Thursday, October 22, 2015

Poppin Pita (Atlanta, GA)

420 14th St NW, Atlanta, GA 30318

Poppin Pita is a brand new, very small, shawarma place next to a big mosque (a good indication in terms of authenticity). It opened up only two days earlier,  and serves only chicken and beef shawarma, kabobs, and falafel, in sandwiches (all $5.99) and plates (half $6.99, full $9.99).

I get the Beef “Shewarma” Sandwich ($5.99), which comes with thin slices of beef strips, diced onion, parsley, and sumac, topped with tahini, wrapped in Lebanese bread. It is quite good, but a bit light on meat and toppings, which makes the bread too dominant. The nice guy behind the counter gives me small samples of the humus and salad (as well as a free bottle of water). I like my humus a bit creamier, but the salad is fresh if a bit dominated by zatra.

VERDICT: 85/100
Poppin Pita is a new place with nice people. The food is authentic and sure to get better, so give them a chance!

Crazy Cuban (Atlanta, GA)

290 14th St NW, Atlanta, GA 30318

Crazy Cuban is a small hole-in-wall restaurant with and a small patio outside that serves “great Cuban sandwiches.” In fact, that is all it serves, Cuban sandwiches (all panini pressed) and some sides. At the register is a funny bearded guy, who must be the Crazy Cuban himself! They get kudos for sponsoring the Atlanta Roller Derby girls (“Crazy Cuban” is on their asses).

I get the Classic Cuban (no cheese) for $8.09. It smells outrageously good. While there is nothing special going on, i.e. no special juicy pork, the sandwich is actually very tasty! Moreover, the mustard and fresh jalapeños give it a serious kick.

VERDICT: 86/100
Fun hole in the wall with good but pricey Cuban sandwiches.

Wok Star (Winterville, GA )

225 B-1 Cherokee Rd, Winterville, GA 30683

Wok Star is a Chinese restaurant in the tiny village of Winterville, about 15 minutes outside of Athens. Despite the bizarre entrance, which seems to double as a chotskies shop, it is actually the only place in the area that offers pretty good Chinese food.

Hence, it is difficult to go here for something so mundane as a burger. However, I have heard and read that the burgers are really good, so I decide to go there one day for lunch and try it myself.

I start with a Vegetable Spring Roll ($1.25) and a (Chicken) Spring Roll ($1.25), which are both small, fresh, and tasty. Then on to the Wok Star Burger ($8.49), which comes with fries. The fries are really disappointing, as they are undercooked and soggy, but the burger is a pleasant surprise. It is a large but not very thick patty that comes on a big soft bun with strips of crispy bacon and a huge chunk of cabbage. Sauces are on the side (ketchup, mayo, and spicy mustard), but the burger is so tasty that it doesn’t need any sauce. It has a deep almost smoky meaty flavor, juicy and salty. Delicious!

VERDICT: 89/100
Wok Star is a good place for Chinese dinner and American lunch. Next time I’ll go for the Monster Burger (I will update).

J. Christopher’s (Macon, GA)

220 Starcadia Circle, Macon, GA 31210

J. Christopher’s is a regional chain of breakfast and lunch restaurants with some 20 locations, almost all in Georgia, particularly in and around Atlanta. They have the usual staple of eggs, pancakes (and waffles), salads, and sandwiches, but with a larger selection of “healthy options” than similar chains – I guess they would see themselves as an upscale eversion of IHOP or Waffle House.

I am starving so I take something savory and something sweet. The BELT Sandwich (ca. $7) is a BLT with a fried egg. Despite the fact that the bacon is crispy and plenty, the lettuce and tomato dominate the sandwich. They come with house potatoes, which are small chunks of prefab steak fries (virtually tasteless). I choose a special, the Banana Pecan Maple French Toast (ca. $9), which is essentially three pieces of fairly dry banana bread with some pecans and some maple syrup.

VERDICT: 72/100
Perhaps my expectations were too high, but J. Christopher’s is really not better than IHOP or Waffle House, though smaller portions at slightly higher prices.

The Brick (Milledgeville, GA)

136 Oconee River Greenway, Milledgeville, GA 

The Brick is a big modern sports bar looking place with a mix of brick walls and light wooden booths. It is located in downtown Milledgeville, opposite to Georgia College, which defines this cute small college town. It is packed this early Saturday for lunch. The menu features mainly salads, pizzas, and sandwiches (mostly chicken).

We start with a special, Hot Honey Mustard Wings (a half dozen at $6.95), which are described as “jumbo wings tossed in sauce perfectly blended with mustard, chili, and honey.” The wings are indeed quite chunky and fried crispy but a bit too dry. The sauce is mostly sweet, not hot at all. I then get a Jerk Chicken Club ($8.50): jerk chicken, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and black pepper mayo on sourdough. The chicken breast is big and juicy, the bacon crispy, and the toast thick and garlicky. Overall the sandwich has a nice kick, but is a bit too heavy. The added Seasoned Fries (+$1.25) are crusty Burger King-type fries, very underwhelming.

