I Just Wanted a Pizza


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.

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A New Old Discovery

Petite Auberge, Atlanta

There is a bittersweet feeling when you find something wonderful that has been available to you for a very long time. After all, think of the years you weren’t taking advantage of the treasure. I had this experience last Friday night. After a week out of town on business, I wanted to go out for dinner. I did not want a big production and I did not want to spend a bunch of money. I decided to try Petite Auberge, a classical French restaurant that has been a staple on the Atlanta scene for more than thirty years. I had eyed the menu online before and was impressed by the options and the prices. The fact that it is less than twenty minutes from my house sealed the deal.

We arrived promptly at nine for our reservation and were cheerfully led to our table. I had a small amount of trepidation as I glanced around the room and discovered that we were about twenty years distant from any other patron in the restaurant. That is in both directions. The only people less than retirement age were the grandchildren of one of the couples. There was a piano player pumping out standards.

Our waiter, Sammy, stopped by promptly to greet us. Sammy blended perfectly with the somewhat dated environment and the older patrons. In fact, Sammy has been a fixture at Petite Aurberge since its inception more than 32 years ago.

The wine list was impressive in a regular haunt kind of way; lots of affordable options rounded out by some more impressive ( and expensive) selections. We chose a white Bordeaux for $25.
Our appetizers started out with a vichyssoise for me and a crab and shrimp cake for my date. The vichyssoise was an ample portion served in a glass nested in a silver container of ice. It was both rich and delicately flavored. The crab cake was nicely executed as well. It was made with very little binding and served on mixed greens and some rémoulade on the side.

As we dined, we observed other tables having their desserts prepared table side, à la 1973. Baked Alaska and Crepes were the choices of the grandchildren at the nearby table.

Sammy came by to clear our appetizer dishes and my wine glass was magically refilled. My date’s pork chop with peppercorn gravy and black and tan pasta with tomato concassé arrived as a cart rolled up next to our table carrying my bouillabaisse. The server plated up my seafood stew and served it with toasted French bread and rouille.

In short, everything was nicely prepared. The bouillabaisse contained lobster, shrimp, mussels, salmon, and whitefish. Each individual ingredient was perfectly cooked, which is not always the case. Julienne strips of carrots and fennel provided color, texture and a sweet flavor to the dish.

Our meal was topped off with crepes served with hazelnut crème and chocolate sauce. A glass of Frangelico perfectly complemented our dessert.

The sad fact that I have lived in Atlanta since 1994 and have not been eating here regularly is overshadowed by my excitement with my discovery. Items such as Bavarian pork roast with a beer and caraway sauce, Bavarian meat platter, mustard crusted lamb chops, and classic escargots, all beckon my return. The menu is also chock full of the expected classics such as beef wellington and chicken cordon bleu.

Petite Auberge proves that some things are classic for a reason.

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A Burger Blast from the Past

Red Robin BurgersA bit over twenty years ago, when I was an assistant manager at Friendly’s Restaurant in Orlando Florida, I had a watering hole located very near my restaurant. That watering hole was a chain called Red Robin. All I remember was I drank there when I was twenty-one years old with friends, many female, who may have been less than twenty-one years old. Apparently, Red Robin had been reported for serving under age patrons. They were fined. We continued to patronize Red Robin. They were fined again, this time more than the first. We continued to imbibe at the neighborhood establishment. Then they were closed. It was rumored that they were closed due to repeated violations of the law. Although I did not serve any underage person alcohol, I felt as though I contributed to the problem.

I had not seen a Red Robin for the ensuing two decades. Then they opened one up on Scenic Highway in Lawrenceville. So my friend of twenty two years and I went there for dinner. I do not recall a lot from twenty one years ago, but I am pretty sure that my watering hole did not look like a Chucky Cheese. I am equally certain that there was not a large costumed bird walking around scaring people. The bird seemed to be blind. An employee was leading this freakish creature around by the wing. I do remember there being very good looking young girls back then, and this did not change. The change was the fact that I was not a dirty old man when I leered at them twenty one years ago. The place was also full of families, teenagers and even the elderly on oxygen.

They proclaim to have the best burgers. We ordered our burgers from our friendly waitress after she gave us a brief tour of the menu including suggestions. She asked us: “you want that with pink or without?” I love that. It is a rare establishment that correctly cooks a medium rare burger. These folks make no assertion that they will do that. They will bring you a burger with or without pink. My friend ordered their Royal Red Robin, a burger topped with a fried egg, bacon, lettuce and tomato. I ordered the Santa Fe, a burger with roasted poblano, guacamole, fried tortilla strips, and chipotle mayonnaise. Both were delivered pink, as ordered. They also came with a bottomless portion French fries. Two large Blue Moon beers accompanied our burgers. Everything was very tasty. The service was friendly and efficient.
Although the experience was very different from two decades ago, it was an enjoyable meal. And they still didn’t card me or my friend.

