a specific, spherical one-pound Spanish onion to grow under set conditions which could be duplicated at farms throughout the western states. Even with big, multi-national chains, there are funny stories to be told.
So they fed us. They fed us extremely well. They gave us small samples of both the classic “Seasoned & Seared” and the new “Wood-Fire Grilled” sirloins so that we could compare the taste. The original is made with a blend of seventeen spices, while the new has only six, and is cooked over oak wood. They were each quite good, although I did prefer the original, with its fuller flavor. The newer sirloin is just fine, but there’s a fire in the classic’s belly that the oak wood version, with its lighter spice, doesn’t match.
That said, the light spice and wood grilling does go extremely well on some of the other menu items. One of the highlights was the pork chop, which was unbelievably tasty. It’s served with a little cup of midly spicy orange marmalade and I could certainly see myself having that again down the road. We also sampled their California chicken salad, baby back ribs, an incredibly curious mahi-mahi dish topped with artichoke heats, sun-dried tomatoes and a lemon sauce, along with prime rib and the menu’s highest point, a really good ribeye that uses a slightly different spice blend that mixes a little better with this cut.
I made an exception in our rule against professional publicity photographs, in part because my own photo of the mahi-mahi was horrible, and in part because this pic does a great job conveying just how downright peculiar this dish is. Works, though.
They finished us off with a pile of desserts, including a very rich and moist carrot cake, a cheesecake with raspberry sauce, and a really unusual chocolate waffle, served with a thick, house-made chocolate sauce and a big scoop of Blue Bell vanilla ice cream. I’m sure our long-term readers will appreciate that, now that I have identified the problem, I’ve broken my bad habit of using the word “decadent” to describe whatever fool dessert gets put in front of me, although the waffle came pretty close to warranting it. Outback’s setup allows them to change out their dessert waffle specialties according to the season. Should I return when strawberry waffles are on the menu, I will have to try those.
Having said that, of course, Marie and I rarely ever visit national chains. Outback did a splendid job putting a human face on a corporate world, and showing off some very good food. I appreciated the chance to get to know them better. I’m not about to start calling the Hall of Fame Bowl anything other than the Hall of Fame Bowl no matter who sponsors it, but if you’re on the road and desiring a good ribeye, Outback, in a very pleasant surprise, has shown itself to be a good option.
Outback invited us to enjoy an additional meal on them, so a few days later, we stopped by the store nearest us, on Barrett Parkway, in the company of our daughter to try them out. I ordered that celebrated Bloomin’ Onion appetizer without thinking to ask whether either of the ladies wanted to share it. Never do this; that is far too much onion for one person to attempt on their own. Other than being forced, disagreeably, to waste about half of a perfectly good onion, we enjoyed ourselves. Marie and I split their largest ribeye, with the “Wood-Fire Grilled” seasoning and prep, with a small order of shrimp, and it was quite delicious, while the girlchild just had some soup and sides. Marie expressed a desire to come back once she is eating dairy again, so that she can enjoy one of those waffle desserts with ice cream. Reckon we’ll do that. Probably not on a weekend night, though; this place gets ridiculously busy!
This won’t be a very long entry. I just felt it important to remind my readers in the Atlanta and Jacksonville areas – we haven’t visited any other towns with a Sweet Tomatoes – that, for the next two weeks, you can try one of the very best soups that any restaurant, anywhere, serves up. It’s the creamy tomato soup at Sweet Tomatoes, known as Souplantation on the west coast, and for many years, they have, criminally and haughtily, only offered this wonderful treat in the month of March and for one week in October. They serve the most mediocre chili every day of the year here, but only offer the tomato soup for just one month.
We hadn’t actually been back to a Sweet Tomatoes since we celebrated Neal’s and Marie’s birthdays a year ago. I said, then, that I’ve found the overall experience agreeable if unexciting, except where the soups are concerned. They have a few very notable ones apart from the creamy tomato, such as a shrimp bisque and a chicken lime thing, but our desire to visit many different restaurants rather than just stick with favorites over the last several months has meant that Sweet Tomatoes has been off our radar, and I never even checked to see what soups they might have offered anytime lately. But at the beginning of the month, the writer Mark Evanier, who brought this wonderful soup to the world’s notice, rang the dinner bell to tell his bajillions of readers, “Soup’s on!” So it was back to Sweet Tomatoes we went.
