Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Elevation ChopHouse and Skybar

1723 McCollum Pkwy, Bldg. 600, Kennesaw, GA http://www.elevationchophouse.com/ElevationChophouse.html

On Friday night Kyle and I had dinner with our friend April at Elevation ChopHouse and Skybar. If you've ever dined at the Downwind Restaurant & Lounge at Peachtree-Dekalb airport, you have an idea of what you'll see here. The big draw is that the restaurant overlooks the airfield, so you can watch the planes take off and land while you eat. This is interesting, but keep in mind that the "entertainment" can be noisy.

Elevation's dinner entree prices turned out to be a little more than we'd budgeted for on this particular occasion (two dishes @ $10, but most of them ranging from $15 to $26), so we decided to feast solely on appetizers.

We ordered the calamari, which was served with sides of marinara and citris aioli. I liked that the calamari seemed to be dusted with dill, but the squid itself was a little tough. We also had the gourmet nachos, which included "black bean angus chili", fresh jalapeno relish and peppered queso. This was good but not great. I thought the consistency of the angus chili was a little off. We did however enjoy the capicola flatbread. The bread itself was soft and fragrant, and the toppings were appropriately melted and yummy. All three dishes were generously portioned and we had plenty to go around.

Elevation offers a good selection of mixed drinks and about 15 different bottled and draft beers. I was intrigued by the liquid nitrogen margaritas. They sounded exciting, and they didn't disappoint. These drinks are made tableside by a friendly bartender, and its a pleasure to watch your drink froth, emit large and dramatic clouds of frigid air and practically boil in your glass. The margaritas come in lemon lime, pomegranate and black raspberry. I enjoyed the pomegranate, and considering the presentation and the fact that the charge includes a donation to a local animal shelter, $14 is a fair price.

Friday and Saturday nights are busy, as a Elevation hosts bands which seem to draw a crowd. The upper level of the restaurant overlooks the bar below on one side, and front row seats for the airfield on the other, so there are no bad booths or tables. Along one side of the room you'll find oversized, black leather armchairs which are great for lounging in while you sip your cocktail and watch the band. There's a second bar with seating upstairs, so you'll have several choices of where to perch for the night. The restaurant also offers a Sunday Blues brunch, which I'd like to try in the future.

Verdict: A real find with lots of personality in normally predictable Kennesaw, Georgia. Average to good food with attentive service.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

El Myr

1091 Euclid Ave., Atlanta, GA http://www.elmyr.com/

What is El Myr? Until last Friday night I would have asked you the same question. After my friend Heidi and I had dinner there, in the heart of Little Five Points on Euclid Avenue, I can give you at least a partial answer.

El Myr is a hangout place for those who believe they are non-conforming by dressing in skinny jeans (true for both genders of patrons), donning asymmetrical haircuts and sporting lots of tattoos. For those of you who are familiar with Little Five, I'm sure you're chuckling and agreeing with me that these nice folks are in fact, conforming to the area's standard dress code and attitude.

El Myr is NOT a place for sensitive non-smokers. Patrons make smoke anywhere in the restaurant, and because the tables are so close together you'll feel like you're smoking with them.
El Myr IS a place for drinkers who want decent food at affordable prices. If you like the place you'll have plenty of time to party - on Monday through Saturday it is open until at least 2am. If you still lack a clear mental image of the restaurant at this point, just click on the link above and glance over the home page.

El Myr, according to the aforementioned website, is a "restaurant and cantina." I'm not a big fan of Americanized Mexican food and it is very difficult for a restaurant of this description to impress me. Therefore, I am including Heidi's opinions of the food here in an effort to be fair. Heidi has dined at El Myr numerous times and is very familiar with the menu.

I ordered the nachos ($7.25), and took our waitress' advice that the pork was better than the steak. While the nachos themselves were full of good things - salsa (I had a mixture of mild and hot, as there wasn't a moderate choice), thick sour cream, crisp corn chips and jalapenos - the pork itself was a little dry and overcooked. I was looking forward to juicy chunks of pork and instead encountered thinly shredded, nearly hard meat. The flavor was fine, just not the texture. On the bright side, I did enjoy my sangria. I give it a 6.5 out of a possible 10.

