Saturday, March 31, 2007

Crab and Tasso Stuffed Pork Chops

I became enamored with the food of the low country while working on Fripp Island, South Carolina. There are some similarities with cajun food, both have a heavy African influence mixed with a melange of other cultures. Serve over puree of yucca and celery root with bourbon glazed roasted carrots.

Photo by Chris Kohanek

6 pork center loin chops -- about 8 to 10 ounces each

  • 2 quarts water
  • 2 lemons -- thinly sliced
  • 6 sprigs thyme
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 6 sprigs parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup table salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red onion -- diced
  • 1/4 cup celery -- diced
  • 1 clove garlic -- minced
  • 1 jalapeno -- seeded and diced
  • 1/4 cup tasso ham -- diced
  • 8 oz crab meat -- picked clean
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • juice of 1/2 lemon

For the Brine:

Put everything in a stockpot and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Refrigerate until cold.

Place pork chops in brine and allow to brine for two hours in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, make the stuffing.

Heat the oil in a saute pan until shimmering. Add onion, celery, pepper, and garlic. Saute until softened, but not browned, about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients. Toss to mix and season with salt and pepper. Place in the refrigerator until needed.

Remove the pork chops from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the brine.

Slice a pocket into each chop. Fill each pocket with the stuffing.

Preheat a grill or grillpan. Grill the chops, about 5-8 minutes per side, until cooked through.

Recipe by Dan Turro

Bourbon Glazed Roasted Baby Carrots

  • 3/4 pound carrots, baby
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • salt -- to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Peel the carrots and place in a baking dish.

Place the remaining ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook until the sugar dissolves.

Pour the glaze over the carrots. Bake until the carrots are tender, about 20 minutes.

Celery Root and Yucca Puree

A Delicious Alternative to Mashed Potatoes

  • 1 celery root -- about 1 pound
  • 1 yucca root -- about 1 pound
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons cream

Peel both roots, roughly chop, and place in separate pots. Cover with water and season with salt.

Bring both pots to a boil and simmer until very tender. Drain.

Mash the yucca root with a potato masher until smooth. Pass through a food mill.

Process the celery root in a food processor until smooth. Combine with the yucca root.

Add butter and cream. Adjust seasoning as necessary and serve.

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NOTES : Yucca roots can have woody, fibrous little sticks in them. Passing it through a food mill is a crutial step. If you do not have a food mill you can force it through a colander.

Friday, March 30, 2007

My Background

My first culinary job was in a privately owned restaurant in Shelton CT, where I started as dishwasher and moved into a prep cook position. That was in 1982. Since then I have worked as a manager, waiter; line cook; broil cook; soup and sauce cook; fry cook; sauté cook; expediter, chef, and more.

I have expertise in Italian coffee. In addition to managing Starbucks retail locations; I have also sold Italian espresso machines and coffees. I have trained many people over the years in the art of Italian coffee beverages.

A lifelong desire coupled with a convergence of circumstances allowed me to attend Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, in Atlanta GA. My culinary externship brought me to San Domenico, a fine dining Italian restaurant on Central Park South, in Manhattan. After graduating Summa Cum Laude from Le Cordon Bleu, I worked briefly in La Taberna Vulgi, a restaurant in Santo Stefano del Sole, Italy. This small town is located about forty kilometers inland from Naples. After my brief stint at La Taberna Vulgi, I traveled around Italy for a while. Having previously spent time in Japan, Thailand, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, France, Ireland, and the UK for brief periods as a tourist, I found my time in Italy as a worker and guest to be very rewarding. I also had the opportunity to hone my Italian language skills. I have successfully completed the certification courses for wine fundamentals 1 & 2 from the International Sommelier Guild. I am certified in both servsafe and nutrition.

Upon returning from Europe, I found myself on Fripp Island, South Carolina as the interim food and beverage manager. A stint as a wine sales representative for an Italian wine importer / distributor followed.

I am currently the Southeast Regional Sales Manager for Alto Shaam, a premier American manufacturer of commercial culinary equipment based near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This followed a very successful couple of years in a similar position of Regional Sales Manager and Chef for a multi-national manufacturer of combi-ovens based in Germany, where I consistently exceeded my sales goals and grew the territory by one million dollars. 

