The first night I walked into Café Circa (464 Edgewood Ave., 404-477-0008), I wanted to run and hide. It was a Saturday evening and I was dressed as slovenly as usual after the gym, toting a couple of books. I assumed this restaurant, a few doors down from Javaology, was a pub, like its immediate neighbor, Edgewood Corner Tavern (464 Edgewood Ave., 404-577-2310).
It's an elegantly designed restaurant, and it was full of elegantly dressed people picking at elegantly plated food. I was very glad when the hostess told us they were booked. She said we could wait a bit and she'd find us a table, but I happily asked for a reservation the following night and we hightailed it next door to Edgewood Corner Tavern. More about that later.
When we returned to Café Circa the next night, slightly better dressed, there was a sign on the door saying they were hosting a private party. I didn't see the sign and I barged in, confirmed our reservation and we were seated, while Wayne yammered about crashing a party. Nobody seemed to mind.
The party was for members of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the first sorority founded for African-American women. They were celebrating the debut of a Madame Alexander doll, "Ivy Rose," marketed in Atlanta by Rochelle McAllister's Sisterhood Boutique. This was also the night of the Grammy Awards, and the doll was included in the gift bag for presenters and winners parading across the TV screens in the restaurant. Cool!
It was festive, to say the least. At one point – after a champagne toast – the ladies broke into a line dance and I could hardly keep Wayne in his seat, while two of them urged him to join in.
The restaurant is a rectangular space with a 38-foot sandstone marble bar backed with golden-lit frosted glass on the left. There's a row of tall pub tables down the middle of the room and, on the right wall, there's a long banquette opposite dining tables. Gauzy, short curtains festoon the brick wall behind the banquette. There's also a performance space.
The menu is kind of international and kind of Caribbean. We liked everything we ordered, but we were especially taken with a starter that was completely new to us – chocolate chicken wings. I didn't expect it to taste good, but we had to order it just for the novelty. I half-guessed it might be chicken wings in a mole sauce but, no, they were glossy with actual chocolate. They tasted spicy, slightly hot and not too sweet. Our server explained that the kitchen marinates the wings in a mojo overnight and then fries them like Buffalo wings. Then they are rolled in Hershey's dark chocolate syrup.
We also tried a plate of pot stickers. We chose the pork filling over the vegetable one and they, too, were delicious – steaming hot, crispy-fried with a savory ball of seasoned pork inside. You dunk them in a perfumy ginger-soy sauce.
Entrees were equally good. A generous portion of shrimp, infused with the flavor of mangos, was served with a light dark-rum sauce. Jerk chicken featured a pineapple-and-mango salsa. Both dishes were served with rice and a bowl of the best black beans I've tasted in a long time.
For dessert we split a slice of "crème brûlée cheesecake." It was dense cheesecake with a crackly, caramelized top.
The restaurant is inexpensive and features other dishes such as Spanish-style pulled pork on a banana leaf, a taco platter, Thai chicken cutlets and salads with a selection of many ingredients. Vegetarians can eat here without difficulty, thanks to several tofu options.
Service is terrific.
The Edgewood Corner Tavern, owned by the same people who own the Corner Taverns in East Point and Little Five Points, was an entirely different scene. Elegance is not in the air or on the menu, but it's a fun place – for drinking.
The food, with one exception, was strange. The exception is the starter of shrimp and corn fritters seasoned with peppers, garlic and onions. They are like giant stuffed hushpuppies, wonderfully aromatic and slightly chewy. We ran into a friend who compared them to conch fritters, but I like these better than those, which usually feature knots of gristlelike flesh.
Another starter of Buffalo shrimp – God, I'm sick of Buffalo everything – was commendable for having decently cooked shrimp, but it was otherwise a snoozer replete with celery, carrots and zillion-calorie blue-cheese dressing.
My entree of chicken curry ranked as one of the strangest dishes I've eaten in many weeks. Wayne and I try to get to the Standard on Memorial Drive every Monday to eat the curry special, so I thought it would be interesting to try the Corner Tavern's version.
It arrived at the table looking like a pinwheel designed by a stoner with a bad case of munchies. Four triangles of garlic toast flared from the bowl's confetti-strewn edge. In the center was a pile of bananas. Yes, bananas. I guess they like bananas in India. I'm not sure about garlic toast.
The curry itself was miserable – sloppy tomatoes with potatoes, onions, peppers and rice, crassly seasoned, causing visions of Prilosec to dance in my head. Oh, there was some chicken. Little cubes of chicken like you might find in Campbell's soup.
Wayne lucked out by ordering linguine with shrimp, bacon and asparagus. It was pretty good. We were disappointed the restaurant was out of its chocolate silk pie made with beer. Yeah, beer. "It sounds gross, but it's really good," our server assured us.
Up a steep flight of stairs, there's a room with pool tables, dart boards and more dining tables. The place could be fun, as long as you stick to munchies and booze. Don't plan to dine well, though, unless you drink a whole lot.
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