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Gabriel’s restaurant review, Marietta

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My multi-year quest for traditional German chocolate cake in Atlanta is over.

Recently on this blog, I asked readers where they go for this dessert I first enjoyed during my childhood. German chocolate cake is not commonly stocked in local bakeries and when it is, you’ll often find it dressed in obscene quantities of gritty over-sugared chocolate icing. After sampling countless versions around town, I’d resigned myself to revel in memories of a simple but delicious coconut-slathered chocolate delight.

Review by Jenny Turknett

Review by Jenny Turknett

In response to my blog post, several readers suggested the German chocolate cake at Gabriel’s, the next restaurant on my list to review. How serendipitous! On my first visit, I eagerly scanned the brightly lit cases filled with cakes large and small, cookies, bars, cupcakes, cinnamon rolls and every other traditional treat vying for id domination.

I zeroed in on the German chocolate cake, sold both whole and by the slice ($3.95). With a spark of hope, I spied a fluffy, pale buttermilk-chocolate cake with a traditional coconut-pecan filling. No globs of artificial-tasting icing here. Folks, you were spot on. Gabriel’s gets my vote for the best traditional no-frills German chocolate cake.

That should come as no surprise from this bakery-turned-cafe-turned-meat-and-two whose owner, Johnnie Gabriel, is a first cousin once removed to Paula Deen. Yet, Johnnie’s life plan didn’t originally include restaurateur. In need of additional funds to support her University of Georgia-bound daughter, she started making cakes out of necessity. In 1989, she offered to buy recipes from Marietta’s “cake lady,” Mary Moon. Moon, ready to retire, simply gave Johnnie the recipes and a modest version of Gabriel’s Desserts was born.

In the beginning, Johnnie and her husband Ed baked at home each evening after returning from full-time jobs. In 1996, they chose to open a brick-and-mortar bakery. Eight years later, Gabriel’s added soups, salads, Boar’s Head meat sandwiches and vegetables to the menu.

German Chocolate Cake worth searching out (photos by Becky Stein)

German Chocolate Cake worth searching out (photos by Becky Stein)

Now, at both lunch and dinner, Gabriel’s offers a rotating menu of meat-and-two choices simmering on a small steam table behind the counter. It’s all quite simple, much like good old Southern home cooking, as Johnnie’s two cookbooks will prove. A dash of pepper on the squash, a ham hock in the canned green beans, a hearty helping of cream in the corn and — voila! — you have a vegetable plate ($8.25 for three veggies) .

Meatloaf and two

Meatloaf and two

At Gabriel’s, like at any home-cooked potluck, you come to easily spot the “safe” dishes. It may be the vegetable plate or the straightforward meatloaf with a thick brown sugar-ketchup-mustard sauce ($9.95). Or, maybe you’ll choose the pot pie ($9.95) with its thin, floury crust encasing chicken chunks and veggies in a gloppy gravy-like broth much like that of the chicken and dumplings ($3.25 a cup).

As with any home-style supper, you also learn to avoid certain items that betray the idiosyncratic taste preferences of their creators. Sugar overwhelms dishes like the coarse, crumbly cornbread, bittersweet collard greens and pimento cheese ($7.75 a pound) so sweet that you’ll find no trace of the mild cheese Johnnie says she prefers.

And then, there’s the chicken salad — you know the one — swimming in mayonnaise with sweet pickle relish and grapes ($5.50). Grab a couple of cheese straws and the salad goes down easier. The sharpness of the cheddar and tiniest hint of heat in the straws will cut through all that mayo.

Simple Southern home cooking can take us for a stroll down memory lane and nourish both our bodies and souls in a unique way. Yet, much of the fare at Gabriel’s seems to be missing that “Y’all come back, now, ya’ hear?” quality. Except, that is, for the German chocolate cake.