Cold Gingered Galia Melon Soup Shooter

An Interesting Appetizer served with Basil Gelée and Myer Lemon Oil

I was shopping in Whole Foods Market yesterday and I was inspired to make this soup shooter. Soup shooters are popular as amuse bouche in restaurants or as passed hors d'oeuvres at catered functions. They are a great way to greet guests as they arrive at your house for a dinner or cocktail party.
A galia melon is similar to a cantaloupe. You could use any melon you wish for this recipe. Meyer lemons are a hybrid of a lemon and an orange. They have a sweeter flavor than traditional lemons. You can find meyer lemon oil alongside other gourmet flavored oils in your favorite market.

Gingered Galia Melon Soup
  • 1 ounce candied ginger
  • 1/4 cup filtered or mineral water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 Galia melon, about 2 pounds
  • 1 Meyer lemon, peeled and seeded

Place the ginger, water and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside. Peel and seed the melon and place in a blender along with the lemon. Pour ginger mixture in and blend on high until very smooth. Pass through a strainer and chill.

Basil Gelée
  • 1 package gelatin (1/4 oz)
  • 1/4 cup mineral or filtered water
  • 1 cup basil, packed
  • 1 cup mineral water
  • 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • pinch salt

Sprinkle the gelatin in a small pan and pour the 1/4 cup water over. Allow to bloom for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, place the remaining ingredients in a blender and blend on high until smooth. Strain. Place the gelatin over medium low heat until dissolved. Add to the strained basil mixture.
Pour into a rectangular baking dish. If there are a lot of bubbles on the surface, lay a paper towel down on the surface and gently remove. This will remove the bubbles. Place in the refrigerator until set up.

To serve: cut 1/4 inch bars from the gelée and then cut into cubes. Place about 8 cubes into a tall shot glass, fill with soup and drizzle with meyer lemon oil and serve.

I Just Wanted a Pizza

Frutti di Mare Pizza, Pisa Italy

Photo by Dan Turro

After catering a brunch last Sunday, I did not feel like cooking dinner. I also did not feel like going out. I decided to get a pizza and bring it home. There are not many pizzas worth eating in Atlanta, and even fewer in my immediate area.

Mama Mia’s in Stone Mountain Village does a decent job, although they do not deliver. I called to order a pizza, which I would pick up. The woman on the other end of the phone apologized and said they close at 4PM on Sunday. She was there for a private party.

Bambinelli’s is another acceptable pizza. They, like the folks from Mama Mia’s, are transplants from New York. Both families have been in Atlanta for more than two decades.

I called Bambinelli’s in Lilburn, a location that has not been open that long. It is located 6.1 miles from me. The man on the phone informed me that they would not deliver to me, but the original location at Northlake would. I found it strange that they would not deliver to me because they are not that far, about ten minutes away. The man assured me that the original location would deliver to me. He used to deliver for them.

I called the original location and was asked for my phone number and address. The man then said, “You know we don’t deliver there?” Well, of course I know that! I was just bothering random retards on the phone and you are the object of my attention. Lucky you! Actually, no, I don’t know that you don’t deliver here. I told the guy that the man at the other location said I could get delivery from the original location. The next stunning response was; “Well, he doesn’t work here!” Really, both are Bambinelli’s restaurants owned by the same family. Somewhat taken aback by the employee’s curt attitude, I said the other man told me he used to deliver for the original location and he assured me that I could get delivery.

The next response was simply dismissive - “Well, I don’t know what that’s about.”

At that point, I simply hung up. It was not because I wanted to be rude; it was because I saw no merit in continuing the conversation. There was obviously no desire to secure an order from me, let alone provide any level of customer service. Here is the kicker; I started my search for an edible pizza with the intention of picking it up. Mama Mia’s does not deliver and I was prepared to drive there. I would have done the same for a Bambinelli’s pie. Perhaps a better approach would have been to apologize for the confusion and ask if I would like to place an order for pick up. Maybe they could have even delivered the pizza. I live ten minutes away.

This should not have come as a big surprise. Some time ago, while eating at Bambinelli’s, I ordered a bottle of Banfi wine and was delivered a bottle of Il Villagio wine. I informed the waiter and he apologized. He went to investigate and returned with the stellar answer – “That is our Banfi.” Really! I would like to sell you a Mercedes Benz. Yes, I know the car is a PT Cruiser, but is our Mercedes Benz. Both manufacturers have the same owner, but they are differing quality levels and therefore have different names. THEN, my wife found a large shard of hard plastic in her food. All the while, the owners where sitting at a table and enjoying themselves. No follow up was attempted, and the management never visited us once. It is a mystery to me how such a place can stay in business.

