Monday, March 9, 2015

Giraffe (Hounslow, UK)

Terminal 1, Airside, Heathrow Airport (LHR), Hounslow TW6 1QE, UK, T: 020-8607-5980

Giraffe is a chain that has different restaurants, including “Burgers & Cocktails by Giraffe”. This restaurant, in terminal 1 of Heathrow Airport, is a “World Food Bar & Restaurant” that serves a lot of different and fresh options, mostly US (burgers), Mexican (burrito) and Middle Eastern (falafel).

I get the Steak Sandwich, which comes with fries (£11 or ca. $17). The fries are prefab, as expected, yet while they are are quite crispy, they are also fairly tasteless. The steak sandwich is a nicely seasoned skirt steak with a spicy sauce, arugola and read beats on a funky ciabatta bun. Very tasty!

VERDICT: 88/100
Obviously, it is very expensive, but given the location (London & aiport) and the quality, it is actually quite good.
 9 St. Botolphs St, Colchester CO2 7EB, UK, T: 1206-54-556

 Crystal Kebab is a small shawarma place / Turkish restaurant in downtown Colchester. Unlike average shawarma places, it has a real grill and offers a broader selection of meats. At the same time, the feel is not really of a Turkish restaurant and it seems to mainly cater take out. On this specific evening I have the misfortune of being together with a spaced-out Brit, who is so hyper and coked-up, that I decide to take most of my food outside.

I order a pita shawarma (forgot how much I paid), which was a behemoth that filled the whole Styrofoam box that it came in.  The meat was more like a Doner Kebab, as is common in Turkish restaurants, and came covered in fresh veggies and a spicy pasty sauce. While I like classic shawarma more than Doner Kebab, this definitely was one of the better kebabs I have had. Impossible to eat though, as the meats and vegetables made the pita too soggy to pick up.

VERDICT: 87/100
More a shawarma place than a Turkish restaurant, but the Doner Kebab is good.

The Frying Castle (Colchester, UK)

24B Long Wyre Street, Colchester, UK, T: 01206-616-505

The Frying Castle looks pretty nice for a British chip shop. It gets great reviews online, which lures me to the place. It has the usual staples of British ‘cuisine’: English breakfast, burgers, fries, deep fried sausages and fish, but also chicken, jackets, omelets, pies, and even salads.

I am getting the regular Fish & Chips (£7.45 or ca. $11.50). The fish is cod and its freshly prepared. It is lightly battered and tastes really fresh. Chips are prefab but quite crispy, particularly for the UK. Shame that all sauces are from jars, despite the fairly nice presentation.

VERDICT: 86/100
While not cheap, this is some of the best fish and chips that I've ever had. Would be even better with homemade tartar sauce!

Cafe Intermezzo (Atlanta, GA)

1065 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta, GA, T: 404-355-0411

Café Intermezzo bills itself as Das Europäische Kaffeehaus (the European coffee house). It used to be in the affluent northern part of Buckhead, but has now moved to Midtown (and the airport). It is a very upscale Vienna-style Konditorei, which serves some 50 different cheesecakes, pies, and cakes, as well as an extensive breakfast, lunch and dinner menu.

After long consideration and consultation we choose the Chocolate Hazelnut Praline Torte ($7.99). It is a dense hazelnut mousse with pieces of hazelnut, a liquid layer of thick chocolate and a thin crust. Very rich, but very tasty. We also share the Chocolate-Raspberry Truffle ($7.99), a combination of cheesecake and chocolate cake with a layer of raspberry jelly in it. Very good.

VERDICT: 90/100
As good as it gets in terms of American Vienna-style cakes (although they are much richer than in Vienna).

Papi’s Cuban & Caribbean Grill (Atlanta, GA)

216 Ponce de Leon Avenue NE, Atlanta, GA 30308, USA, T: 404-607-1525

Papi’s is a local chain of Cuban/Caribbean restaurants in the Greater Atlanta area. They currently have five locations, mostly in suburbs of Atlanta. I visit the midtown location, which is quite cozy and homey, but unassuming. While I had read great reviews, I had no idea what was awaiting me.

We start with a Caribbean Milkshake ($3.75), which is a thick but not too sweet blend of fruits and milk: deliciously favorable and refreshing. We also have the Fufu Cubano ($3.50), which has a soft texture, but tastes very favorable. The Croquettes de Jamon ($3.50) are crunchy little croquettes with delicious soft ragout in it. 

Then we move to the entrees. Rey’s Cuban Sandwich ($7.25) is a huge classic Cuban sandwich that is one of best I ever ate. The pork is very juicy and tasty. The Vaca Frittata ($12.99) is a combination of pork, congris, and maduros (fried sweet plantains). The pork is one of the best things I've ever eaten in my life! Unbelievable smoky, thick flavor. Beyond delicious. The congris is a rich combination of rice, beans, bacon, and ham. The maduros are a bit lukewarm, but that was because we ate the rest first, which took a lot of time.

VERDICT: 95/100
Best Cuban sandwich I have had so far and the meat of the Vuva alone is worth a trip to Atlanta, irrespective where you come from.