Heidi enjoys El Myr's burritos, and her best recommendation are the quesadillas ($4.50-$6.50). She likes the shrimp best. El Myr also offers a vegan quesadilla with tons of veggies. Additionally, I noticed that the menu features a Green Burrito, which consists of spinach, broccoli, green chilis, quacamole and jalapenos on a spinach tortilla. Sounds promising.

As for beer, you're in luck if you like cheap, bottled pilsners. There's PBR, Red Stripe, Schlitz, Coors Light and the like, with a few better picks like Pacifico and Newcastle. The draft selection is a little more upscale, but no rare brews or originals.

The big problem with El Myr on this occasion was the service. It was polite, but extremely slow. Heidi had chosen El Myr because of its close proximity to Horizon Theatre, where we had tickets to see a show at 8. We sat down at the restaurant just before 7, which should have given us ample time to dine at this casual restaurant. However, it took 10 minutes to get our drinks and 40 minutes for our orders to arrive. Even though I asked for the check when our waitress delivered our entrees, I had to track her down and impress upon her the urgency of the situation at 7:52. After scribbling my signature on the check Heidi and I literally ran out the door and down the block to avoid missing the opening act. Not the ideal situation when you have a stomach full of nachos.

Verdict: Disappointing experience in terms of food and service.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Anis Cafe & Bistro

2974 Grandview Ave., Atlanta http://www.anisbistro.com/

On Tuesday I joined a group of friends for lunch at Anis. I have been dining at Anis - for lunch only - for at least four years, and this was probably my twentieth meal there. Like Basil's, which I reviewed in July and which resides across the street, Anis has a lovely patio which dinner-goers say is particularly romantic at night. The indoor seating is also attractive, decorated in soft tones, with a very small bar area where French men can often be found sipping pastis.

For this most recent lunch I ordered the farmhouse plate ($11) , my favorite dish of those I have tried. It is an absolutely lovely combination of thinly sliced proscuitto, saucisson, pate, sweet red peppers, cornichons, olives and multiple mustards. The pate is, in my opinion, the best to be found in any restaurant in Atlanta. My friend Eliza is a big fan of the salmon salad Nicoise, which appears to have been replaced with a similar dish called Atlantic Salmon salad. Anis usually offers a quiche as a daily special, and I have found the portions to be generous and the consistency good. The Croque Monsieur ($10) meets the standard. The Roasted Tomato Tartar ($8), which is served with buffalo mozzarella and baby arugula dressed with oil and vinegar, is a good choice if you have a very small appetite. Tasty, just not enough food for me or any other person who regularly cleans his/her plate.

The desserts are also very nice. Anis often serves a pear tart which is subtle and classically French, and on Tuesday my group enjoyed the chocolate tart. While we liked the tart itself, the chocolate chip ice cream that was served alongside it was a definite standout.

Lunch is very reasonably priced, with dishes ranging between $6 for the Salad Mason to $16 for the steak and frites. The steak and frites is a grilled bistro steak sandwich with a side of thick fries. I have ordered this in the past and often find the steak a little on the tough side. Dinner is noticeably more expensive (entrees from $19 to $29), which is why I have never dined there during the evening. With such as nice lunch menu, I'm content to patronize Anis in the afternoons, especially when the weather is nice.

I think that Anis takes it's French theme a little too far in one area, and that's the service. The waitstaff is often aloof and occasionally inattentive. I have found that it is difficult to get full descriptions of any of the dishes out of my servers. Most of the time they just seem to be wishing they were anywhere else but serving you.

Anis takes reservations on opentable.com, which are sometimes unnecessary but are a very good idea in the spring and fall during the weekends. Restaurant.com also offers discount gift certificates for the restaurant.

Verdict: A lovely country French place with sub-standard service. Go for the affordable lunch and atmosphere.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Special Feature: Savor, Atlanta, GA

2355 Peachtree Rd., Atlanta, GA http://www.savorgourmet.com/

Savor should best be termed a mix between Harry & David and Williams-Sonoma. It's far more charming than either, and is independently owned, so you won't experience that yucky chain feel once you go inside.

