There’s Something About Atlanta That’s Just Not Quite For Me…

8/10 November 2015

After a nice few days away from the hell that is Atlanta, I made my way back from Augusta. Still enjoying that nice dinner from Cadwalladers Cafe, I had a lot of stops en route this rainy Sunday. I meandered my way through the entire state of Georgia and got to my hotel in Midtown Atlanta — right across from the legendary Fox Theatre. Great location if going to a show, but terrible when you’re fighting for parking space in the small garage with stupid drivers in oversized tanks…

I headed out early for dinner, to not hit another parking garage rush, and got to Le Fat a bit early. This is one of the restaurants getting a lot of buzz from Atlanta food bloggers, serving up Vietnamese goodies. They sat me at a table and promptly forgot me… Took me another 10 minutes to even get water or be able to order a cocktail. The service here is all over the place…

With that bad start and a so-so cocktail, I placed my order. I was trying not to ponder all that when my starter arrived, the crispy egg rolls.


It was actually really good, a good meat combination with some excellent flavourful mushrooms. Too bad it was only 2 pieces. Not soggy, cooked just right. My confidence was up now for this meal. Then with a glass of wine my main arrived, the “shaking beef” which was the dish everyone raved about.


Well, why? This was a boring beef dish that has nothing special whatsoever. The seared beef was tasteless, the “jus” did nothing for it except allowed me to eat more rice. If I got this at a cheap, local Vietnamese place home in Northern Virginia (where there is a big population) the place would be out of business within weeks… Very disappointing. And not very sizeable for a main (I didn’t have lunch).

I ended up ordering another starter and chilled with a little more wine. Then it showed up quick, as if all the starters are quickly prepared…


This was the summer roll, another typical Vietnamese treat. These again were excellent, full of flavour with the shrimp and meat, with the right balance of veggies inside. Done very well. Whoever is doing these appetisers is doing a great job. Not so on the main.

The poor service at start and the lacklustre main meant this didn’t do it for me. I can see people liking it if they’ve never had real Vietnamese food. And the starters were indeed excellent even by good Vietnamese restaurant standards. But that main? And the service chaos? Nah. Next…

After a day back in Alabama, after my career-ending day and the sub-par dinner at Central, I was headed back to hell — Atlanta. I made a few stops en route, but the closer I got the crazier the drivers became. Seriously taking left turns from the right lane? Not isolated incident, 3 times in 5 hours of driving! Signs warning drivers of penalties of tailgating…’nuff said… I hate driving here…

I had a late flight out, past 10pm, so went for a leisurely dinner in Decatur, on the other side of the Atlanta metro area. Tonight’s fusion was Korean, at a “Korean Southern Diner” named Sobban. The theme and menu intrigued me. Let’s hope it works a bit better than Le Fat, another of the ethnic places lauded by the food blogs in town. One of the partner chefs was a gorgeous former K-Pop star from what I was told…

It was a simple place, most seatings were outdoor and it was a order at the counter type of place. I ordered a few small plates and a glass of wine and relaxed — and tried to recharge my phone with the crappy external charger that lied about having enough juice to recharge a phone (added about 15% to my battery before it conked out). The food soon started to arrive.

The first was a nice set of deviled eggs. very tasty, love the kimchee on bottom.

1-deviled eggs

Then some good smoked pork belly bun. I got 2 of them. Nice and tasty, the spicy green onion worked very well. The fusion is certainly doing good now!

2-belly bun

Then the last item, the beef mandu. Not bad, though I wish the fillings made a bigger impact than it did. Was rather bland compared to the first 2 items. But a good round of food!


I was still very early for my flight so I chilled out and eventually went to order one last dish and one more glass of wine. People were starting to show up and they started lighting the “outdoor furnaces” for people who can’t handle normal weather…sigh. I asked them not to light the one near me until I leave, or else I’d die…

The food then arrived, and this was the jap-chae.


Unfortunately this did not work at all. It was way, way too sweet, almost like they used some crazy BBQ-like sauce on this. Was almost inedible… Oh, what a shame, it was all going so well… The fusion went too far…

Anyway, for both places it seems when it stayed traditional, especially on the starters/small plates, it went really well — even excellent. But it’s the bigger dishes it fell off the table. Sadly, both a little overhyped in a town not very au fait with authentic ethnic cuisines…

Oh well, that’s that. I headed out and made my way to that glorified bus station named Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Empty security (lightning fast), train with ridiculous heating that would make the people at Schwechat sweat (inside joke for my tweeps), and all the bars packed at Terminal C due to various delays. I guess I won’t be home until way after midnight. Oh well, drinking time…

Le Fat
935 Marietta Street
Atlanta, Georgia

1788 Clairmont Road
Decatur, Georgia

Review: Central

9 November 2015

Georgia drivers are the worst…and Atlanta is about the worst of the bunch. I was glad to be zipping out of this town, but there was a huge storm and idiots (especially those in grey cars) just refuse to turn their headlights on! Idiots! I fought through a nasty storm into Alabama and made a few stops (thank goodness, when the rain lulled). I visited the grave of the great educator Booker T Washington at Tuskegee University, and I also dropped into the legendary town of Selma — and visited the tomb of the “first gay” Vice President of the US, William Rufus King.

