The morning after I moved to Castleberry Hill, I was jonesing for coffee. Unfortunately, my coffee maker was buried somewhere in a mass of boxes and I was too cranky to hunt for it. I set out on foot to find a coffee spot and came up empty. As the years went by, a few coffee places came (and a few went). But the 'hood didn’t have a proper place to get a hot breakfast until Johnny Cakes (323 Walker St., 678-705-9759) opened in March.
The owners have made good use of a tri-level space that sits next to a tattoo parlor. The kitchen is located on the lowest floor, the dining room at street level, and the upper mezzanine is converted into a lounge where telecommuting customers can take advantage of the free Wi-Fi. One of the restaurant’s best features is a wall papered in a delightfully trippy assortment of posters, ranging from old-fashioned French bistro to SpongeBob to Reefer Madness.
An equally odd menu of Caribbean-inspired breakfast and lunch items might leave you a little bewildered if vegan soy patties and seafood quesadillas aren’t your thing. But the bacon is crisp — in that turkey bacon kind of way — and enjoyably crunchy alongside the hearty whole-wheat pancakes topped with strawberry compote. At my last visit, the namesake “Johnny Cakes” (a cornmeal-based bread) weren't being served anymore; the server offered no explanation. But who cares with fresh juice on the menu? The juice choices change daily. The lip-stinging tang of the pineapple or the frothy, fresh-pressed apple are almost as effective as coffee in the perking-up department. Fluffy omelets — no gray eggs here — get stuffed with onions, peppers, mushrooms, spinach and cheddar cheese. The hash browns aren’t your average greasy spoon goods. The cubed mix of creamy Yukon Golds and the sweet stickiness of sweet potatoes with onions and peppers offers more than enough heft to make any egg dish a substantial start to your day.
Lunch options are the kind you’d find at many pseudo-healthy/vegetarian spots — turkey burgers, soy burgers, salads, etc. The soy burger isn’t half bad — they throw on some spinach and blue cheese to spruce it up. But breakfast is the better choice between the two meals.
Johnny Cakes’ most enjoyable quality is the service. It’s sunny without the toothache-inducing sweetness. And each server seems to have a mastered the art of of making you feel completely taken care of without interrupting your morning solitude or intimate conversation with a friend. They do coffee with pancakes and a smile on the side proud.
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