I ate polpette di melanzane (eggplant meatballs), and rigatoni with a spicy sausage and onion sauce; food that I made myself in less time than it would have taken to get a pizza delivered or picked up. I was just looking for a bit of convenience and a pizza.

A Good Samaritan Fest in North Georgia

All Photos by Doug Boyle

I am not a real outdoorsy person. During my twice-per-decade overnight camping outings, I always choose a campsite near the bathroom. I usually decide where to hike based on some other aspect of the area, such as easy driving distance, historical buildings nearby, or the food and drink I will have after the hike. Last weekend I embarked on a hike based on the last criteria.

Two of my friends and I decided to go hiking in White county, just north of Helen, Georgia. The seventh highest peak in Georgia was intriguing, as was hiking a portion of the Appalachian Trail. But, I had not been to Helen in a couple of years and that was the dominant determining factor. For those of you who are not familiar with Helen, it a strange little town in the North Georgia Mountains that looks like a Bavarian Village. More than three decades ago, in an effort to revitalize the economy of this logging town, they decided to give the town the appearance of an alpine village. My battle cry became “ I am just here for the beer!” as our day descended into chaos and uncertainty.

Our plan was to park at the Andrews Cove recreation area and hike to the top of Tray Mountain. The hike is seven miles round trip and the trail head is just north of Helen. But much to our chagrin, the Andrews Cove recreation area was closed. So continued up the road looking for another trail access. We came upon a parking lot were the Appalachian Trail crosses route 75. There were serious hikers here, the kind that hike to Maine. One of our group, naturally the female, asked a seasoned looking hiker about the trail. He informed us that Tray Mountain was 5 ½ to 6 miles away, making the round trip nearly 12 miles. As I was only there for the beer, this seemed like much too large of an investment. Another option was to hike to the top of Rocky Mountain, which was much closer. On the return trip we could come straight back or we could choose the Blue Trail, which would loop us around back to where we started. At least this was what our seasoned hiker-friend told us. The trail was beautiful and the hike was strenuous enough to feel like work. We reached the top of the mountain and rested while taking in the vast beauty of the mountains. Other than my new boots causing me some discomfort, all was beautiful until this point. Our trek back to the Blue Trail was easy enough. We ran into other hikers, both casual and die hard, and chatted a bit. One guy was headed to Maine and would arrive there in August. And I thought a Greyhound bus was slow.

We then embarked on Blue Trail. It was more pleasant than the way up, with gentler slopes and easier footing. Our conversation turned to the seasoned hiker, and the fact that we did not ask how long the trail was. Surely, I reasoned, it cannot be outrageously long because the hiker knew we had no interest in hiking the 12 miles back and forth to Tray Mountain. Certainly, he would not suggest a trail that is just as long. And we walked. Then we walked some more. By now the irritancy of the new boots was progressing into pain. We finally came upon a gravel road that was mentioned by our now disparaged hiker-guide. At least we should not be too far from our car.

As I sat to try to alleviate the discomfort caused by my boots, an old two-door Nissan with a young twenty-something couple stopped to chat. As it turns out, we were still some distance from our car. We were not sure how far, but it was clear that we were not close. They offered me a ride in their small car, so I grabbed the car keys from my friend and jumped in the car. And we drove down the gravel road. Then we drove some more, and then some more. We traversed a shallow stream in the old Nissan, causing steam to pour out from under the hood. And then we drove some more. Finally, we came to the road. We took a left and headed up the mountain. After about two more miles, I finally arrived at the car. I thanked the young couple profusely. I also mentioned how thankful my friends would be. They had no idea of how far they still had to go.

Limping towards the car, I became concerned when the remote wouldn’t unlock the car. My concern heightened when the car would not start. It seemed to be locked out by some security function. I called my friends, but they had no signal. I found the manual and read about a security feature that could cause the car not to start. I followed the instructions to overcome this feature, but to no avail. I called the dealership for guidance but the service department was closed. I continued to call my friends. A hiker was hanging out waiting for a friend and we chatted a bit. Finally, he could wait no more and disappeared up the trail to find his friend. “Hopefully you won’t be here when I get back,” he said as he left.

I was sure it was a security feature and not a dead battery. A dead battery usually gives some sign of life. Besides, why would my friend have the lights on during the day? While that question was never really answered, the lights were left on and the battery was dead. It was getting very cold and my left foot and ankle hurt quite a bit. And I could still not get in touch with my friends.

A short while later a car pulled up and out jump my friends. I informed them of our car dilemma. We had no jumper cables. I wrote on a piece of paper “JUMPER CABLES?” with lipstick and stood on the side of the road. The hiker had returned with his buddy. We asked the buddy if he had cables the response was “in Alabama.” There was a sign that listed phone numbers for the Ranger’s office and the Sheriff’s office. The Ranger’s office is closed on the weekend. That makes sense because probably no one hikes here on the weekends; it is mostly a Monday through Friday hobby. After overcoming my disbelief, I called the Sheriff’s office. The number was invalid, another fine example of our tax dollars hard at work!

The Alabamian hikers were on the other side of the road, hitchhiking. As one of them was snapping a picture of me with my little sign, I asked them to mention our predicament to their Good Samaritan, when someone stopped to give them a ride. A short while later, an SUV stopped to pick them up. Fortunately, they had cables. Long story short, the cables were short, the car was large, and we could not move our car because we could not get it out of park. I started to pull cash out of my pocket, to buy the cables from the man so at least we could get a jump later, as another car pulled into the parking lot. I approached the new car and explained the predicament. They were nice enough to pull into the space next to our car. The battery was on the closer side, and the car was much smaller than the SUV. Problem solved. The car started and everyone went on his or her way.

The lessons here are many, but the primary two are basic. Just like the scouts say, be prepared. Do not go out without maps. We had a compass with us but it was not consulted until we were very far into our journey. Wear boots you know to be comfortable. Secondly, people are good. Four carloads of people and a hitchhiker came to our rescue. Even our seasoned hiker-guide was probably well intentioned.

All is well that ends well. The Altstädter Weinstube & Biergarten had opened since my last visit. The food was authentic and delicious. The beer list was nearly all German. There are few stresses in life that can not be solved by good food and drink. We even stopped by their sister restaurant, Edelweiss, and stocked up on German sausages.

Easy Thai Food

Photo by Chris Kohanek

American aren’t the only ones who like convenience foods. Of course, we remember from our childhood those commercials where the little kids proclaimed “and we helped.” Hamburger Helper helped us help our hamburger. These products hearken back to a time when sushi was not available in most cities, let alone the mall. Thai restaurants abound in most parts of this country. We have foods from all parts of the globe available to us now. So why not take advantage of the convenience foods that assist our international neighbors. In about the same time it takes to drive to your neighborhood Thai restaurant and order your food, you can enjoy authentic Thai flavors in your own house at a fraction of the cost.

It is not always easy or even possible to find the myriad exotic ingredients that go into Thai curries. Items like galagal root, kaffir lime, lemongrass, and shrimp paste are not only hard to find, but are sometimes only required in very minute quantities to prepare a meal, despite their integral role. Who wants to have a jar of shrimp paste in the fridge that will take years to utilize? There are only three items that you need to stock in your pantry, beyond your normal groceries to enjoy Thai food at home.

Curry paste. A wide variety of curry pastes are available 4 oz cans: just enough product to make one family meal, maybe with a bit leftover. Red and green curry are the most common types. Other types include Karee (yellow), Paenang, Masman, sour curry, noodle sauce and more.

Coconut milk is available in regular and light. I have tasted these side by side, and I am convinced that the only difference is the amount of water they use to process the coconut into milk. If you are concerned about fat, I would recommend buying the full fat coconut milk and diluting it with water. The result will be the same and it will cost you less.

Fish sauce (Nam Pla). Fish sauce is to Thailand what soy sauce is to Japan. It is made from fermented, salted fish. It has a very pungent smell. Do not be alarmed! You really can eat it. It blends into the other flavors nicely and the strong pungency goes away. Although many of the pastes already contain fish sauce, it is often recommend that you add a bit more to the finished dish. If additional salt is required, add a dash of fish sauce. It is an inexpensive product that has an incredibly long shelf life.

