Sunday, August 17, 2014

Cafe Sababa Mediterranean Grill (Dunwoody, GA)

4639 N Shallowford Rd, Dunwoody, GA 30338, T: 678-705-8268

We stumbled upon Café Sababa by accident, as we were kind of lost and in need of Mediterranean food. It is a fairly small restaurant in an unassuming small strip mall with several ethnic restaurants. When we arrive, around 12.30 on a Wednesday, the place is packed. When we leave, a bit over half an hour later, it’s almost empty. But people still come in regularly to pick up take-out orders. The menu is a mix of a Greek, Jewish, and Lebanese dishes, including kabobs, schnitzels, salads, and shawarma. All the personnel, including the owner, are incredibly nice and helpful.

M. has the Sababa salad and the Falafel Platter. The Sababa Salad ($4.25) is their take on the Sopska Salad of the Balkans, and is deliciously fresh and tasty. The Falafel Platter ($10.50) included five small falafel, fresh but a bit too dry, delicious baba ganoush, good humus, and a delicious salad (Sababa without the feta). It comes with soft pita tips. I get the daily spcial, which is a highly recommended special lamb sandwich ($9.50): shaved lamb meat with caramelized onions and a Harissa-aioli sauce on a ciabatta roll. It is a big mess of deliciousness. The meat is very tender and doesn't have a too strong lamb taste. It comes with fries, which are prefab, but perfectly crispy.

VERDICT: 93/100 
Sababa is a little gem. A small gyros/shawarma place of very high standard. I wish they would move to Athens!

Flip Burger Boutique (Atlanta, GA)

664 NE Highland Ave NE Atlanta, GA 30306, T: 404-815-1127

Flip Burger Boutique is part of the hipster upscale burger explosion, but takes it a step higher, with a fairly fancy setting, and a full-service restaurant. It is the idea of top chef Richard Blais, which started with one location in Atlanta, Georgia, and now has two more locations in that city and one Birmingham, Alabama, location. I visit the Poncey-Highland location in Atlanta, which looks very smart. All ingredients are natural or organic and the menu is seasonal, always changing, and always including original haute cuisine burger options.

I start with the Merguez Corn Dog ($8), which comes with Harissa Mustard. It has the real merguez taste, which I haven’t had outside of Belgium and France, even though the sausage looks different. It tastes better as sausage than as corn dog, even though the corn batter is pretty light and tasty, as is the dip.

I follow-up with the Trio ($13): a sampler of three "miniatures burgers": RBQ, Butcher's Cut, and Fried Chicken. The RBQ is a (little) burger with pulled brisket, coleslaw, RBQ sauce, and smoked mayo. It is a delicious combination of burger and BBQ. The Butcher's Cut is a (little) burger that comes with caramelized onions, soy truffle vinaigrette, frisée, pickled shallots, and red wine jam. Well prepared, but has a bit too strong Asian taste to it – this could be different with the crumbled may tag blue cheese, which normally comes in it. Finally, the Fried Chicken is a (small) piece of Southern chicken fried beef, b+b pickles, and spicy dukes mayo. It is nicely battered and fried and has a spicy taste. Finally, I get some Housemade Potato Chips ($5), which comes with abita rootbeer onion dip – the chips are really thin, crispy, perfectly salted.

VERDICT: 90/100
Flip is very pricy, but also very tasty. It is a great place to take burger-loving friends for a nice dinner.

The New Moon Cafe (Aiken, SC)

116 Laurens St NW, Aiken, SC 29801, T: 803-643-7088

The New Moon Café has three locations: two in Augusta, Georgia, and one in Aiken, South Carolina. We visit the Aiken one, which is an adorable little cafe in the cute downtown. It has a small terrace in front, a relatively small quaint front room, and a larger extension in the back. Most customers this summer Sunday are related to USC Aiken: (retired) professors and students. It also seems a favorite spot for recreational cyclists. It has great coffee, breakfast, and lunch selections.

I choose the Lumberjack Breakfast ($6.29): a big heap of scrambled eggs, a sausage patty, and two big slices of toast. It is both delicious and filling, the perfect breakfast. M. has a large Breakfast Parfait ($3.99), which includes coconut, fresh granola, and berries. There is not too much yoghurt, but it tastes very sweet, but nice. We also get a Cinnamon Role with chai icing and a Peach Muffin ($2.09 each). The first was a bit dry, but not too sweet, the second very moist, but not with a very strong peach taste.

VERDICT: 86/100
The New Moon Café is a very nice breakfast place for such a small town. Great atmosphere, good food.

