Friday, Jan 20, 2017

33 Must-Try Dishes


FoundationSocialEatery_Octopus450x186Once a year, the intown rags publish a list of their favorite nibbles and nosh — and the articles are fun reads.  So much so that we decided to launch our premier issue with a “Best Bites” version of our own — 33 must-try dishes.

In the process, we dined like kings at the swankiest hot spots and among the lowly grubbers at taco stands and bbq joints.  We shamelessly consumed more than 250 untried dishes (to catch up) all while adding two inches to the waistline in an effort to give you, our beloved readers, the very first (that we know of) ‘best bites’ article for the burgeoning northern burbs. In no particular order.

So grab an extra set of chopsticks, fill up the gas tank, and don’t forget your bib — this might get messy.

Crisp Spanish Octopus
Foundation Social Eatery
1570 Holcomb Bridge Rd #810, Roswell
Tel: 770.641.8877
We could easily build a ‘best of’ list from this Roswell restaurant’s menu alone. Chef/owner Mel Toledo’s resume reads like a who’s who of the local, national and International culinary world. The crisp octopus tentacle arrives fork tender from hours of low temperature cooking (sous vide). The accompanying hash of fingerling potatoes and housemade chorizo is rich and buttery. This dish showcases Toledo’s French foundation while giving a nod to Spain.

Coca-Cola® Braised North Georgia Pork Belly
Peach & the Porkchop
12040 Etris Rd, Roswell
Tel: 770.696.5409
This pub has been a hit with Roswellians — and beyond — since day one. Owner Charles Staley built a comfortable casual atmosphere and his kitchen puts out ridiculously delicious pub grub. A big part of the restaurant’s success has been Staley’s ability to assemble a great staff, and his willingness to serve high quality food in a non-fussy environment. Coca-Cola® Braised pork belly appetizer is porky food porn on a stark white plate — and a far cry from ordinary pub grub.


Roswell Cheese Steak
Peach & the Porkchop
12040 Etris Rd, Roswell
Tel: 770.696.5409
Yep, this high quality sports pub snatched two spots on our list. This version of the cheesesteak sandwich — constructed with shaved Myer ribeye — beats the Cheese Whiz out of any so-called authentic cheesesteak sandwich we’ve ever eaten. Cry-baby Philadelphians will, of course, publicly denounce Peach & the Porkchop’s rendition, then resort to being closet fans.


Plantation Italia
5155 Atlanta Hwy #105, Alpharetta
Tel: 770.475.7060
his crazy good Italian specialty shop is owned and operated by New Jersey transplants Bill and Diana Ashworth, a husband-wife team. Here you can and most likely will find pricey estate olive oils, ridiculously delicious real balsamics, fresh black truffles floating in oil, odd luxury food items you can’t find anywhere else and a stromboli ($14.95) that will blow your mind, stuffed with layers of pepperoni, salami and spicy coppa, then topped off with provolone and freshly grated mozzarella. The airy crust is razor thin and crispy, yet somehow sturdy enough to hold it all together. This beauty tastes as if it comes straight off the streets of New York city.


Burrata & Prosciutto
Zola Italian Eatery
2955 Bethany Bend, Milton
Tel: 770.360.5777
We were all shocked when Jonathan Mattson acquired this struggling Milton Italian eatery and gave it a hip makeover. Mattson has owned and managed four Italian restaurants around Atlanta, and is a Certified Specialist of Wine and Level I Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers. Needless to say, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better wine list — and don’t overlook the craft cocktails, either. But that’s a different story for another day. The chef at Zola is Caleb Azuka from Bologna, Italy. This young, very talented chef trained under chef Massimo Bottura, whose restaurant in Modena, Italy, Osteria Francescana, was recently named best restaurant in the world. The standout dish from this kitchen is the house made burrata stuffed with sweet, earthy honey truffle mascarpone filling. It arrives on a charcuterie board with thinly sliced prosciutto and a variety of seasonal accompaniments.


