El Taquito, Newnan, Georgia, July 2, 2018

Recently I got a tip on a Mexican restaurant in Newnan that I wasn’t previously aware of.  At first, I thought it was a new place but as I began to read some of the reviews on Yelp I noticed that some of the reviews were from 2015.  How have I managed not to notice this place for three years?!  How have I managed to drive past its location dozens of times yet never noticed the bright yellow sign on the end of the building?  The only reason that I can think of is that El Taquito is located inside the BP truck stop on Highway 29 at the Moreland exit off of I-85 and when I’ve driven by I just haven’t paid the building much attention.  Still, one would think that I would have heard something about it during those three years.  Nope, not a word…until a month or so ago.

ConnieLou and I have been trying to get down there to give it a try for the past couple of weeks but things finally came together last night and we paid El Taquito visit on our way home from work.  When we walked into the truck stop building it took us a few extra seconds to find the place.  The phrase ‘hole in the wall restaurant’ took on a more literal meaning.  There was a service counter and kitchen, a drink cooler, a condiment bar and a small seating area all tucked into the corner of the truck stop building.

If you’ve read many entries to this blog then you already know that I’m a fan of ‘hole in the wall’ restaurants.  The food is generally very good and almost always more authentic than the ‘shiny’ place next to the newest or biggest local shopping center.  I’ve also noticed that, with restaurants of various ethnicities, if the apparent ethnicity of the majority of the clientele appears to be similar to that of the type of food being served, you’re likely in for a treat…and we were.

We stepped up to the counter and placed our orders.  ConnieLou ordered a chicken taco salad which consisted seasoned chicken, lettuce, cheese and refried beans in a crispy shell and I ordered the platilla de asada (Asada Plate) which consisted of carne asada, rice, refried beans and a small salad (lettuce and diced tomatoes topped with a little guacamole) with three warm tortillas on the side.  We both ordered a Coke which we soon discovered wasn’t a fountain drink or locally bottled Coca-Cola but Coca-Cola bottled in Mexico…you know, the kind made with real sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup.

We each received a small tray of fresh nachos…yeah, fresh, as in made in-house, today, not Tostitos…to munch on with some fresh salsa while we waited on our food to arrive.  Ultimately, we both found our food and quite tasty and definitely more authentic than most of the other La and El Somethings in town.

So how did El Taquito fare on the Thumbs Scale?  Try an easy four out of a possible four thumbs up.  Everything was quite tasty from the nachos to the salsas to the carne asada to the beans and rice.  Have I mentioned authentic already?  If you just don’t think you can handle eating at a truck stop then you can give El Taquito a pass…but, if you’re looking for darn good Mexican food without all the trappings of one of the shinier La or El Somethings, give ‘em a try…you’ll probably leave happy that you did.

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Sisson’s Old South Barbeque, Eatonton, Georgia, June 29, 2018

I had to go down to Lake Oconee to make my monthly visit to a jobsite so I sent a text to my buddy James who lives down that way to see if he wanted to meet up for lunch while I was in the area.  James said that he knew a good barbeque joint nearby and plans were made.

I met James at his office and we spent a little while catching up before we headed off for lunch.  As it turns out James’ office and the restaurant are both only about four miles from my jobsite.  We walked in, stepped up to the counter and placed our orders.  I ordered a pulled pork sandwich and a side of Brunswick stew and James went with smoked lemon pepper wings and fries.

We got our drinks, grabbed a table and spent some more time catching up while we waited for our food.  OK, it’s been a while since we’ve had a chance to get together so we had a bit of catching up to do.  While we talked I sampled the four barbeque sauces on the table.  Their sauces included Mild, Spicy, Sweet and Mustard.  All of the sauces were good but the Spicy and Mustard seemed to suit me the best.   James said he likes the Sweet and Mustard.  Now I’m not a fan of sweet barbeque sauces but have to admit that Sisson’s Sweet sauce had a good flavor underlying the sweetness.

