rumor has it

that chipotle now has queso.  actually, it’s not really a rumor.  they’ve been promoting it for about a month now on tv and here in atlanta they’ve even put up big ‘ole billboard advertisements.

earlier this week i’d so conveniently forgotten my packed lunch at home in the refrigerator, so i ended up needing to go out for a bite to eat.  i wanted something quick and satisfying and figured chipotle would be a solid choice, especially since it’s very close to our office.  i ordered my chicken bowl like always and then decided i’d take a chance and try a cup of the queso with some chips.  i hadn’t heard the best reviews about it on social media but we all know how social media can be, so i thought i’d go out on a limb and find out for myself.

i ripped into the chips, opened the queso, took a dip, and had my first bite.  first things first, the spices they used in the queso were actually very tasty.  it was flavorful and had the slightest kick, probably due to the chipotle chili and jalapeno.  i took a couple more tastes and thought, “well, this isn’t as bad as people were making it sound.”

but then as i made my way to the bottom of the queso cup, a funny taste started to linger in my mouth.  something tasted off about the cheese and then the texture started to bother me as well.  the queso was very, very thick and actually not very smooth at all.  i guess “gloopy” would be a good word to use to describe it.  as for the cheese, i realized the issue after looking at the ingredient listing online:  they use cheddar cheese – ick!  now, don’t get me wrong, i love cheddar cheese, i love all cheese!  i haven’t yet met a cheese i don’t drool over, but cheddar cheese seems like the completely wrong choice for a queso.  maybe that’s because here in the south we’re used to a nice mild, white, smooth cheese in our queso or maybe it’s just because cheddar cheese really isn’t a good idea at all.  regardless, after finishing the queso (because i hate to waste) i swiftly scarfed down my chicken bowl to get the bad tastes out of my mouth.

now, with all this being said, i advise you try chipotle’s queso at your own risk.  and, if you do insist on giving it a taste, i will say this:  try just a cup of the stuff.  i truly don’t think it’d be wise to drizzle this stuff all over your tacos or burrito or bowl and ruin your entire meal.  you have been warned!

nam phuong – atlanta, ga

earlier in august i had picked up the local periodical creative loafing and was flipping through the pages when i came upon a story that highlighted and reviewed the best 12 wing joints in atlanta.  coined “the ultimate wing smackdown“, writers and contributors took recommendations from creative loafing loyalists to taste, savor, and ultimately decide which restaurant in the city boasts the best chicken wings.  with five criteria (including flavor, exterior texture, interior texture, value, and overall appearance) by which to evaluate, the judges trekked far and wide to, in the end, crown nam phuong the chicken wing king.

in a mostly unassuming building off buford highway, nam phuong is a spacious sit-down restaurant that, on the tuesday night we went, was quite busy with a very diverse crowd.  now, before i go on to review these chicken wings, let me say this:  buford highway is like the yellow brick road of authentic food in atlanta.  with restaurants that span cuisines from all over the world, the real foodies in this city know that la buford is the place to be, and nam phuong is a perfect fit for this reputable strip.

our group of seven was quickly seated and our water glasses were brought soon thereafter.  as i flipped among the menu’s pages, my eyes wandered around the tables near us, interested to see what other diners had ordered.  big, white ceramic bowls with steam rising out of them were most of what i saw, and even though a big helping of pho sounded tasty, i knew i would have to make a return trip for that.  this visit was for chicken wings and chicken wings only!  at least as far as i was concerned.

matt, anthony, janine, grant, eric, and claire all opted for the pho, which came out quickly and piping hot.  on a cold winter’s day, i could easily picture myself coming back here for a savory bowl of that stuff, but i waited patiently as my wings took a little longer to come out.  i took that as a good sign, hoping it meant they were being cooked to order.  🙂

thankfully i was able to keep my drooling under control once the waiter served me.  the wings were hot and covered in some kind of delicious fish sauce, and alongside was a heap of white rice and some sliced vegetables.  for about nine bucks, it looked like this “appetizer” was going to be more than enough to fill me up!

