City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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Kaleidoscope Bistro & Pub review, Brookhaven



Ladies and gentlemen, behold the pork bun. This beguiling handful starts with a folded ivory oval of steamed Chinese bread, as soft and warm as your mama’s cheek. Into it goes the tangy crunch of pickled cucumber, the sweet funk of hoisin sauce and a fat chunk or two of hot pork belly. Think: crisp meat and quivering fat that dissolves into rivulets of pork nectar in the heart of this three-bite wonder. Everyone who eats a pork bun goes nuts for it.

Review by John Kessler

Review by John Kessler

You used to have to go to the restaurant that popularized the modern pork bun – Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York’s East Village – to have one. Then a few more Asian or Asian-enough restaurants debuted their pork buns, first in New York and then in other cities.

Now there are pork buns ($8 for two) at Kaleidoscope Bistro & Pub – a loud, drinky new restaurant in Brookhaven. Some may decry the popularization of a once-cult dish, but these tasty morsels sure stave the craving. It’ll be hard for me to drive through Brookhaven without picturing myself at the bar with a bun or two and a glass of Ode to Mercy Brown Ale ($5) from Georgia’s newest craft brewery, Wild Heaven. The very thought makes me happy.

Kaleidoscope is the first locally grown restaurant in a while to really understand the cutting edge of the mainstream. I say this with real admiration rather than faint praise; few places can pull off those dishes that people want to eat when they’re out not for foodie communion or home-meal replacement, but for fun. The nightly throngs attest to just how well this place gets it.


Pork buns (all photos by Becky Stein)

Owner/chef Joey Riley cut his chops in this milieu when it was the reigning style in Atlanta. After years as an executive chef for the Here to Serve Restaurant Group (Tom Tom a Bistro, Goldfish) and at Buckhead Diner, he understands the glossy pleasure of certain dishes as they turn from exotic to familiar. Moving easily from Thai to Southwestern to Mediterranean to American comfort, he goes for the contact high – that feeling of “I totally feel like spicy chicken wings and cocktails,” or “I totally want to melt into a pile warm, cheesy goo,” or “Pork buns!” He succeeds well and puts out mostly consistent food at high volume, though I think a few too many heavy-handed dishes that were cutting edge mainstream 10 years ago gum up the menu.

The room – with its tile floors, bright paint, gleaming wooden tables and open kitchen – brings to mind that era of splashy Atlanta dining before all the farmers moved in with their muted colors and baby turnips. Go early if you don’t feel like waiting for a table (the restaurant doesn’t take reservations) or find a place to wedge yourself in the bottleneck front bar. Groups of young women, loud older guys, middle-aged couples on double dates and everyone else who calls Brookhaven home will be your company.

kessler.0325Did I say it was a fun bar? I appreciate the beers on tap, which range from that Wild Heaven to Belgian Delirium Tremens strong pale ale, and find the list of wines by the glass smart. I loved the “Farmer’s Mary” cocktail ($8.50) made with heirloom tomato juice (the bartender cracks open a canning jar) and garnished with pickled okra. And, yes, it was 7 p.m. and I felt like a bloody mary before dinner: It’s that kind of place. You can even get a dish of house-fried spicy pork rinds ($4) with a squeeze of lime.

It’s an easy transition to slightly larger plates once you score a table. The kitchen calls its appetizers “first impressions” and these are certainly the best ones to be had. Berkshire pork potstickers ($9) arrive with crisp bottoms and a bright ginger/sesame sauce. The fat, spicy chicken wings ($8) with a shower of blue cheese crumbles and finger-licking “Kaleidoscope sauce” taste like Saturday night on the town. Yowza-yummy.

The “best crabcake ever” ($12) may not earn its superlative, but is as good as the steakhouse crab cake we’ve all learned to love, with its loosely bound jumbo lump meat and cracked mustard sauce. Mussels ($10) – an enormous portion in garlicky tomato basil butter – might have qualified as best had they not been overcooked.

Riley sometimes has an eye for the right dishes to steal and the good sense to prepare them without embellishment. Hamachi crudo ($9) brings five juicy slices of raw yellowtail with slivers of hot pepper, cilantro leaves and a wash of ponzu sauce, and it’s the always-welcome dish that chef Nobu Matsuhisa invented years ago.

