Monday, August 31, 2009

Off To See the Wizard - Oz Pizza

Way back when, maybe five years ago, I visited Oz Pizza. It was on the other side of the track in Decatur by Agnes Scott and the pizza was the Five years later, it has been whisked away by a twister to another set of railroad tracks in Eastpoint. Frankly, I have no reason to ever be in this part of town unless going to or from Hartsfield-Jackson airport, but I bought a new camera out there today and decided to stop in.
After getting the camera, I arrived on Main Street and thought to myself, "We're not in Atlanta anymore." And I'll cut the Wizard of Oz crap right there... But really, this street is pretty unique. They have lots of non-chain restaurants (many of which looked good), boutiques, bakeries and antique stores. Oz Pizza is right at the end of the main drag and takes up a large portion of an old building. The restaurant is scattered and divided into one large room, a smaller room/bar, and a very large and beautiful patio.
The pizza is good. That's all I can really say about it and I'd say the sauce and cheese are close to excellent, but the combination of ingredients doesn't meld to make a great slice. I got three slices of cheese for 5.32 which is a steal for lunch. I'll put it into my grading scale below:

1. Crust - Too floppy. When I started getting up to the crust, it was marvelously crunchy but the first three quarters of the slice were just too floppy. The crust is also relatively flavorless and you guessed it, lacks char. The actual edge of the crust was a bit dry for my taste as well.
2. Cheese - Really nice and tangy combination. Emits that wonderful tangy grease, but not enough to grease the Tin Man's joints (OK I'm done I promise!). Also just look a the picture I took; perfect melt/pull to it.
3. Sauce - Also really nice. Herb-y but could probably use even a little more.

Verdict: Pretty good but certainly not worth the drive with Rosa's in town.
BTW- I promise I don't just eat pizza and burgers all the time. Just some of it...
Oz Pizza on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I Can Has Cheezburger? - Cypress Street Pint & Plate

Holy shit! That's all I can say. I just ate what I would consider one of the most unexpectedly satisfying burgers I've ever had. Atlanta has turned into the burger capital of the nation as of late. A 2007 Wall Street Journal article shed some light on Atlanta's respect for this culinary mastermind of a sandwich. The paper awarded #1 burger in the country to Ann's Snack Bar and placed Vortex in the top 10. Richard Blais parked his new burger bistro, Flip, smack-dab in Atlanta and Holeman and Finch's awesome, yet gimicky burger has also been named Food Network Magazine's best burger in Georgia.

But one seemingly gimicky burger has nearly slipped under the radar of all the praise being thrown at my fair city, and that is the Sublime Burger of Cypress Street Pint & Plate. Based on the Luther (yes, one of Luther Vandross's favorite treats), the Sublime Burger really didn't pique my interest. I had eaten a burger from Cypress previously, and didn't think much of it. But with the promise of a Sublime Doughnut for a bun and the encouragement of my friend Xerxes (don't ask), I made it over to Cypress yesterday to feast upon this wonderfully underrated sandwich.

That's not a bagel, folks!

Again, Holy Shit. Sublime Doughnuts (another review entirely) are tastefully sweet unlike their counterparts at Krispy Kreme, which will instantly put you in a diabetic coma. The sweetness from the doughnuts pairs with the bacon cheeseburger like sweet jam on a terrifically savory sausage biscuit; subtle but undeniably complimentary. They grill the inside of the bun slice very nicely so that it doesn't absolutely fall apart, but since this is a pretty greasy burger, the bottom of my bun was saturated with liquid fat (a quick flip easily remedied this). The bacon is excellent and the cheese, well a necessary evil. Frankly I didn't bother putting ketchup or any other condiments on the burger and just let the flavors of medium-rare beef, bacon, cheese, and donut come together in bliss. Their fries are pretty good here, fat cut, freshly fried with a creamier than average interior.