After just a few minutes our orders arrived and we dug in.  The consistency of the stew was almost perfect in my book.  I don’t know quite how to describe it so you’ll just have to take my word for it and after tasting it, for once I really didn’t have an urge to add a splash of barbeque sauce or hot sauce to adjust the flavor.  I took a taste of the pulled pork before adding any sauce.  The meat was moist and lightly smoky.  I ended up dressing half of my sandwich with the Spicy sauce and the other half with the Mustard sauce.  I noticed that James’ fries were fresh cut and not the frozen variety.  He told me to give them a try and I quickly discovered that they were lightly seasoned with a dry rub, most likely the same rub they season their pulled pork with, instead of salt…and they were quite tasty.

So how did Sisson’s Old South Barbeque fare on the Thumbs Scale?  Four out of a possible four thumbs shouldn’t be a big surprise and I’d give them bonus points for the hand cut fries.  Sisson’s definitely goes on the repeat list.

Taqueria Tsunami, Athens, Georgia, June 16, 2018

OK, so I’m a little late getting this entry put together.

Better late than never, right?

Right.

We celebrated Father’s Day a day early this year.  Ashley was scheduled to work on Sunday and was on call Saturday so we decided to head up to Athens on Saturday so we could all spend some time together.   Knowing that we were going to be in Athens and looking for some place to go out to eat, I asked a good friend for suggestions.  In particular, I asked for suggestions for a Mexican restaurant, preferably not one from a big chain such as La Parilla.  She suggested that we give Taqueria Tsunami, a Latin-Asian Fusion place, a try.

I almost broke my no national chains rule with this one.  Taqueria Tsunami has two locations in Athens, five in the Atlanta area and one in Kentucky.  Kentucky, really?  Since there was only the one outlier I decided my rule was safe…and anyway, I’m the one that makes the rules here.

We looked up their menu online to see if it might be someplace that we were interested in.  This excerpt from their menu grabbed my interest: “We take the best from the Far East and South of the Border to dish up a variety of Latin Asian fusion tacos, salads, rice bowls, quesadillas, appetizers and cocktails in a comfortable contemporary setting.”  OK, so we haven’t tried Latin Asian fusion before but it sounded good so we decided to give it a try.

Being it was Father’s Day I decided that we were going to splurge a little bit.  In addition to our entrées we ordered margaritas…well, me, ConnieLou and Ashley ordered margaritas.  Jenna, being a few months short of 21 and still under age, ordered a refreshing glass of ice water.  We also ordered an appetizer, guacamole and chips, and dessert, S’mores egg rolls.

For our entrées we all ordered tacos.  ConnieLou, Ashley and Jenna all ordered the Tsunami Trio which consisted of two tacos and a side and I ordered The Quatro which consisted of three tacos and a side.  For tacos ConnieLou and Ashley selected the Gringo Taco (seasoned ground beef) and Baja Taco (tempura fried fish).  Jenna selected two Shrimp Tempura Tacos and I went with an Asada Zing Taco (Bulgogi marinated steak), a Shrimp Tempura Taco and a Baja Taco.  We all selected black beans and rice for our side.

We enjoyed our drinks and guacamole and chips while we waited for our entrées to arrive.  Both were quite tasty.  Our entrées came fairly quickly and was followed by our dessert.

So how did Taqueria Tsunami fare on the Thumbs Scale?  They earned a respectable seven thumbs out of a possible eight.  While everything we had was quite good, there just wasn’t any ‘wow factor’ with the shrimp and fish tacos.  The general observation was “they tasted just like the fish and shrimp tacos that we get pretty much anywhere else.”  I couldn’t really argue.  On the other hand, I thought my Asada Zing taco, my margarita and the guac were all quite good.  While Taqueria Tsunami didn’t earn eight out of eight thumbs, it wouldn’t take much arm-twisting to get me to go back for another visit.