Sweetwater Bar & Grill (Lake Wylie, SC)

4582 Charlotte Hwy, Lake Wylie, SC 29710, T: 803-831-1788


Sweetwater Bar & Grill is a sports bar in a weird spot on the outskirts of the small town of Lake Wylie, South Carolina. It is quite large and has the classic sports bar food staples, but with a huge selection of flavors for the chicken wings and tenders. We stay for a while, as we are one hour early for a World Cup game we want to watch.

We start with the Appetizer Special ($10.99): 4 Wings (Smokin' Hot), 4 Buffalo Bites (Sweet Chili Thai), and 1 Quesadilla. The wings are quite meaty, well prepared, though comes with little sauce, which is not too hot, but has a nice after-zing. The buffalo bites are chunky small chicken tenders. The quesadilla is "surprisingly yummy for such a small thing" and "well-packed with cheese" (according to my wife).

We follow it up with more Buffalo Bites ($8.99): 5 Honey Habanero and 5 General Tso. Both are chunky, thick battered, and tasty, but not very spicy. I later get the Three Alarm Burger ($7.99): a half-pound burger, blackened, with chili, hot sauce, jalapeños, lettuce and tomato (I ask for no pepper Jack cheese). I have them with Buffalo Chips. The burger is pretty stacked, a bit dry (not medium as asked), but has a good kick – it has a bit of an odd taste to it, as if there is cheese in it. The chips are Burger King like, crunchy but not that flavorful. M. gets the French Dip ($8.49) with French fries. The sandwich didn't look that good, but was actually very tasty, in part because of the good au jus. The fries are BK-style.

Verdict: 84/100
Nice sports bar with good food and broad selection of beers.

Buffalo’s Cafe (Athens, GA)

196 Alps Rd #49, Athens, GA 30606, T: 706-354-6655

Buffalo’s Café is a regional chain of sports bars with fifteen locations in Georgia, one in California, and one in Doha, Qatar. The menu is a mix of classic American and TexMex fare – hence the self-reference as “Southwest café.” I come to watch a World Cup game and start with a Taster ($7.99): six quite small chicken wings tossed in fairly little "Scorchin'" buffalo sauce. Not remarkable.

I later get the Chicken Tender Platter ($10.99): breaded chicken tenders with curly fries, coleslaw, and garlic bread. I substitute curly fries with homemade chips. The tenders are quite thin and thinly battered. They are bit dry, the batter is bland, the honey mustard sauce is ok. Chips are fresh and ok. Coleslaw is bland, garlic bread buttery but quite tasty.

VERDICT: 75/100
This was the second time I visited Buffalo's Cafe and both times the food has been between bland and ok.

Fatz Cafe (Athens, GA)

4115 Lexington Rd, Athens, GA 30605, T: 706-425-8780

Fatz is a regional chain with some 50 locations in the Southeast, combining regular American staples with more traditional Southern fare. They have a large menu including burgers, seafood, and chicken & pasta. On this late Saturday evening the clientele is very old and very white.

The little rolls that they start you off with are fresh and greasy. Oddly enough they taste more like zeppole than like bread. I order a combination sample ($11.99) of baby back ribs, chicken tenders and onion rings, which here are called: calabash, ribitizers and onyum straws (what?!). I choose to have the ribs grilled rather than fried. They are still quite fatty, but fall of the bone and have a decent BBQ sauce on them. The tenders are small but pretty good. The onion strings are mostly batter.

VERDICT: 83/100

Very decent experience and the little rolls will bring me back, even though it will take weeks to get all the grease of my hands.

The White Tiger Gourmet (Athens, GA)

217 Hiawassee Avenue, Athens, GA 30601, T: 706-353-6847

White Tiger Gourmet is one of Athens’ unique restaurants. It is a small BBQ joint housed in a shack in a posh residential area of town. With a cult status and erratic hours, you are often confronted with either a closed door or a significant line. As I arrive at 5.55, five minutes before opening on a Friday summer night, there are already three sets of people waiting. In the two years I’ve lived here, I have only been here once; or, more accurately, I've been here six times, but it was open only once.

I am hungry and decide to have two sandwiches and no sides. The BBQ Pork Sandwich ($6.50) is basic: smoked pork on a kaiser roll with homemade sauce. The big onion roll is packed with a chunk of tasty moist pulled pork with a relatively light and thin sauce. Definitely the best pulled pork sandwich I’ve had in Athens (which is not know for its BBQ, however). After that I started on the dish that White Tiger is best know for: the Bacon Cheddar Burger ($7.50). It is a half pound burger on a kaiser roll with bacon, field greens, tomato (normally it comes with cheddar, which undoubtedly gives it an even better flavor). While the bun and burger are a bit dry, the bacon at times chewy, and the mayo sparsely applied, the big burger tastes almost as good as it smells (which is outrageous).