Xerxes' O-rings

Xerxes wasn't so lucky in that his medium-rare patty was more like well done. Also he didn't particularly care for the O-rings (as he so eloquently puts it), but I thought they were pretty tasty for the most part. Still his plate was clean save for burger drippings.

I really put this burger in the top 5 in the city and Cypress is never really slammed. The burger is completely crave worthy and truth be told I had a hard time not going back there for dinner. Luther Vandross, may you rest in peace, you were really on to something here and I only wish you were still around for one more heart-attack inducing bite.

Cypress Street Pint & Plate on Urbanspoon

Paula Deen's Herb Crusted Pork Tenderloin

This recipe is awesome. It comes out nearly perfect every single time. The "great dish to difficulty ratio" is very high - while it requires the technical proficiency level of a third grader, it comes out looking much more laborious than it actually is is. Additionally it's pretty healthy compared to Paula's usually buttery southern chow.

You simply mix herbs, salt and olive oil, rub it into the tenderloin, and roast it on very high heat. The recipe doesn't take nearly as long to make as Paula says (although she uses a 4 pound tenderloin-good luck finding that at Publix), and again, comes out perfect every time.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Le Big Mac... or not

For years I never even ate McDonalds. Growing up near Dunwoody Village, Burger King was my most viable fast food choice and frankly I thought it tasted better (with the exception of the fries). After a McDonalds apple pie request by Kins one evening, I finally saw the light (Gospel Choir rejoices with an enormous "AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!") While it's certainly greasier and probably more unhealthy (or is it unhealthier?), Mickey Deez has become a new choice in the plethora of fast food options.

Today I had the hankering. You know, the one you get when you don't have anything to do but sit and work and you dont mind that grease-bomb resting (sometimes for not all that long) in the depths of your bowels for the rest of the day. I was particularly intrigued by McDonalds new "Angus Third Pounders" sandwiches (McDonalds terminology for a burger) that they recently introduced. While it may seem like fast food joints are constantly barraging the public with new products, this is the first new burger McDonalds has introduced since 2001's "Big n' Tasty," which for the record, I've never tried. The burger of my eye, or mouth as the case may be, is the "Quarter Pounder" with cheese or even the "Double Quarter Pounder" with cheese.

Frankly, after trying the "Bacon and Cheese Angus Third Pounder" (one helluva name), I feel that the Quarter Pounder sandwiches are more bang for your buck. The angus burger is a bit dryer and a little less flavorful albeit much less greasy. The bacon is much better than you'll get at other fast food restaurants and is crispy and smoky. Nutritionally, however, the "Bacon and Cheese" is right on par with the "Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese" if you can believe it and contains twice as much sodium. That's for all you nutritionally minded people still heading to Mickey Deez like myself. In the future, when the hankering kicks in, I'll stick with my gut and get the "Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese." Perhaps it's more fitting to say the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese" will stick with my gut.

"Authentic" Eats in the A - Chef Liu's

When dealing with ethnic food, many times the term authentic is thrown around. It seems some folks think that if the meal isn’t prepared exactly like it is overseas or by someone from the country of origin, it just won’t be as good. This, logically, is not the case. There is both good sushi made by Hispanic sushi chefs and good Chinese food made by Koreans. What I’m getting at here is that authenticity does not necessarily equal delicious food. So then why do I find myself cruising Buford Highway? Was I unsatisfied with my Chinese options in my neighborhood? The honest answer is that I was looking for some more authentically tasty Chinese.

Buford Highway is Atlanta’s hotbed for authentic, or at least more authentic ethnic eats. It’s dotted with all sorts of Asian and Hispanic hotspots ranging from inexpensive pho-houses and taco stands to one of Atlanta’s most well respected and expensive sushi establishments - Sushi House Hayakawa. Chef Liu is more of the former - being a freestanding building (shack) in the middle of a shopping center’s parking lot. It even has sliding doors like a back porch!

