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Max’s Coal Oven Pizzeria

July 5, 2017

If you’ve been reading my blog, then you know that I try to put out a blog post at least once a week.  However, my posts have been absent for the past month or more.  Unfortunately, life happens.  I will continue to try to put up new posts as frequently as possible – and I have lots of posts to get too – but the rate of posting will probably slow down.  Thank you for following my blog, and I hope to continue this food journey for as long as possible.

In the fall of 2016, my husband and I took a quick 48-hour, weekend getaway to Atlanta.  While neither of us had ever been before, we made the trip specifically for one purpose, and that was to visit Zoo Atlanta, specifically to see the pandas.  Luckily, we had time to do more than just visit the zoo, including a trip to Georgia Aquarium, Centennial Park, and World of Coca-Cola.  During this whirlwind trip to Atlanta, we chose to stay at a hotel right in downtown, and without renting a car, we were semi-limited to where we could go out and dine.  Fortunately for us, within walking distance to the hotel, there were quite a few good food options that we discovered.

My husband discovered Max’s Coal Over Pizzeria right in the heart of downtown Atlanta.  Max’s claim to fame is to be the only coal-oven pizzeria in the entire state of George.  This pizza joint specializes in New York-style thin and crispy pizzas that they’ve been serving up since 2009.  With indoor and outdoor seating, the atmosphere is electric, fun and relaxed.  This is the perfect neighborhood pizza joint to stroll into for a good pie topped with Max’s own secret recipe red sauce.  There’s also built-in entertainment with an open kitchen as you can watch pizza dough being thrown until its paper thin, your pizza being made to order, and the awesome power of the coal-oven pizza as it bakes your pizza pie to perfection.

Before starting with a pizza, we decided to order an appetizer of garlic knots served with marinara sauce to get our evening going.  Exactly as described, these were garlic knots!  Bread dough literally tied into a knot, or a bow, then brushed with garlic butter and parmesan cheese, baked to a perfect golden brown, topped with more garlic butter and sprinkled with chopped parsley and served with a dipping bowl of marinara sauce, these knots were delicious and hearty.  The knots had a garlic flavor to them, but without being so overpowering.  It was a good combination of garlic and butter to add a hint of sweetness and make it so that the bread was flavorful and not dry.  The dough was perfect, crispy and crunchy on the outside and airy and light on the inside so that it wasn’t dense.  Five garlic knots to one order of garlic knots was just perfect as an appetizer for the two of us to split.

When it came to pizza, Max’s is very clear that they only make one size of pizza, no matter what the toppings you want.  Their pizza’s come in 12″ round, which is then cut into 6 slices per pizza, no deviations whatsoever.  Surprisingly, my husband suggested ordering a pizza that I had my eye on, but wasn’t sure he’d want.  He later admitted that since we’d be splitting one pizza, it was easier to order something I would enjoy rather than trying to make me conform to something he’d like more.  So we ordered a non-traditional arugula & proscuitto pizza.  Hey, after all, I am a fancy California girl, and arugula is something you commonly find on pizzas here in California.  Made with a blend of ricotta and mozzarella cheese, the pizza is then topped with parmesan and proscuitto and dressed with a lemon pepper vinaigrette arugula salad.  One bite into the pizza and you discover a couple of things.  First, the coal fired dough is fabulous.  The dough is chewy around the crust, but with a crispy burnt coal-fire flavor on the bottom of the pizza, which my husband and I love.  The sauce for the pizza is subtle and delicious, not at all overwhelming or too acidic from the tomatoes.  The prosciutto gives the pizza the light salty flavor it needs to balance out the other strong flavors.  The combination of the mozzerella and the ricotta is terrific, both very light and mild cheeses, the ricotta gives the pizza a slightly different texture then your average pizza which generally would only feature mozzarella.  And the flavor of the arugula salad with its lemon pepper vinaigrette is vibrant and bright and explodes on your tongue.  It’s the combination of salty prosciutto the crunch of the arugula salad, the char of the coal fire crust and the mildness of the cheeses that makes a beautiful pizza.  My husband and I just ate it up.  It was exactly what I was looking for, and I’m glad my husband indulged me and allowed me to order the kind of pizza I wanted.