And sometimes Riley doesn’t. The whole sizzling catfish ($16) that was the it dish long ago at Azalea restaurant in Buckhead looks a fright. The entire fish comes with arched tail in a batter-fried coating. Super-salty fermented Chinese black beans blanket this poor, overdressed critter, which wears a bouffant cap of pickled ginger on its head and stares glassy-eyed at a lime crown. It looks like the Lady Gaga of bottom feeders.

Other overwrought entrees fail to live up to the promise of the appetizers. A skillet-fried chicken breast ($18), dry and salty, packs an ultra-crunchy jacket of batter that tires your teeth, and its side of collards amp up the salt quotient even more. Shrimp and grits ($17) comes so tricked out with cheese and creamy sauce that we opt to shake the shrimp free before eating them. I liked the piece of grilled mahi-mahi atop a tostado ($16), but found the mishmash of green chile grits, beet-red fried tortilla and guacamole a kaleidoscope of glop.

Chocolate peanut butter bars: good dessert if you still have room

Chocolate peanut butter bars: good dessert if you still have room

And what of this Kaleidoscope burger ($8 for a single patty, $12 for a double) that won best at a Virginia-Highland street festival? Pimento cheese, green tomato chow chow and cole slaw adorn this heart-attack heap. The bun quickly gives up on it, and so will you.

Both of my meals started with great drinks and tasty appetizers, and both ended with lots of uneaten, heavy food on our plates. Kaleidoscope Bistro & Pub is the kind of restaurant where you peter out. The fork goes down, the plate gets pushed, enough. But it’s also the kind of restaurant that you want to go to again, that you put on your “good bet in the neighborhood” list.

Why? Because that contact high is awfully fun.

1410 Dresden Drive, Atlanta, 404-474-9600
Food: Best-hits American bistro fare, competently prepared
Service: On top of its game
Best dishes: Chinese steamed buns, crab cake, pork potstickers, bloody mary, mussels with tomato and basil
Vegetarian selections: Salads and sides
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover
Hours: Food served 5-10 p.m., Mondays-Thursdays and Sundays; 5-11  p.m., Fridays-Saturdays
Children: Fine if you go early, but is too noisy and scene-y after 7 p.m. for most kids
Parking: Valet and on-site
Reservations: No, but there’s a call-ahead list
Wheelchair access: Full
Smoking: No
Noise level: Very high
Patio: Not set up as this review was being written but should debut soon
Takeout: Yes


25 comments Add your comment

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March 24th, 2011
9:49 am

NOBODY writes about food as well as you! I could make a meal off your adjectives and verbs. Thanks for making me yearn for pork buns for breakfast!


March 24th, 2011
11:34 am

Just out of curiousity… is there a difference between a pickled cucumber and a pickle?

Christi J

March 24th, 2011
12:16 pm

I ate here about a month back and found the Mahi-Mahi to be quite the let down. I have no problem paying for a plate of amazing food, but $20 for the grits and tostado I ate that night? Not so much.

I plan to give it another chance, however (the pub, not the fish) as I did enjoy the atmosphere.


March 24th, 2011
1:13 pm

“Vegetarian selections: Salads and sides”


Krystle Meyer

March 24th, 2011
1:41 pm

Vegetarians: Weak.



March 24th, 2011
1:43 pm

I think you’re full of it, John! I’ve been there several times & never had a bad meal. Nothing over cooked, especially the mussels. And, to ’sara’, what in the world would make anyone think this is a vegetarian restaurant? The pub fries cooked in duck fat? the homemade pork rinds? really now, come on! this is not a restaurant for vegetarians and there is nothing wrong with that!! would a vegetarian go to the Highland Tap? I don’t think so. if you want veggie food, there are places better suited for you but don’t dog the places that don’t cater to vegetarians. that just makes you a spoiled brat!

john, I think you are way off base! and really don’t know what else to say to you.

John Kessler

March 24th, 2011
2:06 pm

Thanks, Billie! Have you had any pork buns elsewhere? I’ve seen them in Atlanta at Miso Izakaya and Super Pan Latino Sandwich Shop.

