At Tortugas it’s all about the food

By Joe Duffy

Sundry restaurant snoots correctly call attention to the fact a myriad of the best restaurants are “holes-in-the-wall.” Mind you, I’m a big aficionado of a legion of the stylish restaurants with alluring locations—Canton Street, Alpharetta City Center, and Avalon. But there will always be a special place in my heart and ample stomach for bare-bones restaurants where it’s all about the food.

Enter Tortugas Cuban Grill. Located just over the Roswell border in Peachtree Corners on Holcomb Bridge Road, it’s effortless to overlook, especially if traveling east. The senescent shopping center isn’t the most inviting. Hence, it’s even easier to dismiss. Stop disregarding it. Now.

If there is only one must-order item at Tortugas Cuban Grill, it just may be the shrimp mofongo. If your daughter prefers M­­exican, the shrimp quesadilla fits the bill.

I need to clarify my procedure at The Current Hub for selecting which establishments to review. Unlike a conventional critic, I’m not appointed a restaurant to examine and chronicle be it good, bad, or ugly. I eat out unceasingly and elect to center on the best of the best. Hence, when I say I’d advocate just about anything on the menu, it’s not a cop-out. My mission at The Hub is to tout places that should be packed daily. If a restaurant doesn’t rise to that level, they won’t get a detailed review. By default, any restaurant articled by me here will likely have no shortage of laudable dishes.

Want me to single out just one? All the mofongos, with shrimp being my favorite. Perhaps isolating such dish is slightly ironic because its genesis is in Puerto Rico, not Cuba. Green plantains are fried, then mashed with garlic, salt, and oil in a wooden pilon. Oh my, can I tell you how much I miss long-time Norcross restaurant, Mi Pilon? But I digress, back to the here and now.

Some consider lechon asado the quintessential Cuban dish. It’s done very well at Tortugas.

When I’ve ordered the lechon asado (roasted pork), considered by many to be the quintessential Cuban dish, the pork was left mostly intact as opposed to pulled that I’ve gotten at most Cuban restaurants, including in South Florida. Tortugas (“Turtles” in Spanish) has a slightly different version than what I’m most accustomed to, but a righteous one, nonetheless.

Who doesn’t love a Cuban sandwich? In my neck of the woods, there is a Big Three: Mojito’s Cuban Bistro (not to be confused with the also good, but not as impressive Mojito Cafe), D’Cuban Cafe, and Tortugas. Putting them in precise order may require further research, but it’s now a battle for my fourth most treasured.

So simple, yet so good. 0rder the ham croquettes. Always.

I do have an obsession with the simple appetizer ham croquettes. Not the most ambitious dish, it’s merely fried ground ham with bread crumbs. But only a vaunted place I’ve been in Tampa rivals the ones I’ve consumed here countless times.

There’s a limited number of food snobs with more pretentious opinions than yours truly. However, a guy by the name of Steve Drucker does achieve that benchmark. If there is such a thing as a “posting board legend” it would be him. Long before Yelp overtook the world, “His Druckerness” had quite the following on national websites like Roadfood and eGullet, as well as local sites AtlantaCuisine and 285Foodies. A world traveler, who prioritizes eating at the highest-rated restaurants wherever he journeys, the candid gourmet is no easy nut to crack, especially when it comes to international cuisine. Before retiring to Greenville, South Carolina, Drucker feasted at Tortugas often, effusing praise, also certifying he fully sanctions everything he dined. He did distinguish “all the mofongos” as to what he’d most advocate.

Another trusted advisor is friend Joan Durbin, a retired, talented wordsmith, who was the food critic for Neighbor News. The South Florida expatriate said the food at Tortugas is “very similar to what we were used to in the Cuban restaurants in Miami.” She also noted mofongo as the dish “that I crave every time I’m there.” I reckon I’m heeding a pattern here. You can’t go wrong at Tortugas, but it is difficult to exceed the quality of the mofongo. ❍

Sound Bites
It’s one of the most critical moments in newspaper publishing lore. Presenting the inaugural news, notes, and random musings from your infallible restaurant whisperer…

Three of my most cherished new restaurants of 2018 were #GirlPower (women chef/owners) establishments: Hen Mother Cookhouse (Soraya Khoury), Gracious Plenty (Jasmin Willis), and M Thai Street Food (Sripapa Oyanontaruk).

Howbeit a much smaller eatery, a promising #GirlPower arrival for 2019 is Swan Café in Alpharetta with Safoora Kamali at the helm. Situated in the unit best known as the former home to Swiss Alpine Bakery, the meat roll was grand. No matter how many times the place transforms their moniker and ownership, there is still some affiliation with well-known local pastry chef Francois Collett. The pastries are still his creations, though Safoora wants to build on her cake business—weddings, birthdays. I will seek out the limited pickings of other savory lunch and breakfast items. 8400 Holcomb Bridge…

Frankly, there are other restaurants in Alpharetta City Center that I enjoy more, but it’s exciting to have Shade Street Food offer currywurst on the menu. Wisely, they use Patak’s for the bratwurst. Go just for that. I hope they can fulfill the late smoke-free bar hours they are promising…

The New England clam chowder at Lapeer Seafood Market has a unique style and is very good.

Speaking of the ever-blossoming City Center, I explored Lapeer Seafood Market, the third restaurant from Louis Soon. Initial visit suggests it could be his best work yet. I loved the exemplary shrimp roll. They present the thinnest broth I’ve ever had in a New England clam chowder, almost a New England/Rhode Island hybrid. Perhaps we can trademark it as Alpharetta-style clam chowder. Ah, the rhyme for the reason isn’t culinary as much as for show. They present the ingredients, then pour the broth over them tableside. After experimentations, it was resolved the thicker chowder would splash too much at showtime. Lapeer belongs in discussion with C&S Chowder House and their sister, the more casual, Hugo’s as best seafood option in the area…

The tripleta sandwich at Pablo’s in Peachtree Corners is a must.

Another spectacular launching is Pablo’s Bakery & Café serving Puerto Rican food with an extensive bakery menu. Get the tripleta signature sandwich with Puerto Rican style roasted pork, pastrami, turkey, Swiss cheese, and ketchup on house-made cirioli bread. French fries are also manufactured on premises. Voyage elsewhere if you demand frozen brown bag foolishness. I hoped to seize some samplings to-go from their ample bakery case but necessitated to dash back to my sweatshop dungeon to address unexpected fiddle-faddle. There will be a next time. Find Pablo’s at 5075 Peachtree Parkway Suite 101, Peachtree Corners, GA 30092 in the Ingles shopping center, about two doors down from Taqueria Del Mar, one of the better Mexi-Cali places around…

Newbies are everywhere! Live & Lemitless Soul Asian Kitchen, is in the same shopping center as the excellent Bite Bistro & Bar. Owner’s son’s name is Lem. Thus the name is a punny and intentional misspelling of “Limitless.” The best item I’ve had thus far is the soul rolls—spring rolls with crab, pork, and shrimp. Side of cabbage was another highlight. It’s at 11550 Webb Bridge Way, Alpharetta, 30005…

I was able to confirm that Chipper’s Club club sandwich is among the best in the area. Peach & the Porkchop remains a strong No.1, but this is right there with Coalition F&B and South Main Kitchen after that. The club isn’t on the current SMK menu, however. Oh, but this is a developing story because I have not yet had Hen Mother Cookhouse’s chicken club. I will be beyond shocked if it’s not way up there.

When he’s not eating, which is rare, the author is CEO of Sports Handicapping website Offshore Insiders. His bride’s gift site, Duffy Gifts is the place to go for gifts for all occasions from My Thirty One Gifts.