Piedmont Brewery & Kitchen has potential

I am not one to write negative reviews of restaurants and will simply not write a review if there is nothing positive to say. I must admit that Piedmont Brewery & Kitchen came close to that for me, but I think there are some things people might like even if it is not a place I see myself returning. This happened to be my birthday dinner, so the disappointment was compounded due to the missed opportunity.

Piedmont Brewery and Kitchen is located on Third Street near Kudzu Seafood. Photo by Doug Deal.

The concept has potential and people who enjoy a rotating selection of craft beers might fall in love with the restaurant on that alone. Putting a retro game room in the basement is something that will generate some buzz, but I think it came off as trying to hard to be hip. Overall, it is a positive, but I am not sure it makes up for the negatives.

If you enjoy talking to your companions at meal time, this is not the place for you. One of my biggest pet peeves in an eatery is one that plays overly loud music at a volume where all you really hear is a distorted cacophony. Although I am not a bar person, I have been to enough in my life to know that this is a common thing and some people prefer it. On the other hand, if you like to talk, you will find yourself shouting and that just makes the place louder. An obvious improvement would be to place partitions as acoustical dampeners to cut down on excess noise.

Piedmont Brewery and Kitchen has an impressive bar and it is clear why brewery comes before kitchen in the name. Photo by Doug Deal.

Be careful if you are someone that has a harder time getting around due to crutches, a wheelchair, or just an unsteady gate. Not only does the floor have a significant slope upward from the entry, there is a treacherous uneven spot near the stairway to the game room. On three occasions I nearly twisted and ankle or tripped on the edge of the floor discontinuity. I am not sure how hard it would be to replace that section, but including it in the final layout was a big mistake and I think will lead to injuries and accidents.

For starters, we ordered a beer cheese pretzel. My German heritage had me eagerly anticipating this taste treat, but what was delivered didn’t live up to the billing. The pretzel was average but passable, and the beer cheese sauce was mediocre at best. I love beer cheese and pretzels and would normally gobble up this dish with great haste. With this incarnation, the sauce was weak and water thin and was best described as boring. A more potent and thicker sauce would really step things up. $6 for something not much better than I could get at Sam’s club for $1.50 doesn’t really impress me. Again, this is correctable, and lots of people will enjoy it as many people do not like strongly flavored food.

The sauce is great on the pulled pork, but the pulled pork has a greasiness on its own that is unpleasant. Photo by Doug Deal.

Our meal took what seemed like an eternity plus a week or so to arrive. Considering our selections, it is unclear why our order took so long. I had the pulled pork and my kids had grilled cheese. The pulled pork had way too much oil in it and it left a very oily mouth feel. It had a wonderful flavor that was enhanced pleasantly by the smoky sweet sauce I had selected, but they only provide a little over a tablespoon. Left on its own without sauce, the oiliness of the pork was overwhelming. My guess is that it was at the bottom of the batch and perhaps with better luck it might improve the next go. Even with the oiliness, I did like it immensely with the smoky sweet sauce, what little there was. I also liked that it was served without bread. Anyone looking to cut down on the carbs of baked goods will appreciate that.

The sides I had were not horrible, but could be improved. I am not sure what caused it, but the mac and cheese had an unpleasant aftertaste. I suppose it was some component of the beer cheese, but being a fan of beer cheese I have never had that issue before. Potato salad was the other side and it has a bit of spiciness I do like, but if you closed your eyes, I could almost pass as tuna or chicken salad. It wasn’t bad, but it was slightly sweet instead of savory and that was unexpected.

Downstairs sharing the floor with the arcade is the brew room with equipment to appeal to the brew master in all of us. Photo by Doug Deal.

My drink was the “handcrafted root beer” which I did like. Refills aren’t free, they are $1, but I am fine with that because it is definitelt a premium beverage. Root beer just isn’t enough to bring me back to a restaurant. But, if they work through some kinks, it would be something I would look forward to.

The kids had grilled cheese and they liked them, but my son thought it was “too spicy”. Since I didn’t try them, I have no idea what that could be, but he is sensitive to certain flavors. My daughter at hers without any complaints. The side dish for my son was mac and cheese which he didn’t like at all, but kids usually like something that resembles Kraft instead, so that did not surprise me. Isobel, my daughter, had the mixed fruit and she ate and enjoyed every morsel.

In between bites, you can wonder down to the game room and practice your putting. Photo by Doug Deal.

At the end, the final damage was $50 after tip for one adult and two children. This is with no alcohol, just three fountain drinks, one being a root beer with one charged refill. For that price, I could have had a passible steak and the kids could have had burgers. I am not sure oily barbeque and two grilled cheese and a pretzel is a good value.