Their specialties are less entree like and more appetizer style; what some and myself would refer to as street food. So the menu is adorned with soups, varieties of dumplings, buns, and noodles. I’ve had a number of things here now but my favorites include the Shanghai Juicy Steamed Pork Buns (aka soup dumplings), the French Cruller, the pan-fried Pork Dumplings, and now, the Beef Noodles Soup.

Back to my authenticity rant. There was a place that was famed in Atlanta for having the best soup dumplings and authentic Chinese fare around - Frank Ma’s Dinho. Frank was a consultant and Chinese restaurants around town would hire him to improve their menu and manage things. I went to Dinho and it just plain sucked. The soup dumplings were flavorless and the rest of the food was just meh. After Dinho, Frank moved to Chopstix (aka Frank Ma south) and while they didn’t have soup dumplings there, I had both a good and not so great experiences. So I stress, authentic does not equal good.

The soup dumplings at Chef Liu’s are phenomenal. They are served in a steam basket and always come out piping hot. The soup and interior meat is extremely flavorful and juicy and just hits the spot every single time. The skin never gets that gummy texture that can sometimes occur with steamed dumplings. These morsels are hard to find in Atlanta, and this would be my #1 suggestion for them.

The French Cruller is essentially a piece of fry bread. It’s light, airy and has the perfect combination of sweet and salty. I’ve seen many patrons ordering it with condensed milk (I think to spread on the bread) but we have yet to.

Beef Noodles Soup, who knew?! It’s the perfect combination of ingredients with very thick, long noodles interspersed with stewed chunks of beef and Chinese vegetables. I’m not a huge soup fan, but the broth was the most flavorful and delicious I’ve had in recent memory.

Kins is also a very big fan of the Lamb Kabobs here. They come out on skewers and are rubbed in primarily what I think is cumin. For my taste, they are a bit too fatty and oily but are tasty in small doses.

By the way, all four of these items totaled under $20. We were stuffed and didn’t even finish the soup. Another plus of BuHi eats.

I love Chef Liu and it is authentic. So here’s the deal. Next time you try a place on Buford Highway, before you go ranting and raving about it because it’s on Buford Highway ask yourself, “Was the food really up to snuff compared to other joints I’ve tried around town?” I feel that more often than not, people give added credibility to places on Buford Highway because of their proximity to Atlanta’s ethnic epicenter.

Lastly, there was a group of young “ladies” sitting next to us that were annoying as fuck. They were loud and somewhat obnoxious in the same way that running into a group of sorority girls screaming, “Wooooooooooooo! Margaritas!” at a Mexican joint are. Apparently one needed a pep talk to be coaxed into even coming to Chef Liu. I’m guessing she ordered Mongolian Beef? I kid. I kid. It’s just… I don’t know. Know your audience. If you’re coming to a small, quiet place, with slightly more exotic food than you’re used to, be humble. Don’t act like you’re at Nuevo Laredo Cantina jonesin’ for some Margaritas.

Hounds Tooth Caps - All the Rage

Chef Liu on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 21, 2009

Blue Moon Pizza

Atlanta pretty much runs the gamut in terms of pizza places and you will be hard-pressed not to find each pizzeria doing their own take on a pie. These establishments put out product ranging from Chicago deep dish (Nancy's), Sicilian (Fellinis), California style (CPK and many others), Mexican (the Original El Taco), or even Neapolitan (Fritti and Varasano's). But the most coveted piece of pizza in Atlanta is really the New York slice. Over the last year I've become pretty familiar with the grading scale of a New York slice and it goes something like this:

1. Crust - Does it have char on the bottom? Is it crispy, yet chewy? Thin, but not cracker like?
2. Cheese - Is it melted fully? Is there a good ratio between cheese and sauce? Does it have pull when you bite into it, but not drape down to your plate?
3. Sauce (often overlooked) - Again the ratio. Also, is it zesty and flavorful?