The other ingredients are items that most folks stock regularly; shrimp, chicken, beef, herbs like basil and cilantro, vegetables like eggplant and mushrooms, and chili peppers.

A few recipes follow to demonstrate how easy it is to prepare great Thai food at home. Don’t be too strict. Substitute meats, vegetables, and garnishes. Use whatever strikes your fancy, and enjoy.

Beef and Eggplant in Red Curry Sauce

Photo be Chris Kohanek

This is a wonderful weeknight dinner. It only uses one pan, involves no sautéing, and is largely unattended. Fish sauce makes a big difference in this dish. It has a very long shelf life, so pick some up when you purchase the curry and coconut milk.

  • 1 can red curry paste
  • 2 cans coconut milk
  • 1 ½ pounds beef cut into bite sized strips
  • 3 Chinese eggplants (about 10-12 ounces)
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • Basil chiffonade
  • Fresh chilies, thinly sliced

1. Combine the curry paste and coconut milk in a deep skillet or large saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to ensure smoothness.

2. Add beef, return to simmer. Cover and simmer until beef is tender, about forty-five minutes.

3. Add eggplant and fish sauce and continue to cook until the eggplant is tender.

4. Garnish with basil and chili peppers. Serve with rice.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Green Curry Chicken

Photo by Chris Kohanek

This dish is ready in about 45 minutes and only uses on pan. What could be easier than that? I prefer boneless, skinless thighs. They have more flavor and are less expensive than breasts. If you choose to use boneless, skinless breasts, be sure to be very diligent to avoid overcooking them. Breast meat is prone to drying out. If you want to lighten this dish it can be made with 2 cups of coconut milk and 2 cups of water. I find this dilutes the flavor a bit too much, so I use all coconut milk. The extra coconut milk also tames the heat from the curry paste better than water.

  • 1 can green curry paste
  • 2 cans coconut milk
  • 1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
  • ½ pound vegetables such as mushrooms, eggplant, sweet peppers, onions, or a mixture
  • Fresh chilies
  • Chiffonade of basil
  1. Combine the curry paste and coconut milk in a deep skillet or large saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to ensure smoothness.
  2. Add chicken, return to a boil, and then reduce heat to medium low. Cover and simmer until meat is nearly cooked through, about 25 minutes.
  3. Add vegetables and continue to cook until vegetables are cooked.
  4. Garnish with chilies and basil. Serve with rice.

Whole Fish with Curry Sauce

Photo by Chris Kohanek

You can have this on the table in less than 30 minutes. If you cannot find snapper, you could use any white fish you like, such as tilapia. Any flavor curry paste will do. The peppers add color, texture, and flavor. You could omit them if you like and the dish would still be very tasty.

1 whole snapper, about 2 pounds, cleaned

2 tablespoons oil

2 tablespoons curry paste

1 can coconut milk

3 tablespoons sugar

¼ cup fish sauce

1 small red pepper, julienned

1 jalapeño, seeded and julienned

A small handful of cilantro leaves or basil chiffonade

  1. Put three slices in each side of the fish and season both sides with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat until just smoking. Place the fish in the skillet and cook until the skin is crispy, about 3-5 minutes. Flip the fish over and cook the other side. Remove the fish to a plate.
  3. Add curry paste to the pan and sauté for a minute, add the coconut milk, sugar and fish sauce. Bring to a simmer, stirring to ensure smoothness.
  4. Return the fish to the pan, cover and simmer until cooked through, about 10 minutes.
  5. While the fish is simmering, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in another skillet over medium high heat. Add the julienned peppers, season with salt and pepper and sauté until al dente.
  6. Place the fish on a platter, pour the sauce over it and garnish with the peppers and cilantro or basil. Serve with rice.

Welcome to McAsia, may I take your order?

Photo by Dan Turro

I often ponder the behavior of Americans. One of my enduring questions is about our reluctance to venture into realms less familiar. Many treasures can be found in these areas. A vast majority of Atlantans never venture past the local Publix or Kroger for their groceries. Just as many would drive past countless small independent, family owned restaurants to go to an Applebee’s. They would likewise dine at PF Chang’s rather than choosing the real food, cooked by real families in real restaurants. Beyond these scenarios, it is the proliferation of fast food that perplexes me the most. We live in a city that is rife with fast, inexpensive options for dining. From soul food buffets, to counter service Mexican joints, frequently the only challenge is overcoming small language difficulties. But hey, that’s what we have fingers for. Pointing is the universal language. While grocery shopping at Super H Mart recently, I encountered a beautifully executed alternative to fast food.

I call Super H “The Asian Whole Foods”. There is a beauty shop, a bank, an ice cream shop, and an area where they will freshly grind your choice of thirty-eight varieties of grains, nuts, dried fruits and more into a cereal. They even make fresh tofu and kimchi there. As you enter the store and look to the right, you see the food court. The wall of food starts with a sign labeled “Snacks”. It continues with Sushi, Korea, Chinese, Dumpling, and finally ends with “Café”. Each one of the counters has many offerings. For instance, the “Snack” counter has panels with pictures on them numbered one through thirty-three. Many items have a few choices per panel, such as whether to order your food with beef, chicken, tofu, or shrimp. I am always skeptical of tempura that is not cooked to order, so I ordered a combination order for $4.99. It included two pieces of shrimp, two pieces of squid, two vegetable and two sweet potato tempuras. It was crunchy and light. A small amount of tempura dipping sauce accompanied it in a small paper soufflé cup. There is also an item called Duk Boki. The English translation calls it a rice cake in spicy sauce. It is something like cylindrical rice gnocchi, and for just $3.95, it was a great little culinary adventure. Overall, the offerings are quite varied, encompassing a variety of noodles, soups, rice dishes, and more. And this is just the first counter. Next to the “Snack” counter is the one labeled “Sushi”. This counter is the thing of dreams for Publix and Kroger stores. Don’t get me wrong; there is nothing wrong with the sushi offerings of Publix and Kroger. They provide fast healthy lunches for many, myself included. The prices are lower than the supermarkets. You can get rolls from $2.75! And no, it is not even a cucumber roll. An assortment of 6 pieces of nigiri sushi and eight pieces of roll is just $8.95. There are fewer signs here because most of the food is prepared and labeled in the case. The few signs they do have tout the fact that they will make whatever sushi you want. They also offer sushi and sashimi party platters for $35, $50, and $75. The selection is larger than their supermarket competitors and includes items like seaweed salad and pickled baby octopus.

The Korean counter also has numbered panels with pictures on them ranging from 1 through 33. Several of these panels have multiple options, such as the “Soon Doo Boon”. This spicy soft tofu stew is available with kimchi, seafood, miso, beef, mushroom, and combo. All of your regulars are there such as bulgogi (seasoned beef on rice) and bi bim bop (assorted vegetables and pickles on rice). That is as much fun to say as it to eat. But there are also more unusual items such as Sam Gae Tong; chicken stuffed with sweet rice, chestnuts, dates, and garlic, and cooked in a ginseng soup. Not only is this dish tasty and different, it also the most expensive item at the Korean counter at $9.95. The traditional condiments are included, those little dishes of kimchi and other pickles and salads.

The Chinese counter is what one might expect. The menu panels number only about a dozen, but the food is freshly prepared and tasty. There are the usual suspects like fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, dumplings and more. I must confess that Chinese is my least favorite Asian cuisine because it has been so Americanized. The fare here is as good as you will get at restaurants that are more expensive. It also provides an option for those in your party who do not have the most adventurous palates.

Lastly, there is Café Mozart. This is a scaled down version of this concept, which has a couple of free standing operations around Gwinnett. There is a good selection of coffee based beverages, as well as Bubble Tea. When I inquired about the nature of Bubble Tea, I was given a one-word answer: smoothie. Bubble Tea falls into two categories, fruit based and milk based. The term “bubble” refers to the tapioca pearls that are in the beverage. The star of this show is the pastry counter. The pastries are beautiful. From the mocha cakes and fruit tarts, to the individually sized snacks, these are truly gorgeous. You could do worse than to bring one of these to a holiday gathering or a dinner party.

The unifying aspect of these restaurants is their ease of use. In addition to the native languages, everything is listed in English with pictures. The service is very prompt. You can get in and out of here in about the same time as the fast food restaurants generally take. And with the prices as low as they are, it begs the question…McWho?

Super H Mart 2550 Pleasant Hill Road, Duluth, GA 30096

Go Ahead, be a Jerk

I love it when I stumble across a gem. A few weeks ago, I was driving to a friend’s house when I spied a banner draped across an old jalopy of a car.

