Jimmy on the spot 

Rhea's in Roswell rakes 'em in

At the intersection of Canton Street and Woodstock Road, Rhea's Take Out Foods has the sort of down-at-the-heels cinder block functionality that makes prospecting foodies perk up suddenly and swerve dangerously. Late model Volvo wagons and muddy contractor pickups alike line the small parking lot.

THE JIMMY SHOW: Inside, busy at a small flat grill, is Jimmy the owner (like fellow celebrities Sting and Madonna, he has graduated to single-name status). He's been cooking up quick breakfasts, sandwiches and the renowned Rhea's special hamburger for 19 years, and possesses in spades the kind of formidable memory and gift-of-gab that make this offbeat restaurant seem like a stepping stone to Roswell's City Hall.

ATMOSPHERE: Much sought-after counter seats and three unadorned six-tops are all there is to this tiny, oddly shaped restaurant. Cinder block walls are painted a color that -- in the retina-sizzling light cast by a long row of fluorescent bulbs --could be anything from taupe to salmon. Posted behind the counter is the warning: "This isn't Burger King, so you can't have it your way."

BURGER BOUND: The main attraction here is the Rhea's Special ($2.49, $2.59 for a large). Cooked fresh to order and served with shredded lettuce, tomato, diced onion and American cheese on griddled white bread (wheat bread and hamburger buns are also available), it's a messy, all-American burger joint classic. It's well worth the 30-minute drive from intown (hmmm, time to schedule another "doctor's appointment" around lunch). And it's good enough that when Jimmy deadpans, "You want another?" only a severe pang (of conscience) prevents you from taking him up on it.

OTHER THAN BURGERS: A likeably gooey grilled cheese sandwich ($1.69) is good for childhood nostalgia points, and it's comparable to something you'd get at a bowling alley or a state fair. A BLT ($2.59), promisingly served on the same tasty griddled white bread, nonetheless lacks the simple panache of the burger. A chicken sandwich ($2.39) and an all-beef hot dog ($1.69) are also featured. Disappointingly generic french fries (regular 99 cents, large $1.39), like the coleslaw (99 cents for a side), are ordered a la carte.

IN THE MORNING: Breakfasts here are a humane alternative to the drive-thru, and consist of simple combo plates (one egg, sausage or bacon, plus a biscuit or toast and a choice of gravy, hash browns or grits, goes for $3.29), griddled sandwiches ($1.69-$2.69), and biscuit sandwiches ($.60-$1.00). By no means as memorable as the burger, but one could find far worse ways to face down the Ga. 400 commute than armed with a sandwich of salty-sweet country ham with American cheese and a large cup of hot black coffee.


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