Interestingly enough, many of the great New York style pizzerias don't lie in the city of Atlanta proper, but rather the outlying burbs. In fact, there are a good three or four highly regarded pizza places hiding in the greater Marietta area. I don't get out to these parts often, but I have now managed to try two of the more respected joints: Bella's and Blue Moon. I have heard nothing but praise about Bella's and truthfully, it didn't come close to living up to the hype so Kins and I opted to try Blue Moon last night.

Blue Moon resides in a newer residential condo/apartment complex that has several other eateries on the retail/ground level. There's a Five Guys, Starbuck's (of course), Lime Taqueria, Crepe Revolution (highly recommend this one), and soon to be L'Thai. Before seeing the restaurant I was under the impression that it was another New York style pizza joint, but upon entering I almost immediately threw out that assumption. The place is entirely blue, with blue moons wherever they could stick them including Blue Moon Brewing Company (no relation) umbrellas on the patio. The interior space is a strangely arranged but comfortable enough. I did like that even though another couple was seated opposite us, they were far enough away that it didn't create any awkwardness.

Blue Moon tile on the table.

Usually, I always try to get a slice of cheese as it provides for a good comparison between other pizza joints I've previously visited and honestly, I don't think anything beats a good slice of cheese. However, upon arriving at the conclusion that this was not a NY pizza joint, we opted to make our own pizza with some of our own toppings choices - Pepperoni, Pineapple, and irresistible sounding cayenne-candied bacon. The pie came out pretty quick and looked damned good; They didn't skimp on the toppings but didn't overpower the entire pizza by smothering it either.

Even though this was not NY ‘za, I still opted to use my aforementioned grading scale:

1. Crust – NO char. It was medium in thickness and was still relatively flavorful. You can certainly tell they bake the pizza on one of those perforated pizza pans and we could see the circular dots on the bottom of the crust. It was not too dry or too chewy which left me satisfied.
2. Cheese- Pretty standard issue here. Nice melt and pull to it. I like that it didn’t dry up over the course of the meal.
3. Sauce – Again, standard issue. It was pretty bland with no tang or taste of garlic, basil, or pepper that I have come to love.
4. The topping (since we got three) - All three were good and as mentioned previously, I liked that the toppings were distributed evenly and not smothering the pizza. The cayenne-candied bacon was good but I'm not so sure that I would have picked up on the cayenne or candied composition if I wasn't already looking for it.

One more thing that I appreciated about this pizza; They put some pepper along the crust and I really never got tired of eating it like I often do because of the added flavor. Much obliged!

I would return to Blue Moon only if in the area again, but I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend it to others. It’s a solid choice but it doesn’t satiate my desire for the perfect Marietta slice. NEXT STOP – Pizzeria Fortunato!

Blue Moon Pizza on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sea Scallops ARE Good Eats

Alton Brown is one of my celebrity chef idols. He's obviously very knowledgeable and pretty damn crafty in the kitchen; the guy makes smokers out of flower pots and a coffee hotplate... That being said, we watch Good Eats on the reg and our DVR is backlogged with many episodes. Recently there was an episode which plays on the film Jaws. If you've seen the show, I don't need to tell you that it involved a very corny acting job between Alton and the deranged captain of the ship. Alton will always seize the opportunity to do some acting - see the "Oh My, Meat Pie" episode for the most ridiculous Sweeny Todd=ified example of this. Anyhow, Scallops were the featured ingredient and the way Alton prepared them seemed just too easy considering that sea scallops are usually found in upscale restaurants and dishes featuring them usually reach the $30-$40 range. By the way, these dishes almost always feature 4 or 5 of these little morsels.

So when I hit up the Farmer's Market the other day, I couldn't help but notice some beautiful specimen in their always promising seafood section. They have fresh, dry (meaning no chemical additives) sea scallops for what I would consider a bargain. I bought eight large ones for just over nine bucks.

All Alton did was dry off the scallops, apply salt and a little pepper, and sear each side for one and a half minutes. I would advise that you make sure your searing solution (equal parts olive oil and butter) is not too deep as the scallops won't truly get a crispy, carmalized edge but other than that, Alton's technique is fail-proof and you can acheive these strata of doneness:

I love how he says, "Pert near raw."