I got to the Montgomery area in the early afternoon, had the LAST work meeting of my life (at least for this 20+ year career), and headed to a suburb to grab some BBQ before enjoing some of it in my hotel room as I worked to finish the last document I need to write for my life (at least for this 20+ year career). I sent it off, thinking geez, how odd all this comes to an end in the middle of Alabama…

Anyway, I went to the best restaurant in town for dinner hoping to mark this career-ender with a good night. I was told it should be quiet at Central this rainy Monday evening, but when I got there it was rammed. They said it was unexpected and it was beyond busy… They asked if I could sit at the bar and I was happy to do that.

Cool bartender, and with drink in hand I was happy. I ordered and chilled out. Within a minute of ordering my starter arrived…geez, really?


Smoked Alabama rabbit in a chicken-salad-like format. Worked pretty well as a snack. The mint pesto-like thing worked nicely. Not a bad start.

I switched to wine and again, the food comes out within a minute? Now I was suspicious as this could not have been made that quickly, duck and waffles…


Nope, I was right. The duck was cold inside and the skin utterly soggy. The waffle and the bourbon syrup was excellent, but that I could have had at any temperature. The duck was utterly abandoned. I suspect it was sitting there under a dodgy heat lamp on this very busy night. Kitchen taking shortcuts, poor stuff.

The bartender noticed I abandoned the duck after 2 bites and asked why and I told him. He offered to replace the dish but my heart was not in it. They comped me instead. But I lost faith in this kitchen and didn’t want to risk anymore. Plus, I had leftover ribs in my room… I ended up having a bourbon and closing up.

This was a deflating night for so many reason. I needed a good meal after this most odd way to end a 20+ year career, and I didn’t get it. Soggy duck. How appropriate…

129 Coosa Street
Montgomery, Alabama

BBQ Quest Part 3 — the Battle of Alabama

4 & 9 November 2015

One of the nice parts about this trip is all the BBQ I’m enjoying. There was some fantastic stuff at Abrams BBQ near BWI (Baltimore) Airport, and there were some excellent stuff at both Smoque BBQ (Northside) and Lem’s Bar-B-Q (Southside) in Chicago. But now I’ve taken the game to Alabama.

Sure, most people say the best BBQ in Alabama is in the north, around Decatur. However, this trip took me only to other parts of the state, first the Gulf Coast then the centre of the state. During the early stop I visited the much-praised Brick Pit in Mobile on the Gulf Coast. The Coast is not known for its ‘cue but I was told this was the place to go.

I got to the place after a long morning and drive from Jackson, still enjoying the excellent dinner at Parlor Market. I pulled into the dirt lot in back and went in to grab my ribs to go. I hate always taking things to go, but I tend to have busy early afternoons and rather get things done before tucking into so much food. So when I got my hotel across Mobile Bay I opened the box and smiled…

brick pit

Now they may look dry, but they are not. Smoked perfectly, the aroma was just brain-melting. Lovely flavour in the meat, deep smoke that made any sauce unnecessary. A wonderful job. But I forgot this is Alabama and the portion was voluminous… It ended up partly as breakfast the next day (since I had to skip lunch for a long, long drive) as I had a wonderful dinner at Kitchen on George.

Then a few days later I had arrived into Montgomery, the capital, in the heart of Alabama. Another busy day in dreadful weather, white-outs everywhere, as I drove in from Atlanta in a nasty storm. After a few stops I stopped at Fat Boy’s Bar-B-Que Ranch in the north-west suburb of Prattville. Once again I took it to go and when I got to my hotel room I smiled again when I opened the box…

fat boys

These smelled wonderful. Again, it looks dry, but these are the juiciest ribs I’ve had in ages. Wonderful stuff, rich and deep in flavour. A little less smoke than in Mobile, but the flavour was richer. Some of the best ribs, ever. Again a crazy portion, but since I was skipping lunch again the next day it worked well as breakfast (thank you hotel room for the microwave!).

So as people talk about north Alabama and Decatur for the best BBQ in the state, I found the ribs in both Mobile and Montgomery to be fabulous. Alabama BBQ certainly has my attention!