Shrimp & Grit Cake
5 Seasons Brewing
3655 Old Milton Pkwy, Alpharetta
Tel: 770.521.5551
5 Seasons Brewing was the first popular intown restaurant to successfully carve a path to Alpharetta. These days it seems like the “in” thing to do, but back then Alpharetta wasn’t so sexy in the eyes of the townies. But onto the task at hand, we aren’t even shrimp and grits fans, but this one is so darn good we’ve made an exception. The shrimp arrive in a tomato-y, buttery bath of house made chorizo, served with thick triangular crispy grit cakes. There is plenty going for this underrated dish that, in our opinion, doesn’t get the love it deserves. And if you discover a beer you like while dining at this popular brewpub, you can now take a growler home with you. Thank you, City of Alpharetta!


Tomato Basil Soup
815 Windward Pkwy # 210, Alpharetta
Tel: 770.822.9453
Owner/chef Michael Field is like a giant pin ball of culinary ideas tightly wound into one busting-at-the-seams brain. It never stops, and we swear, you can practically hear it at work. A mere fifteen minute food conversation with chef Mike is inspiring, to say the least. There is so much here to tout from the impossibly tasty sweet treats to his ethereal sandwiches on fresh baked breads. The surprising standout at this tiny strip center cafe is a silky smooth tomato basil soup that has everybody swooning in the dining room. Wildflour has racked up numerous “Best Of” awards at the Taste of Alpharetta, and this small unsuspecting cafe remains a culinary force to be reckoned with.

Peanut Butter Cup Brownie
815 Windward Pkwy # 210, Alpharetta
Tel: 770.822.9453
Somewhere in this publication on a previous page we spoke about eccentric owner/chef Michael Field’s high-powered culinary motor. He does so many things extremely well, but sweets are the arena he truly excels above all others. A great example of how he turns simple ordinary sounding desserts into something extraordinary is with the popular peanut butter cup brownie. The base, a moist chocolate brownie, is capped with a crispy peanut butter-y filling giving textural contrast most ordinary cooks in the kitchen would almost certainly overlook.

Bite Bistro & Bar
11500 Webb Bridge Way, Alpharetta
Tel: 770.754.5500
This Johns Creek staple was among the first of the culinary big boys to actually thrive in the suburbs. They started as a shoe box-sized sandwich shop serving lunch only, but have since expanded to a full blown restaurant spanning three units of the strip center. The food is not only high quality but it sometimes takes a fun spin. And the reuben-yaki is the perfect example of the kitchen’s wittier side. House-cured pastrami, kimchi, smoked Gouda and Krussian sauce piled between two sheets of marble rye, makes for a quirky but delicious interpretation of the classic deli sandwich.


Lobster Roll
Bite Bistro & Bar
11500 Webb Bridge Way, Alpharetta
Tel: 770.754.5500
Owner/chef Lief Johnson thought this dish, when originally introduced, would be a tough sell due to price. Back then, it was priced somewhere around $14. How wrong was he? Today, the lemony lobster roll sells faster than the kitchen can keep up, and is priced at $18. Now served on Holman & Finch bread. Still cheap, in our not-so humble opinion. Throw in one of the city’s most eccentric interior design jobs — and this restaurant is just about as much fun as you can possibly have with your pants on.


The Seinfeld
815 Windward Pkwy # 210, Alpharetta
Tel: 770.822.9453
This small lunch-only cafe is packed every day of the week. They come in droves for the sandwiches, and The Seinfeld is the most popular among a menu of heavyweights. It’s your choice of smoked turkey, grilled pork tenderloin, turkey meatloaf, or grilled chicken topped with an earthy, creamy mushroom mix, provolone cheese and special sauce. All crammed in that ridiculously delicious house baked bread. Pork and meatloaf are your best bets.

Pad Thai
Chad Thai
13087 GA-9, Alpharetta
Tel: 470.545.2445
Don’t be fooled by the gringo at the wok. And don’t be scared off by the choose-your-own proteins and veggies concept going on. This is an family owned and operated restaurant, and that is chef/owner Chad Eby working the super turbo charged wok. Eby has been cooking in real Thai kitchens for more than a decade and knows his stuff. The twist he brings to this Alpharetta Thai eatery is that all meats are responsibly raised without use of steroids and added hormones. When asked about the Pad Thai, Chad’s face lights up — and rightly so. The sauce isn’t cloyingly sweet like so many other horrid versions around town, the noodles are nice and toothy, and when you ask for spicy — they deliver.