Scallops really exemplify the idea that the dishes you make are only as good as the ingredients you put into them. There isnt a whole lot to making them but with fresh scallops you can be paid off in their naturally sweet and savory flavors and soft, lush texture. Bon Appetit!

Best Breakfast in Atlanta - Sun In My Belly

Breakfast and particularly brunch are extremely popular in Atlanta. On any given weekend morning/early afternoon, it's completely the norm to see long waiting ques outside of popular pancake-slinging hot spots. Atlanta is overflowing with these weekend eateries that are doing quite well. To name a few: Gato Bizco, Highland Bakery, Social, Stone Soup Kitchen, Radial, Original Pancake House (not to be confused with IHOP), Ria's Bluebird, Thumb's Up Diner and Flying Biscuit. The Flying Biscuit is the perfect embodiment of what most Atlantans and tourists alike would consider an ideal weekend brunch stop and it's undeniable when one drives by on a Saturday morning. Lines practically flow out into the street and cause quite the scene like little lemmings lining up to jump off the breakfast cliff. It's so extremely popular, that in the last 2 years the Flying Biscuit has become franchised. But this eatery is far from Atlanta's best offering. They have pretty good food at the Biscuit, but it's not crave-worthy at all. In factm most Atlanta foodies find the actual biscuits for which the restaurant is named deplorable.

Enter: Sun In My Belly.

I had been wanting to try SIMB for a good year and a half after reading a review that mentioned their "Honey Bacon." While the location near Agnes Scott and Kirkwood isn't particularly convenient , we finally decided to hit it up one Saturday after some morning tennis. We got there at about 9 am and there wasn't a soul in sight! I'm not even slightly exaggerating about the waits at the aforementioned restaurants, so to come to a new one and not have to wait for breakfast was an unexpected and pleasant surprise.

The restaurant is comfortable and fairly pretty, for lack of a better term. There are streaming strips of paper dangling above the dining area in all different colors which is a simple, but appreciated element of their decorating. Side note: Kins pointed out that if you look at the paper abstractly it most certainly looks like a hamburger.

I started out with some OJ which is served in a mason jar and it was out of this world. I don't know if they squeeze it themselves, but if they don't, I want to know who their supplier is because it was simply the best orange juice I've ever had. For breakfast, I ended up ordering the Kirkwood which comes with, "Softly Scrambled Eggs with Herbed Boursin Cheese, Honey Glazed Bacon, and a Buttermilk Biscuit." I kind of chuckled to myself when I read that the eggs were "softly scrambled." I mean, how many ways can you scramble eggs? Last time I ever find comedy when I see a description of egg preparation on a menu. The eggs are so soft and tender and the boursin cheese is so subtly flavorful. It's egg perfection. The honey bacon is wonderful as well. In addition to being glazed in honey, it has a spice rub on it instead of the typical pepper that you'll normally find on a slice. While slightly dry on the exterior, the square biscuit was very tasty and a different rendition on what is commonplace in southern morning fare.

I tried some of Kins' potatoes that came with her BLT and following suit with the rest of the meal, they were phenomenal - SIMB uses onions and even red peppers which really add to the potatoes' flavor composition. This was the best breakfast I've had in recent memory. By the way, if you're ever in Charlotte Pewter Rose is a must!

Our experience wasn't perfect however. Kins' BLT's bread was stale. The service here was pretty atrocious. They were not crowded when we showed up. In fact, I think we were the only ones in the place. The waitress was friendly but just so unforgivably slow in all respects. She was trying to take care of the entire dining room before going back to the kitchen or cash register. Regardless, I really enjoyed my meal, but I know they have a reputation of poor service there and hopefully they can fix it because it is the best breakfast in Atlanta.

Sun in My Belly on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Ikea has got balls!

