I love Cabbagetown -- it's like nowhere else in Atlanta. There's a rusticity, a certain country charm, that belies its intown address. Tiny Carroll Street isn't a street made for cars -- that much is obvious. You creep along the narrow thoroughfare past colorful row houses gone wild with ivy and honeysuckle, keeping one eye on pedestrians while making sure no one is coming in the opposite direction. If another car happens along, the trick is to wedge yourself into an alley or driveway so it can pass.
I lived in Cabbagetown for three years, and walking to Carroll Street Cafe for coffee or a light lunch was one of my favorite things about living in the neighborhood. Pretty little houses with white picket fences cropped up among the dilapidated churches and abandoned warehouses. The scenery is punctuated by neighborhood icon Panorama Ray's trippy folk art installations. A walk in Cabbagetown never bores.
The neighborhood's friendly, unhurried vibe continues at the cafe. Cheerful umbrellas line the sidewalk outside the restaurant. Inside, statuesque servers lounge against the coffee bar as patrons nurse glasses of wine and languidly fork bites of salad. During the day, sunlight streams through gauzy red curtains in the storefront windows and bathes the room in a hazy glow. After dark, candlelight creates an intimate, cozy effect.
Carroll Street Cafe's menu bears a striking resemblance to that of its sister restaurant, Apres Diem: a few pasta dishes, an appealing selection of sandwiches and several overpriced entrees. But chef Glenn Williams has added a small selection of inexpensive tapas to the mix, and they brighten up the menu considerably. Bruschetta gets an unexpected jab of heat from minced ginger and garlic. A twist on the classic Caprese salad pairs sweet roasted tomatoes with half-melted mozzarella, the whole thing drizzled with basil oil.
A glut of melted cheese weighs down angel hair with pesto. Sandwiches work better. The Cobb features grilled chicken breast on a chewy ciabatta roll topped with bacon, avocado and tangy blue cheese dressing. The bodacious Betty sandwich spills over with grilled turkey, bacon, cheddar, tomato, lettuce, onion, pepperoncini, horseradish, barbecue sauce and mayo. Talk about a mouthful.
The undisputed high point of the meal, though, is a modest bowl of tomato soup. Well, modest to look at, anyway. An undercurrent of spicy curry threads its way through the soup, mingling with the tomato to create an explosion of heat and flavor on the tongue.
But above all else, I love Carroll Street Cafe for its lovely, mellow, boho-chic vibe. Cabbagetown denizen or not, you're bound to feel at home here.
Beat the Heat
Just in time for the dog days of summer, Bluepointe introduces a bevy of refreshingly fruity martinis. Besides its signature apple martinis, Bluepointe will be mixing up mint tea, lychee, and passion fruit martinis to put the chill on a steamy summer night. 3455 Peachtree Road. 404-237-9070. www.buckheadrestaurants.com.
Steak Your Claim
Morton's downtown is running a juicy special between now and the end of September. Two prix-fixe meals are on offer: one for steak fans, the other for lobster aficionados. $69 per person gets you either a Morton's filet mignon with sauce Béarnaise, one 7- to 8-ounce Australian lobster tail, salad and steamed asparagus; or two lobster tails with drawn butter, salad and steamed asparagus. Decisions, decisions. 303 Peachtree Center Ave. 404-577-4366. www.mortons.com.
Eat Out to End Hunger
Distinguished Restaurants of North America is holding its first annual DiRoNA Restaurant Week across the nation Aug. 22-26. Two local restaurants, City Grill and La Grotta, will participate. Both will host three-course prix-fixe dinners all week, with a percentage of the proceeds going to Share Our Strength, a nonprofit committed to eliminating hunger worldwide. City Grill: 50 Hurt Plaza, Suite 200. 404-524-2489. www.citygrillatlanta.com. La Grotta: 2637 Peachtree Road. 404-231-1368. www.lagrottaatlanta.com.
On Thurs., Aug. 25, Spice will join up with Halpern's Steak and Seafood to host the first "Big Red" dinner. The five-course dinner will highlight beef in all its many forms. Cost of $65 per person includes wine. 793 Juniper St. 404-875-4242. www.spicerestaurant.com.
On the Rhone Again
Iris continues its tour of the gastronomic regions of France on Mon., Aug. 29. This month's dinner focuses on the Rhone Valley. The five-course prix-fixe tasting menu and wine tasting is $65 per person plus tax and gratuity ($48 without wines). 1314 Glenwood Ave. 404-221-1300. www.irisatlanta.com.
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