Arugula E Prosciutto Pizza
800 N Main St #100, Alpharetta
Tel: 770.559.4674
Well, you knew Neapolitan pizza would make the list, didn’t you? And nobody does it better than Campania. These bubbly, blistery pies painted with splotches of char, cook in less than two minutes flat in a Italian wood-burning dome oven that reaches temperatures of near 1000 degrees. I could make an argument for just about any of these pizzeria’s pies, but the arugula and prosciutto is the one that impresses most. The bitter from the arugula, the lemony olive oil, shaved parmesan, and piles and piles of prosciutto. What’s not to love?


Sopa de Tortilla (Texas Style)
The El Felix
1130 Avalon Blvd #1030, Alpharetta
Tel: 678.248.5239
We are big fans of El Felix. Where else can you feed a family three on one order of fajitas ($24) comprised of responsibly raised meats and a fresh grilled jalapeno? But the Texas-style tortilla sopa steals the show, and possibly the most surprising find on this eating escapade. It is exactly the same rich, beefy, hearty chicken tortilla soups I encountered in Texas, served with ancho chili, cilantro, avocado and crispy house made tortillas. Perfect for those cold, dreary winter days of January.

FSE Burger
Foundation Social Eatery
1570 Holcomb Bridge Rd #810, Roswell
Tel: 770.641.8877
What can I possibly say about this place that hasn’t already been said? Owner/chef Mel Toledo is thought of by all to be a highly regarded chef and all around good guy. His burger is simple with lush meat and caramelized onions, and the juice runs down your sleeve like a good burger should. After just one bite, you’ll be asking yourself how can something so simple taste so darn good?

Meatball Sub
Humble Pie
869 N Main St, Alpharetta
Tel: 678.867.6773
This crazy little rock-n-roll pizza joint has a sandwich on the menu named The Motely Crue. There are others — The Carlos Santana, The Zappa, The Janis. But it is the simple meatball sub (the one that oddly doesn’t have a fun name attached) that gets our juices going. Light, airy bread, tender flavorful meatballs, summer-y light sauce and provolone. Pizzaiolo Abe Colin Jr. has plenty of experience and culinary know-how, the man did spend many days spinning dough at Staten Island’s world-famous Goodfellas Pizza, with whom he competed — and won — at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas.

Sicilian by The Slice
Joe’s NY Pizzeria & Verra-Zanno Pizzeria
1605 Mansell Rd, Alpharetta, Tel: 770.640.5637
11600 Medlock Bridge Rd, Johns Creek, Tel: 678.473.0209
We combine these two because Verra-Zanno co-owner Joe Amitrano also owns Joe’s NY Pizzeria in Alpharetta using the same recipes. In past publications I’ve written highly of Amitrano’s pizzas, cheese steak sandwiches on house-baked bread, and even the strombolis and calzones. But I’ve never pimped his Sicilian squares that do sell by the slice. Despite being thick in crust, the Sicilian slices are as light and airy as the thin crust pizzas, and easy to digest. Same great ingredients go on top and if you sit at the bar at Joe’s on a weekday, you might even get a chance to chat with the man himself.

Mambo’s Cafe
4915 Windward Pkwy #130, Alpharetta
Tel: 770.753.4354
The move from downtown Alpharetta to this new location on Windward Parkway (near Hwy 9) was extremely painful to watch. But by the looks of the crowds, the move seems to have paid off. There are plenty of dishes at this festive lantino joint, such as the ropa vieja, that could have easily landed on this list. We, however, are big fans of the beef empanadas. A single order, two generous-sized locked and loaded pastries, is a meal for one. The picture perfect, crusty outer shell is stuffed with well-seasoned beef. Tip: Dip the empanada in that spicy green sauce that comes with the bread.

