Examining the irresistibility of Eats 

Sometimes I wonder if the owners of Eats in Poncey-Highland made a deal with the devil. How else to explain the place's extraordinary popularity? Sure, it's cheap. But it's also a dump. Service is surly, and they only take cash.

Yet I don't know anyone -- not a soul -- who doesn't like Eats. It's irresistible. About every six weeks or so, I start to feel an urge that nothing but a bowl of pasta from Eats will satisfy. See, anyone who's eaten here more than twice has a preference: You're either a pasta person or a meat-and-veggies person.

Walk the Line: For the uninitiated (there must be one or two of you out there), here's how it works: There are two lines at Eats, one for pasta and the other for chicken. You order and pay at the front of the line, wait for your name to be called, grab your food and silverware, and park it at a table in the ramshackle dining room.

Use your Noodle: The pasta board at Eats offers a handful of different noodle choices and sauces. Marinara, chunky with plum tomatoes, is tangy and homemade-tasting. A variation with a touch of cream is mellower and less acidic. I find the watery alfredo sauce gritty and unappealing, though I know a lot of people who'd disagree with me. There's something irresistible about the pesto, though I'll admit it's very, very oily. Pastas are accompanied by a charred, usually rock-hard piece of garlic bread that softens up nicely after a dunk in pasta sauce.

Jerk me around: The meat and veggie choices at Eats come across a tad healthier than the pastas. Jerk chicken has an intense, herbaceous kick to it. Juicy dark meat encased in crackly skin comes easily off the bone, though arid breast meat could leave a person gasping for air between chewy bites. Turkey meatloaf smeared with tomato sauce reminds me that I do, in fact, like meatloaf. I'd forgotten. Sides are mostly on the mark: Saucy black beans and dense, crumbly corn bread make up for a mealy, overcooked sweet potato. Green beans and collards are cooked with plenty of bacon fat, in true Southern style.

Faces in the Crowd: There's no decor to speak of at Eats, but it doesn't matter. The people-watching is top-notch. Eats draws as diverse a crowd as any restaurant I know of. A guy in a Bauhaus T-shirt with purple hair and piercings sits one table over from a handful of hospital employees in scrubs. A buttoned-down businessman stands in line behind a couple of prim elderly ladies. It's good to know we'll abandon our petty differences for a good meal with a cheap price tag.

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