Rather, you'll be pleased with Savor before you even make it inside its space in the Peachtree Battle shopping center on Peachtree Rd. Its exterior boasts a few tables where you can have lunch on a clear day, big potted plants and a sign that describes the cooking classes they've recently added. One class is geared towards teaching cooks how to perfectly prepare risotto, a topic I haven't seen at The Cook's Warehouse or the Viking Kitchen.

In terms of cooking tools and bakeware, the restaurant is very well stocked for it's size. Savor carries several colors of Emile Henry bakeware and the staff is able to special order anything in the catalog upon request. You'll also find hand-painted dinnerware, pretty table linens and cool ethnic items like clay, tandoori-style pots. A lovely bookcase near a fireplace contains loads of cookbooks, and you'll have a great time settling down and browsing through a stack on their comfortable sofa.

While you're there, partake of a great lunch courtesy either the prepared food counter or an order of a fresh sandwich or soup du jour. I recently enjoyed a tomato roasted and stuffed with spinach, garlic and buttery bread crumbs, and my favorite sandwich is the Toscano. The Toscano is comprised of fennel seed salami with Tuscan olive chutney, Provolone, mayo and local greens. It's a rich, decadent sandwich that I haven't seen equaled anywhere in the area.

Looking for a high-quality, foodie-worthy snack to take home? How about a luxe Vosges chocolate bar, or a hunk of goat cheese and some Italian flatbread? Or you could indulge in a large piece of homemade cake or pie. Last Thursday I ate a sweet and creamy slice of coconut custard pie and took a slice of the Derby pie (sort of a rich, chocolate chip variety) home to Kyle. Neither lasted very long.

On the shelves you'll find interesting spices and rubs, gourmet soup mixes and professional grade knives. Basically it's a store full of goodies. It's also my very favorite way to spend my lunch hour, the only downside being that I have to return to work after such a nice time unwinding over a piping hot panini and an Orangina.

Another bonus is that the staff is very friendly and personable. One (or both) of the owners is almost always on site and is hard at work maintaining the stock and chatting up customers, not just hanging around in a supervisory capacity.

Verdict: The best place in the busy Peachtree Battle shopping center. Stop in for top-quality bakeware and kitchen gadgets, lunch or food for your next dinner party.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Special Feature: Braswell's

based in Statesboro, GA http://www.braswells.com/

Braswell's is a condiment purveyor in Statesboro, Georgia. You've likely seen some of their more popular items, such as their dressings or sauces, in your local grocery store. Most recently I've purchased the fig preserves at Harry's Farmer's Market in Marietta, GA.

Braswell's offers many different condiments, including dressings, relishes, honey, syrups and lately specialty teas. The teas were recently featured on Good Morning America, and include appealing flavors such as watermelon raspberry white and peach pomegranate green. On the website they go for $3.75 for 11 oz.

Many of Braswell's products have a Southern flare. For example, they make a great creamy Vidalia onion dressing that I recommend pairing with a chef salad. My dad, like many Southerners, is a big fan of chow chow, and they offer jars of both mild and hot. There's a peach chutney ($3 for 8 oz.) that I would recommend paired with cornbread, and while I detest barbeque in general I was intrigued to see an apple cinnamon barbeque sauce on the website ($4.75 for 12 oz.). A product that I can't wait to try is the Select Praline Flavoring Mix ($8 for 24oz). I can just imagine pouring a little of that into coffee after dinner.

However, my favorite product of Braswell's isn't the dressings, the teas or the sauces. It's the Select Preserves.

About a month ago I was dogsitting for some wonderful friends who always encourage me to eat whatever I'd like from their kitchen while I'm staying there, and although I usually bring my own food I happened to spot a lovely jar of preserves in their fridge. I use the adjective "lovely" because Braswell's Select preserves are packaged in European glassware that can be reused indefinitely after you've eaten all the preserves. I can assure you that you'll be scraping the bottom of the glass soon, because as I found when I sampled the blueberry at my friend's house, the preserves are phenomenal.

