The corner of Edgewood Avenue and Boulevard has been severely bitten by the commercial gentrification bug. A vegetarian restaurant, a coffee house, a pizzeria and an ice-cream shop have all opened there.
The vegetarian spot, Power Plant (476 Edgewood Ave., 404-474-1735) is the most interesting of the group. Obviously, the owner has a wry sense of humor. The restaurant's logo is a nuclear reactor -- not exactly the usual image you associate with the meat-is-murder crowd.
The interior is minimalist but colorful. Bright yellow walls and tables in equally loud colors give it a bit of a kindergarten feel. There's also an unwieldy metal counter that looks like something hauled off the set of Fritz Lang's Metropolis.
The menu is extensive and heavy on soy protein masquerading as meat. ("Leaders of the new foods," is how the menu describes the restaurant.) Generally, as I've written often, I don't much like fake meat and prefer vegetarian cuisine that features real-life vegetables. But many converted vegetarians have told me that they miss the texture of meat if not the actual flavor. So I understand.
In fact, Power Plant does a better job than most restaurants specializing in mock meat. The test for me is usually faux shrimp and I was pleasantly surprised by a couple on the big sampler platter we ordered as an appetizer. Fried with a light Cajun-spiked batter, the shrimp featured the shape and texture of the real thing.
Ditto for little globes made with veggie crab. Fish sticks were real enough to recall my childhood Friday lunches in the elementary school cafeteria. Actually, I'd say these soy versions were better than the "real" fish sticks, about which nothing ever seemed very real.
Also on the plate were some tempura-fried sweet potatoes and spring rolls, unfortunately featuring vegetables that were chilly despite deep frying. And that's something worth noting: Every thing on the appetizer plate was fried (and several of the usual dishes were not available). Further, each of the apps ordered separately comes with a unique sauce. On the assortment platter, only two sauces were offered.
For an entree, I chose "spicy jerk chicken." The menu described it this way: "dry-rubbed with a fiery spice mix of Jamaican pimiento and Scotch Bonnet peppers, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, thyme and garlic." Again, I was surprised by the convincing texture and the jerk seasonings were as complex as described. However, the "chicken" needed more sauce.
Wayne selected seared swordfish served with a light sauce featuring lemon, dill, garlic and capers. It was also convincing, if a bit dry and, like my chicken, needed more sauce.
Both of us were served rice that was badly cooked. At first, I thought it was fried rice with a few crunchy grains here and there. Wayne finally asked the server: "Is this rice supposed to be crunchy?" He said "no" and offered him some fried plantains to substitute. The plantains were also on my dish and were among the best tastes we sampled, along with accompanying grilled asparagus.
Generally, service at the young restaurant is loopy but friendly.
Next door is CharLee's Pizzaria (478 Edgewood Ave., 404-522-5512). Despite the idiosyncratic spelling of "pizzeria," the pizza is real enough. We shared the restaurant with six Atlanta policemen and a handful of people awaiting take-out orders.
I ordered some decent hot chicken wings as a starter and Wayne picked a small salad grimly heaped with cheddar cheese over which he squeezed blue cheese dressing from foil envelopes.
The pizza itself was interesting. I ordered a small one featuring chicken with barbecue sauce and thinly sliced purple onions -- not that novel and a bit sweet, but the crust was distinctively chewy and crispy. Be sure, in fact, to order the hand-thrown pies. The thin-crust ones feature frozen dough bought from a supplier.
Wayne, ever vigilant of bargains, ordered a 16-inch thin crust pizza, just a $1 more than the small pizza because he had a $3 coupon for a purchase more than $20. His was a classic mix of pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, black olives and more. I didn't think it came close to mine in taste or texture.
The restaurant needs to work on making the dining room more comfortable. Tables are tiny, only flimsy plastic forks and knives are available and food arrives in no particular order. My appetizer of chicken wings came out after my pizza. But, hey, they are open to midnight Sunday-Thursday and until 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. And they deliver.
Still another few doors down is Bliss (482 Edgewood Ave., 404-221-2547), which advertises "extreme sweet happiness." I'll have some of that. And I'd like it in the form of its ice cream flavor called "exhilaration," vanilla swirled with toffee and caramel. Or, I'll take "ecstasy," featuring seven varieties of crushed candy bars.
Altogether, the café features 15 ice creams, along with cakes, pies, candy, smoothies and sundaes. There's a cozy "just chill lounge" in the rear of the shop, in a separate room. And Bliss offers free WiFi. Take your laptop and spend the day eating ice cream.
The original gentrifier of the area is Javaology (466 Edgewood Ave., 404-223-3202). I confess I had my doubts about the staying power of this coffee shop when it hung its iridescently yellow signs more than a year ago. But the shop, with a loft for hosting private events (as well as regular tango classes), seems to be prospering.
As it should. The coffee drinks have improved significantly since my first visit there. I ordered a doppio macchiato last week and received two shots of perfect espresso -- bittersweet and oily with a dollop of thick foam. The café also serves breakfast sandwiches and panini, along with some more complicated dishes lately.
Oh, and I doubt another coffee shop in town features such good music and art. My only complaint is that you have to pay to use the WiFi unless you buy coffee and a sandwich. I guess that's to discourage freeloaders like me.
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