VERDICT: 80/100
A great place to bring large groups of small children, but not one you would choose specifically for the food.

Big Buns (Arlington, VA)

4401 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA 22203

Big Buns is a modern upscale burger restaurant in an expensive part of downtown Arlington that serves “damn good burgers.” You can choose between “Designer” and Do It Yourself (DIY) burgers with various types of “protein” (beef, Wagyu, Bison, chicken, turkey, lamb, ahi tuna, veggie and mushroom). They have a limited range of sides but a large (alcoholic) drink selection.

I get the Hot & Hefe ($10.50): Wague beef, grilled habanero & Serrano chilis, pico de gallo, and siracha aioli. The large, reasonably thick burger comes on a soft buttered bun with just a thin layer of sauce and chilis paste. The meat is perfectly prepared, pink in the middle, and is tender and delicious. The bun is soft and tasty and soaks in the juices of the meat and the salsa. The burger overall is absolutely delicious and has a serious after-burn. The fries ($2.75) are thicker than usual at gourmet burger places, quite salty, but crunchy outside and soft inside. Very good!

VERDICT: 94/100
Big Buns is a kind of upscale Shake Shack with just burgers, expensive burgers, but absolutely delicious burgers!

Bojangle’s Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits (Conyers, GA)

1970 Hwy 138 SE, Conyers, GA 30013

Bojangle’s Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits is a Southeastern fast food chain, headquartered in Charlotte (NC), which has over 600 locations. It combines classic chicken fast food with southern sides. It is buffet style, like most fried chicken chains, so the freshness of the food depends on how long it has been waiting for you. 

I get Chicken Tenders (spicy), which come with a side (coleslaw) and a drink for $6.41. I'm lucky as the tenders are freshly prepared. As I have to wait I get another tender for free. The tenders have a thick crispy crust that is not too salty, but also not really that spicy. The meat is soft, the sauces tasty. I'm not a fan of biscuits, but this one is quite good: not too dry, not too buttery, and a bit salty. The coleslaw is mayo-y and tasty.

VERDICT: 85/100
Perhaps it was just because my food was freshly prepared for me, but overall it was a remarkably positive experience, well above KFC and similar places.

George’s Bar & Restaurant (Atlanta, GA)

1041 North Highland Avenue Northeast, Atlanta, GA 30306

George’s Bar & Restaurant is an institution in Atlanta. It is a dark pub annex burger joint in the popular Virginia Heights area that has been “serving the best burgers and coldest beers in town since 1961.” It has classic sports bar food and beers, games on several televisions, but is not a real sports bar, as they play music in background (in their defense, it was 1980s Britpop). They are known for their burgers, which come in 1/4 lb and 1/2 lb, and in many (mostly) classic varieties. In addition to beef, they have veggie, black bean, turkey, and lamb patties.

I start with 10 Wings ($8.99), which are small but crunchy and meaty. the hit sauce is spicy and with some extra on the side it has a real kick.

Again at the advice of my waitress I get the intriguing Jalapeno Dijon Burger ($10.75), half pound, with French fries. The burger is very well prepared, but crunchy and smokey outside but full of flavor, the many jalapeños are fresh and kick ass, and the Dijon is sharp but smooth. The bun is wheat and soft. overall an excellent burger. The fries are fairly standard, but quite crunchy and soft inside.

VERDICT: 93/100
Excellent burger joint!

Ali Baba (Atlanta, GA)

1099 Euclid Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30307

Ali Baba is a relatively small hole in the wall in the hipster Little Five Points area of Atlanta. The small room where you order is dingy, but there is another room where you can eat as well as an outdoor patio. They serve a limited selection of Mediterranean staples, including babaganoush, falafel, gyros, and humus. 

I am getting the much-hyped Falafel Sandwich ($6.75): a thick toasted pita stuffed with two falafels, fresh greens, parsley, and garlic and hot sauce. Unfortunately the falafels are a bit coldish falafels. Overall it is still very tasty, but more and warm falafel and less greens would have been.

VERDICT: 86/100
Good but could be better.

Champy’s (Athens, GA)

1120 Baxter Street, Athens, GA 30606

Champy’s is a southern chain of “famous fried chicken” restaurants, which started in Alabama in 2009. It currently has five locations: three in Alabama and one in Tennessee and Georgia each. They serve different kinds of fried chicken, catfish, frog legs (!), and “Delta tamales”. All come in singles and plates with classic Southern sides.

I sample the offerings. I get two wings ($5.50), which are battered with thick coating - whomever thought that was a good idea should be banned from any kitchen. The chicken tender ($2.75) is huge and has the same batter, but much more chicken. They are fat but quite tasty. Unlike the chicken the fried catfish ($3.50) is lightly battered, which is better (even if the tartar sauce is too dilly). The side of fries ($2.99) is huge but disappointing; kind of thick BK fries, battered and airy with little hint of potato.

VERDICT: 71/100
Overall quite poor, but tenders of chicken and catfish are OK.