Lee’s Bakery, the famed Atlanta source of Vietnamese food and reputed around the state as having the best Banh Mi was the destinantion of choice when the wife and I decided to make a day trip to visit The Dekalb Farmer’s Market. So it was on a lazy Tuesday that we strolled into the restaurant for lunch service and unknowingly, a trip down memory lane.
I was exposed to authentic Vietnamese food from the mother of one of my better friends during my formative years in high school so I had a competent background with the major flavors. I’ve experienced high quality Pho and I’ve had a few Banh Mis in my time so I was eager to experience their offerings.
First and foremost, you can always feel uplifted about your culinary decision when you see a fire engine (or similar) staged in the parking lot. Having to feed themselves every third day, many a crew hits the streets in their territory to find the great, cheap eats and are adept at sniffing them out. This was a good sign.
|Before the onslaught of lunchers|
The atmosphere was split into the entry/order area and the main dinning area. The entry is reminiscent of a San Francisco or New York style food joint with the open style prep area, shelves stacked with various style breads, unnamed goodies and “to-go” packages, and many a waiting server to take your order. All this was for one to absorb because the line was long, even before the lunch rush. The reputation around the area with the locals (including the massive CDC) as a great cheap lunch was evident.
The dining area was more in tune with the standard style restaurant with various tables topped with chopsticks, Chinese style ladles, Asian inspired condiments, etc. Though a little cramped, the excellent service made one feel most welcome. Attentive, quick to answer questions and eager to see their patrons leave satisfied, it left an impression far beyond the norm.
With their reputation in mind, my wife and I order a Grilled Pork Banh Mi, Beef Pho and on a whim, a Rice Flour Crepe filled with Shrimp. First and foremost, the bang for the buck must be commended. The serving size portions were generous to say the least (and for lunch no less). A bounty of herbs and condiments were supplied with every dish; coriander, parsley, basil, lavender, lemon, white sprouts, it was impressive. It’s in the small things that we take notice. I was beginning to notice.
The Pho was like coming home. Savory but with bites of lime and green onion, rice noodles a plenty and abundant and then tender sliced beef, one could tell that the establishment prided themselves on this dish. I wished their was a little more depth of flavor more in line with the offerings of the recent ramen craze. Sill though, very good.
The Banh Mi was everything I had imagined in my mind (and I have a colorful imagination) and more. Think Vietnamese with a little French provincial all in a handy dandy street version. The French style baguette was respectively crunchy counter balanced with a soft interior that promptly reminded you why the word 'bakery' was in their name. The fresh, pickled vegetables, fish aioli and grilled marinated pork were the perfect combo and reminded me why Vietnamese is always near the top of my cuisine pyramid. Amazing.
The only miss-step was the crepe. The too thin crepe bathed in oil tried in vain to hide the bean sprouts and shrimp that lay within, the flavors were there, just muted by the palate covering oil. But as a testament to the quality staff, they noticed that the plate seemed untouched. The server then asked if my wife would like a replacement dish as obviously the crepe didn’t agree with her. A moment later, the server reappeared with a probationary dish, a light cabbage and shrimp salad with roasted peanuts, sliced jalapeno and a fish sauce driven mayo dressing. We’d gladly order this salad when and if it appears on the menu.
Overall, Lee's Bakery left us happy we made the detour to try its delectable offerings. It reminded me again why Vietnamese has held ground in the form of this establishment for the last decade in the metro Atlanta area; the savory flavors highlighted with fresh, herbaceous ingredients all the while being served by a great, caring staff. Strong recommend.
Review Date: Feb 2013