First Look: Urban pL8 

A new restaurant for the booming Westside

Remember when the only destination on the Westside was the Atlanta Humane Society? It was something of a shock when Bacchanalia moved there from its cottage on Piedmont a decade ago. Then Taqueria del Sol followed, and now the area is prime real estate for restaurants that cater to the downtown lunch crowd and the inhabitants of a zillion condos that stretch from 10th Street to downtown.

One of the latest to open is Urban pL8 (1082 Huff Road, 404-367-0312). Apparently, its location attracts restaurants with strange names. The first tenant there was Pangaea, a popular café serving sandwiches from around the world. I’m not exactly sure why Urban pL8 has chosen this abbreviation of the word “plate,” but I am aware that it’s spelled differently all over the place, sometimes using a capital ‘P” and lowercase “l.” Oh, well. As long as Top Flr or TOP FLR or Top Floor exists in Midtown, Urban pL8 is safe from having the most confusing name.

That aside, I’ve had a very pleasing lunch and dinner at the new restaurant. Owner/chef is Betsy Pitts, who worked as sous chef at Bacchanalia and Floataway Café in the past. But she spent the last 10 years in management at Turner TNT. She says she was sitting at her desk one day and wondered why the hell she wasn’t doing what she's passionate about – cooking.

The result is a café with some quirky food that pays attention to healthy, seasonal and local ingredients. Befitting a decision to pursue her passion during the worst economy since the Great Depression, Pitts is keeping prices low. Gourmet sandwiches average around $6.95. For now, Urban pL8 is open for dinner Friday and Saturday nights only. Sandwiches are available then, too, and entrees are priced well under $20, with starters and salads mainly under $8.

During my lunch visit, the standout was a gigantic sandwich of roasted pork loin, served on a bun, glazed with a honey mustard sauce and piled with jalapeño coleslaw. The zippy flavors never sounded a fire alarm but they’ll wake up the average semi-comatose office worker. You’d have to possess the hands of Zeus to pick up the sandwich, by the way. I ate it with a fork and knife.

My friend Chris was less happy with his turkey burger. Actually, a more accurate way of putting this is to say that, after seeing my ginormous sandwich, he was miffed that his turkey burger was small and compact by comparison. He further complained that the sweet Jezebel sauce made the burger taste like a Dunkin’ Donut. This is a man who refers to himself as a “reptoid,” so hyperbole is his natural language. Pitts explained that Jezebel sauce is a Southern classic. I’ve never encountered it before and I did find it a bit cloying.

I also ordered a side of roasted beets with blue cheese and almonds, and Chris started with the day’s cucumber soup. Both blared with flavor.

I returned a few days later for dinner with Wayne. It was even better than lunch. I started with sliced heirloom tomatoes with avocado chunks, grated Parmesan cheese and shredded basil, all lightly dressed with pear vinegar and black truffle oil. The cheese was a bit powdery for my taste but I’ve got to admit it worked well to bind the flavors.

Wayne ordered a starter of grilled shrimp. It was a generous portion – so was the salad, for that matter — and the shrimp were slightly salty and naturally sweet dunked in a cucumber-yogurt sauce spiked with cumin.

Wayne’s entrée was my favorite dish so far at Urban pL8. It featured huge sea scallops seared Provencal-style and served over green beans with roasted fingerling potatoes on the side. Simple and direct, with two creamy textures, one from land and one from sea, played against a crisp one. 

My own entrée was also quite good – slices of hanger steak grilled medium-rare, served with slightly garlicky mashed potatoes and a salsa verde made mainly with heirloom tomatoes. It tasted nothing like a classic salsa verde made with tomatillos but had plenty of zing.

Desserts need work, I think. Wayne and Chris both ordered ice cream with homemade chocolate chip cookies. I understand the appeal of such a classic but I want something more creative when I dine out. Even an ice cream more interesting than chocolate or (sort-of) spumoni would help. My own dessert, a slice of the English classic banoffee pie, was much more pleasing. Think bananas and toffee and you’ll come close to imagining the flavors.

All in all, Urban pL8 is a great destination. Eventually, Pitts plans to serve dinner more evenings. In the meantime, I suggest you make a reservation now.

Chicken hearts and whole sardines

We visited Holy Taco (1314 Glenwood Ave., 404-230-6177) in East Atlanta for the first time in quite a few months last week and had a thoroughly enjoyable meal.

I ordered a taco stuffed with chicken hearts, pickled onions, arbol chile and golden oregano for a starter. Next time, I’ll get three or four as my main course. The chicken hearts are deep-fried after a bath in buttermilk.

I’ve written before about my love of these and how excited I was when I found that Lance Gummere is serving them at the Shed at Glenwood, a mile or so down the road from Holy Taco. I assume their sudden appearance is part of the “whole-animal” movement pioneered here by Holeman & Finch.

I ordered the restaurant’s paella for my entrée. It is, like La Fonda’s, a quick take on a dish that takes a long time to authentically make. Holy Taco’s includes shrimp, mussels, chicken, chorizo, corn and saffron rice. Yes, I know an authentic paella doesn’t mix the meats this way, but I enjoyed it, anyway.

Wayne ordered another surprise – grilled whole sardines with lemon confit nestled under arugula salad. Sardines, like whole anchovies, rarely make an appearance on Atlanta menus – not because they aren’t available, but usually because they don’t typically sell well. Props to Holy Taco for its tasty salad using them. Now, fry me some anchovies.

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