We decided to finish off our meal at Max’s with some cannoli.  After all, when we got to any sort of an Italian restaurant, and they feature cannoli, we almost can’t resist.  How could you ever go wrong with a cannoli?  Crispy cannoli shell filled with delicious ricotta cheese filling, with chocolate chips then the whole thing is topped with chocolate sauce and powered sugar.  These were so delicious, and with three of them to an order, the biggest question was, who got the third cannoli?  Since we both wanted it, we did the fair thing and shared the third cannoli so we each got an equal amount of dessert.  Cannolis done the right way are just so delicious and delectable that they are irresistible.

My husband did good with his selection of Max’s Coal Oven Pizzeria.  As Georgia’s only coal oven pizzeria, they truly produce some terrific pizza.  The atmosphere in the restaurant was fun and casual and really revolved around the food.  This is the type of place you might see a baseball team come in to celebrate after winning a game, or a couple out on a date night looking for an old-fashioned pizza joint.  Our garlic knots were terrific and well cooked, the pizza was full of vibrant flavor and tastes, and the cannolis were the perfect way to round out our meal.  This may not be traditional Georgian food when you think of Atlanta cuisine, but this hit the spot for what we were looking for after a long night of travel and a day spent at the zoo with the animals.

Nota Bene

May 18, 2017

During our first full day in Toronto, which was somewhat of a gray, windy and drizzly day, we did a lot of walking around and exploring of various sights in the city.  The seasons had definitely changed over from summer to fall, and it was gorgeous walking around downtown Toronto.  Being huge hockey fans, and one of the reasons we even traveled to Toronto, we had to check out the Hockey Hall of Fame, so that’s what we spent most of our morning doing.  In the afternoon, we wandered over to North America’s only true castle, Castle Loma.  By the time early evening was upon us, it was finally time to enjoy an early dinner at a restaurant a few blocks down the street from our hotel room, just around the theater district.

Nota Bene, lauded as the “Best New Restaurant” in 2008 when it first opened its doors, serves up a contemporary Canadian cuisine with a bit of a French-Asian flair.  At the beginning of 2016, when Chef David Lee became the sole owner of Nota Bene, he re-opened it’s doors with a new concept, design and menu.  Born in England, and coming from a French and Asian background, David Lee moved to Canada after many years working throughout Europe in Michelin starred restaurants.  Today, Nota Bene is a representation of Chef Lee’s creativity and unique style, which continues to make Nota Bene one of Toronto’s most sought after restaurants to dine at.

The inside of the restaurant features a very modern and contemporary feel with a bit of an underwater feel to it.  The space is clean and bright, with decorations of dried coral hanging from the ceilings in an open and comfortable space.  It’s actually much larger inside the restaurant than it appears from the outside.  The restaurant also features a full bar in the front half of the dining room, and the quiet, intimate dining space in the back half of the room.  We arrived early, shortly after the restaurant opened, and before the theater crowd really started arriving, so we had the restaurant nearly to ourselves for most of our dining experience, which was fantastic.

To start off our meals, my husband and I both ordered drinks.  For my husband, he chose The Adamson made with basil infused bourbon, Casa Marion vermouth and black walnut bitters.  I chose a drink that couldn’t have been more different, the lychee cactus pear juice.  The idea of basil infused bourbon in The Adamson, was intriguing, to say the least.  And to bring home the point, there was a basil leaf draped across the ice cube in the glass.  My husband said that the drink really had a strong basil aroma, which I could definitely smell, but that the taste of the basil in the drink itself was quite minimal.  The drink was nice and strong and very reminiscent of of an Old Fashioned with a little twist.  However, my husband did say that the longer he let the drink sit, the more that the basil flavor was infused into the drink.  For me, my lychee cactus pear juice might have been the prettiest drink I’ve ever ordered.  The bright pink/fuscia color was gorgeous and inviting.  The drink itself was fabulous and very light.  I loved the sweetness of the lychee that I could taste in every sip of my drink.  The cactus pear gave the drink its flavor and was the balance to the lychee mute the sweetness that the drink needed.  This was a good start to the meal.