Dunc’s BBQ Kitchen, Newnan, Georgia, June 23, 2018

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There’s a new kid in town…

We learned a month or two ago that a new BBQ joint was coming to Newnan and we knew we’d have to give it a try.  Normally when a new restaurant opens up we wait a few weeks for a visit to give them time get things going and work the kinks out of their system.  We found out last week that Dunc’s BBQ Kitchen (no relation to The Barbeque Kitchen in College Park, Georgia) had opened and was already getting promising reviews so when presented with an opportunity to check them out we decided to go ahead and give them a shot.

The restaurant location had housed two short-lived restaurants in the recent past and was a drug store in front of the old Newnan Hospital in a previous life.  When ConnieLou and I walked in we found Steve Duncan, the owner, greeting customers and working the register.  We talked with Steve, a.k.a. Dunc, for a couple of minutes then placed our orders.  ConnieLou ordered a pulled pork sandwich on Texas toast with a side of Brunswick stew.  I ordered the same thing but ordered my sammich on a bun.

When we sat down at the table to wait on our orders I noticed that there were three barbeque sauces on the table which were labeled Hot, Mild, and Sweet.  Of course, I had to break out a spoon and taste them all.  Let me say that I’m not a big fan of sweet sauces in general.  The Sweet sauce was sweet but had a very good flavor.  The Mild and Hot sauce were both tangy and right up my alley so, of course, I had to use a little of both once our food arrived.

Our food arrived quickly and we dug in.  The stew consistency was just about perfect, not too fine but not too chunky.  It had a slightly smoky flavor from the smoked pork and chicken that were used.  The pulled pork was lightly smoky and sweet.

So how did Dunc’s BBQ Kitchen fare on the Thumbs Scale?  We gave them an easy 4 out of a possible 4 thumbs.

As we were leaving we stopped to talk to Steve again and learned that He had owned O.B.’s Barbeque that operated in McDonough, Georgia for many years until they lost the place in a fire.  Steve told us that when they decided to open a place in Newnan that they brought over all of their old recipes and even some of his old staff to get things going. He also told us that light smoky flavor in the pork came from their use of pecan wood to smoke the meat which produces a nice, light smoky flavor that’s not as strong as other woods like hickory often tend to be.  Will we be back?  Definitely…it’s going to take several visits to eat our way through the menu…but I think we’re up to the challenge.

Frazier’s, Newnan, Georgia, June 9, 2018

When I began writing this blog four years ago, it never occurred to me that someday I’d be writing about a convenience store breakfast/lunch counter but here we are.

OK, hang with me, I haven’t lost my marbles…well, not all of them anyway, so don’t click away just yet.

Every now and then ConnieLou and just don’t feel like cooking breakfast on a Saturday or Sunday morning but we don’t want a bowl of cereal either.  Of course, we could get up, get dressed and go somewhere for breakfast but if we don’t feel like cooking, we probably don’t really want to go out either.  Let’s be real here, Saturday and Sunday mornings are about the only times during the week that we have the opportunity to just be lazy or to do something we want to do (like go fishing) instead of something we have to do (like yard work).  Fortunately, there is an option that still requires driving a little way but can be accomplished without having to wear anything fancier than a pair of shorts, a t-shirt and flip flops.  What might that solution be?  Biscuits and cheese grits from Frazier’s, the gas station/convenience store located just a couple of miles down Highway 29 from our house.

Frazier’s, like many convenience stores, has a breakfast/lunch counter inside.  At breakfast one can find biscuits with various combinations of meat, cheese and eggs inside as well as plain grits cheese grits and grits with s couple of patties of sausage crumbled up and mixed in.  At lunch they have a variety of hot sandwiches such as burgers and chicken sandwiches and a few other items.

We’re going to focus on the biscuits and the cheese grits.

A couple of Saturdays ago I had gone fishing on a nearby pond.  As I was loading up to head home I realized that I was getting pretty hungry so I texted ConnieLou to see if she wanted me to run down to Frazier’s and pick up some biscuits and cheese grits.  Of course, the response was yes and I was instructed to get her a bacon biscuit.