John Kessler

March 24th, 2011
2:11 pm

lisa – The mussels were tasty but definitely pretty shrunken, chewy and a little wrinkled. Also, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a vegetarian to want a thoughtful dish at a restaurant where non-veg friends want to go. Leon’s Full Service in Decatur is just as meat-centric as this place, but they serve a veggie loaf that my veg. friends go nuts for.

John Kessler

March 24th, 2011
2:20 pm

Reds – Ha. I guess I think a “pickle” defaults to a Western (dill, garlic) brine, while “pickled cucumber” is more Asian (rice wine vinegar, sugar).


March 24th, 2011
2:21 pm

Crazily enough, John, I’ve only had pork buns in NYC and Yokohama, Japan, where I lived for a year as an Army dependent. Thrilling that you’ve found them so close by!!! Can’t wait to give the place a try.
(Rivulets of pork fat: mmmmmmmmmmmm)

Typical Redneck

March 24th, 2011
2:29 pm

My wife has been there and said it was just alright. I will have to try the pork buns.

Native Atlantan

March 24th, 2011
2:51 pm

@Lisa — good lord, calm down. Can’t a writer express his opinion without you screaming his opinion is wrong?

And, I don’t know what else to say to you but calm down….

ATL - life love food

March 24th, 2011
3:37 pm

I have been here a couple of times and love it! The nuts are a great first impression with a chili/lime kick for only like $3 and I LOVE that burger. I don’t know what you are talking about give up…I was yearning for more!

Jimmy Baron

March 24th, 2011
3:42 pm

Native Atlantan, don’t worry about “Lisa”, that is likely just my ex-wife who likely is trying to land the restaurant as a new PR client. You know how that goes. But you are right, whoever that is should just calm down and have a Mary…


March 24th, 2011
5:04 pm

Shaun Doty was making pork buns at Shaun’s. Thought they should have been called the “Ode to David Chang” on the menu. I assume they didn’t make it to Yeah Burger ($5 belly adder for your burger?). Haven’t been there yet, though.


March 24th, 2011
5:21 pm

I have also been there multiple times and have really enjoyed the food and the atmosphere. The “award-winning” burger is messy, but DELISH. I especially enjoyed the Thai Style Beef Jerky, Potstickers, Pub Fries with Duck Fat Mayo and the Ahi Tuna Tartare (it has avocado on top = yum). The drinks are great and the waitstaff and bartenders are all very friendly. Joey, the Chef, and Doug, the Manager, have made it by our table to check on our food all 5 times I have been. Just be sure to get there early because come dinner time, there is sure to be a wait.


March 24th, 2011
6:44 pm

The Burger is delicious one of the best i have had around town however you can only get it cooked two ways pink or brown. Since I like a medium cooked burger the first time I ordered it pink. It was very rare, John I assume this is how you ordered it and the bun didn’t hold up . the second time I ordered it brown but it came out just like i like it still lite-pink in the middle. The Fish with the tostado was just OK. They should also add an IPA on tap at the bar


March 24th, 2011
7:07 pm

terrapin’s hopsecutioner is on tap now wayne

Queenof All

March 25th, 2011
9:42 am

It’s EXTREMELY noisy. The crab cake was slimy. My companion had the fried chicken and detested. Service was ragged to say the least and we got there before the crowds. The best part of the meal was the roasted new potatoes. We won’t be going back.

Brookhaven Resident

March 25th, 2011
10:34 am

We’ve only been to K-pub once, but both of us had quite an enjoyable visit. The bar is a bit loud and crowded, but we didn’t expect anything different. Let’s face it, Brookhaven has been crying out for alternatives to Hudsons, Pub 71, Mellow Mushroom, Haven and Valencia. K-pub seens to fill that void pretty well; Be it a few drinks and a nosh or a full blown meal.

The starters/tapas/first impressions offer a nice range of options. We tried the Hamachi crudo, Crabcakes and Pub Fries. Of the three, the pub fries were the standout. IMO, you can’t beat crispy duck fat fries and the baconaisse was a nice touch. The crab cake was also very tasty and rife with big lumps of crab. The hamachi was good but a shell of other versions of the same I’ve had at venues.

