Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Indecisive in Atlanta: Pizza and Pupusas

This is Part 2 of The Great Roadtrip Series. Read Part 1 here.

Thursday night, we are starving after (just) eating Chick-fil-a at dusk. We pull into my friend James’ house around 9, but still need to eat dinner, buy beer and meet up with the rest of our former law school posse.  After too much debate, a decision is made to eat in-- or maybe pick up-- from a tacqueria along Buford Highway, but pulling into the parking lot, indecisiveness again overtakes us (due to earlier activities) and we freeze, panicked. Worry washes over me, should we wait to pick up? Don’t I want to see my friends ASAP? Will this place be any good? What if it takes forever? The waiters seemingly pleaded desperately to us from inside, mouthing “please... taste our tacos…" We are the only car in the parking lot, and the employees stare at us dejectedly as we drive off into the night.

Our indecisiveness continued until we reached a Kroger’s, where we spotted a pizza place called Jagger’s touting “Atlanta Style” pizza in the same strip mall. Having lived in the area for 3 years, I had never heard of ATL Stlye, so I was intrigued, but not optimistic since it seemed like a "World Famous (in Atlanta)" type claim (i.e. bullshit).

Jagger's was clearly a takeout place save for two small plastic tables against the front windows. Seeing the empty interior, I became even more suspicious, but was really hungry, so how bad could it really be? After a minute, a guy who looked like Harry Potter’s less magical older brother entered from the back of the store to take our order. The menu was confusing, 8 “pieces” were 10 dollars. Ok, that seemed like enough for 3 of us. While James and I ordered, my brother asked for the bathroom. Harry motioned and stuttered “back there.” Two minutes later, my brother came out with a sickened, pale look on his face, whispering to us that “someone just blew up that toilet.” Harry Potter was the only one in there, so I guess he made our pizza too. Stuck with our poor decision, we went to pick up beer at Krogers while our pizza was cooking.

On our return, we picked up the pizza box and immediately noticed that it was extremely light for 8 pieces. Opening the box revealed a MASSIVE PIZZA FAIL. Never has the term "Satisfaction" been used so ironically.

My friend Jen later informed me that Jagger's was jokingly referred to as Jaeger's, except I wish I could have blacked out after eating this pizza. This was garlic bread with pizza toppings, and the 8 pieces were no more than tiny squares of congealed cheese and bland sauce. The taste of garlic was overwhelming. I was starving, but could barely finish two pieces. Once again I learned my lesson. (I also should have realized how close we were to Emory and Everybody's Pizza).

Rincon Latino Restaurante y Pupuseria is a Salvadorean restaurant located along a stretch of Buford Highway teeming with Latin American and Asian restaurants. Yet it took time to discover Rincon Latino after disappointments elsewhere. Within 100 yards of the restaurant is a great tacqueria, a Vietnamese restaurant serving delicious banh mi and pho, as well as multiple Asian groceries, plus a Sichuan restaurant. Obviously, the wealth of food options made it difficult to visit more than one place twice. However, once I discovered Rincon Latino it became almost a ritual stop on my frequent drives into Atlanta, or as part of a long drive to and from Cincinnati.

Wanting to get an early start on the 9 hours to Florida, my brother and I along with James, and Jon, my former law school roommate met up at Rincon Latino for an early lunch. Pulling into the strip mall, I briefly panicked when the sign for Rincon Latino was missing, but my fears dissipated as I saw that they were redoing the frontage for the whole strip mall. Fancy.

Inside, the set-up evokes (read: is) a cafeteria, with a large projection screen and smaller tv’s playing a constant occasionally intelligible stream of Mexican soap operas and variety shows whose comedy is absolutely foreign to me (however, hitting people on the head with mallets is funny across all cultural divides). Blue benches mark off tables arranged in three long rows.

For those unfamiliar with pupusas, they are a masa flatbread that is typically filled with queso and other ingredients, then griddled on both sides until brown and slightly crispy on the outside. They are served with a cabbage and carrot slaw that has a strong caraway kick. Various salsas and hot sauce are added on top. My two favorites (both which have that stringy, melted queso) are the chicharron, which is basically fried pork meat ground into a paste (different than just pork skin, the other equally delicious chicharron), and the loroco, which is a flower bud that tastes like a combination of asparagus and broccoli.

