A Night on K-Town
We all want to travel the world, but we often forget that we can have cultural experiences in our hometown. My favorite thing about the Atlanta metropolitan area is how diverse it is, and a short drive down or up Buford highway is a testament to that. Another testament to Atlanta’s diversity is it’s thriving Korean community. According to the US Census, Atlanta’s Korean community has doubled in size since 2010. Join me as I take a group of friends to Joy Pizza and Joy Chicken and Agit Lounge and Karaoke Bar on our quest of exploring Atlanta’s thriving Korean community.
Self-proclaimed “Seoul of the South”, Gwinnett is home to the 9th largest Korean population in the United States. If you take I-85 and get off at Pleasant Hill road you’ll instantly feel like you’ve been transported to a foreign land. The area around here is known as K-Town due to its multitude of Korean-owned and inspired businesses. It’s sure an awe-inspiring sight-to-see when you pull into a shopping center and all the signs are in Hangul. Fear not the signs in hangul lest ye be of little mind, besides you’ve always wanted to travel. If you can’t manage this then how will you fare in the real world?
KFC vs KFC
Move over Kentucky Fried Chicken because there is a new KFC in town and it’s Korean Fried Chicken. We tend to think that the south has a monopoly on fried chicken, but I believe there is something we can learn from our Korean brethren when it comes to frying chicken. At our first stop, Joy Pizza and Joy Chicken, we’ll be trying a Korean take on classic American cuisine. The lure of this place is their potato pizzas and more importantly their fried chicken.
What makes good fried chicken? To me, it’s the crispy, crunchy texture that KFC embodies. This is not your regular fried chicken. The key differences are the batter and how it’s fried. Instead of your typical dredging of flour and buttermilk, KFC is made with a dry mixture of flour and potato starch, with no dredging involved. Then the chicken is fried till it’s golden brown then taken out to strain for a few minutes before it’s put back into the fryer again. It’s either served plain or covered in a sauce.
The chicken arrives first, one drenched in a sweet and mildly spicy chili paste sauce with sesame seed toppings and the other fried to perfection. “Delicate but bold,” says my friend playfully channeling her inner chef. At Joy’s you have the choice of 3 different styles: their “famous whole chicken”, chicken wings, and boneless popcorn chicken. You can get it plain or tossed in your choice of sweet and mild, sweet and spicy, and sweet and soy. The crispy, airy batter with a crunchy finish makes the fried chicken a personal favorite. The magic of Joy’s chicken is that although it is double fried the chicken is never greasy nor does it leave you feeling heavy.
Pro Tip: Is your mouth burning? Pop a radish in your mouth! They are the little white cubes that come with your salad.
Mid-stuffing ourselves with chicken, one look around the restaurant filled with a combination of rustic and modern decor along with a beautiful mural of Venice, and you’re instantly reminded of the oncoming pizza. I recommend the Korean Steak Pizza if you’re a Korean BBQ fan. Taste like an Asian-inspired Philly cheesesteak with a very creamy, alfredo-esque sauce.
And now for the pièce de résistance, Sweet Potato Pizza topped with green pepper, corn, ham, sweet potato, sausage, and pineapple. Upon the first bite was the taste of fresh mozzarella cheese. Another bite in, you get the freshness of the green pepper along with the savory ham, and the sweetness of the corn. On the third bite, you finally tear through the crispy skin of the lightly sweet taste of the potato combined with the kick of sausage, a harmonious symphony of flavors has now exploded in your mouth. Looking to go extra crazy, try the sweet potato pizza with the sweet potato mouse baked into the crust.
Don’t forget to wash it all down with a crisp, refreshing Asahi. Asahi is a Japanese rice lager and a great beer for any type of drinker.
Next Stop: Karaoke but first…
Aye- Karaoke! A word that would make most Americans cringe is a beloved hobby in Asia. According to USA-Karaoke.com’s WHY IS KARAOKE SO POPULAR IN ASIA?, Karaoke is ten times more popular in Asian countries. The article sites pricing, song choice, setting but it all boils down to cultural differences. As you may know, Karaoke was invented in Japan due to their love of musical entertainment. As popularity grew throughout Asia, it wasn’t uncommon for families to own karaoke machines. They would encourage children to sing for them, which instilled a nonjudgemental attitude towards singing. As karaoke gained global popularity, private karaoke rooms that can hold anywhere between 5-15 people, known as Karaoke Boxes, became a popular business model. Combined with alcohol and food, karaoke boxes quickly became the after-work spot to unwind, which led to the growing popularity.
Gwinett is no stranger to karaoke spots but we decided to check out Agit Lounge & Karaoke Bar. One of the smallest Karaoke bars I’ve been to, but it makes it up with it’s trendy, street ambiance. When you walk in all the décor is black with graffiti painted on the walls and splashes of colors in the form of neon signs in Korean and Supreme artwork. The four colorful rooms on the left are the karaoke rooms. Once escorted into our room that was decorated with a graffiti Bart Simpson, a friend amusingly asks, “Is this the room we warm up in before we go on stage?”
We’re left in a room with a karaoke machine, a big book of songs, a tambourine, and a remote in Korean with some simple instructions from the server on how to use it. They have older artists like Abba and Queen along with newer artists like Drake and Post Malone. You pick a song and once it starts the colorful flashing lights come on as if you’re a pop star about to perform on stage
In need of libations or food while enjoying singing the night away? One of the coolest features, most commonly found in Asian businesses, is the button on the wall where you can call your server to the room. The first thing we order is yogurt soju. Soju is a Korean liquor traditionally made from rice or other alternate starches. It’s plain tasting like vodka but without the burn. It’s normally served straight up or mixed with a sweet yogurt drink, which tastes like skittles.
Our second drink is a Banana flavor Makgeolli, which is a sparkling rice wine which h tastes sweet and milky. We finish off our night with Backstreet Boy’s Bye Bye Bye and call it a night. On our long ride home, we reminisce about the night and how it was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone.