The bright, eccentric diner once occupied by Kitsch’n had been standing empty atop the hill of Clairmont Road for many, many months. One night as I drove home, I suddenly noticed that the tall “Kitsch’n” side had been replaced by three light green signs adjacent to a larger white sign, reading – Sobban: Korean; Southern; Diner. Light-colored wooden herb planters had appeared to frame one edge of the once simple patio along with a couple new, burlap umbrellas. I had secretly been wishing that a cafe (cough, Steady Hand, coughcough…) would take over the vacant building. However, seeing as how the closest Korean restaurants I frequent are all located on Buford Highway, a solid 15+minute drive away depending on traffic, Sobban would be a welcome addition to Clairmont Road. When I looked up Sobban that night, my excitement only increased upon learning that the owners were Jiyeon Lee and Cody Taylor, the chefs of the popular Heirloom Market BBQ (I swear I will try that place sometime soon!).
A couple of friends and I went to try it out one Friday night around 8:30 to celebrate the end of an exam (me) and the arrival of paychecks (them). Before I even got there, my friend called to tell me that the diner was jam-packed. Not to be thwarted, one of my friends and I went the very next day for a quick Saturday lunch before her flight to Miami. It was drizzly and the autumn chill had begun to set in. Despite that, the patio tables were all filled and there was a 20-minute wait for a table inside. Lucky for us, there were two seats available at the end of the crowded bar. Within moments of sitting down, a cheerful server swung by to drop off our menus and waters. Although the sign outside could tell you as much, the dishes at Sobban were Southern spins of Korean dishes, such as the Nori Corn Dog (fried in seaweed tempura and served with spicy mustard and bibimbop sauce) and the Georgia Bingsu (Korean shaved ice dessert with peach ice cream, plum jam, and candied pecans). The two of us decided to split the Bulgogi Roll and Fried Kimchi Bologna Sandwich.
The interior decor of the diner had changed drastically from that of Kitsch’n. Gone were the metal chairs and tables, replaced by small booths, community seating, and plain wood-topped tables. The bright teals and reds were painted over by earthy light gray-greens and dark browns. I loved the new decor, a wonderful balance of elegant, cozy, and charming. What I did miss of the old Kitsch’n, however, was the really welcoming and friendly family that ran the diner and practically oozed of the essence of “Southern Hospitality.”
After we placed our order, a man suddenly appeared behind our shoulders and welcomed us, telling us to let him know if we needed anything else, before melting away again just as quickly. A little bit perturbed by the man, who I guessed was the manager, my friend and I chatted as we awaited our food, gazing out at the patio and Clairmont Road. Our order came out surprisingly fast, probably within 10 minutes.
We tried the Bulgogi Roll first. A pile of bulgogi, a sweet, traditional, grilled Korean marinated beef, rested atop a well-buttered & well-toasted, probably Brioche roll smeared with a kimchi remoulade. The sandwich was then generously topped off with pickled shimeji mushrooms, raw onions, and pickled onions. The menu described it as also having Korean pears, but I honestly could not taste them at all. The beef was extremely tender and the onions and toasted roll provided a much-needed crunch to the sandwich. The sponge-like roll soaked up all the wonderful juices that ran from the beef so that not even one drop escaped. I particularly liked the kimchi remoulade – although I couldn’t distinctly taste the kimchi, it still managed to create a background of tingling spice that built up as we ate. Sadly, both of us found the sandwich to be too sweet overall. The pickled veggies were sweet, the marinade of the beef was sweet, and the invisible Korean pears were also sweet. It got to the point where I could not even taste the bite of raw onion, let alone the poor mushrooms which may as well not have been there.
We turned to the Fried Kimchi Bologna Sandwich with higher hopes. The kimchi had to offer a good amount of sour and spice, right? Well, kind of. The buttery, toasted slices of bread reminded me of a grilled cheese that housed a good amount of sliced bologna and kimchi instead of cheese. Our waitress had described the sandwich as being on the spicier side. Sadly, as the Bulgogi Roll had tasted of overwhelming sweetness, the Fried Kimchi Bologna Sandwich tasted of just saltiness. The salt of the bologna completely took over. Sobban’s kimchi, on its own, had a strong punch of acidity, but sorely lacked spice. For a comparison, the remoulade of the Bulgogi Roll was spicier. This sandwich with its generous portion of grilled, sliced bologna would probably be right up the alley of a big bologna fan. Being one for a more balanced type of dish, I didn’t really care for it. My favorite part of lunch that Saturday had to be the side of oven-baked, glazed Korean sweet potato chips that came with the Fried Kimchi Bologna Sandwich. Sliced thin and sprinkled with a touch of sesame seeds, they were satisfyingly crunchy and surprisingly, not too sweet – I could eat these all day long.
After we paid and prepared to leave, the manager (?) popped out of nowhere once more and asked, “How did everything taste today?” My ever-so-direct friend informed him, “Everything was just too sweet and not spicy enough. It really just wasn’t our thing.” He blinked once, twice, and said, “OK, thank you for telling us that. We’ll keep that in mind.” And then, just like that, when we turned away to pick up our purses, he just kind of…disappeared. I really have no idea how he managed to do that.
Although I adored Sobban’s concept, decor, and friendly servers, foodwise, I gotta say, it really just wasn’t my thing. I do think the team at Sobban are on a good thing though, for I find both Korean and Southern cuisines to center around home and comfort – fusing them together makes perfect sense. With a little more work and tweaking of the recipes, Sobban could offer some spectacular dishes that you can’t find anywhere else in Atlanta. I’ll wait a couple of months before giving the menu a second shot. Rest assured, though – I will be back in the near future just to try the Korean shaved ice.
1788 Clairmont Road
Decatur, GA 30033