City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

Back on the Dining Beat


AJC Staff: My alter ego (guess which one?)

Five years ago I asked to step away from reviewing restaurants. At that time, I wanted to learn more about journalistic endeavors that didn’t involve stuffing my face. I also needed — after so many years of constant dining out — to spend more time at home, cooking for my family.

But starting today, I am back on the dining beat in a big way.

I will be exploring Atlanta’s food scene with a reinvigorated appetite — checking out interesting newcomers, revisiting forgotten oldies and alerting you to the intriguing ethnic dining options that make Atlanta such a unique food town. I’ll also have a stronger Digital presence with my Food and More blog, where you’ll be able to find daily restaurant news and food buzz. Meridith Ford Goldman, to whom I passed the baton in 2004, will continue writing the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s formal restaurant reviews every Friday in the AJC’s weekend Go Guide.

Let me quickly tell you where I am coming from. I began this career almost 20 years ago as a dining critic for Westword, Denver’s alternative newsweekly, soon after I graduated from culinary school. But I had one little secret I hadn’t shared with my editors: I didn’t eat red meat.

Yet before long I found myself in a prominent new steakhouse, staring with some consternation at a sizzling, USDA Prime ribeye steak. Hi, Bessie. I sawed off a bloody bite, chewed thoughtfully and found the flavor equally delicious and distressing. I was overwhelmed. Later that evening I made a certain Bernese Mountain Dog very, very happy.

It did not take me long to develop a taste for steak. In fact, I’d eat just about anything on my plate as long as it wasn’t imploring me not to.

“All good things in moderation” turned into “all good things in excess” as I experienced more tasting menus that took me on their merry, fat-choked way through pork belly, foie gras, triple-cream cheeses and chocolate ganache. Indulgence — overindulgence, even — it seemed to me, had become the reigning hallmark of too many restaurants.

When I stopped reviewing restaurants for the AJC, I returned to a more balanced diet and (I’m not gonna lie) began enjoying my meals a whole lot more. Being the primary cook in my household has made me a lot more purposeful when I consider what foods to prepare for my kids. Now that I’m out visiting restaurants again, I want to bring to bring some of this perspective to the beat.

I’m hitting the restaurant scene beginning with a soufflé-deflating bang. I will visit a new restaurant every day throughout November and detail the good and the bad, the skippable and the snarftastic, on this blog. You can also count on several blog posts a day on topics ranging from restaurant news and market finds to home cooking and dining trends.

My Sunday column will continue in this space but becomes a bit broader in its discussion of dining, cooking and eating.

I’m excited by this prospect because, frankly, I have a lot of catching up to do. There are a lot of good restaurants in this town I have never visited and many more I haven’t set foot in for, well, five years. When we do dine out, my wife and I stick to a few favorites near our house. We like to explore inexpensive international restaurants on Buford Highway, and for a blowout meal, we get sushi.

It’s about time for a fat steak.

43 comments Add your comment


November 1st, 2009
1:17 pm

John, I am very happy to read this news. I have missed your reviews, snarkiness and all.


November 1st, 2009
1:34 pm

Looking forward to your daily posts this month, especially the ethnic ones!!

Nancy Puckett

November 1st, 2009
1:48 pm

Will read anything you write.

Ramona Clef

November 1st, 2009
2:05 pm

Very pleased to hear this.

Ludwig Keck

November 1st, 2009
2:20 pm

Great news! I always enjoyed your writing and your take on the food scene. Now, if I only could keep up with you and the new restaurants!


November 1st, 2009
2:38 pm

This is great news! Glad you’re back on the dining beat-I’m looking forward to your upcoming posts!


November 1st, 2009
2:57 pm

Fantastic news! Your regular reviews and comments on the dining scene have been sorely missed.

Steven Averett

November 1st, 2009
3:05 pm



November 1st, 2009
3:53 pm

The AJC got it right for once !!!! This almost makes up for them giving Neil Boortz a column. We love you Mr. Kessler !!!