When I got there, I discovered that they were out of bacon biscuits so I asked the lady behind the counter if they could make up a few.  She said that wouldn’t be a problem and proceeded to pull three fresh biscuits from the oven and break them open.  Then she grabbed a handful of bacon for each biscuit.  I made a comment about her putting a lot of bacon on each biscuit as it should be and she said “well, it’s only four pieces”.  Yeah, ‘only’ four pieces.  ‘Only four’.  My kind of bacon biscuit.  She wrapped them up in some waxed paper and handed them to me.  I grabbed a container of cheese grits, paid the other lady at the register and was on my way.

So how did Frazier’s fare on the Thumbs Scale?  Try an easy 4 out of a possible four.  The biscuits are light and fluffy and they don’t paint the tops with butter like other places tend to do.  The bacon – crispy and, of course, plentiful.  The cheese grits…creamy and cheesy…just like they’re supposed to be.  Just for the record, their plain grits are pretty darn good too.  Will we be back?  Do you need to ask?

Barbeque Kitchen, College Park, Georgia, May 26, 2018

We’d dropped Jenna off at the airport to head off on a three week trip to Alaska with her friend Lily (yes, I tried my best to stow away and go too but I just couldn’t fit in her suitcase and, of course, would exceed the 50-pound weight limit for a checked bag). Since Jenna and her friend were flying stand-by ConnieLou didn’t want to get too far from the airport until we knew that the girls would make it on their flight we decided to have breakfast nearby. We thought about going to Chick-Fil-A’s Dwarf house in Hapeville but decided against it since there are two other CFA locations within 5 miles of our house and we could have CFA anytime. Instead we opted for the Barbeque Kitchen in College Park.

The Barbeque Kitchen is a College Park institution, having been in the same location since it opened in 1958. ConnieLou, being a College Park native, has been there quite a few times over the years but I think I’ve only been there a time or two and never for breakfast. We walked in and sat down and our server came by with menu’s and took our drink order. After giving the menu a quick look ConnieLou ordered the two egg and bacon plate that came with grits and biscuits and I ordered two steak biscuits and a side of hash browns.

When our food arrived ConnieLou was quick to notice that the tops of the biscuits weren’t painted with melted butter, a common restaurant practice that I’m not particularly fond of. Indeed they weren’t. To make things even better they were light and fluffy, unlike the dense, chewy bread cakes that most restaurants try to pass off as biscuits. The steak in my biscuits was fresh breaded ‘country fried’ cubed steak, not the frozen, deep fried pieces of mystery meat that many restaurants try to pass off as country fried steak. ConnieLou said that her fried eggs were cooked just right and the grits were actually good. Yeah, try getting good grits at a restaurant these days…generally doesn’t happen.

So how did the Barbeque Kitchen fare on the Thumbs Scale? We gave it 4 out of a possible four thumbs up. There’s a pretty good reason the Barbeque Kitchen has been around for 60 years. The place may be a little worn around the edges but 60 years in business will do that…but the food is darn good!

Steve’s Place (formerly Georgia Mountain Restaurant), Hiawassee, Georgia, May 18, 2018

This is a bit of a sad entry to write. The Georgia Mountain Restaurant in Hiawassee, Georgia is no more. OK, the old building hasn’t been demolished but the name has been changed and is now Steve’s Place. I remember the Georgia Mountain Restaurant fondly from my time at nearby Young Harris College in the mid 1980s. It was one of a handful of restaurants that students from the college would visit when we needed a break from the campus dining hall and breakfast was usually when we visit because it was a buffet. During my most recent visit to the Georgia Mountain Restaurant a couple of years ago they still had a breakfast buffet.

