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Live from Grant Park 

Food in the raw at Living Food Delights

"It's alive!" the woman behind the counter exclaimed, with no apparent allusion to the classic horror-movie line. Her exclamation was in response to my asking if I should heat the takeout meal I was buying,

"This is raw food," she said. "Cooking will kill it. Don't destroy it. Just bring it to room temperature."

I promised not to kill my food.

I was at Living Food Delights (465 Boulevard, 404-635-1133), a tiny takeout shop in the rear of the strip center that houses Zocalo Taqueria.

I haven't much cared for raw food in the past. I've usually found it over-seasoned and, despite usual claims to the contrary, unwelcome by my gastrointestinal system. Is the latter why a sign in the shop says it may take years to convert completely to a raw diet and that I might want to join a support group in the meantime?

The menu at Living Food is small and fairly pricey. A three-course meal costs $16.50 and dessert will cost you $6 or $7 more. I have no doubt that if you are into this kind of food, you'll pay the price happily. But it seems pretty expensive to me for vegan food you carry out in plastic. (And the shop needs to invest in rubber bands. I arrived home to find two of my containers open, with their live contents trying to mate.)

The fact is, though, that I found Living Food's cuisine the best such I've ever encountered. I did, however, run into the usual overdose of seasonings. "Sun burger patties," for example are made principally of carrots with parsley and red bell pepper. They are dense and chewy and interestingly flavored -- at first. Then their large dose of onion -- large to my palate, anyway -- takes over. I am unsure, but I believe my side dishes of collards and a curried lentil-cabbage salad, zingy and fresh, may have been spiked with onion, too.

Eventually, the oniony flavor completely dominated everything, I woke up the next morning with the onion taste still in my mouth.

In a second visit, I ordered the lasagna -- an amazing amalgam of tomatoes, some kind of vegan pasta and faux, creamy cheese. I asked if it contained onion, was assured it did not, but was warned that it did contain garlic. Boy-howdy. The dish was delicious until, about halfway through, I completely overdosed on the garlic.

The apple pie was utterly wonderful. It resembles a dense apple sauce contained in an oatmeal-cookie-like crust. It was full of raisins as well.

You'll also find designer juices and smoothies here -- "young coconut with avocado," for example -- along with a variety of salads, snacks and daily specials. There are also T-shirts featuring a pig and the words "No, I don't have any spare ribs." Another one features a little chicken declaring, "I am not a nugget."

Living Foods also offers cooking classes and other educational services. Try it. Carry Tic Tacs for an aperitif.

An avalanche of iceberg lettuce

Mediterranean Grill, a popular Decatur restaurant, has opened a second location in Midtown (985 Monroe Ave. at 10th Street, 404-917-1100).

The restaurant looks good. A brick wall is opposite one whose color my friend Jeff described as "goldenrod." There's a blue hookah in the front of the restaurant, near the space you enter to place your order at a counter. No hashish is offered.

If you like iceberg lettuce, you are going to love Mediterranean Grill. I have not encountered so much of the stuff since I attended a church homecoming in rural Georgia two decades ago. Jeff ordered a Greek salad made with iceberg. My starter of six dolmas was served with iceberg. Our entrees were served with more iceberg. A dozen rabbits could have grazed on our table and taken leftovers home to their hutch.

The quality of the food was irregular. Jeff's salad -- authentic Greek salad has no lettuce -- was not worth its $5.25 price, even with huge, countless chunks of feta cheese. My grape leaves contained rice, tomatoes and onion steamed in a vegetable lemon broth "with a touch of olive oil." In fact, the dolmas were oily and unpleasantly cold. There were no discrete flavors.

Entrees, despite the profusion of iceberg, were better. I ordered the "combination feast" of beef kabobs, ground sirloin kabobs and gyro slices. All of the meats, served over rice pilaf, were tender and nicely marinated. I folded them into slices of pita with some tahini sauce. Jeff's chicken kabobs were similarly well-prepared.

Desserts are not made on the premises and were mediocre. Rice pudding needed more pudding and less of the large-grained rice. Baklava, which Jeff said left him with a "Krispy Kreme feeling," was better despite sogginess.

The service we experienced, by a staff of Latinos, was muy bueno, as they say in the Mediterranean.

Here and there

After seeing a movie at Midtown Promenade, Wayne and I dashed into Royal Orchid for dinner. Wayne grazed on tom-yum soup with shrimp added and a squid salad. The soup, almost fiery, was especially good. But my Pad Thai was completely lackluster, with gooey noodles and a bland tamarind sauce. ...

Fat Matt's gets the Popeyes Award of the Week. I like the place. I like the blues bands, I like the lean ribs and the rum-soaked baked beans. But when I stopped in for takeout last week, I was greeted by a woman who did not look at me.

"Hello," she said, looking off to the side and chatting with people behind her. She finally deigned to look at me and take my order and then held my change in her fist, shaking it at another employee with whom she resumed conversation.

"Can I have my change?" I finally asked.

She looked at me impatiently and thrust it at me. I didn't even look for a tip jar.

And, please, stop folding the ribs in brown paper with slices of white bread glued to them!

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