November 1st, 2009
4:34 pm

What wonderful news!!! I, too, will read anything you write.


November 1st, 2009
5:54 pm

AJC hasn’t totally lost their mind. Hooray!


November 1st, 2009
5:55 pm

There’s only about 15 or 20 of you left and they are spending money on TWO restaurant critics? Any stimulous money involved in this? Next thing we know, there’s going to be reporting on something other than whatever “The Buzz” is in the way of culture.

Ched R.

November 1st, 2009
6:01 pm

Thank goodness, the AJC will ditch the bimbo dessert queen and get back to serious (or not so) serious discussions about ATL dining with a qualified critic. When you come into my restaurant you’ll be treated like royalty, Mr. Kessler!


November 1st, 2009
6:42 pm

Welcome back to the written word. I look forward to your columns, again.


November 1st, 2009
7:20 pm

GREAT news…you were sorely missed! :)


November 1st, 2009
7:54 pm

Very nice, you’re reviews rocked.
Just please, please don’t forget those of us in the ‘burbs. I live in Forsyth, and we do have some decent restaurants up here.

On your to do list should be: (starting with what I’d consider the best)

Bello Italian on Meadow Drive in Cumming, From the amazing fresh tomato soup, through the amazing entrees and on through the tiramisu, this place owns it!

The Ridge (exit 15 on 400, turn right, take the first right). It used to be a Western Sizzlin’ (remember those) but is now privately owned, and the steaks are incredible. The decor (if you can call it that) ain’t much, but having a black Elvis impersonator (google Manuel Covington) takes care of that-this guy is astounding. The seafood’s good too!

Cinco (in Vickery Village on Post Rd) Awesome non-traditional Mexican fare.


November 1st, 2009
8:04 pm

No offense to MFG, but I’m VERY happy you’re back doing your thing. Look forward to reading your offerings.


November 1st, 2009
8:08 pm

Great news! Looking forward to your reports!

Ched is a tool

November 1st, 2009
8:46 pm

Nice, Ched. Good to know there are still a few Cromagnon knuckledraggers out there. Bimbo dessert queen? Sounds to me like you got an honest review from Meredith. And by the way, any reputable critic does NOT want to be treated like royalty when they review a restaurant—they don’t want to even be noticed as anything other than another customer.

Mr. Kessler, great to have you back since Meredith is still around, too. In this case, twice is very nice.


November 1st, 2009
10:05 pm

Welcome back! I still remember your review of the Feed Store and having the opportunity to tag along with you, and my friend/your former co-worker Rochelle. Thanks for showing me the ropes! Best wishes as you reinstate yourself in the food world looking for good eats! I look forward to your posts.


November 1st, 2009
11:36 pm

Great news. I started reading your reviews in the late 90s, while I was in high school. My family ate at places like Ryan’s Family Steak House and Cracker Barrel. We did not go inside the perimeter, and we did not eat at the types or restuarants that get reviewed. But I got to live vicariously through your reviews once a week. I enjoyed them so much. You have a wonderful way of writing which educates without talking down. Most of all, they were just fun to read.
Your reviews played a large role in kindling my love of food and food writing. Thank you.

As a side note, you’re a tough act to follow, but Meredith Ford does a fine job. I appreciate her work too, and am grateful that my hometown paper has two wonderful food writers.

Deb Duchon

November 2nd, 2009
1:22 am

Looking forward to your commentary. I guess this means I’ll have to renew by subscription to the AJC!

Melissa W

November 2nd, 2009
5:32 am

Great news! Your writing was the reason for my subscription and now I never miss a blog. Have fun with it!


November 2nd, 2009
9:22 am


November 2nd, 2009
9:31 am

This makes my day!

