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Discovering new flavors at Chez Carmelle Restaurant



Recently, my sister let me in on her favorite Haitian restaurant in Atlanta, Chez Carmelle Pastry and Restaurant (560-A Windy Hill Road, Smyrna. 678-213-2892), tucked away in the corner of a nondescript strip mall.

The concise menu of Haitian standards changes daily and is written in English and French – listening to the fatherly owner Jean Bonnet switch between the two is impressive. Be prepared to wait because this is a mom and pop place where the food is made to order. A classic dish of lègumes ($10) – a highly spiced and slow-cooked mixture of eggplant, spinach, cabbage, chayote, tomato sauce and other "secret" ingredients – has a texture reminiscent of simmered vegetarian Indian dishes. Both the chunks of fried bone-in goat ($10) and fried dark meat turkey pieces ($10) were fork-tender from a long marinade and braise before frying, but still had a crisp exterior. The goat was not overwhelmingly gamey and coated in juices slick with that sumptuous oiliness unique to goat meat. Each order comes with the daily version of beans and rice (red beans and "Haitian-style rice" is the most popular), a forgettable salad and fried plantains. But the showstopper is the homemade picklese, a spicy and vinegary sauce made with Scotch bonnet peppers, minced carrot and cabbage that adds pep to the heft of the soulful, stick-to-your-ribs fare.

The space is tiny – like one-table tiny – but that doesn't stop the ex-pats from grabbing a chair and excitedly digging into the food. You can't ask for a more qualified endorsement than that.

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