Friday, June 20, 2014

Shake Shack (New York City, NY)

109 E 42nd St, inside Grand Central, New York, NY

Shake Shack started out as a food cart in Madison Square Park in New York City, 2001-2003. They then started a franchise restaurant model with various locations throughout the city – including in City Field (Mets stadium) and in the excellent food court of Grand Central (train station). Today they have 34 locations in the US (e.g. Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania) and abroad (Middle East, Russia, UK). Shake Shack works with organic ingredients, preferably local, and serve only burgers, hot dogs, fries, and shakes.

I start with the Fresh French Fries ($2.85), a decent portion of freshly cut shoestring fries. They are quite soft but have a good potato flavor. I also get the Burger ($3.75) with Shack Sauce ($0.50), Cherry Peppers ($0.50) and Bacon ($1.25) - I actually ordered the Smokeshack ($6.50) without cheese, but they ring it up separately to save me $0.50. The burger doesn't look special, but is excellent. The bun is soft and soggy, the patty tasty and perfectly prepared (though thin it is medium) and the sauce and cherry peppers give it a fresh spicy flavor. I later go back for a Strawberry Shake ($5), which is rather small for the price. It tastes quite sweet and very creamy. Not really my kind of shake, but many will like it.

VERDICT: 94/100
One of best upscale fast food burgers I’ve had so far. The fries are good too, but the shakes are a bit overpriced and too creamy and sweet.

Lock Yard (Brooklyn, NY)

9221 Fifth Street, Brooklyn, NY 11209, T: 718-333-5282

Lock Yard is a new hipster bar in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn, set in a former locksmith shop. It serves “craft beers and artisanal sausages”. It has a great beer garden in the back, which has heaters so that it can be kept open year-round. We are taken here by our friend Mike, a true pig out specialist, so I have high hopes.

We start out with some dishes for the table. I choose the Waffle Fries Salt & Pepper ($3.50) and some dipping sauces: Siracha Aioli, Chipotle Ketchup, Horseradish Mustard ($0.35 each). They all taste good, but not remarkable. The Fried Pickles ($5) include four thick coated and crusty pickles: very tasty. The New York Pretzel ($4) is pretty basic, a bit dry.

After a while it is time for the real meal. I start out with The Bridgeview ($3.95): a bacon-wrapped and deep fried, red onion sauce. It is a very crispy sausage and bacon with a thick sweet-spicy onion sauce on a special bun. Tasty! The Cucumber Salad ($4) is a bit odd: thick cut slices of cucumber with onion, which have not that much taste.  

I continue with The Seattle Sound ($4.50): fairly thick grilled sausage, RC Cola caramelized onion, banana pepper, everything bagel seeds, siracha aioli (I ask for no cream cheese). Awesome! As we stay several hours, I decide to have one more, The Brooklyn Brat ($7.75): delicious fresh, big grilled bun with tasty sausage with spicy brown mustard and sauerkraut.

VERDICT: 89/100
Lock Yard is a great place to hang out with some friends, share some food, and have delicious sausages. However, you have to choose wisely, as some dishes are awesome, but others are fairly mediocre.

Smitty’s Hot Dogs (Ozone Park, NY)

Crossbay Blvd at Pitkin Ave, Ozone Park, NY

Smitty’s sells hot dogs, hogies (sandwiches), and kabobs out of a small truck in Ozone Park, just off busy Cross Bay Blvd. It is a typical New York food cart: no thrills and catering to a mixed bunch of mostly blue collar workers.

I get a Hot Dog ($1.50) with mustard and onions. The bun is soft and sticky, the (Sabrett) wiener a bit thin but snappy and very tasty, and the onions are grilled and deliciously flavored ("Best Onions in Town" according to the side of the truck).

VERDICT: 92/100
Excellent and affordable old-school hot dogs from a truck! Need I say more?