This past Saturday, Marie and I met up at the Dunwoody Sweet Tomatoes with our friends Victoria and James, who just moved to a new place in the East Atlanta neighborhood. Victoria suggested that we meet up for a meal again sometime, and I told her that it was creamy tomato soup month again, but she’d never heard of it, meaning that this restaurant still needs to work on getting the word out. Marie and Victoria are each in the later stages of their first pregnancies, and have a lot to share and talk about, although not necessarily soup.
Meals here are very reasonable. For nine bucks – seven if you join the “Club Veg” club for email coupons – you get all you can eat salads, pastas, freshly-baked breads and about nine different soups from which to choose. I typically have a medium-sized salad and three bowls of soup. This time, I had two bowls of the amazingly delicious creamy tomato and one of the almost as amazingly delicious shrimp bisque.
Creamy tomato is on the menu for just two more weeks. If you’re in a town with a Sweet Tomatoes, you should definitely make plans to get over to one as soon as possible. In Atlanta, there are four stores, all on the north side, outside the perimeter. With pollen ravaging the area and our sinuses, wouldn’t a nice bowl of delicious soup do you good?
I have readers in other states who no doubt are raising an eyebrow to see a junky fast food place like this show up in their RSS reader. Hear me out, though. In the Atlanta area, Jack in the Box is a complete novelty, because this chain has very oddly chosen a curious path in its coast-to-coast expansion. Somehow, and I’m not sure this was an accident, they’ve hopped right over the entire I-75 corridor. Ubiquitous in California and the southwest, they expanded as far east as Murfreesboro, and then there’s not a thing until you get to the Carolinas. Our friend Samantha suggests that the nearest to us is in Anderson. They haven’t touched anyplace in Virginia or points north, nor Florida. It’s very weird. Continue reading “Jack in the Box, Nashville TN”
A few years ago, the Steak ‘n Shake chain, which has 500 stores in 22 states in the southeast and midwest and is, by my definition, large enough to be called national, decided to introduce a terrific promotion which my daughter and I used to enjoy greatly. They have a “happy hour” with half-price milkshakes from 2 to 4 every weekday afternoon, and again from 2 to 4 am overnight. When I took a job that left me with a couple of weekday afternoons free, and my daughter was in elementary school, this meant that I could take her by the Steak ‘n Shake nearest us on Barrett Parkway – said to be the busiest and most profitable in the whole chain – and join the mob for a daddy-daughter milkshake treat.
Those days are actually gone for us, since she started middle school and no longer gets home until close enough to suppertime to make a milkshake “ruin yer dinner” impractical. I slightly resent the loss of quality time, but then again, that’s just one of the many downsides to having your kids grow up.
The milkshakes here are terrific – my particular poison is a mix of their banana and orange cream – but the food is only slightly on the preferable side of average. The beef is okay, albeit pressed into sadly small and weedy patties, and the fries are thin enough to make you wonder whether there’s any potato in there, but the chain does offer a dish which is actually worth a second look. It’s not the same as what you can find in Cincinnati’s chili parlors, but Steak ‘n Shake does offer their version of a 5-way.
I’ve only been through northeastern Kentucky four times, but on each of those occasions, I’ve made it a point to stop at either a Skyline Chili or a Gold Star. I imagine that people more familiar with Cincinnati would be pleased to tell me about a better, more humble, non-chain restaurant to get chili made in that city’s style, and perhaps the next time I’m in that region, I’ll give that a try. In these restaurants, you get the area’s particular chili recipe – very finely chopped ground beef served in a light stew containing (as Wikipedia terms it) “unusual ingredients such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice or chocolate,” but without the traditional chili peppers or chili powder like you would expect from other regions.
This chili is intended to be eaten over noodles or on a hot dog, and not in a bowl on its own. Over time, some traditions developed about how to order this dish in area restaurants. A two-way is simply the chili poured over spaghetti noodles, and a three-way adds a giant mound of shredded cheese. A four-way adds either beans or diced onions, and a five-way contains the lot.
Steak ‘n Shake’s version can’t be characterized as a proper Cincinnati 5-way, because the beef is not spiced the same way, nor is it chopped as finely as what you would see in a Skyline. It’s just average canned chili beef in a “special” sauce of ketchup and Worcestershire. At any rate, I got to thinking about it after reading an amusing thread about the chain’s chili over at Roadfood.com, and it made me peckish enough to want to get back over there. In a bit of nice timing, my daughter had early release last week for parent-teacher conferences and so we had an early supper together. With milkshakes, of course. It wasn’t bad at all. It was no Gold Star, but it will do until the next time I can get to Cincinnati, anyway.