It's been several years since I visited West Egg Café (1100 Howell Mill Road, 404-872-3973). The restaurant and coffeehouse opened by Jennifer and Ben Johnson in 2004 is one of the pioneers of Atlanta's Westside, and longtime chef Patric Bell has made it one of the city's most popular breakfast and brunch venues.
In January, the café moved a few doors from its original location to a front corner of the White Provision Residences building. Lots of free parking is available behind the restaurant and the new space is quite comfy. The large, hugely windowed dining room is as spare as the earlier one, but it's considerably warmed by barn-wood tables and a staff of cheerful servers.
Liquor or biscuit? Beer or cupcake? There's also a full-service bar that adjoins a bakery case full of Bell's goodies. The case is almost hidden on the way to the restrooms, so make a special effort to view it, especially if you're planning a cupcake dessert.
The good news is that the restaurant is now open for dinner. I've been twice – once alone and once with Wayne – and found the food delicious, inexpensive and served in gigantic portions. I'm talking portions so huge that half of every entrée came home with us.
The dinner menu includes only five entrées, along with six small plates that can be split as starters. Try to eat a small plate and an entrée by your lonesome, as I did, and you're going to blow up real good. There are also three salads and four sandwiches, including a double-burger frighteningly named the "PB&J" burger. It turns out not to be two patties lathered with peanut butter and jelly. It features instead pimento cheese, bacon and tomato jam.
I've tried two small plates. First was fried green tomatoes drizzled with horseradish-dill sauce, then topped with a dollop of pimento cheese scattered with crumbled bacon. There were no surprising flavors, obviously, but they all work well together. Wayne and I split the "picnic plate," which included flat bread, pimento cheese, Coca-Cola-glazed ham, two deviled-egg halves with bacon jam and some pickled okra. This could indeed be served at a picnic at your church's homecoming. My only complaint: The pimento cheese was too cold. Let it sit five or 10 minutes before digging in.
My favorite entrée has been the fluffy, creamy grits topped with chunky shreds of cider-braised pork shoulder. The sweet, slightly acidic cider seems a natural for the juicy pork. The menu says the grits are flavored with roasted garlic. I couldn't detect any garlic in my portion. It was either completely left out or was so subtle it eluded my usually hypersensitive tongue.
My next favorite entrée was the chicken and dumpling pot pie. Dumplings combined with pie crust sounded daunting to me – and then I tasted Bell's melt-in-your-mouth crust. It tastes like biscuits and contrasts rather than competes with the small, al dente dumplings nestled in sage-tinged gravy amid the chicken, carrots and peas. (It reheats well.)
Wayne's entrée made me laugh, just because I remember it so far back. Country Captain Chicken is a longtime Southern version of East Indian curries. Said to have originated in Charleston or Savannah, the chicken is stewed with tomatoes and onions and garnished with raisins and almond slices. Bell has a light touch with the usually strong, aromatic curry powder used to season the dish. His version is a nostalgic reverie for anyone who grew up with a mother who cooked with the Joy of Cooking cookbook.
Bell is well known for his Southern-style cupcakes, getting lots of props for them before the cupcake became a trendy food obsession. I tried both the chocolate butter cream and the black bottom cupcake. The latter is named after a dark chocolate and meringue pie I used to eat obsessively at the Pirates' House restaurant in Savannah back in the late '70s. That's all I ever ate there. Bell's cupcake was a free-associative reminder of that forgotten pleasure.
What else? The restaurant continues to serve a lunch menu of sandwiches and salads. Breakfast is available throughout the day.
Just in case you haven't noticed, the current foodie rage is street food. John T. Edge has a book coming out on the subject, Truck Food Nation, featuring some wonderful pictures of street vendors by Angie Mosier.
Knife & Fork publisher Christiane Lauterbach is promoting street food vendors at a new website, AtlantaFoodCarts.com.
Meanwhile, restaurants and pubs themselves, like Young Augustine's, are featuring street food on their menu. But the hot dog at Young Augustine's, delicious as it is, pales beside the Thai menu of street favorites at Tuk Tuk, whose name is borrowed from the three-wheeled auto rickshaw popular as a taxi in Thailand and many other countries.
Here are two must-tries at this restaurant:
The hoy tod is a crispy rice-flour-reinforced omelet filled with creamy mussels, served over a bed of bean sprouts flavored with scallions and cilantro. A three-chili sauce tops the omelet.
The Bangkok snow cone is an almost surreal dessert of a huge mountain of shaved ice flavored with condensed milk and rose syrup. It's served over exotic fruits, jellies and red beans.
Many dishes on the menu – such as larb, shrimp toast, chicken-coconut soup – will be familiar. That's because what many of us regard as Thai cuisine is in fact street food. The same is true of much Vietnamese and Mexican food.
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