Left Coast Loss is Win for Johns Creek

By Joe Duffy

Recently, I attended an informal staff assembly for The Current Hub at Joe’s Pizza, the best damn NY style pizza place within many miles. Accordingly, I gobbled a stromboli on the publisher’s dime. Before the gavel was struck for the official commencement of the meeting of the masterminds, the Big Cheese had stern marching orders for me.

Hub Head Honcho: I have this new restaurant you need to try.
Me (cockily): I’ve probably been.
Hub Head Honcho: No, this one is new. I’m certain you haven’t.
Me (in a defiant tone): Okay, if you say so.
Hub Head Honcho: Trying to remember the name. It’s on Jones Bridge Road by Bonefish…
Me: Oh, Hen Mother Cookhouse. Been a couple of times.
Hub Head Honcho: Son of a nutcracker!

Hen Mother Cookhouse

Personable chef/owner Soraya Khoury was gifted to the neighborhood via Rumi’s Kitchen in Alpharetta. She was enlisted from the Napa Valley region to launch their second location in the booming success story that is Avalon. The actuality that she was head chef at the consensus best Persian restaurant in metropolitan Atlanta is an impressive entry on her resume, but scarcely scratches the surface.

The Johns Creek cafe exemplifies “mom and pop,” just add a serving of sister to the recipe. Chef husband Jesus Loyola joins his bride in the kitchen, while her amiable sibling Sarah takes charge of the front of the house.

The accomplished culinarian earned her chops on the left coast in the Napa Valley, land of sparkling vino and gourmet dining. Among her mentors was eminent chef Richard Reddington at his namesake Redd. Esteemed national website Eater described the Yountville fine dining establishment as, “joining the French Laundry as an elevated dining destination.”
For those who aren’t familiar with the French Laundry, it is a California establishment universally received as high atop the great bucket list restaurants in the country. Having a comparable entry on her curriculum vitae is an impactful accomplishment for the young lady that Johns Creek can now call their own.

However, Khoury said it was chef Melissa Perello at Frances in San Francisco who taught her how to accentuate ingredients with a “gentle touch.” This aptitude evinces itself with Hen Mother’s harvest salad. Yes, you read it right, uOTPia’s most belligerent carnivore is ballyhooing a salad sans any meat or seafood. Furthermore, anything with raisins is on my short list of non-starters. But there are raisins and then there is Soroya’s house-made version.

With shredded kale and cabbage as the main elements, the fruit and vegetable potpourri is perfectly finished with Rome beauty apples. Sometimes known as Red Rome or Gillett’s seedling, said apples are generally considered best as a complementary component rather than devouring solo because the fruit is less tart/sweet than most apple cultivars. They are flawless for this dish in which each item clearly has its own discrete and evident function.
Khoury emphatically expressed that though she has seasonal dishes, she can’t eliminate the harvest salad from the cyclical bill of fare because of its colossal popularity. If it were compulsory for me to be a vegetarian for a day—for say, charity or something—I’m heading here for this.

Not your standard pancakes: At Hen Mother Cookhouse in Johns Creek.

Pancakes may be a simple dish, but Hen Mother prepares it above and beyond the quality of virtually any competitor. Delivered with pure Vermont maple syrup, no need to hide a bottle in your sleeve.

At this breakfast and lunch harbor, the early morning victuals boast some of the thickest French toast and the thinnest pancakes I’ve had in my 23-plus years (give or take a decade… or more). The former is brioche baked in a mini-skillet with seasonal poached fruit and packed with flavor. Pancakes may be a simple dish, but Hen Mother prepares it above and beyond the quality of virtually any competitor. Each of the two referenced breakfast standards is delivered with pure Vermont maple syrup.

My family and I have been on reconnaissance for our numero uno burger since Oak Street Cafe closed about a year ago. Mind you, there are many strong candidates and Khoury’s belongs very much in the discussion. For about a 20-year stretch, thick “gourmet” burgers were all the rage, replaced in the last decade or so by double-patty mania. Hen Mother’s remains in the thicker single-patty corner.

You will never hear me assert anything positive about the Mickey D’s Golden Arches burger, except there is something affirmative to state about their short-lived “hot side hot and cool side cool” fad of putting on the cheese after cooking. Hen Mother does just that with shredded cheddar atop of the high-quality (hopefully you order yours) medium rare ground beef.

Onward to the brunch menu. On New Year’s Eve I internally recap my uppermost meals of 2018 (yeah, that’s how I subsist. Do you take umbrage with that?) which will include many great meals in assorted states. But I will think fondly of the pork belly hash topped with two organic eggs when we’ve said goodbye to the year’s most unforgettable meals. It is my favorite foodstuff so far at HMC.

My wife, youngest son, and I divided the massive cinnamon roll. Upon intaking his first morsel, my son’s eyes lit up and sparkled in a way that only tickets to a marquee baseball game have accomplished before. I’ve never witnessed him so zealously snatch seconds in his 16-years. I will confirm his alacrity was exceedingly justifiable.

The experienced chef Anabelle Parry, (most recently of her own restaurant, Anabelle’s Table) left a rousing review on Hen Mother’s Facebook page. She described yet another bell cow item, the bialys, as the “best around” proclaiming the accompanying gravlax and cream worthy “to swoon over.” I’ll add that the gravlax is incredibly fresh and toothsome.
I will bestow to our readers what the big enchilada imparted to me at the start of this review. I have a new restaurant you are obliged to appraise. Hopefully, you can also rebut that you’ve already been, more than once.  ❍


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.