Atlanta Orders In: New Sandy Springs Thai spot Banana Leaf features seafood

Pla sam rod, featuring whole snapper in a sweet and sour chile sauce, is among the specialty dishes at Banana Leaf Thai and Bar in Sandy Springs. Courtesy of Banana Leaf Thai and Bar
Pla sam rod, featuring whole snapper in a sweet and sour chile sauce, is among the specialty dishes at Banana Leaf Thai and Bar in Sandy Springs. Courtesy of Banana Leaf Thai and Bar

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

When Bua Thai and Sushi in Town Brookhaven shuttered in December, the executive chef and general manager didn’t hit the pavement looking for employment. Instead, Awut Pengpis, better known as Chef Woody, and Supakorn “Jobi” Thanasongtrakul decided to open a place of their own.

Woody had run the kitchen since Bua’s debut nearly a decade earlier, and Jobi was among his staff for the last six. The chef had hoped to hit the 10-year mark and then embark on his own restaurant venture. The closure of Bua was “perfect timing,” Jobi said.

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Banana Leaf Thai and Bar in Sandy Springs opened in mid-January. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
Banana Leaf Thai and Bar in Sandy Springs opened in mid-January. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

The pair, both Thai natives who arrived in the U.S. around 2005, ended up deciding on the space in Sandy Springs’ City Walk that had been vacated last summer by Bogartz Food Artz.

Woody and Jobi had a custom wok station installed, as well as making minor cosmetic changes and COVID-19 safety enhancements, including the addition of plexiglass partitions between tables.

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Banana Leaf Thai and Bar is limiting seating to 40% of its 120-seat capacity, as a safety precaution, during the pandemic. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
Banana Leaf Thai and Bar is limiting seating to 40% of its 120-seat capacity, as a safety precaution, during the pandemic. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Since its mid-January debut, Banana Leaf Thai and Bar has seen a steady increase in business, despite opening without advertising and with limited seating. Besides respectable takeout traffic, there has been an uptick in on-premises dining; nearly 100 reservations were on the books nightly Valentine’s weekend. “That surprised me a lot,” said Jobi, who manages day-to-day operations.

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Gaeng keow wan from Banana Leaf features a bevy of vegetables and a choice of protein (pictured is chicken) in green curry over a bed of jasmine rice. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
Gaeng keow wan from Banana Leaf features a bevy of vegetables and a choice of protein (pictured is chicken) in green curry over a bed of jasmine rice. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Jobi happily was surprised by other developments, like diners’ affinity for Woody’s seafood preparations. Banana Leaf serves plenty of familiar Thai meat and poultry dishes, and a handful of vegan offerings, but each of its four specialty plates features seafood. That includes pla sam rod, featuring chunks of crispy fried snapper surrounded by red bell and bird’s eye chile peppers in a sweet and sour sauce over jasmine rice. It makes for a dramatic presentation and a taste bud-satisfying balance of sweet, sour and spicy.

Seafood is Woody’s specialty, one he has showcased throughout his career, including as the executive chef of Thai restaurant Basil at the five-star Sheraton Grande in Bangkok. Additional dishes featuring creatures of the sea are in the works, including a pad Thai rendition with lobster.

The goal, Jobi said, is to offer dishes you don’t see at other Thai restaurants in the area. “Some Thai places do Thai food more like Chinese-style or American-Thai,” he said. “We keep it as an authentic Thai taste.”

A selection of dishes from Banana Leaf includes (clockwise from bottom left): pad kee mao, also known as drunken noodle; sweet sticky rice with mango; and nua nam tok (Thai beef salad). Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
A selection of dishes from Banana Leaf includes (clockwise from bottom left): pad kee mao, also known as drunken noodle; sweet sticky rice with mango; and nua nam tok (Thai beef salad). Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Beef and chicken dominate the meat selections, but duck and lamb dishes soon will make an appearance. Diners can raise a glass to that expanded menu — along with the debut of a full bar — at the restaurant’s grand opening, in mid-March.

Customers who stick to delivery currently miss out on desserts, like mango sticky rice and tempura ice cream, because they don’t travel well. “I prefer customers to have mango sticky rice fresh,” Jobi said. “If it takes too long, the food changes. Sticky rice can get tough.” But, those with a sweet tooth can look forward to a selection of transportable desserts that soon will be added to the online menu.

And, as they keep thinking of ways to satisfy takeout and dine-in customers, Jobi is looking forward to the day when “we can get the vaccine along to all people and we can put more tables back in.”

Banana Leaf Thai and Bar in Sandy Springs offers outdoor dining on its patio. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
Banana Leaf Thai and Bar in Sandy Springs offers outdoor dining on its patio. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

BANANA LEAF THAI AND BAR

Menu: Thai

Alcohol: full bar for dine-in coming in March

What I ordered: nua nam tok (beef salad), pad kee mao (noodles with shrimp), gaeng keow wan (green curry chicken), pla sam rod (fried snapper in three-flavored sauce), sweet sticky rice with mango. If you are in the mood for noodles, make it the pad kee mao, a tangle of rice noodles slick with a sauce that melds sweet, spicy and savory. The green curry chicken packed a satisfying punch of bright basil. The flesh of the snapper remained surprisingly flaky, while the outside was crisped into curly pieces. The online ordering system doesn’t offer dessert; I placed that order when I arrived at the restaurant. It was ready in minutes, and in my belly within the hour, but I agree with Jobi’s assertion that sweet sticky rice is best consumed fresh.

Price range: appetizers, soups, salads and sides: $4-$15; entrees: $17-$35; desserts: $7-$8

Service options: carryout and delivery; place carryout orders in person, online or via phone (curbside available upon request); delivery via ChowNow, DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber Eats

Outdoor dining: patio with umbrella tables and some heaters

Mask policy: required for all employees; mandated for customers when not seated, or when speaking with staff

Address, phone: 227 Sandy Springs Place NE, Sandy Springs; 404-418-8156

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 3-9 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays

Website: bananaleafatl.com

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