Scoops (Ozone Park, NY)

137-20 Cross Bay Blvd, Ozone Park, NY 11417, T: 718-835-8200

Scoops is a relatively large dessert place in Ozone Park (Queens), which opened up a few years ago. It sells frozen yogurt, gelato, crepes, cakes, and salads. The froyo is not self-serve! They have a fairly large selection of mostly traditional flavors. The gelato looks quite genuine, but a bit dry and thick.

M. and I decide to go for the gelato anyway. M. gets a Small (1 scoop) of Nutella ($3.67) in a chocolate chip cone (+$1.50). I get a Large (2 scoops) of Pistachio and Hazelnut ($5.75) in a pretzel cone (+$1.50). All gelatos taste fairly similar at first, creamy and sweet, and get their specific flavor as an aftertaste. The cones are thick and dry, definitely not worth the hefty extra cost.

VERDICT: 76/100
Scoops serves overpriced and mediocre gelato. You can do much better in NYC and Queens.

Delia’s Chicken Sausage Stand (Atlanta, GA)

489 Morehouse Ave SE, Atlanta, GA 30316, T: 404-474-9651

Delia’s Chicken Sausage Stand is a tiny place on a rundown big road in East Atlanta, which bills itself as “a food truck without wheels”. J It seems to be doing great business and it smells outrageous. It is set up to become a (local) chain, but so far only has this one location. They only serve locally produced, organic chicken snacks. There are few seats inside and a few more outside.

I order The Hot Mess ($6.49), a chicken sausage with chili, pickled jalapeños and ‘comeback’ sauce on a large hot dog bun. The dark smoky flavored beany chili has a quite spicy/peppery taste, which dominates the sausage. I also get an order of Sliders ($4.99), which look a bit like White Castle burgers (or Krystal, if you’re from the South). They are chicken sausage patties on a salty little bun and 'comeback' sauce (the only sauce they seem to have). The sliders are sticky and the sauce is both sweet and very peppery.

VERDICT: 83/100
Nice concept, but quite pricey and really only worth it for people who want to eat dogs and sliders, but do not (want to) eat beef or pork.

Adriatic Grill (Lawrenceville, GA)

396 W Pike St, Lawrenceville, GA 30046, T: 770-299-1115

Adriatic Grill is a fairly new, unassuming Bosnian-Turkish restaurant in small strip mall in Lawrenceville, northeast of Atlanta. They serve burgers, gyros, salads and the classic ‘Yugoslav’ favorites ćevapi (or ćevapčići) and pljeskavica (spiced minced meat). It also has a large assortment of cakes and coffee. The clientele is very diverse and seems to include many regulars.

I order a small ćevapi ($4.99): five small but very tasty spiced meat fingers on fresh Bosnian bread and some raw cucumber, tomato and onion. I have a Šopska side salad ($2) without feta, which is simple but tasty.

VERDICT: 90/100

Adriatic Grill serves very affordable and tasty Bosnian food.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Clocked (Athens, GA)

259 W. Washington Street, Athens, GA 30601, T: 706-548-9175 

Clocked is the (only) burger place in Athens. In typical Athens fashion, it is profoundly American, but with an organic hipster twist. The inside is old-school diner, but with foreign movie posters. All food is organic, certified humane, and certified carbon neutral. Their menu contains mostly “hamburgers”, which it serves with vegetarian and vegan options, “frankfurters (hot dogs), and “sammies” (including falafel and humus). While you can make your own burger, they offer 14 (some original) combinations (like the “Peanut Butter! and Bacon” and “Bacon!Jam”).

I have been at Clocked many times. As I am not that impressed by the sides (e.g. fries and onion rings), I often ‘just’ get one hamburger and one frankfurter. My favorite burger is the Ring of Fire! ($7.50): a blackened burger with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickled jalapenos, and Clocked chipotle sauce. The burger is a bit crunchy, not too thick, but still juicy. I also get the Detroit! ($5.99): a huge frankfurter on a slightly toasted bun with a little topping of very strong and tasty chili and onions. As most sides, the slaw is unremarkable.

VERDICT: 90/100

I have to admit that I had to get used to Clocked. It is not the usual burger joint, the sides are so-so, and it is quite pricy. However, the price is largely due to the choice for organic meats, while the burgers and sausages are excellent.