I stayed in the area overnight after a Friday afternoon meeting at the college and Saturday morning I found myself looking for breakfast. I had already decided to head east through Hiawassee then south through Helen and Cleveland to go home in order to visit a couple of antique shops on the way. I didn’t particularly want fast food and unfortunately, breakfast options in Hiawassee beyond fast food are still relatively slim. I’d noticed on a billboard sign that Steve’s Place offered breakfast so I decided to stop in and give it a try.

The first thing I noticed was that the interior had been given a fresh coat of paint and had been redecorated…same ‘country’ motif, different ‘country’ stuff. The second thing I noticed was that the old buffet bar that stood in the middle of the room was gone and had been replaced with a long table and individual warming trays. I wasn’t sure if this was a good sign or not.

I gave the buffet line a quick once-over before sitting down at a table. My server took my drink order and told me that I could help myself to the buffet whenever I was ready. I loaded my plate with a biscuit, cheese grits, smoked sausage, sausage patties, and some fried ham. For whatever reason there was no bacon on the buffet so my server offered to bring me some. Naturally, I accepted.

Either the restaurant wasn’t really as good as I remember it being back in the day or time and commercial cooking methodologies have not been good to the restaurant. During my last trip in I remember the food being good but not great, yet not bad enough to say I wouldn’t be back. The past year or two haven’t done the place any big favors.

The biscuits were large and I was hoping for light and fluffy like a good biscuit should be. Nope, how about dense and chewy instead. Someone please answer this question for me, why does every restaurant on the planet that offers biscuits have to paint their tops with butter before putting them in the oven? Every…blasted…one. It just makes them greasy! Butter goes inside a biscuit, not on top! The cheese grits had little to no flavor. I should have gotten plain grits and just added salt and pepper. The smoked sausage and sausage patties…not great. Now truth be told, the restaurant had no real control over the way the sausage tastes. That goes back to the sausage maker. The ham was OK…yeah, just OK and the bacon cool and rubbery…might have been good if it was hot and fresh off the griddle. Did I go back for seconds? Nope.

So how did Steve’s Place fare on the Thumbs Scale. After a bit of deliberation I decided on one thumb down. Although the experience wasn’t horrible, I just couldn’t find enough redeeming qualities to get it on the positive end of the scale. Think I’ll pass on return visits anytime soon.

Mojo’s Tacos, St. Augustine, Florida, April 25, 2018

I like tacos.  I like hole-in-the-wall restaurants.  Take me to a hole-in-the-wall taco stand and I’m a happy camper.

The stars and planets aligned last week while we were back down in St. Augustine to move Jenna home for the summer.  We rolled into town just before supper time.  By the time we got situated in our hotel room we were ready to find something to eat.  Jenna sent us a list of possible restaurants and we finally managed to settle on Mojo’s Tacos, located over on Anastasia Island on A1A, beyond the Bridge of Lions.

It wasn’t crowded when we got there so we took our time checking out the menu before stepping up to the counter to place our orders.  I decided on two beef tacos and a chicken taco, ConnieLou went with two chicken tacos and Jenna ordered shrimp nachos.

I didn’t realize it when we ordered but the tacos are served “double decker” with a hard shell inside a soft tortilla.  The tacos are dressed with cheddar cheese, lettuce, fresh house-made salsa and Mojo’s special Mojo Sauce.  The nachos were dressed with melted white queso, jalapenos, Mojo Sauce and black beans.

Our orders arrived quickly and we dug in.  Either we were really hungry or the food was really good, or more likely both, because our table got really quiet as our food disappeared.

So how did Mojo’s Tacos fare on the Thumbs Scale?  Give ‘em 6 out of a possible 6 and add a couple of toes.  There are so many good places to eat in and around St. Augustine that we typically try not to revisit restaurants unless they were really good.  Mojo’s Tacos definitely made the list of places to revisit.

Reposteria Criss, Newnan, Georgia, February 6, 2018

I’m a few days late getting this together.

Oops.