“Jerk Chicken Center” proclaimed the banner. Meanwhile, the windshield of the car advised us of its $1500 selling price. The neon “Open” sign hanging from the tree was dark, so we drove on by. While on a trip to the same friend’s house last weekend, the sign beckoned me in all its neon glory.

A smoke-filled, dirt driveway, illuminated by Christmas light-wrapped trees led us to an old house fronted by four split 50 gallon drum barbeque pits. A hand written sign informed us that the food was inside. “Inside” turned out to be an old garage. Reggae music filled the Frenches-Yellow-Mustard room. The walls were covered in pictures of soccer teams and posters of reggae bands. On the ceiling, next to the tracks where the garage door used to open, a plus sign was formed by four fluorescent light fixtures. Two of them were even working, and one had wires dangling downward. A line formed from the small window in the wall and snaked its way past a pool table. The menu was hand written in black marker on the inside of the lid of a Styrofoam clamshell and posted above the tiny window. It consists of six items; chicken, pork, fish, soup, festival, and fried saltfish. As I tried to get a closer look at the small menu, a gentleman in line professed, “Just meat, but it is the best in Atlanta.” While my wife waited in line, I stepped outside. One of proprietors gave me a verbal tour of the restaurant. Standing in front of the smoking barrels, he dosed the chicken that covered the grill with a jerk marinade. It consists of herbs, spices, and peppers, among other things. The soup, he informed me, was pepper-pot today. It is a blend of peppers, chicken and callaloo. Callaloo are the leafy greens from the taro root plant and resemble collards. Yesterday it was fish soup. The fish is stuffed with okra, wrapped in foil and cooked en papillote. The pork is marinated loin and cooked on a separate grill from the chicken.

Back inside, the line moved slowly as vendors came in and opened their cases of wares. The ladies were hawking jewelry, fragrances and lotion. When we were approached by one the ladies, I informed her that I already smelled spectacular and therefore did not need any fragrance. The line had only inched along so I went back outside to chat some more. What kind of fish is it? I queried. Red snapper was the response. My informative friend from the line joined me and gave me more information. “This is based on the concept of “big yard”. In Jamaica someone in the neighborhood always has a big yard and that is where the neighborhood gets together to cook. You could show up with no laces in your shoes and get some soup.” “We would get a boat going. Not a real boat, but everyone in the neighborhood would be assigned something to gather…you get ackee, you get coconut…” Apparently, there is a rule that if the branches of a fruit tree extend over a fence then the fruit is fair game. But I digress…

Not only is this a carryout restaurant, but there is also a bar through a door in the garage-restaurant. Different reggae played in this room. There is a selection of beers including Guinness, Heinekin, and the obligatory Red Stripe, available from the residential refrigerator. All are three dollars. The Jamaican flag hangs over a small, dark fireplace and posters of Bob Marley cover the walls. Small tables and chairs are scattered around along with a couple of couches.

About forty minutes had passed from our arrival to our departure for home to enjoy our food. Not the fastest place going. The smell of the place already had me convinced that it was worth the wait. The chicken was moist and flavorful. It was served with a barbeque sauce that was just sweet enough and had a nice kick without being overly hot. The “festival” is basically fried logs of sweetish cornbread, very good for sopping up sauce or dipping in the soup. The pepper-pot was very a flavorful concoction with chunks of potato, bits of greens, peppers and chicken. This also had a nice spice to it. I assumed the fried saltfish would bear some resemblance to the salt cod known as bacalao in Spain and baccalà in Italy. Sadly, it did not. It had a yellow color and a still too firm and salty texture. It seemed to me that it had not been sufficiently reconstituted. The best salt cod is milky white and delicately textured when prepared well. For only two dollars, it was a long way from ruining my evening. Unfortunately they had run out of pork. It would have been thirty minutes for more to be ready, so we opted to double our chicken order. Is short, the food was excellent.

This is not just a place for food, but somewhere where you can experience a culture. My informative friend, who is a transplant from Kingstown, Jamaica, via a long stay in Hartford Connecticut, summed it up when he gestured to the barren yard outside the house and said “all you need is beach”.


Jerk Chicken Center

Address Highway 124, Corner of Rockbridge Rd and Rockbridge Rd.

Hours: Monday – Saturday 5 P.M. Until...

Price $10 and less

Cash Only

No reservations, no call aheads