As an appetizer, I decided to order the hamachi ceviche.  Prepared with coconut, nori essence, Thai basil, mango-chili paste and yuzu, I was slightly concerned that the dish might be spicy.  The waiter suggested that I could get the mango-chili paste on the side rather than in the dish, and therefore, any of the potential spice in the dish would be eliminated.  The dish was gorgeous and the flavors were amazing.  I tried the mang0-chili paste, and while it wasn’t all that spicy since the mango added the sweet to the spice, the dish was just as fabulous without the mang0-chili paste.  The hamachi was fantastic and incredibly fresh.  The flavors in the dish with the tang from the yuzu which provided the citrus the ceviche needed balanced with the cool, tropical flavor of the coconut, the refreshing earthy flavor of the Thai basil, and the textural crunch of peanuts was fantastic.  The dish was refreshing, fresh, and incredibly flavorful.  I was slightly hesitant at first about ordering the hamachi ceviche, but in the end, I had nothing to worry about as the dish was just fantastic.

As if my husband didn’t have enough foie gras the night before, he decided to order the Quebec foie gras dish for his appetizer.  Served up with duck prosciutto, spiced pear, toasted seed & nut crumble and sourdough bread, this dish was the essence of ultra luxury.  The dish was colorful and beautifully presented with the foie gras sitting at the center of the plate almost like the sun with the rays of the sun being the pieces of duck prosciutto.  My husband said that the foie gras was like butter and absolutely melted in his mouth.  The duck carpaccio, which neither of us had ever seen on a menu before could only be described with one word, “wow!”  The dish was rich and delicious and yet light with great flavors that just combined together so well.  The nut crumble added crunch and the greens added a bit of freshness and earthiness to balance the richness of the prosciutto and the foie gras.

For dinner, my husband ordered the ricotta ravioli topped with shaved black truffle, parmigiana and chives.  It was the idea of shaved black truffle that put the dish over-the-top for my husband and he just couldn’t resist.  After all, he’d already had foie gras and duck prosciutto, why not finish off the meal with some black truffle.  Of course, the truffle was served with ricotta ravioli, and anything stuffed with cheese is always going to be a winner in my husband’s book.  The dish was fabulous, but would you expect anything less?  The flavor combination of the ricotta and the truffle was a perfect combination.  And believe me, the restaurant did not skimp on the shaved black truffle at all, there was truffle in every single bite.  The ravioli’s were like fluffy pillows that were perfectly stuffed and cooked.  This dish may have lacked protein, but it was filling and rich none the less.

As a side dish to go with our dinner, we ordered the shaved onion rings with horseradish creama and dill.  Light and crispy these onion rings were superb.  Cut thin and lightly battered, the rings were deep-fried to a golden brown and stacked high on the plate.  To finish it off, the onion rings were then drizzled with a horseradish creama and chopped dill.  The creama was fabulous and really made the dish.  The flavor of the horseradish was strong and really opened up your senses with quite the bite, but that’s how my husband and I love our horseradish.  The dill added a great herbaceous flavor to the dish.  My husband and I absolutely loved how simple, and yet how terrific this dish tasted.  It was a fun and whimsical side dish to accompany our meals.

I figured seafood would be a good option for my dinner, so ordered the wild sea scallops and side stripe prawns.  The seafood was served with apple & celeriac salad, smoked bacon pommes puree and green onion.  The wild sea scallops were perfectly seared with a beautiful caramelization on the inside and sweet tender meat on the inside.  I absolutely loved the flavor of the scallops.  The side stripe prawns were a good accompaniment and actually a good pairing with the apple and celeriac salad which had a nice tang from the Granny Smith apples and a terrific crunch to balance the tenderness of the seafood.  And one of the best flavors of the dish was the smoked bacon pommes puree.  With each bite, you could definitely taste and smell the smoked bacon, and the flavor permeated throughout the smooth puree.  The texture of this puree was almost unlike anything I’d ever had before, and with the flavor of the smoked bacon, I was hard to even remember that I was eating potato puree or a fancy form of mashed potatoes.  The dish was filling and delicious and everything I could have asked for when I ordered this dish.

