Sunday, December 8, 2013

Hans & Franz Biergarten (Greenville, SC)

3124 S Hwy 14, Greenville, SC 29615, T: 864-627-8263


Off the beaten path, just off a busy airport road, is Hans & Franz Biergarten, a German restaurant that is oddly enough run by a Dutchman, who also owns Addy's downtown. The restaurant looks quite authentic, plays (horrible) authentic German music, and has a nice Biergarten (beer garden) outside. Hans & Franz serves real German food, including Wurst (sausage), schnitzel, Spaetzel, Bratkartoffeln (baked potatoes), Frikadellen, and fleishkase. I decide to go for my favorites.

I start with the Hungarian Goulash Soup ($4.50), which is really German rather than Hungarian (in Hungary Goulash is a stew, in Germany it is a soup). The soup is remarkably authentic, i.e. it tastes exactly like a German (Hungarian) Goulash Soup. It has a nice kick, but is a bit too watery.

I then go for the Currywurst ($6.75), my favorite German snack. The sausage is relatively short, but very thick - in the end, it must weight roughly the same as a regular Currywurst in Germany, which is longer and thinner. Its consistency and taste are near authentic, as is the curry sauce and the Kaiser Brötchen (roll). Shame they didn't have the curry powder that is normally sprinkled on it. The fries were more fried than deep fried, but I enjoyed the herb mayo – it reminded me of the German McDonalds, which used to have it.

All food was so good that I decided to go the whole nine yards and also try the desserts. I chose the Apfelstrudel (apple pie), which was a bit too sweet, but again near-authentic. It was served lukewarm, which I actually prefer to warm.

VERDICT: 96/100
Who would have known that one of the best German restaurant in the US is in Greenville, South Carolina? I can't wait to come back and try more of Hans & Franz’s delicious food!

Hummus Cafe (Chapel-Hill, NC)

169 E East Franklin Street, Chapel-Hill, NC 27541, T: 919-240-7001


Hummus Café is a small dive in the heart of Chapel-Hill, home to the University of North Carolina. It serves mainly some Mediterranean sandwiches, such as shawarma and falafel. They also started swerving frozen yogurt and the owner was very keen on getting the (few) customers to try it.

I get a Chicken Shawarma ($5.25), which contains seasoned chicken slices with tomato, parsley, onion, and tahini, rolled in soft pita. Though the meat does not come from a skewer, it is very juicy.

VERDICT: 89/100
Hummus Café is a great place to get very affordable and tasty shawarma with authentic flavors.

Pronto Caffè & Gelateria (Lexington, VA)

26 South Main Street, Lexington, VA, T: 540-464-1472


A gelateria in a small college town in the western hills of Virginia? Sure… No, really! Pronto is a small Italian café and gelateria in downtown Lexington that serves (ok) coffee, nice pastries, sandwiches (with real Italian meats) and amazingly authentic gelato (Italian ice cream). It is run by a first-generation Italian-American, who owns various other places in town.

I get a large cup ($5.25) with stracciatelli, a kind of Italian chocolate chip ice cream (good),  kiwi (quite fresh), lemon (ok), and hazelnut (excellent). While the lemon is a bit disappointing, but that even happens in Italy, the hazelnut is absolutely authentic, better than I ever had outside of Italy.

VERDICT: 92/100

Pronto serves some of the best gelato I have ever had in the US and the hazelnut could compete with the best in Italy.

Niko's Grille (Lexington, VA)

167 South Main Street, Lexington, VA 24450, T: 540-464-9499 0r 540-395-FETA


Niko’s Grille is a small Greek restaurant in the cute old downtown of Lexington, a college town in the western part of Virginia. It has a no-thrills interior and is run by a fairly dominant Greek owner (Niko?). The large menu is a mix of American and Greek dishes with a remarkable selection of seafood.

I go for the classic, i.e. the Gyro Sandwich ($7.95). The pita was toasted too long and there was relatively little meat (which comes from the well-known Kronos company). That said, the taste was quite decent. The fries were like Burger King, crispy but airy and artificial.

VERDICT: 80/100
Niko’s offer decent Greek food, which is quite good for a small US town.