If you are a fan of beer and like a more bar, less restaurant type of atmosphere, I think you will find Piedmont Brewery & Kitchen more appealing. For a bar, it has good food. As a restaurant I would not recommend a friend unless they make some changes. I wish them luck and would love to give them another chance in the future after they had some time to shake things out.

Piedmont Brewery & Kitchen is located at 450 Third St in Macon.

Business Image hosting “Conversations of a Poet” April 30

Business Image, an event planning firm in Macon, is sponsoring “Conversations of a Poet” on April 30th. This is described as a “Poetic Glam Slam” experience and will allow poets to bring focus and attention to the art of the spoken word, showcasing their talents while awarding a prize of $200 based on audience preference. The MC will be Marquis “Que” Norton.

The event will also include vendors, live entertainment, and food and drinks in an upscale décor at Theatre Macon, 433 Cherry St, from 6-9 PM. Artists and poetry connoisseurs are welcome and the affair will be black-tie with a strictly enforced dress code.

Tickets are $15 on Eventbrite or $20 at the door.  Donations are welcome and appreciated and can be given through the Eventbrite portal. 100% of the funds collected will go to the artistic participants.

Guests are requested to being their printed ticket to the event to present at the door and early arrival is encouraged as the doors open at 5:30 PM. Announcements can be followed on Facebook and questions can be directed to email at businessimage.exec@gmail.com or call 800.242.3110.

Business Image presents “Conversations of a Poet”, a black tie event at Theatre Macon on April 30 at 6-9 PM. Image courtesy Business Image.

When: April 30, 2017 & (Quarterly)
Where: Theatre Macon
Why: Because culture, the Arts and Great Literary events are vital to every community.

Li’l Benny’s Smokehouse has outstanding ribs, BBQ and smoked chicken

A few places in town have special meaning to me because I watched them grow from the ground up. I had the great fortune to be at ground zero while Li’l Benny’s Smokehouse came into being.

From time to time, Li’l Benny’s offers specials and deals. Here was a two BBQ Sandwich plate for $6 with an added side of slaw. Very filling and a nice quick lunch. Photo by Doug Deal.

Long before the restaurant opened, I had several opportunities to taste Ben Burks’ recipes. I happened to work with his wife and she would bring in samples of his food from time to time which was always a nice treat. Long hours of tweaking the recipe slowly evolved into what is served today, some of the best ribs, BBQ and smoked chicken anywhere.

Li’l Benny’s is tucked away behind Suntrust and Mikado Japanese Steakhouse, across from Ingleside Baptist Church. Photo by Doug Deal.

Just talking to Ben, it is clear how much he loves his food and his customers. His enthusiasm truly comes through in the quality of every one of his dishes. The ribs literally melt in your mouth and the explosive flavor of the smokiness and glaze leave an impression you will never forget. These come served in the restaurant hot on a plate with two sides or alone. They can also be taken home in a refrigerated pack that reheats in the oven quickly and with no trouble. If you have found that you don’t like ribs because they are difficult to eat, or because you have to pull the meat forcibly off the bone, be ready to experience an epiphany as the meat on Benny’s ribs slides right off.

Li’l Benny’s Smokehouse offers their outstanding ribs to go in their takeaway packs. Just heat these quickly in the oven and you are good to go for an outstanding family meal, or reheat them on the grill for a nice picnic. Photo by Doug Deal.

For those who want something unique, try their smoked chicken salad, either as an entrée or in a takeaway pack. The smokiness of the chicken comes through in every bite, but it is not in the least bit overwhelming. The smoky flavor enhances the taste, but it is mellowed by the creaminess of the wet ingredients to a perfect balance. Every time I’ve picked this up and shared it with another they’ve been instant fans. I’ve never had anything like it in Macon or anywhere else for that matter. If you order a takeaway pack I suggest serving it with crackers for a nice appetizer or snack. You can serve it on a plate for a lower carb entrée or just make sandwiches for lunch and be the envy of your coworkers. No matter how you eat it, you’ll end up craving it and asking for more.

Li’l Benny’s Smokehouse has their food to go in convenient packs that are ready to reheat. On the way home or out for a picnic, you can pick up a pack and reheat them in the oven in a crock on the grill. Try it in a sous vide for the perfect serving temperature. Photo by Doug Deal.

The sides are also all excellent quality. I am a fan of sweet coleslaw, but Li’l Benny’s has a more savory variety that I still love, especially spread on top of a BBQ sandwich. The slightly tart flavor and crunch really add something, and it is also excellent straight as a normal side. You should try it both ways. You can also choose from smoked potato salad as well as your traditional sides like green beans, mac n cheese and Brunswick stew.

Proprietor Ben Burks gets the dining room ready before lunchtime. Li’l Benny’s offers dine-in, takeout and takeaway packs to satisfy your BBQ, ribs and smoked chicken cravings. Photo by Doug Deal.