By the time dinner came around, we were both a little full, but we’re also never one to say no to at least taking a peek at the dessert menu.  After a quick perusal, we actually each decided to order our own dessert.  Luckily, the desserts were pretty small, so we were both able to finish our desserts.

My husband ordered the sticky date pudding with pecan praline, rum raisins and brown butter ice cream.  Raisins and date pudding are definitely not my choice, but my husband really enjoyed his dessert.  After one spoonful of the sauce and the a taste of the rum raisins, my husband’s first words were, “whoa!”  My husband said that after a few of these rum raisins a person could get drunk off of them, in other words, the flavor of the rum was very strong.  For him, it was awesome.  The combination of the pudding and the light sweetness of the dates along with the cooling effect of the brown butter ice cream, which was rich and creamy was a perfect combination.  The dessert wasn’t overly sweet, which is exactly the kind of dessert that my husband looks for.

For my finishing dish, I ordered the molten chocolate cake.  Chocolate cake and sweet dessert, this is exactly up my alley.  Served with milk chocolate ice cream, amarena cherries, white chocolate ganache and salted pecans, this dish was certainly very sweet.  The presentation of this small molten cake surrounded by ice cream on one side and white chocolate ganache on the other side on a black slate plate was very pretty.  The molten cake had obviously just come right out of the oven, and the milk chocolate ice cream was just starting to melt from the heat emanating off of the molten cake.  I loved that the white chocolate ganache wasn’t too sweet, as it balanced out the sweetness of the melting chocolate coming out of the cake.  The milk chocolate ice cream balanced it all out and added the cooling, refreshing flavor.  The salted pecans added crunch and just a hint of salt to make this a salty, sweet dish.  I’m not a cherry fan, so I left the amarena cherries alone.  After a large and filling dinner, this smaller dessert was just perfect.

Our dinner meal at Nota Bene from the first drink, all the way to dessert, was scrumptious.  The service was fantastic, and the atmosphere was intimate and relaxed and perfect for what we were looking.   Every dish was flavorful and well prepared and presented, the flavors melded together well and there was just enough creativity to make our dinner stand out.  The location of Note Bene, right in the heart of the theater district also makes it an ideal place to dine before and after any theater show.  Again, it’s easy to see why Nota Bene is so highly acclaimed and is listed as one of Toronto’s top restaurants.

Canoe Restaurant

May 8, 2017

Over Canadian Thanksgiving 2016, my husband made plans for us to take a long weekend trip to Niagara Falls and Toronto, Canada.  Toronto is a city that my husband has wanted to visit for quite a while now but for some reason or another things just never worked out, not even mentioning the fact that for some reason airfare between Los Angeles to Toronto always seems to be so outrageously expensive.  But finally, the stars aligned and we planned ourselves a trip to Ontario’s capital city.  After flying a redeye from Los Angeles into Toronto and arriving in the wee hours of the morning, we had made plans to pick up a rental car and head out to Niagara Falls for a quick day trip.  Luckily, from the airport Niagara Falls was a quick hour-ish jaunt.  A beautiful early fall day, we picked the most wonderful day to travel out to the US-Canada border.  After returning back to the airport to drop off our rental car, we made our way into Toronto and arrived into this great metropolitan city late in the afternoon.  We had made plans later that evening to enjoy a meal with a view at a restaurant within walking distance to our hotel.

Canoe Restaurant, located on the 54th floor of the TD Bank Tower building in downtown Toronto is a wonderful celebration of the history and culture of Canada with cuisine that they call “Inspired by Canada’s Raw, Rich Land.”  Having been a mainstay of Toronto cuisine for over 20 years, Canoe seeks to inspire and connect people through cuisine by sourcing only the highest quality and finest ingredients from throughout Canada.  Canoe describes their menu as “inspired dishes reflective of our country’s diverse landscape, history and culture.”