ConnieLou and I have been meaning to get out for Taco Tuesday but things keep getting in the way. Last Tuesday morning we were texting each when I said “Hey, let’s go get tacos tonight.” We’d already taken something out to thaw for supper but quickly decided that it would be fine in the fridge until Wednesday.

There are a few places around Newnan that offer 99 cent tacos on Tuesdays. We ran through the list restaurants that do and decided to give Reposteria Criss, a relatively new place in town, a try. Reposteria Criss is a Hispanic bakery and café that’s been around for a little over a year. Since we haven’t been there before we weren’t sure what to expect. When we walked in we found ourselves looking at a large case full of breads and pastries and a refrigerated case filled with cold treats.

We made our way to the counter to check out the menu and place our orders. Not knowing how big the tacos would be, we went easy at first. ConnieLou ordered two chicken tacos and I ordered two asada and two al pastor.

We sat down at a table to wait for our order which came fairly quickly. As it turned out, the tacos were a little smaller than typical tacos but they were piled high with meat and with a little cilantro and onion on top and a selection of sauces on the side. The ‘shells’ weren’t your typical crispy corn tortilla, nor were they flour tortillas. Instead they use soft corn tortillas which were quite tasty. For 99 cents each they were a pretty darn good value.

We both finished our tacos and decided we had room for a little more. ConnieLou picked out a piece of cheesecake from the refrigerated case and I opted for four more tacos, this time with chorizo and barbacoa fillings. They didn’t last long either.

So how did Reposteria Criss fare on the Thumbs Scale. Try an easy 4 out of a possible 4. The tacos and sauces were all quite tasty and the cheesecake was freshly made and better than any I’ve had around town. I don’t know that we’ll be able to do Taco Tuesday every week but I think it will definitely become more of a thing for us and Reposteria Criss will be a favored destination.

J. Buffalo Wings, Brookhaven, Georgia, February 7, 2018

I hate it when I make myself a lunch and then forget to pick it up on my way out of the house when I head to work in the morning. Not because it gives me an opportunity to go out to lunch, which I rarely do, and to have something hot to eat instead of a boring ham and cheese sandwich, but because that sandwich has been sitting out all day it won’t be fit to save and eat tomorrow. Oh well, mistakes happen and you just have to do what you have to do…and sometimes that means going out to eat for lunch.

If you know anything about Atlanta area geography, my office is in the middle of a triangle with corners more or less in Midtown Atlanta, Buckhead and Doraville. To say that the area is diverse is a bit of an understatement as there are people here from just about any cultural region in the world. As you can imagine, it’s not hard to find one or more restaurants purveying cuisine typical of those regions if you’ve adventurous enough to give them try.

I wasn’t feeling overly adventurous today so I decided to head to J. Buffalo Wings, a little wings and sandwich shop up Buford Highway a mile or so from my office. J. Buffalo Wings is a local chain with 10 locations around Atlanta and one location in Athens.

I’ve been to J. Buffalo wings a couple of times in the past at the suggestion of one of my co-workers. Usually I order the Philly cheesesteak and fries but this time around I was jonesin’ for some wings. I ordered the 10-wing special with medium wing sauce. When the girl at the counter asked me if I wanted fries or fried rice I decided to change things change things up and get house fried rice instead of fries. That turned out to be a good choice.

My order came out fairly quickly. The wings weren’t quite as large as I’ve had at some of the other wings joints I’ve been to but they weren’t scrawny either and the sauce was quite good. I was a bit surprised at the size of the side of fried rice that would have easily filled up of a typical Chinese ‘half-order’ fried rice take out container. They weren’t stingy with the meats in the fried rice which included chicken, beef, pork and shrimp. I added a little soy sauce to the rice to suit my own tastes.

So how did J. Buffalo Wings do on the Thumbs Scale? I couldn’t find a reason to give them less than 2 out of a possible 2. The wings were quite good and the fried rice was easily as good as any I’ve had and may have even overshadowed the wings just a bit. I’ll definitely be going back…probably when I forget my lunch again.