John Kessler

November 2nd, 2009
10:13 am

Thank you all so much. Just putting the finishing touches on my first restaurant visit now and feeling very rusty. Dannyd: Thanks for the recs! I definitely want to get OTP more and find the places that have escaped our intown notice. Keep ‘em coming.

top chef fanatic

November 2nd, 2009
12:55 pm

good to hear mr. kessler….now i wont have to wait to hear your culinary excellence on a weekly basis for our top chef review! You have created a tight little bunch of bloggers over here and i look foward to expanding to some of your other work. I appreciate your opinions on anything that has to do with food:)
have a blessed day and good luck!

Donna Whitehead

November 2nd, 2009
2:14 pm

Welcome back! Your humor and insights have been missed.

anastasia beaverhausen

November 2nd, 2009
2:14 pm

welcome back! I just read the review of Rumi’s Kitchen and am excited about getting a review of a new place each day.


November 2nd, 2009
2:18 pm

JK – Have you tried Artisan Foods Bakery & Cafe in downtown Roswell? – 1169 Canton St, 30075


November 2nd, 2009
2:21 pm

So glad to hear you are back. I would love to see a AJC review of Mi Barrio on Memorial Drive, right of off Boulevard. The food there is out of this world and the family that runs it are some of the nicest people I have ever met. It is an awesome neighborhood gem! I would suggest the steak huarache and the nopales.


November 2nd, 2009
2:35 pm

John, In the Covington area try R.L.’s Off the Square and Henderson’s Catfish on Jackson Highway (Hwy 36) south just outside of Covington.


November 2nd, 2009
2:39 pm

Two of our favorites OTP: Capers in downtown Kennesaw and Fusco’s in downtown Acworth. Both well worth the trip.


November 2nd, 2009
2:45 pm

Hi John,

As a fellow “gaijin” who lived in Japan for over 13 years, I was wondering if you’ve ever tried Sushi Mito in Norcross near the Holcomb Bridge/Spalding intersection? It used to be called Sushi Yoshi, but is now under new management. I think it’s difficult to find sushi in Atlanta that is even remotely close to the quality of sushi in Japan, but Sushi Mito is pretty good…


November 2nd, 2009
3:38 pm

I hope that you venture outside the perimeter to the suburbs as well as ITP. Also, I’d like to see you trek to Buford Highway. IMHO, it’s an endless gold mine of dining opportunity.
Play the field on dining cost. I’d like to see some lower cost venues as well as expensive.Money plays a factor in today’s economy for many of us. In the end, it’s not the cost of meal as much as was it a satisfying and enjoyable experience.


November 2nd, 2009
3:44 pm

You have to try The Oyster Barn in Lilburn off of hwy 29. It is the find of the century. I tell all my friends and we have all become addicted to the food and the atmosphere!! John, it’s about time your back. Venture a little past Buford Hwy. I can’t wait to hear what you think.


November 2nd, 2009
4:26 pm

Okay…but how are you going to pull this off now that everyone knows your face?


November 2nd, 2009
6:00 pm

Kez! Kez! Kez! Kez! Kez! Kez! Kez! Kez!

Welcome back. This is going to be GOOD.


November 2nd, 2009
6:15 pm

John, this is great news! As I’ve said before, you are the preeminent food writer in ATL. I look forward to the next 30 days and as always, the Top Chef recaps. Congratulations!

Steven Josovitz

November 3rd, 2009
1:02 am

Welcome Back John……. Now don’t forget your cardio before and after each visit.


November 3rd, 2009
8:22 am

Meredith is great, but I still remember her first review which was of Chop’s where she said she enjoyed a nice glass of viognier with her steak au poivre.

John… You need to go check out One Midtown Kitchen. Their new chef has dismantled ex-kitchen chief Tom Harvey’s menu, and built a nice French influenced menu.

[...] More:  Back on the Dining Beat | Food and More with John Kessler [...]

Lauren V.

November 7th, 2009
10:46 am

Glad to hear it, sir! And hey, thanks so much for linkin’ my edity/recipe/monkeyblog over on your sidebar. Happy eating!