The entries we had also seemed to please. We tried the Artic Char, which was presented atop a cool med. salad. The Char was a tad overcooked, however the pairing with the med salad was a pleasant surprise. All the flavors worked well together and the dish is a nice light alternative to some of the heavier options. We also had the Firecracker Ahi Tuna. The Tuna was properly prepared with a light sear and matched well with the asian slaw and sticky rice cake; however, the slaw could have used a bit more attention to detail as I had several huge stalks of cabbage intermixed thourghout the slaw. I’m not trying to be too picky, it was just darned hard to eat.

If you have room for dessert, the kitchen seems to be experimenting with several off menu options. I had a smores brownie – very dense and rich…almost too big. My dinner companion had a scoop of dulce de leche ice cream…good but nothing special. I’d love to see a few more inventive dessert options in the future…perhaps a bacon maple or popcorn ice cream.

Lastly, as I didn’t mention it earlier, the bar has a nice wide range of cocktails and craft/belgian beers. As a bit of a beer snob, I was quite pleased to see a nice focus on the bar options.

Overall, the outing was pleasant and a welcome addition to the neighborhood. As they continue to hone their skills and offerings we’ll continue to see K-pub thrive as go to destination for years to come.


March 25th, 2011
11:14 am

I can walk up to here from where I live. It has gotten WAY too much press & scrutiny for what it is – it’s just a neighborhood gastropub – something that is not represented at all in Brookhaven. I just feel like everyone is over-analyzing this place, probably since there are pretty much zero restaurant openings these days so everything that opens is reviewed now by Creative Loafing, Atlanta Magazine, AJC, etc.

It fills a void in the neighborhood and is a fine place to go for drinks and snacks. Yes, the main dishes can be hit or miss – I do like the apps better. Also keep in mind that they have been consistently overwhelmed every night since opening (can’t get a license to serve out on the patio at until April 1). I know the rise of gastropubs has everyone in a tizzy, but don’t overanalyze everything – it’s just trying to be a neighborhood bistro, not some “destination restaurant”.

Brookhaven resident

March 25th, 2011
12:41 pm

Been there a few times and one date made a good observation. It’s like the place is trying to be two different businesses: One where they serve good but over-priced food. Certainly not something to be considered “pub or bistro food” which is more associated with affordable, comfort food. The other business is the trendy and crowded seen-and-be-seen bar area. Again, not really a pub atmosphere like, say, Pub 71 which is just up the street. Kaleidoscope is okay, albeit a bit pricy. I think the Pub & Bistro part of its name is misleading.


March 25th, 2011
1:26 pm

I was really excited to check this place out, but I just can’t get over the fact they served the pimento cheese appetizer with Triscuits. I was so confused?????


March 25th, 2011
1:42 pm

Just to share my personal experience there…

I was with a group of about 10, and my girlfriend’s dish took 10 to 15 minutes longer than everyone else’s to come out. When it finally did arrive, it was egregiously undercooked. She sent it back. Throughout the entire time, we were polite to the waiter and he was similarly polite to us, both communicative and apologetic. Upon the reappearance of her food, he made sure that it was okay with her, and within another 10 minutes, the chef himself came out to ask her if it was made to her liking (it was). Even though we never put out the “this is unacceptable!” vibe or anything similar to that (the exchanges were pleasant and reasonable throughout), the waiter brought out complementary desserts for the entire table. Yep, for everybody, even some of whom, on the other end of the table, hadn’t realized that there had been problems with an order.

Like everybody, I’ve had my share of issues at restaurants. They happen, especially at new restaurants (we were there a few weeks after it first opened). I was amazed, however, at how this unfolded. It could not have been handled better. Instead of being embarrassed and then becoming scarce–as so dreadfully often happens–the waiter owned up to the mistakes and made a sincere effort to keep us happy. The chef personally followed up on what he was providing, and then we received a bounty of “make it right” desserts, even though my girlfriend and I are *not* the “You need to make this right!” type of people.

It made a big impression on me, so like I said, I just wanted to share it.

PS – I like your reviews, John, keep up the great work.