Queso Fundido
El Don Mexican Bar & Grill
6320 Atlanta Hwy #1, Alpharetta
Tel: 678.404.5473
This oversized Mexican eatery is all dressed up with crazy fun Day of The Dead-ish wall murals and a stage for live music. The kids disappear to the XBox thingies located in a far corner while their parents sip margaritas and eat beef fajitas and carne asada — the grilled meats here are popular. But after a quick glance at the website I learned that the owners previously owned a carniceria and make their own chorizo. And it’s that rich house made chorizo that makes the queso fundido so darn good. Well, that and the stringy chihuahua cheese and earthy poblano strips — and the fact that I haven’t seen my kid in an hour.


Cheese Curds
Hop Alley Brew Pub
25 S Main St, Alpharetta
Tel: 770.696.2097
Co-owner and brewer Brandon Hintz is a self-proclaimed deep-fried cheese curds connoisseur. So much so, that it took nearly eight months to find just the right cheese curd to be served at his popular Alpharetta brew pub. The cheese curds here are a Wisconsin import and as creamy and ridiculously delicious as you’ll find anywhere — all arrive wearing a crunchy light beer batter and a side of creamy beer cheese dipping sauce. These are by far the best the entire Atlanta area has to offer.


Bello Italian
101 Meadow Dr, Cumming
Tel: 770.888.1998
Who says Cumming can’t have great food? Yes, we are simple family folks up here on the northern fringe of the suburbs but we, too, like good food. Owner/chef Peril Gandhi knows and understands this so he serves up simple food done right — no shortcuts. The bolognese is as good you’ll find anywhere in the country. Seriously, it is that good. The meat (pork, beef and veal) is given a red wine bath to marinade, the dainty pappardelle pasta is made in-house daily, and the sauce is summery and light. How Gandhi is able to deliver it for just $11 is anybody’s guess? We’d gladly pay $16 for it. Shhhhh! Don’t tell him.


Bello Italian
101 Meadow Dr, Cumming
Tel: 770.888.1998
This diamond in the rough racks up two spots on our list. And for good reason. On a previous page we mentioned that owner/chef Peril Gandhi — who obviously very passionate about food — never takes the easy road, and that even goes for the cannoli he serves come dessert time. The filling is made scratch but what is most shocking is that the shells are made in-house, too. Think you’ll easily find another restaurant in the greater Atlanta area making their own cannoli shells from scratch daily? Think again. Pistachio finished or chocolate chip? The choice is yours.

BB’s Bagels
770 McFarland Pkwy, Alpharetta
Tel: 770.475.1818
The bagels at this edgy diner are true quality New York bagels crafted by owner Eddie Siino, a New Jersey transplant. That means they are kettle boiled, and then baked — giving each and every bagel a shiny, golden, chewy crust. And every bag of glossy New York-style bagels come complete with authentic New York attitude. Apparently, the New York accent — and bravado — is a must have to fetch a job at this rough-around-the-edges bagel palace. Definitely worthy of a drive from anywhere in the city.


Cafe Efendi
488 N Main St #112, Alpharetta
Tel: 770.360.8014
This restaurant moved from its location on Hwy 92 many years ago to its current location a skip north of downtown Alpharetta. A quick glance around the dining tells me everybody is loving the kebobs, the falafels served at this mysterious Mediterranean eatery are to die for. These are what I call Turkish-style falafels because of the patty’s warm, lush, soft, almost creamy inner texture. Cafe Efendi serves one of the better versions you’ll find of the hard-to-come-by Turkish-style falafel.

Crispy Seared Lamb Belly
Secreto Kitchen & Bar
6195 Windward Pkwy Suite 102, Alpharetta
Tel: 770.752.0922
This hip Alpharetta eatery opened just in time to make in as a last minute entry — or three — and we didn’t even have time to get to the entrees before deadline. Chef Boyd Rose heads up the kitchen and his food is better than ever. One bite of a melt-in-your-mouth lamb belly strip and you will see what I am saying, served over creamy goat cheese grits and a smear of spicy fig jam. It is so good, you might reconsider pork belly as the greatest food on the face of the planet.

House Cured North Coast Salmon
Secreto Kitchen & Bar
6195 Windward Pkwy Suite 102, Alpharetta
Tel: 770.752.0922
Oh my, where to begin with this one. Let us start by saying this was the coolest dish we were served on our eating rampage to bring you this article. Thin slices of house cured salmon are laid out over a plate, topped in the center with a puffy, pillow-y ball of house made horseradish whipped cream, then showered with fried capers and shavings from a cured egg yolk. Chef Boyd Rose is known for being a southern inspired chef, but, oddly, it is when he steps outside the comforts of southern cooking that we believe he is at his best.