With an expansive interior dining room that is decorated in a very minimalistic style and accentuated with earth tones and wooden accent pieces, the entire dining room is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto the beautiful skyscape of downtown Toronto and Lake Ontario beyond that.  In one corner of the restaurant, nearest to where we were seated was a beautiful open kitchen with some bar-style seating for those who wanted a front row on the inner workings of a world class restaurant.  Canoe has often been listed as one of Canada’s top restaurants and dining here, it’s easy to see why.

Canoe Old Fashioned made with Crown Royal Northern harvest rye, Maker’s Mark bourbon, sugar, Angostura bitters, and orange peel was my husband’s drink of choice.  After a sip of his drink, his comment was “thumbs up!”  He thought that the Canoe Old Fashioned had the right mixture of rye and bitters without too much orange.  In other words, there was the essence of orange, but it wasn’t the primary ingredient in the drink, and the drink was nice and strong.

Prior to our meal arriving, we were served with Canoe’s own potato and bacon bread which was served with a white bean and sumac spread.  The bread was fantastic, but very dense and filling.  It must have been the potato which caused the bread to be so dense as it looked light with a bunch of air pockets, but picking up a piece and you could feel the density.  After a bite into the bread my husband’s comment was, “whoa!”  The bread was incredible with a light potato and bright bacon flavor.  You could clearly taste both ingredients in each bite.  The white bean and sumac spread was interesting, somewhat like hummus in texture and slightly in flavor.  However, I think my husband and I both liked the bread on its own without the spread so much.

Since we had been traveling, essentially since the previous evening when we flew our red-eye flight, and didn’t really stop to have a proper lunch at Niagara Falls, we were starving by the time dinner came around.  For his starter, my husband chose the s’mores foie gras.  Personally, I didn’t think that sounded appealing at all, but luckily, we weren’t sharing an appetizer, so my husband could order whatever he wanted.  The s’mores foie gras was served with graham cracker crumble, chocolate sauce and toasted marshmallow cream, everything you would have assumed would be a s’mores treat, well, except for the foie gras.  My husband really enjoyed the smoky caramelized marshmallow foam, it added that depth and layer of flavor.  The combination of the foie gras and the chocolate sauce was a winning one in my husband’s estimation.  He thought that the foie gras was so rich and tender and the sweetness of the chocolate sauce just added to both the sweetness and richness.  The waffle it was served with added depth and a blank slate for flavor as well.  The dish was so rich and creative, it was hard to tell if this was more like a dessert or an appetizer.  My husband loved the creativity and he even said that if this wasn’t such a classy restaurant, he’d be tempted to lick the plate clean as the graham cracker crumble, rich foie gras, marshmallow cream and chocolate sauce were such a fantastic combination.

I went with a completely different type of appetizer.  My choice was the Ontario burrata served with unripe strawberries, arugula, K2 Milling crisp, and smoked canola oil.  Can you ever go wrong with burrata?  Add in the idea of unripe strawberries and it just sounded intriguing.  The plate, much like my husband’s s’mores foie gras was so beautifully and artistically plated.  The burrata itself was very fresh, and rich and creamy.  The creamy inside of the burrata was heavenly.  Combined with the unripe strawberries, which had a tang to them, and the peppery arugula, it was a combination of creamy, tangy, and peppery.  The K2 Milling crisp added crunch and texture and yet another different flavor component.  Even though each ingredient had a different flavor profile, they all seemed to compliment each other quite well.  My favorite flavor on the profile was the arugula pesto that really just brought all of the ingredients together into one cohesive dish.

When it came time for dinner, I decided to go for something filling and heavy.  My entrée choice was the Ontario beef rib eye.  Apparently, I was very interested in everything that was locally sourced from the local province.  The Ontario beef rib eye was served with braised short rib cannelloni, B.C. pine mushrooms, charred eggplant, Mill St. AP sauce, and Okangan hazelnuts.    I really loved the rib eye, it was so tender and juicy and flavorful.  It was cooked to a perfect medium rare, as requested.  However, I will say that the beef was a little bit fattier than I had expected it to be, so I could have done with a little bit less fat.  The short rib cannelloni was different and interesting.  The short rib was tender and delicious, the idea to put it into a cannelloni was creative, but somehow didn’t seem cohesive on this dish.  The charred eggplant and the hazelnuts actually worked as accompaniments for the dish and the Mill St. AP sauce is definitely a Canadian thing that requires a bit of an acquired taste that I just don’t have.  But the star of the dish was certainly the beef, and the beef is what’s for dinner.