On this visit, though, I went for lunch and was offered a two BBQ sandwich entrée for $6 and upped the order with a drink and side of slaw. The sandwiches were huge and more than filling for someone my size all for the price of a combo at a fast food restaurant, but much more satisfying and several steps up in the quality of food.

Li’l Benny’s has had great support from the community as evidenced by their buddies board. Photo by Doug Deal.

It isn’t flashy place, and it can be hard to find. Li’l Benny’s is tucked away behind Suntrust and Mikado Japanese Steakhouse on the corner of Wimbish and Riverside, but is well worth the effort to find. As you can see by the consistent 100% health score on the wall, they take health and cleanliness very seriously, as seriously as the quality of their food. Everyone I know passing through town who asks me about a great place to get ribs and BBQ in town, I always think of Li’l Benny’s Smokehouse. Give them a try.

Ben Burks is serious about health and cleanliness, I always expect to see a 100% posted in their restaurant. Photo by Doug Deal.
Li'l Benny's Smokehouse menu page 2
Li’l Benny’s menu page 2. Photo by Doug Deal.
Li’l Benny’s Smokehouse Menu Page 1. Photo by Doug Deal.

Enjoy the charm of camellias in Middle Georgia

Spring has come early to Middle Georgia, and there is no better way to celebrate spring than a visit to Ft. Valley’s Massee Lane Gardens. The camellias are in full bloom, and over the coming weeks, the rest of nature will blossom along with them.

Massee Lane Camellia variety R. L. Wheeler
The R.L. Wheeler variety of camellias is one of the many varieties of camellias in the gardens as Massee Lane. Photo by Doug Deal

Massee Lane Gardens is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and on Sunday from 1:00 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. Admission for adults is $5, but senior citizens (age 55+) pay $4, and children under age 12 are free. A variety of plants, including live camellias, are available for sale at the gardens.

As the headquarters of the American Camellia Society, and a part of Georgia’s Camellia Trail, Massee Lane Gardens features six distinct gardens: the camellia garden, the Avera-Peterson Children’s Garden, the daylily garden, the Japanese garden, the rose garden, and the environmental garden. Ask at the front desk about the children’s scavenger hunt, but remind your little ones not to pick petals or leaves off of living plants. There are plenty of fallen blooms, leaves, and blades of cut grass to complete the scavenger hunt without plucking from the flowers.

The brick-laid paths of the camellia garden have old-world charm that is perfect for a romantic stroll, a family weekend outing, or a photography session. There are over 1,000 varieties of camellia growing throughout the garden. Wandering through the camellias leads to a lovely hidden koi pond in the Japanese garden, with a peaceful bower where you can sit and enjoy the birdsongs, or step from stone to stone across the pond and look at the koi.

Massee Lane Gardens
Massee Lane Gardens, historic home of the American Camellia Society. Open Tues-Sat 10 AM – 4:30 PM and Sun 1 PM – 4:30 PM. Photo by Doug Deal

In the Avera-Peterson Children’s Garden of Discovery, parents can sit in a central area while youngster’s explore a variety of smaller gardens. In the dinosaur garden, children can dig for fossils in the sand banked by plants from the dinosaur era. There is also a garden where children can smell different flowers and herbs, and a seasonal vegetable garden. Around Massee Lane Gardens, there are several ponds, and the children’s garden has its own small pond for children to enjoy. There is a butterfly garden, a gazebo, a playset, and even a flower maze for children to enjoy.

Near the children’s garden is the environmental garden, which is distinguished by the screened-in outdoor classroom at its entrance, which is used for environmental education, and its viewing patio overlooking the garden’s 2.4 acre pond. There is a paved path around the pond that is perfect for families with strollers and others needing wheeled access. There are benches for wildlife viewing, and shady areas make the area pleasant year-round. Bluebird houses dot the shoreline of the pond, and a variety of native species grow along the path.

The daylily garden comes alive in mid-spring, and colorful blossoms can be seen from May through the summer season. Year-round, there are delightful characters from Alice in Wonderland scattered among the daylilies to engage young visitors. Crepe myrtle blooms in late spring, and bird houses attract feathered friends to entertain young and old alike.

The rose garden is a popular spot for engagement and wedding photographs, with its 150 varieties of drought-resistant roses and its beautiful gazebo. The rose garden has a climbing arbor where hydrangeas bloom. Its full charm can be enjoyed in the late spring.

Massee Lane Gardens is home to America’s largest collection of porcelain by American artist E.M. Boehm, an American sculptor whose works featured many nature themes. His works may be viewed in two galleries onsite, the Stevens-Taylor Gallery and the Annabelle Lundy Fetterman Educational Museum.