The blueberry is fragrant, and rimmed with a visible coating of sugar. The preserves are exactly as they should be in terms of consistency - thick, the kind you'll have to dig out in big clumps with your spoon. Serve it on a toasted English muffin with a tall glass of milk for a wonderful start to any day. A few weeks later I tried the balsamic sweet onion jam, a totally ingenious delight.

Other interesting options that I haven't yet tried are the apricot with Sauterne and the rhubarb ginger. The spiced apple seems like a perfect flavor for autumn. The blueberry is hands-down the best preserves I have ever tasted. It blows the ubiquitous Harry & David brand out of the water in terms of flavor and texture. If you normally love brands like McCutheon's, which is very simple and not overly sweet, then Braswell's Select probably isn't for you. But if you like sweet preserves, these are the best.

Verdict: Once you try the Braswell's Select Preserves, you'll be a loyal fan.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Brick Store Pub

125 E. Court Square, Decatur, GA http://www.brickstorepub.com/home/

My mother and I attended the Decatur Book Festival this Sunday, and while we were strolling around the busy square, peering into the booths we worked up appetites for lunch. Knowing my penchant for a unique and vast beer selection, my friend Eric had previously recommended Brick Store Pub to me. It is located right in the center of downtown Decatur, so it was a no-brainer for lunch on Sunday.

Brick Store is housed in an old red brick structure and opened in 1997. During the Decatur Book Festival it was packed with people of all ages, including multiple families, but I'm told that the crowd gets more adult and raucous at night, which is appropriate.

My mom, who had previously lunched at Brick Store, informed me that the portion sizes were large, so she ordered an appetizer of baked brie, served with slices of red apple (Red Delicious?), cucumbers and toasted bread ($5.95). It was indeed enough for a small meal. The brie was baked enough to run without being completely melted.
I ordered the Jaws sandwich, which was composed of two pieces of batter-fried cod fish, lettuce and tomato on challah. While the menu described the condiment as "lemon mayo", I was disappointed that I couldn't detect a clear citrus flavor. However, both the sandwich and the side of fries were very good. The fish was tender and the batter wasn't greasy. A good choice at $6.95. A similar selection at may chain restaurants would have cost at least $2 more.

While Brick Store's food is better than that found in your average Atlanta pub, their beer selection is stellar. Currently, the draught menu includes Dry Blackthorn cider (England), Oskar Blues Gordon (Colorado), Kasteel Rogue (a cherry beer from Belgium) and Rogue Captain Sigs Deadliest Ale, which is one of the more rarely served Rogues. For bottles, you may choose among such beauties as Bard's Tale Gluten-free (Connecticut), Eggenberg (Austria), Fullers 1845 (England) and Hitachino Expresso of Japan. I love a beer list that includes lots of brews I've never tried, and Brick Store's list fits the bill.

The crowning glory of Brick Store's beer varied selection was the Aecht Schlenferla Rauchbier, a smoked beer I've been reading about for months. This is the brew that is rumored to smell and taste of fried bacon. Brick Store often (but not always) has it in stock, and I was thrilled when my friendly waiter brought me a bottle. I am happy to report that the rumors are true and that the beer does indeed taste like bacon. It's a little pricey at $10 per pint, but I think you can't beat the unbelievable flavor of this beer.

Service was outstanding throughout. Even on a busy day like this Sunday the waitstaff was on the ball. They seem to work together as needed. Two different waiters handled our table depending on availability, and so we were never neglected.

Verdict: An unpretentious pub with a fantastic beer selection. Quality, affordable menu. My new favorite in the Atlanta area.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Special Feature: The Mercantile, Atlanta, GA

1660 Dekalb Avenue, Ste. 150, Atlanta, GA http://themercantileatl.com/

Yesterday afternoon I dropped in a specialty/gourmet food shop near Little Five Points called The Mercantile. The Mercantile is housed in a small shopping center near Candler Park. This was my third trip to The Mercantile over the past couple of months.

