Majestic makeover mistake 

Recovery spot slips even further into Atlanta folklore

It has not been a good week for dining -- unless you happen to value sipping clear broths within sprinting distance of a toilet. Yes, I've had some dreadful stomach virus that has come, gone and returned for two weeks like a monster in a horror flick -- or like an ex-lover.

Thus I am devoting most of this week's column to your feedback, which I always appreciate receiving. Well, most of the time.

Take for example, this e-mail I received from CL staff writer Scott Henry:

"Cliff, perhaps intowners would like to know that the city's best-loved greasy spoon has been ruined by its new owners. At the Majestic, they've installed new booths, raised prices and now, the unthinkable -- have trashed the old back-lit signs above the grill, replacing them with new ones that appear to be intended to look retro. This is totally fucked-up, of course; who needs faux-retro when you've got the genuine article?"

First of all, I should correct Scott's impression that the Majestic (1031 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-875-0276) has been sold. It's actually just been taken over by one of the two partners, so there's no big change in ownership. But what cracked me up about Scott's mail is that the Majestic he remembers with nostalgia is actually an even more radical redo of the original 15 years or more ago. That redo had the same effect on me as he's suffering now.

I never acclimated to the "improved" Majestic. I lived a block from it, right behind the former Plaza Drugs, in the late '70s. I ended many nights of debauchery there and, unbelievably, the Majestic was one of the very few places in Atlanta where you could order a decent plate of lamb back then. Its medieval bathroom (a kind of weeping concrete dungeon where I smoked quite a few joints), its narrow rear seating, its tabletop jukeboxes, its staff of Clermont retirees and its frequent menu of decent Greek entrees were never quite the same after the modernizing installation of the hideous green tile walls and the elimination of the weird little back room.

So, it has been a good 10 years since I set foot in the place but, inspired by Scott's plaintive cry, I decided to visit again. Next time I get such an idea, someone please shoot me.

Where to begin? If the prices have been raised, they still seem dirt-cheap to me -- though, of course, they are three times what the experience is worth. On the evening of my visit, only one server worked the dining room, while an officious man in an apron meandered around smoking. So young I wondered if he needed a permit to work, the server spent much of his time smoking at a table shared by two boys with skateboards and a young woman whose clattering nose rings suggested a promising career as a piercing studio model. Whenever anyone caught his attention to ask for something, the server jumped to his feet in a show of great enthusiasm, but he never anticipated anyone's needs.

Behind me, a young man, not over 21, raged at his girlfriend about contemporary parenting: "Kids should be allowed to hurt themselves now and then, not fatally, but enough to learn life's hard lessons." I think this must be the explanation for the Majestic's food. Not in years, have I had a meal so irredeemably bad. When I ordered the half a fried chicken ($7.75), the waiter warned me that unless some had already been made, I'd have a 15-minute wait. I said that I'd rather not wait and I'd change the order to something else if the chicken wasn't already cooked.

After a salad with enough tasteless blue cheese dressing to fill several dozen Elmer's Glue bottles, my server announced that in fact, I would be having the fried chicken. Voila! He presented me the chicken on a plate too small to actually eat it, but that was OK, because a few carefully cut bites made me wish for the clear broth I've been eating all week. Obviously made hours ahead and probably microwaved, the chicken's floured skin had turned into something like chicken-seasoned crepe paper. On the side was a huge portion of crinkle-cut fries. Thank God for ketchup! It was the best part of the meal.

Nostalgia made me order the formerly "world-famous" apple pie with ice cream ($2.75). Subjected to microwaving, the dessert reminded me a bit of the chicken skin I had just refused to eat. Chicken skin that crumbled.

Next time, me and my skateboard are going to a convenience market to microwave hot dogs!

Here and there
The Roman Lily Cafe on North Highland will be debuting a new menu soon. In the meantime, try the excellent wintertime dish of lamb stew over garlic mashed potatoes, which I sampled last week.

I was back at Watershed in Decatur for lunch last week and learned that the restaurant will begin serving Sunday brunch March 10, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Brunch is my least favorite meal -- especially since the closing years ago of Chef's Cafe -- but I may have to break tradition in order to sample Scott Peacock's dishes, though the restaurant would not disclose the menu to me.

Sundown Cafe is also planning a new menu following the departure of Rhoads Fern as chef there, according to Executive Chef Eddie Hernandez. I hope that Hernandez will add some of the spicier dishes he sometimes makes for himself and lets me sample at lunchtime. The regular menu, though enlivened by specials, needs some novelty brought to it.

My recent update on Cherry prompted the following from Monica Lewis of Cabbagetown:

"I had such a rotten experience at Cherry, I thought I'd share: My friend Lee and I wanted to try something new and we felt like being out on the town. We'd just been 'queen for a day' at her super fancy gym. So we got dolled-up and went to Cherry and there I had the worst sushi ever. Poorly rolled, bad taste, it all tasted old and was way overpriced. ... I should have sent it back but wasn't thinking right. And our waitress was a total bitch from the moment we sat down. So I was a total bitch back, which made me feel a little better. I don't know why anyone would ever go back twice."

A man called to notice that in my recent mention of good French restaurants in town, I did not mention two of the oldest: La Petite Auberge and South of France. A man called to congratulate me for my advice in a follow-up to my column on waiters that an outre perspective takes one further in life than a Disney smile but a woman called to tell me the context of the remark -- my association with a Clermont barmaid -- was sexist.

I hear gossip that Raymond Hook, who used to run the cheese shop for Bacchanalia, may open his own import business. Meanwhile, he continues to consult with restaurateurs and individuals and dine at his favorite Indian restaurant, Madras Saravana Bhavan in Decatur. This from Mike Donovan: "Thanks for the Thai report last week. ... Just got back from a visit to the new Thai Chili in Colony Square. ... Wow! Outstanding experience. ... I ordered the spicy squid and it was prepared beautifully."

Leave Cliff Bostock a voice mail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1504.

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