VERDICT: 90/100

As is the case at all BBQ places in Athens, the best dish is not BBQ. Still, White Tiger is absolutely worth the hype and frustration. I’ll be back soon!

Taco Mac (Duluth, GA)

3543 Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, Duluth, GA 30096, T: 678-387-3403 

Taco Mac (or T.Mac) is a chain of sports bars that started in Atlanta and now has 30 locations in the Southeast (25 in Georgia, mostly in and around Atlanta). It serves ca. 100 beers on tap and 150 in the bottle, all-natural meats, and the menu includes a mix of classic pub food and classic Tex Mex. I had visited the Decatur location before, and really enjoyed it, so I decided to watch one of the World Cup games at the Duluth location, on my way back from dropping my wife off at Atlanta Airport.

I start out with the Chips and Salsa ($4.25), which is a big bowl of fresh thin chips and fresh thin salsa with a little kick. I continue with Six Wings ($6.95), which I get with "3 Mile Island" sauce, the third hottest they have. They come with one side, so I take French Fries. The fries are thin and salty, but not that crispy. The wings are very hot, or rather sharp (habanero and pepper), but a bit dry. On top of that, the service is pretty terrible: I wait more than 20 minutes for my order in a two-third empty restaurant.

VERDICT: 85/100

This score is based on both my experiences and I will return at another location to see which one was more representative. I hope the Decatur one, which was really satisfying in terms of food and service.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Huck's Cafe (Commerce, GA)

605 Homer Rd, Commerce, GA, T: 706-335-6346


You want to step back in time and have good old American fast food in a non-corporate setting? Go to Huck’s Café in Commerce, where time truly stood still. They mostly serve burgers, hot dogs, and bbq, but have all kind of other items too. The service is fast and friendly and the food is old-school and very affordable.

I order a "Huck Burger" ($3.50), which is actually a plain burger to which you can add all kind of toppings. I choose to add BBQ sauce and tomato. The burger is a bit dry and the bbq sauce has little taste, which makes the burger fairly similar to what you would get at a basic grill party at friends. The Stew Dog ($2) is a (friend?) hot dog with Brunswick stew on the side – I add some onions to it. It is pretty decent, but the stew is a bit too sweet for me. The best part of the meal the half order of Fried Chips ($1.25), which are directly out of the frier, crispy and perfectly salty!

VERDICT: 75/100
Honest old-school fast food as it was done (I assume) in the 1960s.

Over Easy Cafe (Asheville, NC)

32 Broadway, Asheville, NC 28801, T: 828-236-3533

The Over Easy Café is one of the most popular breakfast/brunch/lunch spots in downtown Asheville and almost as famous for its lines as for its food. It’s only open between 8 and 2 (Sunday 9-2) and has relatively limited space. This, in combination with its reputation, means that you will almost certainly have a wait for 15 minutes or (much) more. We have to wait for about 25 minutes as we arrive just before noon on a summer Monday. The food is, of course, all local and organic.

Fighting the urge to go for the Traditional Breakfast, i.e. fried eggs, toast, etc., I decide to be adventurous and order the famous Breakfast Tacos with chorizo ($10.50): scrambled eggs, onion, salsa, fresh cilantro, on two corn tortillas. Quite tasty. M. has a Hash Bowl with poached eggs and all kind of fresh and tasty stuff. We also get one of the fresh juices ($6.50), the Detox, which combines citrus fruits with beets and ginger. It tastes very fresh and very gingery.

VERDICT: 87/100
All in all Over Easy Café is a great place for breakfast for foodies rather than for pig out enthusiasts. Although I might come back for the French Toast, which looked delicious.

The Hop Ice Cream Café (Asheville, NC)

640 Merrimon Ave, Asheville, NC, T: 828-254-2224

The Hop Ice Cream Café is an Asheville institution. Founded in 1978 it has now two locations – The Hope West opened in 2010 at 721 Haywood Rd in Asheville (T: 828-252-5155) – where it serves “Dairy, Vegan, Sugar Free, Gluten Free, Local Goat Milk Ice Cream & Sorbet Flavors”. All ice creams are home made and several have original bit hippy-esque names. That said, most seems to be fairly similar, i.e. creamy and sweet and with some kind of chocolate flavor.

We share a Brownie Sunday ($6.50): a warm brownie (from City Bakery downtown), two scoops of salty caramel ice cream, homemade hot fudge, whip cream, peanuts, cherry on top. The browny is a bit chewy and crunchy, the ice cream sweet but tasty. Overall mainly a binge. I also get a milkshake of the Vegan Chocolate Banana Cream, though made with real milk ($5): 20 oz., bit odd taste, though fresh and not too heavy.

VERDICT: 80/100
Nice independent ice cream shop, but not very remarkable creamy ice cream.