Little Bull Bar & Grill (Athens, GA) -- CLOSED!

259 E. Broad Street, Athens, GA, 30601, T: 706-552-1423

Running a restaurant on Broad Street, opposite to the University of Georgia, is not easy. The rents must be very high, as restaurants go bust pretty fast there. I was therefore quite skeptical about a Puerto Rican restaurant on that location, also because we have the delicious Cali N Tito not that far from campus. So, I made sure that I went there in the first weeks after it opened, anticipating a quick closure (which, in the end, took at least half a year).

I came for lunch and was the only customer in the long relatively narrow restaurant. The waiter was enthusiastic, but not too knowledgeable about Puerto Rican food. They mostly served sandwiches, but instead of bread they used mofongos (mashed fried plantain with garlic). I had one with skirt steak: the mofongos were dry and tasteless, while the skirt steak was very chewy.

VERDICT: 58/100
No wonder they closed so quickly.

Mama’s Boy Restaurant (Athens, GA)

197 Oak Street, Athens, GA 30602,T: 706-548-6249


Mama’s Boy serves “creative Southern breakfasts and lunches and is the favorite brunch spot in Athens. This means that if you go in the weekends, you better expect to wait for at least 20 minutes. It promises “Southern Fun Dining” and its main menu features classic Southern dishes like Fried Green Tomatoes and Banana Pudding, but, as it is Athens, it also has Tofu Stir Fry and Vegetable & Potato Hash (I guess in the South potatoes are not vegetables). They are famous for their huge biscuits, which are very buttery.

I order the Georgia Peach French Toast ($7.99): sweet bread from local bakery Luna, with peach filling, topped with powdered sugar, candied pecans and whipped cream. I know, it sounds outrageous, and it tasted fine, but definitely not remarkable. I also get an Egg & Bacon Sandwich, which is also fine. M. gets the BLT Salad ($7.99), which is too healthy to review, and mainly raves about the huge biscuit.

VERDICT: 85/100
Mama’s Boy is a brunch institution in Athens, but I fail to see the special attraction. Perhaps it is the biscuit that makes it worth the wait?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Kebab House Arlon (Arlon, Belgium)

Avenue de la Gare 47, 6700 Arlon, Belgium


As is the case in many Belgian towns these days, it is virtually impossible to find an authentic frituur in the downtown of Arlon, a town in the Luxembourg province of Belgium. As we had little time, we settle on a small kiosk that had become a kebab place, but still offers fries and regular snacks, as well as kebab.

I order a Mitrailette (€4.50), which is a long soft baguette, a bit crispy and dry as it was heated up, with mayo, lettuce, tomato, onion, hamburger (sliced into two halves) and covered with fries and (little) mayo. It tastes fairly basic, nothing original or particularly tasty. My brother gets a small fries with a sauce (€2). The fries are prefab and fried in vegetable oil rather than animal fat. Ok, nothing special.

VERDICT: 75/100
Kebab House is a basic new-school frituur/Döner place. Decent food, decent prices.

Grillroom Sphinx (Leiden, Netherlands)

Steenstraat 10a, 2312 BW, Leiden, Netherlands, T: +31-71-512-33-02

Sphinx is one of the oldest surviving shawarma places in the Steenstraat, close to the Central Station of Leiden. It hasn't updated since it opened a couple of decades ago, but it seems to survive mainly as a delivery restaurant. It has the selection of meals you can expect in an Egyptian shawarma place: shawarma, shashlik, kebab, chicken, etc.

I get a Shawarma (Shoarma) sandwich ($5). The skewer isn't up yet, so they heat up previously carved spiced meat and pile it on a small toasted pita and some lettuce, tomato and onion. You get two sauces on the side: a liquidy garlic white sauce and a sweet red sauce. All is very mediocre.

VERDICT: 64/100
Although Döner Kebab restaurants are slowly but steadily pushing the shawarma restaurants out of the center of Leiden, you can do much better than Sphinx, which is near the bottom of what's acceptable.