GABRIEL’S
800 Whitlock Ave., Marietta, 770-427-9007
1stars5Food: Full bakery with soup, salads, sandwiches, meat-and-two options and hot breakfast
Service: Longtime employees helpful and gracious, newer ones young and inexperienced
Best dishes: Cakes
Vegetarian selections: Salads, sandwich choices and cooked vegetables (ask which are prepared without meat)
Credit cards: All major credit cards
Hours: 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays
Children: Yes
Parking: Yes
Reservations: No
Wheelchair access: Yes
Smoking: No
Noise level: Medium
Patio: Yes
Takeout: Yes

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19 comments Add your comment

Mar -Atl Foodie

March 1st, 2012
9:38 am

After trying four times to eat there, my husband and I were not impressed with the food. We didn’t try a lot of the cakes, but someday we will try more and leave the food alone. It rates 1 star.

Should Have Stayed WIth Cakes

March 1st, 2012
11:13 am

Johnnie made my wedding cake several years ago before moving into the new store. The cakes are WONDEFUL! Her team understands how to turn out great baked goods. The cakes and icings are all lovely.

What turns me off and keeps me away is serving me a $9 meal on foam plates. Really? We are not at the carnival. Get some plates and act somewhat environmentally responsible. The brunch seems to be served out of already cooked food from a warmer. Nothing is fresh–you keyed in on the canned green beans! I find the food to be similar to the Olga’s that closed and was half the price.

It is a shame she divorced Ed to chase her dreams as the next Paula Deen. Stick with the bakery, that is what you do well.

justmy2cents

March 1st, 2012
12:44 pm

I am happy to be able to say “I told you so”. :o ) This place knows their sweets, but I never eat meals there. The White Lady cake is amazing. If you get back there, you need to try that one next.

Jaye

March 1st, 2012
2:15 pm

My husband and I found the german chocolate cake too sweet. I brought home a couple of pieces for us to try last month and we both ended up throwing them away. I do love the other desserts I have tried there and agree with others who’ve said the pricing for the meals is a bit steep.

Jane Greenall

March 1st, 2012
4:48 pm

DISGUSTING! Every single thing they serve comes out of a box or a can. Including some cakes and breads that are made from “mixes.” Do not waste your time, money or more importantly your health. If you saw what the “kitchen” looks like you’d wonder how they are passing health inspections. They ruined my wedding cake and made my wedding a complete embarrassment.

Jenny Turknett

March 1st, 2012
5:24 pm

Quick update: After submitting the copy for this review, I learned from Johnnie Gabriel that the restaurant will make changes to the dinner meal starting in April. At that time, dinner will be full service and food will be served on china. She also assured me that the beans would no longer be canned.

Matt

March 1st, 2012
10:52 pm

Gotta be honest, I have only been there at lunchtimes and the food is what you would expect from most delis; however, I have had their wedding cakes at 2 weddings, and they were spectacular. It is a bakery, so if you “dance with who brought ya” and have realistic expectations that it is a bakery first and deli second, you’ll enjoy it.

Truth Teller

March 2nd, 2012
4:08 am

Finally, somebody tells the truth about this place. I’ve been for lunch a few times and, dollar for dollar, Gabriel’s may be the worst meal deal in Marietta. I just don’t get it. Who would have thunk riding on Paula’s coattails could have lasted this long? At least Johnnie admitted she is using canned beans in her meat and two. And you’re dead on about the chicken salad…I’d bet they use all that mayo to hide the fact it’s another canned meat. Johnnie is a heck of a cook as long as there’s a can opener around.

Nothing special...

March 2nd, 2012
7:54 am

We quit buying cakes there because they were always so absolutely dry. I’ve eaten there a couple of times and won’t be back. For good food in that price point, I head to West Cobb Diner just up the road.

jeff w

March 2nd, 2012
8:19 am

A few years back I decided to buy my Thanksgiving dressing and vegetables from Gabriels – Big Mistake. The vegie’s were canned, and the dressing was inedible, truely the worst I’ve ever tasted. Since I’ve used Publix for my holiday meals. I have no idea why anyone would eat here more than once.

New to Atlanta - Norma

March 2nd, 2012
9:56 am

Wow – I don’t understand the bad reviews for Gabriel’s! We have been there 4 times and loved the food. Yes, the desserts are to die for but the meatloaf, squash casserole and mac & cheese are fantastic, too. I bought her cookbooks and stopped in to have her sign them but it was her day off. Johnnie actually called me at home to say she would love to sign the cookbooks any day & to come back in, which I will definitely do soon. She is a sweetheart and tries so hard. I think people need to give this cafe a try and do not be swayed by the negative reviews!!! My friends and I went there to celebrate a birthday and all of us are excited to go back again! It was delightful !

