You feel like grabbing a bite somewhere, but you aren’t in the mood for a fussy affair at a restaurant. You want a decent selection of food because you’re not even sure what you’re in the mood to eat. We’ve got two out-of-the-box ideas for you: the grocery store and the food truck park.
Groceraunts, which offer a legit, sit-down meal, are one of the hottest trends in dining. And mobile cuisine, while perhaps less a craze than a few years ago, is still trucking along — and yours for the taking at Atlanta’s only food truck park. Here’s our latest take on “shelf-to-table” dining and gourmet mobile grub.
Watch the game. Sip on a pint of local beer. Maybe nosh on wings, a chicken sandwich or a wrap. Sounds like something you might do at Taco Mac. Yeah, well, now you can do it at Kroger.
Grocery stores are seeing big promise for in-store dining. From 2008 to 2016, in-store dining and takeout prepared foods from grocers grew nearly 30 percent and accounted for $10 billion of consumer spending in 2015 alone, according to a report last year from market research company NPD. Besides offering upscale foodservice, these supermarkets are creating a pretty comfortable setting to hang out even if you aren’t pushing a cart up and down the aisles.
The Kro-BAR at Glenwood Place drew quite the crowd when it debuted last year. It even has its own Facebook page. Oh, the possibilities of this as a pickup joint! “So, where’d you two meet?” “Kro-BAR.”
Next up came the Kroger at 2452 Morosgo Way off Piedmont Road near Ground Zero (aka the I-85 bridge collapse). For more than a year, a friend who lives nearby watched red clay fly to make way for the nearly 85,000-square-foot store. Now she’s gone from hell to heaven, as this (still needing a nickname) Kroger has become her stop for pretty much all things food.
This Kroger is big and bright with natural outside light and holds a deli, cheese shop, juice bar, salad bar, stations offering sandwiches with Boar’s Head meats, pizza, burritos, barbecue, wraps, bowls, sushi and more, plus a dining room complete with a beer and wine bar. Oh, and let’s not forget the Starbucks. In short, it’s not your average Aldi.
As a groceraunt, Kroger is not fine dining, but there’s a lot to like about what it brings to the aisle-to-table conversation.
Clean eaters and calorie watchers might gravitate toward the build-your-own grain bowls, also available as wraps. Priced at $7, with proteins of chicken and salmon for a few bucks more, the bowls offer generous portions of deluxe rabbit food.
There’s the convenience factor. When you hit up the food court section, it’s just a matter of ordering, taking your item to the self-checkout kiosks (where an attendant is available to assist) and paying.
And let’s not forget the alcohol. Kroger offers a dozen beers on tap, mainly local and available as a pint or, if you just need a quick guzzle, in a 4.5-ounce serving. Nearly 20 wines are available by the glass, as half and full pours.
Of course, taste matters. A personal-size smoked barbecue pizza suffered from a soft, chewy crust. A burrito stuffed with steak, brown rice, black beans, roasted corn, sour cream and queso was hardly mind-blowing. But they did taste fresh. And they did satisfy. A 16-ounce plastic cup of fresh juice was berry-licious, if overpriced at $6. (If you complain about the cost of frou-frou coffee, detour around this juice-smoothie-parfait counter.)
But as I watched the dining room fill up during a lunchtime midweek visit, the “lanyard crowd,” as my friend called it, wasn’t complaining. Employees at MARTA headquarters and Cricket seemed to be eating it up.
And when my friend chirped about the bar being open, I kinda wanted to drink it up.
Welcome to the new age of supermarket supping.
Kroger. 2452 Morosgo Way NE, Atlanta. Store hours: 6 a.m.-1 a.m. daily; hours for specific food and beverage stations vary. 404-946-0438, kroger.com.
Atlanta Food Truck Park & Market
We caught the Atlanta Food Truck Park & Market on a sleepy Saturday. This being spring, many of the 42 trucks on the Park’s website had trundled their way to various festivals and road races.
What we had were four trucks, a food tent outfitted by “Chef Maurice” with crockpots and plastic coolers and a shmancy lemonade stand.
They ringed a gravel courtyard arranged with mini tableaux of Adirondack chair clusters, umbrella’d picnic tables and a porchless porch swing bookended by mismatched flower planters. When the swagged string lights came on after dark, several bulbs were burnt out.
The whole thing looked to passers-by on Howell Mill Road like a scruffy — and delicious-smelling — little circus.
And that’s what I liked about it.
Like the folks who alight from place to place to pitch tents and entertain with acrobatics and danger, food truck purveyors are a brave and scrappy breed. They cook in kitchens tinier than some closets and steamier than saunas. If there’s music playing outside their trucks (and at this park, there often is), they can’t hear it over the grind of their generators. They peer down at their curbside customers through small windows and a film of sweat.
In general, food truck food takes quite a long time to make its way from the mini-kitchen. This was the case with all the trucks we hit on our day at the park, even when the cooking consisted of little more than dishing up ice cream at a truck called 2 Scoops.
I’d also have to say that food truck grub often disappoints, and again, this was the case at the Park. But we did find something to love at almost every truck: sweet-and-smoky barbecue sauce blanketing succulent ribs at My Way Café; cornmeal-breaded fish fried to a salty, bay-scented crunch at Crustaceans Seafood Station; and at Hibachi World, a perky smoked salmon “burrito” enrobed in sushi rice and nori with a fruity kick from sweet pickles and mango. Chef Maurice’s tent, called Unmerited Flavor, sold us a Styrofoam cup of buttery seafood bisque that was richly tasty if you ignored the lurking bits of shrimp shell.
But the food is only half the point here.
You come to the Atlanta Food Truck Park & Market for the picnicky fun of unboxed dining. For the “Who will be there today?” suspense. For that Proustian flashback to childhood when nothing was more thrilling than buying a Bomb Pop from a jingly ice cream truck.
All this means you embrace the inefficiency of these itinerant cafes. You slow down. You buy yourself a $5 fruit-puree-dressed lemonade from So. Fresh Lemonade and you chill.
That’s very easy to do in this charming park, where the musical crunch of gravel beneath your feet is matched by the dance music piped from the bare-bones sound system. Where the janky parking lot around the block from the main drag makes the whole joint feel like a hideaway. And where you root for some of the chefs to hit the brick-and-mortar jackpot like Yumbii, Halal Guys and Freakin’ Incan. But you hope that most of them stick to their trucks, scruffy and proud.