We were worried sick. It was Friday and six of us were dining at Red Snapper (2100 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-634-8947, www.redsnapperatlanta.com) on Atlanta's scariest street, Cheshire Bridge Road. Some area residents have been clamoring for months that the road is basically a red-light district spotted with sex shops and clubs. On their behalf, City Councilman Alex Wan introduced two city ordinances earlier this year that would have forced adult businesses on Cheshire Bridge to clean up their acts or relocate by 2018. They claim it is a high-crime area and a pornographic eyesore — one whose very glimpsing from a stroller could cause a kid to grow up and become a child molester or cannibalistic porn star.
So no wonder we were worried. We looked around. The retro room with a dropped ceiling and a Versailles-size chandelier directly above us seemed calm. Most of the diners were older regulars. We could hear one another.
"If Cheshire Bridge is so dangerous, why do so many restaurants continue to thrive here?" How, indeed, could the Red Snapper last 27 years when dancing terrorists from nearby BJ Roosters (gay) and Club Onyx (straight) surely burst through its doors regularly to terrify diners with the sight of tits and ass, demanding a dollar bill? Right?
"Uh, no," our server told me.
Oh well. It's a moot issue now. A few days after our meal at the Snapper, the Atlanta City Council voted to reject rezoning. The neighborhood peeps are stuck with the peep shows. Mediocre sex and pretty good eating prevail.
Visiting the Red Snapper was part of a tour of the street's eateries I've taken in recent months to sort of feel it up during the controversy.
The Snapper is almost hidden from view, kind of like the two nearby gay sex clubs — Manifest and Eros — that were never discussed during the zoning panic. I probably don't eat at the Snapper more than once every five years, but the food always surprises me. The restaurant is owned by a Thai couple, Jimmy and Somporn Veeranarong.
Atlanta old-timers know that for many years the best seafood in town could be found at Asian restaurants. The menu at the Snapper isn't remotely Asian. Mainly, it's rather dated American dishes like blackened fish and shrimp Creole. But it is certainly prepared with an Asian respect for the seafood. An example is my fried seafood plate with oysters, shrimp, and scallops. On the surface, it could be, minus the hushpuppies, straight from the kitchen of a fish camp. But the batter is a comparatively light tempura, not a heavy breading, so you can actually taste the seafood and appreciate its freshness — a complete novelty 25 years ago.
Now, if you want really good, homey Thai food, go to Little Bangkok (2225 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-315-1530, www.littlebangkokatlanta.com). It's a hole-in-the-wall, but many regard it as the best Thai spot in Atlanta. Do not fail to check out the specials board in the phone booth–size lobby. That's where you'll find unique dishes in the city. Otherwise get the green curry with chicken. It's spicy — not as fiery as I'd like it, but close. The staff is terrific, the crowd is always full of regulars, and you'll be close enough to Lavista Road to avoid the crack- and cock-selling dealers that flood the rest of the street day and night.
Friends and I also recently visited the Colonnade (1879 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-874-5642, www.colonnadeatl.com), another old-timer. I used to dine there regularly on Friday nights with the rest of the "gays and grays." Like the Snapper, and most restaurants on the road, the restaurant serves old-timey food, but it's mainly good and the scene is always fun.
There's one must-order at the Colonnade — the fried chicken, which has been long regarded as among the city's best. Ditto for the yeast rolls piled in a basket with little corn muffins. The wedge of lettuce with blue cheese dressing is served as a free side. The retro salad has been adopted around town in recent years and can cost as much as $7 because of the common addition of bacon crumbles, I guess.
If it's available on the specials menu, consider the lamb shank, which I used to order nearly every visit. However, I resent paying the $20-plus cost for something that used to cost well under $10.
Now, here's a secret. The Colonnade itself has never been part of Cheshire Bridge's sleaze. I'm chagrined — truly embarrassed — to disclose this, but I want to save your babies from trauma. The rearmost building of the inexpensive hotel behind the restaurant has been a longtime gay cruising area, often with picture-window views of the profane at play. There's just one problem: You'll likely get arrested, as several friends have over the years.
My favorite lunch spot on Cheshire Bridge is Taqueria del Sol (2165 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-321-1118, www.taqueriadelsol.com). Going on 15 years old, the restaurant has gained national attention and has been turned into a franchise chain in recent years. The food is a sometimes-comical fusion of Southwestern, Mexican, and Southern, like chef Eddie Hernandez's famous turnip greens.
My favorites are the carnitas and brisket tacos. I also like the enchiladas topped with the restaurant's cold green sauce — not the cooked green stuff. There are a couple of specials every day, like shrimp and grits or grilled tilapia with roasted pecan pesto. Get on the mailing list.
Two secrets: Eat at the bar to avoid the line. Don't go topless, displaying nipple rings or obscene tattoos. Taco Nazi George Trusler will kick your ass out.
To newcomers on the road, Roxx Tavern (1824 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-892-4541) has become a big favorite, especially with the city's gay community. The salads, Black Angus burgers, pulled pork, and chopped steak with gravy are always reliable. But keep your eye out for specials like a gigantic pork shank and a shockingly good coq au vin. Sunday brunch is fun. The guys go wild. I wish. Mamas, your children are safe!
The star of the road is, of course, 12-year-old Woodfire Grill (1782 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-347-9055, www.woodfiregrill.com). It gained fame with its former chef, Kevin Gillespie. Now, Tyler Williams, formerly at Abattoir, is executive chef. Shamefully, I haven't visited since the change. I made a reservation for six and when I told my friends to expect to spend at least $70 without alcohol, they vetoed the idea, got in their Mercedes, and drove to the Colonnade.
The list of old-timers goes on: Las Margaritas for Mexican; Alfredo's and Nino's for New York-style Italian classics; Hong Kong Harbour for authentic Chinese, open daily until 1 a.m.; Waffle House; and touristy Nakato for Japanese, including a dramatic hibachi grill. Ghion Cultural Hall and Enat, both Ethiopian, are newer restaurants. I'm sure I've missed some.
These countless restaurants are mixed with — what? — about seven sex joints that are of concern to Alex Wan and his constituents. On my way to the restroom at the Colonnade, I spotted a longtime acquaintance at the bar. She's about 70 and lives a couple miles away.
"Are you concerned about all the sex businesses around here?" I asked.
"What?" she said.
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