as the rest of the group happily slurped up spoonfuls of noodles and chicken and broth, i got down and dirty with my wings.  the wings were cooked in such a way that the skin was crispy but also a little tacky with the sauce that had obviously been brushed on at the right moment in the grilling process.  the sauce itself was sweet but also had a little zing at the end of each bite, so it was good i had the rice to help offset the spice.  the chicken itself was very juicy and not dry at all, and i greedily ate every single one of them!

if you’re a wing lover in any regard, i highly recommend you swing by nam phuong to give their wings a try.  this dish is a great value for what you get, the service is fast and friendly, and supporting a local joint just makes you feel good!  so, if you’ve got a hankering for something familiar but also something new, then this place is the spot for you.

june’s ohio adventure

for those of you who know me well, you’re probably wondering to yourself, “who is this june?  is she a long-lost high school friend?  is she a college acquaintance she’s reconnected with nowadays?  is she a new coworker she’s kindly befriend?”  well, i hate that this isn’t more exciting, but june is what i named my lovely rental car for the week!  ladies and gentlemen, i introduce to you june, the 2016 grey chrysler pacifica!  isn’t she a beaut?!

the name hit me like a ton of bricks as i was weaving around winding suburb roads and channeling my inner mom, specifically my inner barbara billingsley.  i mean, it really is quite empowering, navigating this sturdy, speedy, and functional vehicle around town.  i felt like i could rule the world!  anyway, june and i became besties last week in ohio while i was up there for work and some personal traveling.  and, in an effort to spice things up on my solo trip, i decided to blog about all our adventures.  our first stop?  dayton.

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when in philly…

do as the philadelphians do and eat a cheesesteak!  this past week i spent a couple days up in the city of brotherly love for work and decided to, of course, make the most of it.  although the weather wasn’t too welcoming upon my arrival, thankfully the friendly faces at geno’s steaks were.  i’d been to the rival pat’s several years ago and decided it’d only be fair to give the competition a try as well.  plus, a friend of a friend had recommended it, so i was happy to oblige.

i hopped out of the uber and tried not to look too much like a tourist.  well, that approach didn’t work really at all in my favor because there aren’t any instructions anywhere on where to order or how.  i didn’t want to rustle the feathers of any locals by taking an absurd amount of time, so i fessed up and told the employee i was from out-of-town.  he smiled when i shared the news and was happy to make a recommendation that would be sure to please.  he even gave me a pen as a souvenir!  awww.

i plopped myself down at a nearby table and, upon unrolling the sandwich, realized i may have made a mistake by ordering the sandwich and cheese fries.  that cheesesteak was huge and probably enough on its own!  i would never myself eat a sandwich that big with that much filling, much less with a heap of cheese-smothered french fries, but i was sitting right next to the order counter and felt the employees’ eyes peering through the glass, eager to know if i liked their famous sandwich.

i could do nothing else but roll up my sleeves, grab a mountain of napkins, and get to work.  the first thought i had as a bit into the cheesesteak was that the bread was insanely fresh; that i could not deny.  i also couldn’t deny that the rib-eye was sliced perfectly thin.  however, i have to confess that among the fresh bread, savory steak, onions, and cheese, i wasn’t getting the flavor punch i had hoped i would get.  perhaps instead of the grilled onions i should have gone for fresh onions, if that is even an option?  i don’t know, but i eventually powered through messy bites of cheesesteak and slathered french fries to the near end as best i could.

as i finally admitted defeat with a hunk of bread and a few fries remaining, i relaxed a moment to take in the atmosphere of this well-loved (and long-loved) philly establishment.  it’s clear that locals and non-locals alike have a special place in their hearts for the beloved cheesesteak.  open 24 hours a day, geno’s has earned its place as a traditional icon of the city, satisfying hungry wayfarers’ tastebuds no matter the time of day.

