Saturday, May 11, 2013

Miss Griffin's Footlong Hot Dogs (Chattanooga, TN)

1449 Cemetery Ave, Chattanooga, TN, T: 423-265-5280

Miss Griffin's Footlong Hot Dogs is a small snack bar in, uhm, not the best part of Chattanooga. It has a couple of tables and serves, well, footlong hotdogs. There are really no thrills about it, except when you are into really old-school snackbars (like me).

I order the Kitchen Sink ($4.65), which comes with mustard, relish, onion, hot sauce, chili, slaw, jalapeño. The sausage is long and thick and is cut in two. The combination of toppings tastes great and combines the sweet of the slaw with the kick of the hot sauce. I also get a Polish Sausage ($3.30), which has mustard, relish, onion, and hot sauce. The sausage is thinner and has a different consistency. It is not as thick or tasty as a regular Polish. It is ok, but not as good as the hot dog.

VERDICT: 84/100
Miss Griffin's Footlong Hot Dogs is a good place for a truly old-school experience of big hot dogs with many toppings.

Athens Grill (Monroe, GA)

2120 Spring Street, Monroe, GA 30655, T: 770-207-5213

Athens Grill is a new small Greek restaurant, which mainly serves Greek fast food as well as Greek versions of American fast food (including pizza). It is in a strip mall on the outskirts of the small town of Monroe, close to a big Home Depot. The outside or inside don’t look very promising, but that is deceiving.

I order a regular Gyros, which comes in a classic version: fresh lettuce, tomato, onion, not too fat shaved meat, and a thin tzatziki (yoghurt-garlic) sauce. It is surprisingly tasty, but a bit light on the meat. M. orders a Chicken Gyros, which is similar but with chunks of well spiced and juicy chicken. Very nice! We also get the Humus, which is smooth and tasty, and the Greek Salad, which is a very fresh mix of small chopped lettuce, tomato, kalamati olives and onions.

VERDICT: 86/100
No thrills Greek food, but done at a level of quality you rarely find in the US (particularly outside of big cities). Why are they not in Athens (GA)?

Aladdin's Mediterranean Grill (Sandy Springs, GA)

8725 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs, GA 30350. T: 770-518-9288

Aladdin’s is a fairly large Mediterranean restaurant in a non-descript strip mall in Sandy Springs, a northern suburb of Atlanta. It has a couple of big meat skewers behind the counter, where you order your food. The menu is pretty straightforward and has all the classics meats, salads, humus, etc.

I get the Beef Shawarma ($6.55): a big pita filled with soft meat, not very tasty, pickles, lettuce and tomato. I add some hot sauce, which tastes pretty good. I also order the Fatoosh ($6.45): a quite fresh salad, but with too much rather dry toasted pita pieces. The dressing is also not too good.

VERDICT: 72/100
Aladdin's offers fairly mediocre Mediterranean food, and I would definitely stay away from the beef shawarma.

Uppercrust (Gainesville, FL)

4116 NW 16th Blvd, Gainesville, FL 32605, T: 253-376-7187

Uppercrust is a French bakery on the outskirts of the college town of Gainesville, home to the University of Florida. Inside it really feels like you are in a French bakery. They have a broad selection of breads and pastries, but serve also sandwiches etc.

I get a selection of pastries, including a chocolate and an almond croissant. While quite pricey, both are absolutely excellent and get almost as close to top French quality as La Boulangerie in New Orleans!

VERDICT: 95/100
Uppercrust brings French bread, pastries and sandwiches to the very lucky citizens of Gainesville. Pricey, but well worth the money!

Mi Apá Latin Café (Gainesville, FL)

114 SW 34 St, Gainesville, FL 32607, T: 352-376-7020

Billed as a Latin Cafe, Mi Apá is very popular as a breakfast place, serving various breakfast and Cuban (style) sandwich options in the college town of Gainesville. They also have a location in Alachau. Their slogan is “good food fast.” They also have various exotic fresh juices, savory pastries and churros.

I order the Beef and Eggs ($6.49): two perfectly made over-medium eggs, two pieces of light crispy Cuban toast, and a heap of shredded beef with tomato and peppers: absolutely delicious! In fact, it is so good that I return the next day to have exactly the same, but this time with some extra Cuban toast.

VERDICT: 87/100
Simply stated, every town should have a Mi Apá!

Buffington's Burger Lounge (Milledgeville, GA)

120 W Hancock St, Milledgeville, GA, T: 478-413-1975

Buffington's is a “burger lounge” in downtown Milledgeville, a small college town. Georgia’s capital city in the first half of the 19th century, it is now mainly know as the home of Georgia College (& State University), the liberal arts college within the University of Georgia System. Buffington’s holds the middle between a saloon and a sports bar and is very popular with the students.