My husband also decided to try out a meat dish in the form of venison.  Cerf de Boileau venison served with swiss chard, mulled lingonberries, preserved garlic scapes and wheat berries.  It was the addition of lingonberries that intrigued my husband about this dish, and being a lover of venison in general, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity.  While this dish had a lot of ingredients and a lot of strong individual ingredients, the combination of flavors was perfect.  Served on a maple leave embossed plate, the highlight was the venison, which was very well cooked.  The lingonberries provided the tartness and punch of flavor that the dish needed to counteract the gaminess of the venison.  The dish was filling, but my husband had no problems whatsoever in clearing off every last scrap of food off of his plate.

We may have eaten a lot of food by this point, but we still had room for dessert, and after looking over the dessert menu, we each decided to get our own dessert.  For my choice, I went with the milk chocolate + kernel peanut made with 46% milk chocolate, banana butter and caramel ice cream.  Alright, anything called banana butter is going to get my attention.  Again, like every other dish we’d been served at Canoe, I absolutely loved the creativity of how the ingredients on the dish were combined, put together and plated.  The banana butter was more like banana foam that provided the base for the other ingredients on the dish.  The banana butter had a nice subtle banana flavor that was terrific, but it wasn’t too sweet so that it overpowered the chocolate.  The chocolate cake was spongy and moist and was a perfect textural contrast to the banana butter.  The peanut brittle was fanatic and the chocolate had just the right touch of sweetness and cocoa flavor.  This was the perfect dessert for someone like me, with my tastes, to enjoy.

My husband ordered a dessert we had trouble pronouncing, the vinarterta.  Luckily, our waiter put on his best Italian accent and told us that the vinarterta was certainly the most fun dessert to try to pronounce along with being his personal favorite dessert.  The vinarterta consisted of wild blueberry compote, mustard ice cream, and rosemary birch syrup jelly.  I think it was the mustard ice cream that really intrigued my husband, combined with wild blueberry compote, he just had to have it.  With a description in the menu that starts off with mustard ice cream, it was the first ting on this beautifully plated dessert that my husband decided to try.  Personally, I expected that mustard ice cream would be tangy, much the way mustard powder is when you add it as a seasoning into your cooking, however, after one spoonful of the ice cream, my husband told me I had to try it because it was completely the opposite of what he expected it to be.  And sure enough, the mustard ice cream was sweet and delicious, and had you not told me it was mustard ice cream, I don’t think I’d ever guess what the main ice cream flavor was.  It was rich and smooth and creamy with a hint of sweetness that spoke to a unique ingredient, but one you would never expect from mustard.  The dessert was deemed to be “very good” by my husband who that the combination of the ice cream and the wild blueberry compote blended together very well.  The cake was light and fluffy and mild enough to soak up the flavors of the ice cream and the blueberry and the rosemary birch syrup which helped give the dish a very woodsy, fresh flavor.  My husband was more than satisfied with his dessert choice.

Canoe was a culinary delight.  With ingredients and dishes that highlighted the culinary style of Canadian cooking and flavors, we were taken on a food journey through this intriguing and diverse country.  The level of creativity served to us amongst dishes such as s’mores foie gras and mustard ice cream, it was lovely to see that these flavors actually did work and that the beauty of the plating actually translated to amazing food to fill our bellies.  With a beautiful setting right in the heart of downtown Toronto, it’s easy to see why Canoe is one of Ontario’s, and Canada’s, most distinguished and highly acclaimed restaurants.  If Canoe is a representation of Canadian cuisine, sign me up for both the creativity, beauty and flavors.  I’d definitely recommend Canoe to anyone looking for a nice meal when they come to Toronto.