Bang Bang Shrimp
Secreto Kitchen & Bar
6195 Windward Pkwy Suite 102, Alpharetta
Tel: 770.752.0922
Chef Boyd Rose, a southern chef by trade, has an undeniable knack for Asian cooking. This dish has all the familiar flavors that make a great southeast Asian salad, served with cucumbers and red onions. The so-called red chili glaze isn’t the least bit sweet, or gloopy. It is instead thin and tangy, light and appealing to the palate. Who knows, maybe Asian cuisine will become Rose’s new comfort zone?


Hamachi Kama Sashimi
Akina Sushi & Grill
5815 Windward Pkwy #209, Alpharetta
Tel: 770.663.0630
Hamachi Kama, or collar, is one of the tastiest parts of the fish. It’s that area just below the cheek and it’s there you’ll find the oily, soft, most succulent meat. The collar is roasted, which is important to remember at this sushi bar because they also serve hamachi sashimi with the collar — something you rarely see. Those unfamiliar with this presentation should know that the raw collar is served for looks only. Once the sashimi is consumed, it is to be returned to the kitchen to be broiled. Don’t be ‘that guy’ who bites into the raw collar and chips a tooth.

Leek Pie
Cafe 101
11950 Jones Bridge Rd #112, Johns Creek
Tel: 770.680.5462
This quirky Chinese cafe is probably the most authentic Chinese restaurant in our coverage area. It made a big splash when it opened with Chef Liu in the kitchen doing her northern Chinese dumplings. Liu is now gone but the Shanghai juicy soup buns and thin layered onion cakes remain as good as ever. The leek pie (still tastes like Liu’s recipe) is a real game-changer for Johns Creek, a delicious noodle, egg and leek-stuffed pastry that has followers traveling from far and wide to get their fix on. This clear noodle-filled culprit is solely responsible for at least a half inch on my waistline.


Chicken 65
Bombay Brasserie
900 Mansell Rd #1, Roswell
Tel: 770.299.1634
This brand new upscale Indian bistro opened with more media attention than I’ve seen of an outside-the-perimeter restaurant in a very long time. The owners had two custom made clay tandoori ovens shipped from Jaipur, India, which they put to use in the dining room, behind protective glass, for all to watch. There is plenty to like with this one but the slightly spicy, perfectly marinaded chicken 65 is a standout. Buffet is offered lunch and dinner, and on weekends.

Butts & Barley
11474 Cumming Hwy, Canton
Tel: 678.341.9226
Technically, this new barbecue joint is just outside our coverage area, but not by much for those in Milton. And honestly, the brisket is so good we felt compelled to make an exception with this one. it’s always tender, with beautiful bark and deep smoky flavor. The best part is the brisket plate (two sides) will only set you back $11, and the sandwich (one side) is only $8. Too difficult to tell if they are making any money at those prices, but they sure are making fans.


Collet French Pastry & Cafe
2225 Old Milton Pkwy, Alpharetta
Tel: 678.770.6066
This cozy bright little French cafe is named after co-owner Francois Collet, the pastry extraordinaire brought to Atlanta by Pano Karatassos Sr. to run all pastry operations at Buckhead Bread Company. After a long stint with Pano, Collet moved onto Joli Kobe where he really made a name for himself racking up all sorts of accolades and raving write-ups in Atlanta’s most prestigious magazines. His partner runs the cafe. Just about every pastry in the display has a case to land itself on any ‘Best Of’ list. But the macaroons, airy, soft cookie-like treats, are the best you’ll find in the city.


Adele’s on Canton
1169 Canton St, Roswell
Tel: 770.594.0655
The beignets, recipe of owner/chef Marc Wegman, a New Orleans native, served at this Roswell cajun eatery are far and away best our city has to offer. They are warm, yeasty, pillowy puffs of air covered with powdered sugar — no sauce required, or offered. Beyond beignets, this place does so much right you might even want to stick around for a meal.


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