RICE, RICE, BABY: Culinarily, Athens is still generally moving in the right direction, although it can be hard to see it when beloved places like Ike & Jane close. Rent keeps going up, chains can afford it more easily, and yes, UGA students don’t always value the unfamiliar over what they’re used to in the North Atlanta suburbs. All of this is true. What’s also true is that our citywide palate keeps expanding, albeit slowly and often drowned out by the umpteenth chicken franchise.
Evidence of this can be found in the new International Grill and Bar (1155 Mitchell Bridge Road, 706-850-1509), which I initially mistook for a semi-generic Mediterranean restaurant but which turns out to be Persian and is therefore a trailblazer for the Classic City. Are there better Persian restaurants in the suburbs of Atlanta? There are better restaurants of almost every kind there, but they’re also an hour away.
Housed in the building on Mitchell Bridge Road that was built as the second location of Harry Bissett’s and since then has hosted a slew of restaurants, International Grill and Bar does its best to fill the space. There is still a full bar downstairs, as well as some seating options down there. Climb the stairs, and you’ll encounter a bunch more booths, big letters that spell “VIP” and an entire room full of toys to occupy your children. (There are also tables in that room, should you not want them out of your sight.)
The weekends are the best time to go, as it’s only then that the restaurant serves some of its specialties: an excellent, meltingly tender slow-cooked lamb shank with rice flavored with fava beans and copious amounts of dill; ghormeh sabzi, an herb-based stew made with beans, beef and fenugreek, served over rice; and “surprise of the week,” a special that changes regularly but could be a nice piece of salmon, the skin crusted over with herbs and spices, or fesenjoon—a chicken stew with pomegranate paste and ground walnuts—or something else. As customers have responded positively, the owners appear likely to keep expanding the more adventurous offerings.
“Adventurous” is a silly word to use, because Iranian cuisine is nothing if not approachable, and much of it is vegetarian and/or gluten-free. Rice is the main starch, and although International Grill and Bar doesn’t do the amazing dish known as tahdig that consists of the crisp, browned rice stuck to the bottom of the cooking pot, thoroughly infused with fat, it does serve its basmati with tomato, onion and saffron, all of which you should mash together. Stuff in the kabob section of grilled, skewered meats tends to be less good than one would hope, a little bit on the dry side, and rather than the koobideh kabob (seasoned ground beef) coming out victorious, as is usually the case, the kenjh kabob (prime sirloin) is the winner.
There are some Turkish dishes scattered around the menu, too, and anything that includes eggplant—such as mirza ghasemi, among the appetizers, a wonderful smoked, roasted eggplant puree with tomatoes and garlic served with pita—is worth your time. The Persian sausage, also in the appetizers—note that you can select three to make a combo platter, a worthwhile thing to do—is tasty, as well, both bright and meaty. Miss Russian potato salad, made with peas, pickles, mayo and lemon juice? That’s here, too, as are various seasoned yogurts, a kids menu that even includes cheese pizza, a bar menu that looks like fun and a selection of desserts.
International Grill and Bar is open Monday 11 a.m.–3 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday 11 a.m.–9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.–10 p.m. and Sunday 12–8 p.m. Its meat is halal.
A NOT VERY HOT TAKE: Flagpole news editor Blake Aued recently asked me if I was going to write about the Popeyes chicken sandwich, and I had to admit that it hadn’t occurred to me, even though I live near the one on Prince and had seen the traffic jams, as well as many an article on the same. So, what the heck, I decided to try one.
I guess it’s fine? I’m not exactly a chicken sandwich connoisseur. If I’m going to eat fast food, which isn’t something that happens very often, unless I’m on a road trip and/or desperate, I’m probably going to opt for a burger, and I haven’t been to Chick-fil-A in I don’t know how many years. Popeyes makes decent chicken, although it’s better not on a bun than stuffed into one, where it starts to steam immediately, even if there are pickles. If you eat it fast, a lot of the crisp exterior is maintained.
The best thing about it, apart from the fact that its parent company doesn’t have a reputation for funding hateful anti-LGTBQ organizations, is the fact that it doesn’t have the faint sweetness of a Chick-fil-A sandwich, which makes you feel like you need to brush your teeth immediately. If you’re going to eat a fried chicken sandwich made by a company with thousands of locations, maybe you should eat this one.
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