Brick Pit
5456 Old Shell Road
Mobile, Alabama

Fat Boy’s Bar-B-Que Ranch
154 1st Street
Prattville, Alabama

Review: Cadwalladers Cafe

7 November 2015

After a chaotic day I ended up in Augusta — not sure why, but here I am. I had no idea whether I was gonna eat dinner as my lunch was just voluminous, but I decided after finding a very interesting place called Cadwalladers Cafe. As a historian, the name interests me as there are many political figures in the early days of this Republic with that first name. And of course, the owner is related to that very distant Colonial Governor of New York…

I perched at the bar of this family-operated restaurant and had a wonderful evening of drinks, food and conversation actually. With a bourbon in hand I ordered and looked forward to the food — far more adventurous than I would have expected. Chatted with the locals a bit before my starter arrived — wings.


Nope, not what you think, these are duck. Tiny things, drumlets really, but nice. Don’t get these often but they are tasty. A good start. Then the main, which was huge…


Sure, most of the volume were onion rings (which to be honest were actually not very good), but the rabbit sausages were absolutely gorgeous. Full flavoured and uncompromising, these were excellent.

I enjoyed a bit of banter with the staff and locals and had a bit more drink before taking up a dessert — a sweet potato brulee.


Very nice, the sweet potato really came through well. Lovely food, lovely people. I enjoyed this Saturday evening in a smaller Georgian city much more than most of my “big city” meals to be honest…

Cadwalladers Cafe
106-A David Road
Martinez, Georgia

Review #2: Dovetail

6 November 2015

It was a bloody awful 24 hours since that excellent meal at Toups’ Meatery. Slept badly, woke up way early. There was confusion with no cabs downstairs, and finally got one. All okay at airport with bag drop and security (I think too many stupid people are getting TSA PreCheck tho, it’s getting slower thanks to idiots not understanding how it works…), but a ground stop thanks to weather in Atlanta.

After a delay we got to ATL and of course it’s chaos at the terminal trying to get out. More slow trains, more blocked escalators — I forgot people here do NOT walk and don’t understand the “stand on the right” thing… I totally hate this airport… Then there was chaos at the car rental desk. Then chaos when I went to get my car when my rental order “disappeared” — which took more time to sort. By the time I got out of ATL I was over 2 hours late…

I had a few stops to make before I was gonna head back to Macon. The day just kept going sidewards when the well-regarded BBQ shack in central Georgia (I shan’t name and shame…) ran out of ribs in early afternoon and I left with a simple boiled hot dog… But I got to Macon and checked in to a place where my upstairs neighbour was STOMPING around all day (and night). Ugh…what a shitty day…

I made my way downtown to Dovetail. I discovered the place in March during a pass-through and fell in love with the restaurant, which is why I took this detour. I got there early and it was already hopping. I asked if it was better if I sat at a table because of the bar being too busy but they said better for me to sit at the bar. Oookay…

I chilled out in my “usual” corner seat and enjoyed a cocktail and chatting with some staff. They do have some of the friendliest staff in the country, and the bartenders are top rate. It’s seriously worth it to run out to Macon for food here at Dovetail. Even the drinks are worth it.

I was hungry as all I had was a flimsy boiled plain hot dog for lunch from the unnamed place in Americus, so I decided to order big. I ordered 2 starters last time and as good as they were I didn’t want to repeat, so I went with 2 main courses…

I enjoyed another cocktail from the excellent bartenders when the first item appeared, the shrimp and grits.


Very nice, spicy and strong. Worked perfectly with the paired cocktail, which had a wonderful smokey feel. The shrimp were meaty and flavourful, the corn adding a nice sweet dimension to it. The spicy sauce really rocked the humble grits, which backed up the dish perfectly.

I am constantly reminded of why I fell in love with this place. It was getting really busy now at the bar, and I was starting to regret not taking a table. But then my focus went back to the food, and the “2nd main” dish appeared…


Wow. This was the rabbit and pimento risotto. The flavours were extremely deep and strong, no pulling back here. In addition, a good portion of crispy brussels sprouts (lovely) and pork belly. This was a combination of many of my favourite things. Totally awesome. I would have enjoyed it more if the bar hadn’t become 2-deep and people pulling up chairs to service (not for seating) areas just to drink a Bud Light…

In fact, it got a little chaotic and service slowed to a crawl. I know it’s a Friday night, which is why I suggested a table and asked a second time later, but it’s too late now. It’s now becoming a bit uncomfortable being a traffic warden directing people around to who had which seat and who wanted to squeeze in to order. I really hate eating at a bar when it’s 2-deep or more…

As much as I loved this place and the food, I was done. Skipped the dessert and after-dinner drink and just settled up and headed out. The vultures jumped on my seat within a second…

When we still had my beloved Elettaria I always hated eating at my own bar when it got like that. Odd feeling. Diners don’t like folks reaching over them to get drinks; drinkers don’t like a diner hogging the bar space. It’s never a happy coexistance. So I made my leave. I don’t blame this place for being busy, which is great for them, but for me it just didn’t allow me to chill. So time to go.