For every age, there is something to explore and enjoy at Massee Lane Gardens, and this is the perfect time of year to venture out and discover all they have to offer. Massee Lane Gardens is located at 100 Massee Lane Road in Ft. Valley, Georgia. Call them at (478)967-2358, visit their website at https://americancamellias.com/, and like their Facebook page.

For more information, check out: https://americancamellias.com/

 

 

Dinner Bell Indian Fine Cuisine is a great new place for Indian food

Hidden away from Eisenhower near Sam’s Club in the Shoppes at Bloomfield strip mall next to Serena Wholesale is a one of the best Indian restaurants in Middle Georgia, Dinner Bell Indian Fine Cuisine. The decor is humble and the atmosphere is what you bring with you, but the cleanliness and the food are top notch as well as the service.

Dinner Bell Chicken Seekh Kabab
Chicken seekh kabab is a poultry twist on the normally lamb dish. Photo by Doug Deal.

Since it opened a couple of months ago, I have had the chance to eat there twice, once for the lunch buffet and once for dinner off the menu. The experience for both meals was outstanding. Although I recommend the buffet, which is about $8, this article will focus on the dinner.

Dinner Bell Mango Lassi
A young lassie enjoys a mango lassi at Dinner Bell Fine Indian Cuisine. Photo by Doug Deal.

My wife, my kids and I pretty much always eat dinner together, and this was no exception. Although my children do not like food that is too spicy, we ordered them some mild chicken seekh kebabs with naan bread. My daughter thought the kebabs were too spicy so we had to get her something else, but my son gobbled up two before we knew it. Both absolutely loved the soft freshly baked flatbread. My daughter also wanted her favorite Indian drink, a mango lassi. Of all the lassis I have tried, this one has a stronger mango flavor and was one of the best I’ve had.

Dinner Bell Aloo Tikki
Aloo Tikki is an appetizer of spicy fried potato patties served with chana masala. Photo by Doug Deal.

For my wife and I, we took a break from our usual appetizer of samosas and instead tried the aloo tikki, which is a plate of spiced potato and cauliflower cakes with a bit of chana masala on the side. I prefer samosas, but the potato cakes were a nice change of pace and the chana masala was incredibly tender and perfectly spiced. We ordered the dish medium, so it was not too spicy for me, but Indian food is in general more spicy than most people in Middle Georgia normally eat.

For my wife’s entree, she ordered chichen sag. Anyone familiar with Indian food probably knows sag paneer, which is spinach and cheese, chicken sag simply substitutes chicken for the cheese. I am not a cooked spinach persons, but my wife loved it. She ordered her dish medium and to me it was not what I would consider hot, but to most it is probably where they would want it unless they like hot food.

Dinner Bell Chicken Saag
Chicken sag is similar to sag paneer only it has chicken instead of cheese. Photo by Doug Deal.

My entree was my long time Indian favorite, chicken vindaloo, which I ordered extra-hot. The waitress confirmed my order twice and when it arrived I was delighted at the flavor, spiciness, appearance and quantity. The heat at extra-hot was right at my limit of what I like, just enough to kick of a euphoria of endorphins, but not so hot to be unpleasant. Each bite was as enjoyable as the first and combined with the excellent garlic naan and basmati rice filled me up with half the dish left.

Dinner Bell Chicken Vindaloo
Dinner Bell chicken vindaloo is extremely flavorful, cooked in hot spices and vinegar with potatoes. Photo by Doug Deal.

There are a number of good Indian restaurants in Middle Georgia and we have been regulars at most, but as it stands today, this is my new favorite. I expect to make it to lunch and dinner as often as I can.

Dinner Bell Garlic Naan
Dinner Bell offers a selection of naans and other side items. Pictured is garlic naan which is a great accompaniment to spicy dishes. Photo by Doug Deal.

The  menu is full and has all sorts of options for different tastes. Some of the interesting dishes I would like to try in the future include the mixed grill, the large selection of tandoori items as well as some of the Indian-China fusion dishes. In price, expect to pay about $9-$15 for an entree with an average of about $11 with portions big enough to share. Appetizers run about $4-$7.

Give Dinner Bell Indian Fine Cuisine a try, if you like Indian you should not be disappointed and if you have never tried it before, this is a good place to go as a first timer. The lunch buffet is an excellent opportunity to try an assortment of items to see what you like. Although some Indian food might be daunting to picky eaters, tandoori is pretty much just grilled meat prepared in a brick oven. It is a good introductory dish.

Dinner Bell Sign
Dinner Bell has been open for a couple of months and is located near Sams and next to Serena Wholesale on Eisenhower. Photo by Doug Deal.

The restaurant is open every day except Monday from 11:30 AM – 9:30 PM and is located at 3892 Eisenhower Pkwy in Macon.