Ikea has got balls! Literally - they serve Swedish meatballs in their cafeteria on the reg. But now, as off as this may seem, they have "Rib Night" each and every Wednesday. For $7.99 you can get a 1/2 rack, fries and cornbread. Oh, and a little parsley garnish! This a ballsey move on their part. It's one thing to serve Swedish meatballs in the south; we don't have many places to get them, but ribs!? BBQ is southern! However, I'm tempted to try the ribs because it's a good deal and if they bake em, grill em, and have good sauce they'll be pretty good. I know it'll lack the smokey flavor that I've come to crave but for $7.99, I can make sacrifices.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

How do you make a BAD Oreo?

How do you make a BAD Oreo? Well the folks at Nabisco have figured it out. I bought these limited edition Fudge Sundae Creme Oreos on the premise that I love all the other limited run cookies that Nabisco puts out; the fudge covered Oreos are incredible even if you can't dunk them, but they really flubbed the dub on these.

I mean what does that mean? They put whipped cream and a cherry on it? Judging by the picture on the front you might think they would use some sort of hot fudge, ice cream, and whipped cream tasting creme center. Nope!

Looks like an ordinary Oreo.

What's that? Half vanilla and half chocolate?

What's that? Nasty, slimy fudge creme.

They've left the original creme on half of the sandwich cookie, but replaced the other half with a fudge creme that's just nasty. It's too thick, too grainy, and too gross. Don't buy these. Complete FAIL.

NYC and Levain Cookies

A few months ago, Kins and I ventured out for a long weekend of urban exploring in the city that never sleeps. Among the sites and museums, one of the main attractions was the food. New York is a virtual Mecca of all things culinary good. They have some of the most critically acclaimed, groundbreaking, and pricey restaurants in the world while also having some of the exact same in cheaper street food/quick stops.

Pizza, hot dogs (franks) and the likes have been staples among New Yorker’s non sit-down meals or snacks and have appeal to tourists alike. Shit, they even have a place that just serves only fries (Pomme Frites)! That's the only item on their menu! We used a few websites including to figure out where we would be stopping to nosh and made some obvious choices - Gray’s Papaya for hot dogs and some less popular picks - Bleeker Street for Pizza and Buddha Bodai for dim sum. While searching for these treats, I had the thought to find a good bakery up there too. I stumbled across Levain in my search and couldn’t resist trying it for their much-touted cookies.

So after an early morning beginning with H&H bagels, we ventured deeper into the upper west side to this tiny downstairs bakery. We opted to try their Chocolate Chip Walnut cookie that even Oprah can’t keep her grubby little hands off of, Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip cookie, and a scone. After seeing the whopping cookies in person, I had my doubts that this was among the competitors for best cookie in the country, let alone world. After all, the cookies look more like a slice of cake than a flat cookie and when you brake one apart it even looks cakey! But all the skepticism was laid to rest when I sunk my teeth into those puppies.

The cookie is moist and dense. Much more so than it’s appearance lends itself to. After sampling all of the baked goods the (surprisingly) real winner was the Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip. This cookie is beyond unique and represents cookie perfection.

Picture above is from the Levain website.

Lately, I’ve been on quite the baking kick and set out to recreate these cookies since having four of these suckers sent to you will set you back 22 bucks. I stumbled across this baking blog and set out to try the recipe.

Frankly, my recipe didn’t come out at all like the Levain cookie. All of the flavors were there, just the texture was off. I attempted to stack the dough higher than usual on the pan to achieve the thickness of the original, but it flattened out considerably. The interior wasn’t as cakey looking either. Despite these flaws, all of the flavors of Levains masterpiece were present and I was very happy with the results. The cookie has a good bit of chew to it and the edges were perfectly crispy. The chocolate flavor is tasteful and not overpowering. My only true problem with this recipe is the amount of suggested chips. Definitely reduce this as there was nearly as much chips as there was dough. Outside of that, I highly recommend this recipe.

Levain Bakery on Urbanspoon