hattie b’s hot chicken – birmingham, al

this past weekend, phillip and i made a swift drive west to visit my parents in birmingham for a couple of days.  it was a belated birthday celebration for my father as well as an early valentine’s day gathering for all four of us.

my mom was occupied at the school for a show choir event all day saturday, so phillip and i helped my dad run errands around town and then take kramer for a lovely afternoon walk over at heardmont park.  this place brings back countless memories of my brothers during the baseball days, and my father and i reminisced as we strolled from field to field.

the day crept into the evening, and i’d say all four of us had worked up quite an appetite for dinner.  so, we all hopped in phillip’s mazda and my dad navigated us to downtown birmingham where we joined the crowd in line at hattie b’s for some hot chicken.

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future son-in-law with his future father-in-law. 🙂

we waited in line for about ten minutes, but it wasn’t so bad since that gave us time to look over the menu.  now, mom and dad have been here before, and both testified that the medium sauce made their heads sweat.  per their recommendation, i then knew that the mild would be the way to go.  in addition to choosing your heat level, you also have several chicken choices.  from breasts to wings to tenders, surely there’s something on this menu that can satisfy.

at seven o’clock on a saturday night, you can probably imagine how busy this place already was.  so, when a table opened up, i sprinted to claim it for us.  as i settled in and took a look around, it was clear by the simple atmosphere and the line out the door that tasty eating was awaiting us.

mom, dad, and phillip arrived with our number and our drinks and we chatted as we waited on our food.  i’m going to guess that they try to make everything fresh to order, because we had plenty of time to discuss wedding plans.  oh, did i mention phillip and i are engaged?  well, if you didn’t know before, you’re in the know now!  🙂  more on all that fun to come later.

in the end, the food was certainly worth the wait.  between the sides and the chicken, there was hardly anything left on our plates!  the pimento cheese mac’n’cheese was creamy with a little kick, the collard greens were well-cooked (and i’d recommend throwing some hot sauce on them to spice things up), and i heard the potato salad, fries, and coleslaw were also delicious.

my mild tenders were, first of all, humongous.  i actually needed help finishing them!  although delicious when dipped in either the honey mustard or bleu cheese, a bite on its own was quite flavorful.  i’m glad i went with the mild because although the heat may not be in-your-face at first, you definitely start feeling it after two or three tenders.  phillip also had the mild tenders and didn’t leave a single bite uneaten.  mom said her southern chicken tenders were wonderful and dad could not get enough of the mild wings he ordered.

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i’d say if i find myself back at hattie b’s (which i’m sure i will) i think i’ll go for the wings.  the tenders are awesome if that’s what you’re in the mood for, but the wings really looked like they might be this restaurant’s specialty.  i also don’t doubt i’d try the potato salad (it looked awesome on my mom’s plate) and i would certainly get an order of the banana pudding.  my mom says it is heavenly, and i don’t think i’ll forgive myself if i forget to get it next time.

equal parts cream cheese & bagel

for those of you who maybe don’t know me well, i have a confession to share:  i love bagels and i love cream cheese and i love them even more when they’re together.  i don’t know when my obsession really started, but it’s been around for ages.  i remember even back in college when i’d have breakfast with kari and brett on tuesday and thursday mornings before class.  we’d meet up at snelling hall on uga’s campus for a quick bite to eat.  i would get a couple of scrambled eggs, some fruit, and then half a bagel.  now, like many restaurant establishments, snelling provided the little philadelphia cream cheese single-serve tubs for use.  most normal human beings might use the logic that “since i have half a bagel, i only need half the tub of cream cheese.”  well, no such logic exists in my world.  i shamelessly smothered that half bagel with ALL the cream cheese for the tub and enjoyed every single bite.  the 1:1 ratio of bagel to cream cheese was the best part of my morning.