I think next time I come I will take a cab and come on a Tuesday or something…and yes, I will be back. Macon’s way out of the way for me, but the food, drinks, and wonderful staff will get me to take these hour-long detours any time I am in Atlanta.

543 Cherry Street
Macon, Georgia

Review: Toups’ Meatery

5 November 2015

It was a long, long day. I had to make stops in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi before I made it back to Louisiana. Driving on US-90 a good part of the way, just coasting along the Gulf Coast, was a treat. Such a beautiful part of the country. Got back to New Orleans middle of the afternoon just in time to return my car, and hop on a streetcar for my hotel.

I chilled out, re-packed all my stuff and got ready to head back out on the ever-so-slow streetcar for the very long trek out towards City Park for dinner at Toups’ Meatery. Now I’m not all that on “James Beard-y” places (my regular readers know my issues with these places…), but the write-ups I’ve seen for this place, alongside the menu, intrigued me.

I got there after the 45-minute ride (which included a bus breaking down on the tracks, the driver going across the street to grab food, etc…oh NOLA…) and happily took a seat at the bar. Enjoyed some cocktails as I was not driving so… And I looked over the menu and that was fabulous looking (as was the bartender…) and I ordered.

I skipped lunch again today so was hungry, so I decided to go full out…and the starter showed it…


This was the “Meatery Board” — their version of a charcuterie board. Wow, pretty amazing innit? Plus a bucket of deep-fried scratchins that are just beyond addictive… The boudin ball was nice, as were all the smoked meats and pickled veggies. But the star was certainly the sausage and the pate with sweetbread. Wow, this is probably the best charcuterie board of the year…

That was a lot of food! I switched over to wine for the main (yes, another dish!) as the choices were all fabulous but I had to choose something lighter after that amazing “Meatery Board” right? Yep, and it soon arrived…


Wow, that was nice, Gulf seafood couvillion. Fabulous stuff, with excellent fish and mostly those awesome head-on shrimp. The heads were excellent. Lovely flavours here. Nice!

I relaxed with a drink and timed it with the streetcar. I thanked the staff (especially that nice bartender) and headed out…but apparently they suspended the line with no warning… So I ended up back inside in 10 minutes and asked for a cab — and had a last glass of wine before heading out.

Okay, NOLA, you rescued your rep in my eyes tonight. Bayona was good, but this was just excellent. This place is worth the trek, folks.

Now for some sleep, as I have a 7am flight…

Toups’ Meatery
845 North Carrollton Avenue
New Orleans, Louisiana

Review: Kitchen on George

4 November 2015

I did wake up early and with a clear head as I headed out of Jackson for the long trek down to the Gulf Coast. A busy day, but I got myself to Mobile in the afternoon and chilled out at my hotel on the east side of Mobile Bay. A beautiful view. Love the “beware of alligators” sign in the hotel parking lot…

Tonight I was planning to head to Kitchen on George, which is probably the best place to eat in Mobile — as I was told. I was looking forward to another good dinner, to see if Alabama can compete with the wonderful (and utterly underrated) Mississippi. I headed back into downtown Mobile in the evening and got to the restaurant just on time.

The restaurant was busy but the bar wasn’t too bad, so I happily chose a bar seat. I enjoyed a cocktail as I looked through the menu and it looked excellent. I ordered and chilled out. If there’s one thing I noticed people in Alabama talked VERY loud… But I was more focused on my food, which soon appeared.


My starter was a wonderful crawfish-stuffed mirliton — or chayote. I don’t see these things being used enough, and this was just spectacular. What lovely flavours mixed with the sauce and the fresh seafood — and the belly. This was one of the best starters I’ve had this year, totally fantastic!

I switched to wine, some fine rose, and finished off this beautiful dish. I almost ordered a second one! But I had a main course coming, and it arrived…


Grouper was the fish of the day, and this was lightly blackened, with a jambalaya supporting act. Excellent fish, solid flavours. The jambalaya was also very nice, although a bit minute in portion. I was actually surprised with the portion size as I’ve seen enough “way too big” dishes in this part of the country, so a refreshing change.

This was a very nice dinner and I decided I was full enough, as I had a huge ol’ BBQ for lunch (to be chronicled later). So I headed on back across Mobile Bay to chill out. Kitchen on George proved itself very well, and I still am dreaming about that stuffed mirliton. Fabulous.

Honestly, my dinners in Jackson & Mobile just blew away every meal I’ve ever had in New Orleans or Atlanta. Why is that, and why do these smaller cities not get more love from the big-name food folks? I think only my friend Simon Majumdar hits these places off the “foodie track” and I applaud him for his efforts. Please, next time you’re thinking of just doing NOLA for food, try going a little further out. You won’t regret it, and Mobile proved it tonight.

Kitchen on George
351A George Street
Mobile, Alabama