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Cool to cowboy 

Trinity reopens, Cowtippers endures

"Did you notice?" Wayne asked as we got in the car after our second meal at Trinity (255 Trinity Ave., 404-222-9925). "They all had the same face."

"No, no," I said. "They were all dressed alike -- in black. It's that hip thing."

"I disagree, I think everyone had the same face. Everyone was nice, I guess, but they definitely had the same face."

"Oh, the sad life of the Stepfordized cool people," I lamented. "The terminally hip, the paper-doll people, the black-clad trenderatti, oh ... "

"Stop!" Wayne interrupted. "They were nice, really."

It's true, everything about the new Trinity, adjacent to the gentrifying Castleberry Hill neighborhood of downtown lofts, is nice. The food is nice, the decor is nice, the staff and customers are nice. But there is something a bit weird about the way this space keeps getting reworked into new versions of coolness. Those of us who have been around a while remain fond of our memories of the space as a broken-down cafe where you could go on weekends to play checkers in the window, eat a sandwich and hear lesbian rockers. Two cats I evicted with a lover lived upstairs from this space for a few years.

Then it was transformed into a Soho wannabe that closed almost instantly. The basic design of that period remains intact. The inverted pyramid that is the DJ's booth is still there, as is the long bar. But the decor's very dark ambience lit with blue lights has been brightened with red lights and some new accents, including a clock big enough to depress the workers in Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Unfortunately, most of the dining space has been reduced to a few tables, since this latest incarnation is more bar than restaurant. You will luck into a table or you will eat at the bar or on a sofa.

Which is a shame, since the restaurant has hired a talented chef. Justin Churchill, a young Culinary Institute of America graduate, worked formerly at The Food Studio and Roman Lily Cafe. He was also briefly at Spice. His credentials alone suggest what a good choice he is for a space that is exploring the boundary of the hip (like Spice) and the funky (like Roman Lily).

The menu, available for lunch and dinner, is light and inexpensive, creative but free of weirdness. Thus you can start with an interesting soup -- like a chili made with chorizo ($3 or $5) or barbecued pork in egg roll wrappers with sweet garlic sauce ($5). I might as well warn you at the start that Churchill tends to go a bit heavy on sweet flavors. A special of a fat pork chop over sauteed spinach and snow-pea vines was a delicious bargain at $10, but would have been even better without the honey glaze in my opinion.

A starter of macaroni and cheese, baked in a ramekin with lots of gouda, is a nice take on the ubiquitous trailer-park favorite ($4). You'll also find chips with guac ($5), baked pita chips with hummus ($4) and chicken wings offered with different seasonings ($6 or $11).

Except for one pasta dish (penne with sundried tomato pesto, $7) and individual pizzas ($7, evenings only), the regular entree menu is all sandwiches. I will never get excited about a tuna melt ($6), but Wayne liked it fine. I did enjoy my andouille sausage with peppers and onions on a garlicky roll ($6) -- hip carnival food. Like the customers' fashion, the menu features a hell of a lot of black -- a black bean burger and sandwiches of blackened chicken or salmon. There's also a meatball sub and, the most inviting, a crab cake on a potato roll drizzled with citrus yogurt sauce. Everything is around $7.

The definite bargain here is the special, like the pork chop we ordered. It's clear Trinity's owners, real estate folks Robert "Tug" Helmer and Aaron Vantosh, are understandably playing it safe with an inexpensive menu of straightforward dishes. But I hope Churchill begins playing a bit more, as I know he can. By all means go, black-clad or not, and be certain you check out the neighboring Eyedrum Gallery, where a show of penis images is, um, hung, and you can often hear interesting music.

Moo moo land
When my old friend Zippy Berchowitz, who now lives in Los Angeles, visited Atlanta last week with his partner Ralph, we had a hell of a time finding a place to dine on Sunday evening. Ralph was in the mood for a steak, so we landed at Cowtippers, where I hadn't dined in several years.

I arrived after Zippy and Ralph and was surprised to find them sitting inside instead of on the patio, which is one of Midtown's favorite see-and-be-seen places. Instead they were one table away from the corner where a family of children bawled throughout our meal.

The food? I'm afraid it's as mediocre as ever. Nashville Nachos ($6.95) made with barbecued chicken that has taken on the quality of canned meat are grim, but like most junk food, require complete consumption. There are silly "Armadillo Eggs" -- breaded and fried jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese -- served in an egg carton ($5.95).

Ralph and I both ordered, on the waiter's recommendation, the filet ($16.95). Mine was cooked fine -- medium rare, as ordered -- and was much better than steaks I've had there in the past. Considering the price, it wasn't bad. I even liked my sweet potato, though I declined the house salad, a sad bowl of Iceberg lettuce. Zippy's chicken kabobs ($11.95) made him yawn.

We skipped the "Cowboy's Dessert Special ... made fresh daily on the prairie," but we sure did get a laugh out of the description.

E-mail Cliff Bostock or call his voice mail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1504 with restaurant comments.

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