well, i’m happy to report i have yet to outgrow this appetite obsession.  ask anyone around me and they’ll tell you the same.  these days, though, without a dining hall to satisfy my bagel-cream cheese cravings, i stop about once a week at goldberg’s.  it just happens to be on the right side of the road on my drive into work; it’s a miracle i don’t stop in there more, actually.

anyway, i typically order an egg bagel toasted with plain cream cheese.  this might not sound so exciting, but trust me when i say that EGG BAGELS ARE EVERYTHING.  anyway, a couple weeks ago i made my regular stop, ordered my regular order, but was slightly disappointed when i got to the office and opened the bag.  there was a measly spread of cream cheese between the two slices of bagel, and it nearly ruined my morning.  okay, that is an exaggeration; i still enjoyed the bagel, but it was obvious with each bite that there should have been more cream cheese.

so, this past friday i stopped in as i usually do and when they took my order, i said, “now, last time i ordered the cream cheese was a bit skimpy.  this time can you be sure there’s a generous amount on there?”  after asking i held my breath, slightly terrified the employee was going to judge me and then proceed to talk about me to everyone the moment i left the restaurant.  however, a smile grew on her face and she said, “i’ll be sure to take care of you.”

i thanked her, waited at the check-out line, and paid.  once the bagel was ready, she reached over the counter to hand it to me and i was instantly satisfied.  wait, how could i know, without opening the bag, that she had done me right?  i’ll tell you how.  the bag felt heavy.  oh yes, i knew she had heard a sister’s cry for cream cheese and delivered!

see?  look at that cream cheese to bagel ratio.  nearly equal, as it should be.

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then, then!  the real test was passed.  you always know you have the right amount of cream cheese on a bagel when you can see your teeth marks in the cream cheese after taking a bite.  i was in heaven!

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do i really think i’ll ever outgrow my cream cheese-bagel obsession?  likely not.  in fact, i hope i pass it down to my children!  if you’ve got any good bagel suggestions that would rock my world, i would love to hear them.  this request especially goes to my friend jamie who is on a one-man mission to try new bagels and cream cheeses in his town of new york city.  you go, boy!

bon glaze – buckhead, ga

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yesterday morning phillip and i opened the windows in the condo to let in the newly arrived fresh autumn air and then i hustled out the door for a couple errands.  after dropping off the dry cleaning, i crossed roswell to try out bon glaze, a darling donut walk-up just up the street from us here in buckhead.

their sign went up several months ago, and within the past couple of weeks they celebrated that they are now open for business.  i pass by bon glaze every day i drive to work, so you can imagine i was intrigued by the name and also their slogan:  doughnuts – bacon – coffee.  once i saw that they were open at last, i knew i needed to check it out.

first, bon glaze is not a sit-down kind of place.  it’s just like a street vendor you might find in a big city:  you walk up, order, and await your scrumptious food to be prepared and delivered.  perhaps if it’s possible they can install some benches around the area so that folks are invited to have a coffee and a donut, chat it up with friends, and then order more donuts.  i mean, i’m just saying…

anyway!  it’s a good thing i got there when i did because after i ordered folks came flocking as though a beacon from atop the store was beckoning them to come eat.  i mentioned to the cashier that it was my first time at bon glaze, and i was grateful that his cheery demeanor was more than happy to make some recommendations.

wanting to go for a combination of sweet and savory, i ordered the breakfast sandwich, a blueberry sour cream cake donut, a classic vanilla bean glazed donut, and the boston cream.  do be advised that the breakfast sandwich and waffles (yes, they have waffles) are made-to-order, so you can easily devour one or two of the other donuts while you wait or even order more.  i think these guys know what they’re doing. 😉

anyway, i managed to keep my hungry paws off the donuts until i made it back home to share them with phillip.  we first tried the breakfast sandwich since it had a warm egg, bacon, and cheese between two halves of a classic glazed donut.  the sweet icing from the donut with the salty bacon and melty cheese made for a fabulous combination.  although i wanted more, i’m glad i only had half because there was more to enjoy.

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among the remaining three, each of them was indulgent and sinful in their own way.  the blueberry sour cream was flavorful and perfectly cooked – not too overdone and not too sweet.  i would gladly order this customer favorite again.  the vanilla bean glazed was outstanding.  it melted in my mouth with each bite and certainly sets the standard for a traditional glazed donut.  as for the boston cream?  well, let’s just say eating one of these could be your dessert.  the chocolate is rich and the donut, again, perfectly cooked.  however, phillip and i both agreed it needed a touch more cream on the inside.

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even though donuts don’t tend to be my breakfast food of choice, i would gladly go to bon glaze again for a sweet treat.  it’s close by, the donuts are handmade, and the quality of their product is undeniable.  each of the donuts we had this weekend i would certainly order again, but you can bet i’d be more than happy to try some of the bon bons, the espresso cream donut, or the chocolate-glazed bacon next time.  if you find yourself in the buckhead area and have a sweet tooth that needs to be satisfied, stop on by bon glaze and treat yo’self!

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ponce city market & botiwalla – atlanta, ga

hello, fellow food lovers!  this post comes direct to you from the urban vibe of ponce city market!  the group was well overdue for a new restaurant night, so kyle helped us decide on pcm.  with stores and restaurants galore, it was the perfect spot for our tuesday night get-together.

phillip, kyle, kari, bank, and i all met up at the corner of ponce and glen iris to explore the wildly popular ponce city market that has basically exploded and become a local atlanta favorite, all within the past year or so.  i’ve been to the chelsea market in new york city and krog street market here in atlanta, but ponce city market took me by surprise.  i think it’s because it was my first time and i really had no idea what to expect.  this monstrous construction, though, is a feast for the eyes as much as it is for your appetite (and your wallet).

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pcm is floor after floor of atlanta’s finest shops (think west elm, anthropologie, binders) as well as up-and-coming restaurants trying to make a name for themselves.  there’s the main food hall that hosts most of the eateries, but if you take the spiral stairs up a level, you’ll find a fancy steak house and even more space just waiting to be claimed and developed.

pcm was bustling for a tuesday night, and considering the massive parking deck they have underneath it all, i can only imagine the chaos that ensues on the weekends.  ask any local and they’ll tell you the same, that when new things crop up in our city, we are all too eager to get a first glimpse and immediately make it our new favorite place.  it’s true!

the five of us took a stroll around to check out our options.  many of the restaurants have dining tables available, but like krog, you can order and then take your meal to a common eating space in the middle of it all.  it doesn’t have large, cafeteria-style seating like krog, but they’ve set it up so that everyone in your group can easily order from whatever place they like and still get to eat and enjoy the food and atmosphere together.

without any real direction, bank suggested we try botiwalla the indian street grill.  botiwalla is the latest adventure by the chai pani restaurant group out of asheville, nc.  chai pani has several different established endeavors, including their mg road bar & lounge and buxton hall barbecue.  and, if you want a taste of chai pani without having to travel out of state, you can find them right in downtown decatur.

well, with nothing else spinning our spurs that night, we all were in agreement.  indian street fare it would be!  time to eat!

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da vinci’s donuts – sandy springs

i was on my way to work this morning and had every intention to make a quick stop and grab a bagel to eat for breakfast.  it was after i accidentally passed the light to go to panera bread, though, that i had to be spontaneous and make a change in plan.  as i leisurely cruised up roswell, it dawned on me that there is a donut place right on the way to the office, and i hadn’t yet tried it.  even better, i had a coupon!  well, that made the decision easy!

i took a left off glenridge, swung into a parking spot, and opened the door to the sandy springs location of da vinci’s donuts.  with that first step, i was in donut heaven.  the donut smell was so authentic that i felt like i had been transported to another place.  i don’t know where exactly, but i imagine it’s a place filled with puppies and chaise lounges and lots of windows and donuts stacked on platters on every surface you can see.  sure, we’ll call that donut heaven!