The Mercantile is a small shop, so while it doesn't have anywhere near the selection of a place like Alon's or Harry's Farmer's Market it does have a very nice staff who promotes personalized service, as well as some fun and interesting items.

For example, I noted the following unique foodstuffs on the shelves: Adagio teas, Basick's mulling spices and P.B. Loco's Premium peanut butter, which was offered in flavors such as caramel apple, jungle banana and Asian curry spice. Can't wait to stop back in and purchase the latter. I'm a curry lover, and curry peanut butter is something I have yet to sample.

There's also a refrigerated section with chilled wines, non-alcoholic beverages and a few specialty beers, such as Original Sin.

Near the cash register you'll find homemade truffles from Mt. Pleasant, TX, which ring in at a whopping $3.99 each. There's also rock candy crystal sticks ($1 each) and Boston Baked Beans candy, something I haven't seen in a long time. Kudos to the store's buyer for including this bit of nostalgia.

The shop also currently carries autographed copies of Shirley Corriher's Bakewise, which recently won the James Beard Award, and a limited variety of beautiful handmade aprons. Either would make an impressive gift for the foodie in your life.

The Mercantile also offers prepared foods, made by Chef Samantha Enzmann, who previously served as a chef/instructor at the nearby Viking Culinary Arts Center. The weekly menu may be found on The Mercantile's website. A sampling includes a sandwich called The Claire, made up of proscuitto di parma, roasted tomato, arugula and lemon aioli, and tomato and orange (!) chicken noodle soup.

While I did not partake of the prepared menu items, I did purchase a few deluxe snacks from the deli-style counter last week. I opted for the Flat Creek Lodge natural cheddar, which was very good, and the 2 Little Pigs pate, which wasn't my favorite, along with a box of Carr's water crackers. I also purchased a homemade chocolate chip cookie that I really enjoyed. Other items in this area were white anchovies and marinated olives.

Too bad I had reached my "dinner allowance" at that point, because I would have liked to pick up a bottle of one of The Mercantile's reasonably priced wines. The Mercantile offers many wines under $15/bottle. Some options are 2007 Tenuta Sant' Antonio Scaia Ross ($12.99), 2008 John B. savingnon blanc ($10.99), and 2007 Bovin Vranec ($15.99). The staff is very knowledgeable about the wines in the shop, so be sure to inquire about them and ask for a tasting.

Verdict: A small but interesting neighborhood gourmet shop. Drop in for a few treats.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Road Trip: SunnySide Up, Garden City, GA

4800 Augusta Rd., Garden City, GA 31408 912/964-9898

First I need to confess to my followers that this will be a shorter than average review because I (a) lost my receipt for this breakfast and (b) I can't find a website for this restaurant anywhere on the internet, and therefore cannot check the menu for accuracy. Given these disadvantages, following is my review.

SunnySide Up is a breakfast/brunch place in Garden City, just outside of Savannah, GA. The restaurant itself is quite large, seating about five times the number of customers a Waffle House could accommodate. The decor is somewhat frightful - pastels with cheap booths and chairs - but to its credit it doesn't appear to be trying to be anything other than a diner. Most (if not all) entrees were under $10 and the portion sizes were generous. The restaurant also has ample parking.

If only the food were as good as that of Waffle House. (You KNOW you like Waffle House, so don't scoff at that comparison.)

I ordered a plate consisting of one egg, hash browns, corned beef and toast. I considered ordering the same plate with two eggs, and was glad that I didn't do this because my plate turned out to contain plenty of food. The egg was adequately cooked to order (over medium) and the hashbrowns were nice and crisp, but were not as tasty as the ones at the local Waffle House. The toast was browned but not burned, and appropriately buttered. The corned beef was very bad, mushy and strangely flavored. I am fairly certain it came out of a can. When I asked for extra butter I was promptly given a large scoop. It is interesting that our table was laden with a ample number of individual jelly containers, but every single one was grape flavored.

Service was good throughout, not too pushy and not neglectful. SunnySide Up also has a sister location in nearby Savannah.

Verdict: Average quality food at affordable prices. A family-friendly breakfast option. Avoid the corned beef.