Royal Peasant Pub (Athens, GA)

1675 S. Lumpkin Street, Athens, GA 30606, T: 706-549-7920

The Royal Peasant Pub is a cross between a gourmet English pub and a sports bar, famed for its beers, food, and English Premier League (EPL) and Team USA games. I had eaten here once before, years ago, and was a bit underwhelmed by the much hyped Fish & Chips.

This time I order the Lamb Burger ($11). It is a standard item on the menu, but the toppings change daily. Today the burger comes with ‘spicy chow chow’, which is explained by the waitress as “Southern kimchi”. The burger is absolutely delicious! The meat is juicy, not too strong lamb taste, the bun is toasted on grill (bit dry), and the chow chow gives it all a great flavor. The shoestring fries are salty but tasty. 

VERDICT: 89/100
The Royal Peasant is a nice pub, which serves really great food, if you choose wisely.

Rafferty’s Restaurant & Bar (Athens, GA)

15 Huntington Road, Athens, GA 30606, USA, T: 706-613-0045

Rafferty’s is a classic American restaurant chain, although with a slight Southern twist. It has about 20 locations in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia. The menu is a combination of burgers, salads, sandwiches, and steaks. It presents itself as a mix of a steak house and sports bar.

I start with the Chicken Finger Filets ($6.29). I get them Original, which comes with a sweet and spicy sauce on the side (you can also have them tossed in a sauce). I continue with a Backyard BBQ Burger ($7.99), which includes smoked bacon, charcoal grilled sweet onion, and bbq sauce. I add “hand-cut French fries” (+$1.99). Both taste quite good, but they are heavy and lack any hint of subtlety.

VERDICT: 80/100
Rafferty’s belong to the large amorphous group of national chains like Applebee’s, Chili’s etc. Decent American food, nothing remarkable.

AJ’s Food Store (Bogart, GA)

2430 Monroe Hwy, Bogart, GA 30622, USA, T: 770-725-7448

AJ’s is a small buffet in a BP gas station of the 78 in Bogart. It is amazing how good business they do in the mornings, when workers will come in to get any combination of quick Southern breakfast. There is no space to eat, so you have to eat it in the car.

I am getting 3 pieces of chicken and a bacon and egg sandwich (in total $5.25). The chicken is lukewarm, very dry, and salty. The bacon is very crispy, but the bread is very basic and the egg spongy.

VERDICT: 60/100
I must be missing something here (biscuits?), but AJ’s is neither good nor cheap.

Sunrise Bakery (Lexington, KY)

111 W. Main Street, Lexington, KY 40507, T: 859-255-0304

Sunrise Bakery is truly a little gem, tucked away in a small store in downtown Lexington, Kentucky. It is the type of place you hope to find in the major cities of the United States, but never expect to find in the Midwest. It serves breads, coffee, pastries, and sandwiches – all freshly made. The sandwiches are ‘old world’, i.e. covered with cheeses and meats imported from Italy.

I’m getting The Special ($8), which is a bit similar to the famous Mufaletta at The Central Grocery in New Orleans. The Special has ham, salami, and caracole (all imported from Italy and sliced fresh for the sandwich), olive oil, banana peppers, lettuce and oregano on fresh French bread. Absolutely amazing!

VERDICT: 95/100
Hard to find a better sandwich shop in the US, let alone outside of the (coastal) big cities.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Sully’s Steamers (Greenville, SC)

6 E Washington St, Greenville, SC 29601, T: 864-509-6061

Sully’s Steamers is a bagel and sandwich place in downtown Greenville, South Carolina. It steams its own bagels, in many varieties, and offers a broad range of sandwiches, including breakfast sandwiches, which is what we come for this Sunday morning. 

My wife gets the El Camino ($6), which comes with ham, egg, jalapeños, and pepper jack. It is very hammy, but tasty, despite the kind of generic looking bagel. The twist is in the everything bagel, which has its seeds not only on the outside, but also in the inside. I’m getting the Meat Chimney ($6.25), which comes with sausage, bacon, and egg (I ask for without cheddar). The bagel is dense but soft, the sausage patty is big and salty, the bacon thin and non-descript, and the egg is a solid puff piece of omelet. It’s ok, but not really better than, say, Panera.

VERDICT: 82/100
Very decent breakfast and sandwich place.

Mac's Speed Shop (Greenville, SC)

930 S Main St, Greenville, SC 29601, T: 864-239-0286

Mac’s Speed Shop is a North Carolina-based chain of sports/biker bars, which currently has 7 locations. Its menu is a mix of American, Mexican, and BBQ, but with a culinary twist. We are stopping at the Greenville location at a nice sunny afternoon, getting a little snack in between lunch and dinner.

We start with The Wing Ding ($6.79): 8 big meaty chicken wings, smoked, with a thick layer of peppery VTX Chipotle sauce. The wings are amazing: juicy, meaty, and with a good kick!

Inspired by the wings I decide to order one more little snack: a Blackened Catfish Taco ($4). It is a flour tortilla with blackened catfish, fresh slaw, pickled onions, chipotle aioli, and guacamole. Remarkably fresh and tasty! Delicious!

VERDICT: 92/100
The food in this place is amazing. It is basic bar food done with a twist and done extremely well. They also have a great beer selection and everything is very affordable. Please open up a location in Athens!