The pupusas were good, but not as good as I remembered. Maybe it was early-- and they were still getting the griddle to the right heat-- but the pupusas needed a little more browning. Memory often has expectations that the actual experience is unable to fulfill.

Regardless, everything else was delicious, and I longed for a Salvadorean restaurant such as Rincon Latino within a quick subway ride in NYC.

My brother and I also split the Honduran Breakfast, which was outstanding. Refried beans sprinkled with queso, plantains, over easy eggs, rich sour cream and a stick of firm queso. I could eat this for breakfast every day (then take a nap immediately after).

Jon and James order the shrimp cocktail and fried chicken platter respectively. The “small” shrimp cocktail is a fucking monster, with many more shrimp tucked into the tomato sauce and avocado mixture. You could pour some vodka in there for a Salvadorean Bloody Mary (why haven’t I thought of that before?)

We finished our meal and said a quick goodbye to Jon and James. My abdication of all driving responsibilities the day before meant it was my turn to make the full 9-hour drive to Melbourne, Florida.

Next: Nu-Way and Florida


  1. Jaggers is fucking gross, what type of "foodie" would try a dump like that especially when you are so close to 3 credible pizza establishments: Mellow mushroom, everybody's and fellinis. At least that Jon knows whats up, that shrimp cocktail looked amazing!

  2. You would like Fellini's. I'm just try to call attention to a place that serves horrible pizza and should be avoided at all costs.

  3. I have actually found Jaggers to be quite good. I don't know what you identify as great pizza but I wish you would inform us all which pizza you think is really good. Is it Everybodys...really? Mellow Mushroom...really...:(
    Please let us know.

  4. @anon It's been maybe 5 years since I've eaten at Everybody's, I remember liking it, but little else. Mellow Mushroom is solid, but nothing outstanding (I do like their philly cheesesteak calzone though. Fellini's is pretty good, but I didn't really like how they added the toppings afterward. That's pretty much the extent of my ATL pizza knowledge (I think I'm spoiled pizza-wise living in NYC too).

    My problem with Jagger's was more that it was like a piece of garlic bread with pizza toppings on top, not really what I was craving or expecting at that point. To each his/her own though.

    Do you have any other ATL pizza suggestions?

  5. First off I'd like to say that Jaggers is by far the best pizza I've ever had! This blog is very shocking to me since I have actually never seen a bad review for Jaggers, As far as the interior goes its comfortable inside and thats saying a lot for a place that is that small... I think it looks quite nice inside and since when do you ever actually go into a small little pizza place to actually eat inside anyway??? Come on really... I would eat Jaggers all the time if I lives close enough to it and I wish there were others!

  6. Well, you probably haven't been looking hard enough: http://www.yelp.com/biz/jaggers-pizza-atlanta.

  7. Camellis (sp?) is pretty good thin crust. It is closest to New York style pizza Atlanta has. Though nothing beats a Jagger pie. They get the famous moniker because they won numerous best of Atlanta titles in the 30 years they were open ( Bill Jagger sold out in 1999). It is the same product but not a full service restaurant like it was back in the day. As far as yelp goes, I don't get it. It makes the critics choice in Creative Loafing, Atlanta's Village Voice, and it was reviewed by the examiner.com as one of the top five pizza places in Atlanta. It's unfortunate you had such a poor experience with the place though.

  8. Haven't heard of Camellis, thanks for the rec. I just remembered I tried Varasano's when it first opened. It was pretty good Napoli style pizza, but I remember very little else (maybe that's not such a good thing).

    I agree, yelp reviews aren't always the most reliable source, but the the main issue I had with Jagger's was I wasn't expecting that type of thick garlic bread-y pizza at all. It's really apples and oranges to compare it to other places.

  9. I was reading all these comments and I recommend you give Jagger's one more chance. I've never heard anyone describe it as garlic-like bread with toppings on it. I'm wondering if you just had some weird, one-time, terrible experience. Jagger's just re-opened less than 2 years ago. The owner is trying to revive this wonderful pizza (that was open for 30 years! Same product. If it made it that long, obviously it was good). The picture is a sad one, I admit. I spoke to the owner while I was waiting for my order one day and he made it clear that he is in search of a rectangular pizza box to better represent the size. It truly is a delicious pizza. As for yelp, Jagger's received 4 out of 5. Not bad at all.