Marietta Son

March 2nd, 2012
11:09 am

Some of my MHS classmates (1962) meet there on Saturday’s for breakfast, but since I now live 2 hours away, being there at 9:00 AM is tough. Will stay over night with my brother soon to make this and pass judgement then. I have not had a good German Chocolate Cake since the bakery at the Rich’s stores were shuttered. I will have to try their’s. That was a delicious cake which I bought at least once a month. For Atlanta native oldies, it’s too bad and sad (to me anyway) that Rich’s is no more.

Sue Agan

March 2nd, 2012
4:11 pm

It is necessary for us to drive more than 15 miles to eat lunch or dinner and always, if there is squash on the menu,we go. The food is excellent. It is typically southern and any of the chocolate desserts are very good as are the morning glory muffins and the orange & cranberry muffins. The chicken salad is one of the favorite foods to take to my group of family. All of my family is always ready to go there to eat or for me to bring them take out.
My daughter and I ate at Mary Mac’s in Atlanta earlier this week and Gabriels today and Gabriels was much better to us than Mary Mac’s.

MamaMoody

March 3rd, 2012
10:28 am

I have had the pleasure of eating at Gabriels for years! I always enjoy anything that is on the menu and what is wrong with canned green beans anyway???? Even my grandmother uses canned green beans and NOBODY would ever think to criticize Granny! If you want a good Southern Style cooked meal Gabriel’s is the place to go in Marietta. Oh yeah, the desserts are pretty awesome too!

Pudge

March 3rd, 2012
10:31 am

I love Miss Johnnie and everytime I eat at Gabriel’s it just feels like I am eating dinner at home. The food is great and I love her Carrot Cake. Her chicken pot pie is better than my mothers! don’t tell ;)

The Truth Will Set You Free

March 3rd, 2012
2:07 pm

Lets see where to begin.I have never had a single thing to eat at Gabriel’s Desserts that was not great.My favorites are the chicken salad and the blondies for dessert.Once again we are subjected to a critic and her point of view.It seems to me that food critics are becoming like movie critics. It is just my opinion but when a movie critic gives a movie a 5 star rating the movie is usally awful and a 1 star movie is usally awesome.Seems to me like this food critic should be a movie critic! I suggest that you go and try out Gabriel’s Desserts yourself.Now on another note!
It is not hard to figure out that some of the post on this article have nothing to do with Gabriel’s Desserts food quality. It is more of a personal attack on Johnnie for things that have happened in her personal life.(Should Have Stayed With Cakes & justmy2cents) sounds like you are jealous that Johnnie has decided to move on with her life and follow her dreams.What would our world be without dreamers!

Tori

March 3rd, 2012
2:36 pm

I’m a UGA student from Woodstock, and I make sure to go out of my way to visit Gabriel’s every time I am in town. The food is absolutely amazing, and the cakes are to die for! Carrot cake, red velvet cake, german chocolate cake…it’s like being a kid in the candy shop again. I would recommend anyone to go there because of the FOOD. Personal comments on here are irrelevant. If it’s won Atlanta’s Best several times then it’s good enough for me.

Ali50

March 5th, 2012
5:30 pm

I went to the restaurant once for lunch and it left me cold. However, Gabriel’s made the cake for my 50th birthday party and it was beautiful, delicious and reasonably priced. I spent much time with Johnnie discussing what I wanted and one of the bakers called me later with even better ideas and I couldn’t have been more pleased.

GinG

March 6th, 2012
3:44 pm

I am amazed at some of the not so good reviews on this site. I have been to Gabriel’s one time and had their 1/2 turkey sandwich & corn chowder soup and a soft drink……..all for under $11.00, incl. gratuity. The food and the service were both great. Did not have a dessert that day but fully intend to return and have a piece of the carrot cake! Great job Johnnie……and keep up the good work!!!