The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar (Charlotte, NC)

4310 Sharon Road, Charlotte, NC 28211, T: 704-365-1922


I am always highly skeptical of restaurants trying to do two very different things, so a “Sushi Burger Bar” raises many red flags for me. However, the Cowfish comes so highly regarded that I had to try it. I visited the original location at Southpark Mall in a very upscale part of Charlotte on a drive north – they recently opened a second location in Raleigh, NC.

The cars and shops around the restaurant already indicate that it is going to be fancy. The inside is well-designed and the waiters are professional and curious. The menu reflects the schizophrenic nature of the restaurant: a class American bistro menu is combined with a classic sushi menu, although everything with an original twist. I am only interested in the burger menu, which includes many unique concoctions, like the Boursin Burger, Granny’s Southern Pimento Cheese Burger and the Apple, Berry & Brie Turkey Burger.

I start with an appetizer: Coconut Battered Onion Rings ($4), which includes four huge, and I mean H-U-G-E, and thick onion rings, perfectly battered and fried, with a subtle coconut aftertaste. Comes with an Asian sweet-sour and a horseradish dipping sauce. Delicious! I then go for the Jalapeño Popper Show-Stopper ($12), an absolutely amazing burger, actually medium grilled, with thick tasty bacon, fried jalapeño poppers and fresh jalapeños, tomato, lettuce on a soft bun. Even without sauce (I skipped jalapeño cream cheese) it is delicious. Tit comes with string fries, which were well made, but are not my favorites.

VERDICT: 96/100
Wow! Just… Wow! This is the perfect restaurant to take your health-conscious partner to, as you can share a unique starter, before s/he goes for (great) sushi and you binge on an awesome burger.

The Grill (Athens, GA)

171 College Avenue, Athens, GA 30601, T: 706-543-4770

The Grill is an Athens institution! It has been a landmark of downtown and is open 24/7. Everyone eats at The Grill: townies, hipsters, students, tourists. Even though it opened (only) in 1981, it has the looks and feels of a 1950s diner. It serves burgers, fries and shakes.

I get the Pepper Supreme Burger ($5.49): a one-third pound chuck on a kaiser bun with seven-pepper blend, lettuce, tomato, onion, jalapeños. The meat is the best part of the burger, which overall is good. Fresh chuck cooked medium on the griddle. The bun is a bit too thick and dry, while the condiments are ok (jarred jalapeños, so little heat). The famous home fries are thick, short and wrinkle-cut. They taste more like fried potatoes than fries. Today, they are lukewarm.

The best thing about the Grill, however, is the dessert. I had the homemade apple pie an earlier time (delicious). Today I treat myself to a Chocolate Milkshake ($4.99), which is big and perfect! Milky, thick, not too sweet. More like a dessert than a drink. Can easily be shared by two.

VERDICT: 84/100
The Grill is an old-school diner with good quality food. The burgers are better than the fries, but the real strength is desert; both the milkshakes and the homemade warm apple pie!

Yeah! Burger (Atlanta, GA)

1017 N Highland Ave, Atlanta, GA 30306, T: 404-437-7845


Yeah! Burger is one of the many new upscale burger chains that offer high quality burgers at pretty hefty prices.  They currently have two locations in Atlanta and I visit the one in trendy Virginia Highlands. Yeah! Burger specializes in choice and quality, notably all locally grown organic ingredients. They have a couple of specialty burgers, but it’s mostly build your own. You have a  choice of beef, bison, turkey, veggie and chicken (all organic) – the also had a (seasonal) lamb burger that time. Catering to a demanding clientele, they even have a vegan and gluten-free menu.

I get a Grass-Fed Beef Burger ($7.49) on an artisan-white bun with tomato, sliced onions, fresh jalapenos (+$1), and bacon jam (+$1). The two thin patties were perfectly grilled – medium, as I had ordered – and very tasty, as was the fresh bun. The bacon jam and jalapenos gave the burger a perfect sweet and spicy mix. Excellent! I also had a side order of hand-cut French Fries ($2.99), which were good, but not outstanding.

VERDICT: 91/100
Yeah! Burger has one of the best burgers I ever ate at a fast food (type) restaurant, but the high quality ingredients (and hipster looks) come at a high price.