anyway, the whole idea here at da vinci’s is to make a really great donut that you can top yourself or enjoy with one of their specialty creations.  their cake-like donut is a great base for whatever you’re going to put on it.  and one of the best parts?  they’re small!  i know, a small donut?  how can that be a good thing?  well, when you’re eating it with chocolate icing or maple bacon, less is more.  and since i had a coupon, i was ready to try nearly every option they put in front of me.

i quickly decided on the da vinci’s dozen, 16 donuts placed in a donut box that actually looks quite similar to another type of food delivery box.  interesting…

with so many to select, i was able to practically get one of each specialty flavor they had out that morning.  how nice that it worked out that way!  i couldn’t help but smile as i looked at those cheery donuts peeking back at me.  almost too cute to consume!  almost.

when i got to the office, i immediately dug in, as i was pretty hungry.  i chose to go with the cinnamon and chocolate glaze on my first round.  the first thing you’re going to notice about any of their donuts is how light they are.  this place has cake donut making down to a science, and you may come to believe they have that recipe just about perfect.  the cinnamon donut was soft and scrumptious and not too sweet.

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the chocolate glaze, though, for me personally was a step above the cinnamon.  the chocolate glaze is the perfect consistency for this little donut, not overpowering.  after the three bites it took me to finish it off, i concluded that their version represents the quintessential chocolate glaze donut.  how’s that for a review!

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and since there were a few donuts left in the box, i decided a third mini donut couldn’t hurt.  this one was by far my favorite, the strawberry shortcake.  i mean, come on!  how precious is this little cutie pie!  the smell alone was enough to make me drool.

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if you feel your sweet tooth itching for satisfaction down here in the atlanta area, i highly recommend you take a chance on da vinci’s donuts.  if these pictures and adjectives aren’t enough to convince you, here’s the last argument i’ll make:  they also serve jittery joe’s coffee!  noms!

krog street market – atlanta, ga

it has felt like eons since we did an official restaurant review, so i promised myself i wouldn’t go two months into the year without changing that fact.  last wednesday kyle, kari, phillip, and i carpooled to the southeastern part of town to check out krog street market.

since it was the first time there for kari and i, we didn’t quite know where to start.  so, we let the experienced boys lead us on a loop of the place to check everything out.  this development has been around for a little while now and whoa!  it’s obvious why people all over town love it.  it kind of feels like a grown-up food court where you can pick from several types of cuisine depending on your preference that day.  there are also tons of store fronts for local artisans who are selling anything from dog treats to handmade soaps.  there’s even an adult beverage shop right next to the bar where you can go to get away from work, life, the kids, whatever it may be!  if you’re a small business supporter, krog street market is the place for you.

i had been craving greek food for a while and finding yalla! online is what actually led us here.  kari was on board for greek as well, but phillip and kyle wandered elsewhere for their meal.  the yalla! stall is very inviting if you ask me, and i guess other people felt so, too, because there was a little bit of a line.  kari grabbed us a couple menus and we joined them.

the yalla! menu is perfect because one side has all the menu options and the other has a little glossary of terms for you to ensure you are ordering something you will fully enjoy.  although i had been coming in completely convinced i was in the mood for lamb, my mind changed the second i saw falafel as an option.  done and done!

as we waited patiently, we both liked the fact that you get to watch as the chefs make your meal.  they take care with each dish, treating food like the form of art i truly feel it is.  as our orders approached, we heard one of the line cooks call out a lamb laffa.  we both looked at the tray in amazement.  the laffa is massive!  it’s a humongous flatbread that’s used as a sandwich wrap.  kari and i were both convinced the laffa is something you can easily share between a couple people.  it looked filling and delicious!

after retrieving our orders, we found the boys had done the favor of finding some seats for us.  to give to that “community” feel, krog street market has long tables perfectly designed to encourage conversation among groups.  this layout also obviously lends greatly to some stellar observing and people watching.  i bet it was intentional; what do you think?  😉

hungry boys!

hungry boys!

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