The Christiane Chronicles: Atlanta’s best baklava, and are all the good restaurant names taken?

Raves and rants from veteran dining authority Christiane Lauterbach
Illustration by Zohar Lazar
Illustration by Zohar Lazar

All About That Baklava
There’s an ocean of difference between homemade baklava and the oily, syrupy commercial junk stocked on supermarket shelves and pushed out of mediocre restaurants. The good stuff is fragile—composed of delicate, paper-thin sheets of phyllo layered with ground nuts—and falls apart the moment you pick it up. The best place to find it in Atlanta is Leon International Foods, an impeccably organized Middle Eastern grocery hidden in a warehouse on Pleasantdale Road in the shadows of I-85.

You may not know the store, but you’ve most certainly eaten the pita. Sold first under the brand Middle East Bakery and now as Mjay’s, it’s the most widely distributed pita in town, baked in a separate 40,000-square-foot facility on Jimmy Carter Boulevard. The owner—Jean Leon, who just turned 88 and still goes to work every day—was born in Antioch, raised in Aleppo, and came to the United States as part of the Syrian Christian diaspora. He ended up in Boston first, but after an epic blizzard in 1978, he set out for warmer weather and eventually moved to Atlanta.

If you’re throwing a party, order trays of his baklava and other exotic pastries shaped like lozenges, baskets, cigars, and plump little domes. In addition to the sweets made on-premises, Leon has a phenomenal olive and pickle bar; a small snack counter selling stuffed vegetables, salads, and falafel; and two aisles of specialty products and exotic spices. 4000 Pleasantdale Road, Norcross

Photography by Caroline C. Kilgore
Photography by Caroline C. Kilgore

Are all the good restaurant names taken?
Naming a restaurant, like naming a baby, is a highly emotional decision. So I can understand how owners might get hung up on silly names that no one can pronounce, memorize, or understand. I can also understand how, like parents, they might get caught up in naming trends. Over the past 25 years, single words (Twist, Canoe, Bacchanalia), eponyms (Seeger’s, Rathbun’s), numerals (One Midtown Kitchen, No. 246), and alliterations (Silver Skillet, Busy Bee Cafe) have all had their turn at the top of the list.

But are all of the good names taken at this point? Why else would we be stuck in the bloody (Abattoir, Gunshow), the obscure (the Cockentrice), the ungrammatical (the El Felix), the unpronounceable (Le Bilboquet), the overly long (Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall), and the cryptic (Cooks & Soldiers, the Pig & the Pearl)? Still, any of these are far better than American Food and Beverage, the ultimate in dullness, and Le Fat, which I’m going to mock even if it means something in Vietnamese.

Field Notes
  • Drop what you’re doing and head to Oddbird, a popup that recently hatched inside West Egg on Howell Mill Road serving nothing but fried chicken, pies, and sides like mac and cheese and collards. Chicken—served Wednesday through Saturday—comes in a biscuit, on a bun, and on top of a waffle.
  • Looking for lamb? The best halal butcher in town is Marietta’s Tripoli Halal Meat.
  • Masti in Toco Hills Promenade is giving Indian mainstays like Chai Pani and Bhojanic a run for their rupees thanks to a fun, contemporary menu that includes paneer tacos and wonderfully spicy fish and chips.
 This article originally appeared in our June 2015 issue.