I order the Six Boneless Wings ($5.99) as an appetizer and get them “x-treme hot.” They are not too big, but quite juicy and only lightly battered. The sauce is hot, but not too bad. Yum! The main dish is the (half pound) Cry Baby Burger, a half pound angus beef burger with roasted jalapeños and caramelized onions ($8.99). The burger is thick, fresh and juicy and the jalapeños are packing serious heat. The soft bun sucks all juices in without overwhelming the burger. The only little downside was the lack of a nice sauce, which would have given it a bit more flavor. As a side I have a choice between fries, fried pickles, and chips, but am advised to take the fries Cajun style (+0.50). The fries are thick but a bit lukewarm and soggy. The seasoning is good, not just salty.

VERDICT: 84/100
Buffington’s Burger Lounge is a really good place for pub food and burgers – I wish Athens had one. Do try the boneless wings!

Herschel’s Famous 34 Bar & Grill (Athens, GA)

320 E. Clayton St, Athens, 30601, GA, T: 706-353-0334 

Herschel’s Famous 34 Bar & Grill is the newest addition to downtown Athens, a sports bar owned by, and named after, the famous running back of Georgia Bulldawgs, Hershel Walker. It's pretty busy when I get there, in the first month after its opening, which means that I have to wait a really long time for my food (sitting in the bar area). As I am already easily waiting for 20 minutes, and am no longer convinced by the “your wings will be out soon,” I get some pub chips. They start out tasting fresh, though kind of hard and dry, and soon taste gross.

I order Wings ($4.75) as an appetizer and have a choice of almost 30 flavors and five heat levels (mild to mother). I go for the second hottest, Mango Habanero. When they finally arrive, they are small, dry, and almost tasteless (except for a hint of honey). No kick whatsoever.

The Chili Turkey Burger ($8) sounds good: chili, crispy jalapeños, turkey burger, on a wheat kaiser bun. It looks more like a Sloppy Joe, but is not that bad, even though there are no jalapeños on it (or, if there are, they have no kick). The best experience is provided by the crispy seeds on the bun. The Old Bay fries are mostly lukewarm, salty, soggy, and gross.

VERDICT: 43/100

This one will not last, not even in Athens, which is crazy about its Dawgs and has no sports bar with good food.

Stuffed Burger (Athens, GA)

1860 Barnett Shoals Road, Athens, GA 30605, T: 706-850-8411

Stuffed Burger recently moved to the East side of town, after closing its location on Baxter Street. It occupies a fairly large space next to a huge Publix grocery store, virtually empty, with only some basic tables and chairs. As I visit it, on an extremely rainy day, it is extremely cold inside the virtually empty place. You have a choice from a large number of different types of stuffed burgers – choice of different kind of cheeses – or you can build your own (unstuffed burgers are also an option).

I decide to build my own burger: all regulars (lettuce/tomato/onion/pickles) and adding jalapeños, bacon (+ $0.75) and BBQ sauce. As I don’t get cheese, it is called an “Un-Stuffed Burger.”  I also get a side of fries ($1.99) and a regular soda ($1.99). The burger is high rather than big. It has a nice juicy patty, a soft bun that adsorbs some of the juice, and fresh toppings. The bacon is very crispy, the BBQ sauce bit too overpowering (fortunately it came on the side). The fries are prefab, too airy and crispy, with some seasoning, which makes them mainly too salty.

VERDICT: 81/100
Stuffed Burger does a good burger, but (at least for a non-cheese person) it is not much better than Five Guys, and their fries are much better.

Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill (Athens, GA)

2226 West Broad Street, Athens, GA 30601, T: 706-543-1339

Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill is one of the main restaurant chains in the United States, together with TGI Friday’s, Chili’s, etc. It has over 2,000 restaurants across the country and I don’t think I have ever lived in a place that didn’t have one within 10 miles of my house. Although I don’t go there often, I actually mostly have decent eating experiences. Their menu is pretty standard, although they have recently increased the number of healthy options.

We started with 12 Boneless Wings (Hot & Spicy), which are really more chunky nuggets than wings. They taste like big chunk of General Tso chicken, delicious. They are normally $9.29, but were taken off the bill because of the $20 Deal. I had the Black & Blue Burger ($9.29); a thick juicy burger, blackened, with mushrooms and red peppers on a fresh bun with some spicy mayo – I opted out of the Jack cheese and Blue Cheese crumbles. The burger was so good that it didn’t need to be smothered in sauce (or cheese): very well grilled and directly from the grill. It came with very fresh and crispy French fries – not homemade, but pretty much as good as prefab fries go. M. had a Quesadilla Burger ($9.29).

VERDICT: 87/100
To be fair, like most chain restaurants, quality can vary significantly, particularly in terms of freshness – often the fries are old and stale, while the main dish has been waiting in the kitchen too long. Still, if you get the food freshly made from the kitchen, Applebee’s can cook up some remarkably good, and very affordable, burgers and fries!