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Long Island Wine Country

Long Island Wine Country

It had been a long time since I visited Long Island. By a long time, I mean decades. I have a picture of me with my family on the ferry from Bridgeport, Connecticut to Port Jefferson, Long Island that was taken in the seventies. A number of years ago I read an article about how far Long Island wines had come. The article specifically mentioned Wolffer Estates, located on the South Fork of the island. Coincidentally I spotted a bottle of Wolffer Estates wine in a local store about a week later. I purchased it, took it home, and quickly opened it. I could not have been more disappointed. It was no better than our local swill from Chateau Elan in North Georgia. Don’t get me wrong, Georgia wine has come a long, long, way and many are quite good, not just good for Georgia. But Chateau Elan is not one of those wineries that made that journey.

As the years passed and I witnessed the vast improvement of so many non traditional wine area such as North Georgia, and I continued to read good press about Long Island, my desire to return there increased. So I made plans to go to the North Fork of Long Island, where the greatest concentration of wineries is located, over Columbus Day weekend. As I flew to New York, I happened across an article in latest copy of Food & Wine. The article was a basic primer on American red wines complete with examples of examples of particular grapes and the premier regions from which they come. To my delight, Long Island Merlots were mentioned. The universe and I seemed to be in the same groove.

The Friday before Columbus we boarded the Port Jeff ferry with our car. A little over an hour later we were driving towards the North Fork. A “Welcome to Long Island Wine Country” sign greeted us a short while later. I was impressed by the map I downloaded of the Long Island wine country by the large number of wineries packed into that little peninsula. It was much more impressive in person. The wineries were nearly stacked on more top of each other, across the street from each other, one after the next. The signs were clear and gave plenty of notice as we approached each new winery. Interspersed with the wineries were farms, farm stands, pumpkin patches and signs offering fresh cider. The day was about seventy degrees and sunny, really rounding out the beauty of this picturesque corner of New England.

We visited three wineries and sampled many wines. Across the board, the wines were good, with only a handful of “whatever” wines and none that were really bad.

Pellegrini Vineyards
Pellegrini Vineyards

At Pellegrini Vineyards we had the opportunity to contrast and compare three different incarnations of Chardonnay, three different merlots, a Bordeaux blend, and a gewürztraminer. All were good and people were very nice. The woman behind the counter was kind enough to make dining recommendations and get us addresses and phone numbers.

We took the recommendation and went to the restaurant Soundview for lunch. We sat on the outside deck right on the sound. The day was nice but a bit on the windy side. The seafood was fresh, the food was hot, and I had a glass of wine from a fourth winery, a Paumonak Chardonnay that had a good balance of fruit, oak, and acidity.

Duckwalk Vineyards
Duckwalk Vineyards

We were heading to our planned stops at Bedell Cellars and Castello di Borgese, but decided to pop into Duckwalk Vineyards. The Merlot from Duckwalk vineyards was very good. The chardonnays ran the gamut from oaky and buttery to sharp and crisp to tropical and fruity. Duckwalk’s basic chardonnay was on special that day for $15.00 for a magnum. It was full of fruit and floral notesI was having a bunch of people for dinner at my sister’s house the following day so I picked up one of those. They also had a range of other wines we tasted including cabernet franc, sauvignon blanc, gamay, even a vidal blanc ice wine and a blueberry port. They offered a small square of dark chocolate with the blueberry port. What a treat!

Pindar WineryOur $4.00 tasting fee included five wines plus, much to our delight, a complimentary tasting at the Pindar winery just down the road. So for our combined $8.00, my brother-in-law and I got to taste a total of 22 wines (they threw in a couple of bonus wines including the ice wine and blueberry port).

Overall, the thing that impressed me the most was not only the quality of the wines, but the overall terrior that was evident. The reds had a decided earthiness to them, no fruit bombs here. My biggest disappointment was that I have a rule of traveling light so I only purchased what could I use on my weekend in Connecticut. Everywhere I visited I case discounts, up to 25% in the case of Pindar. I would definitely recommend this as a day trip, or longer. It could take days to work your way through this area.

We completed our day by picking up some pumpkins, beets, apples, cider, and more for the festivities the following day.

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