Neigh­bor­hood restau­rants you may have over­looked, but shouldn’t have

GA Voice - - Outspoken -

This week, we’re go­ing to visit a cou­ple of my long­time fa­vorites.

Grant Cen­tral Pizza & Pasta:

I live about three blocks from this vir­tu­ally his­toric spot in Grant Park and eat there so fre­quently I have dreams of my brain turn­ing into lasagna. The restau­rant is a clas­sic neigh­bor­hood type. The food is al­ways re­li­able and served by lu­natics (in the best way). The menu never changes ex­cept for a daily spe­cial – and even those are the same from week to week.

Hon­estly, I prac­ti­cally never eat pizza here. It’s New York-style with a hefty crust. My per­sonal fa­vorite, when I do or­der it, is the white pizza with a few top­pings. Oc­ca­sion­ally, the kitchen pro­duces a spe­cial Thai pizza and it’s al­ways good – a bit spicy and a bit fruity.

My fa­vorite spe­cial here is chicken pic­cata, served on Mon­days. It’s a clas­sic of two chicken-breast halves sautéed un­til glossy. It’s lemony, scat­tered with ca­pers, and served atop a gen­er­ous mound of mashed pota­toes. Like most spe­cials here there’s a side of broc­coli.

If I miss a spe­cial, I or­der Miss Jean’s Pasta. She’s the bar­tender-man­ager who cre­ated the dish for her­self. I’d never tasted it un­til a bowl was brought to my ta­ble one night by mis­take. The con­tents: penne pasta, creamy mari­nara, Ital­ian sausage, cala­mata olives, and fresh basil. Peo­ple started or­der­ing it reg­u­larly af­ter I wrote about it else­where.

Tues­day night’s chicken parme­san is an­other zil­lion-calo­rie fa­vorite. Some nights, chicken man­i­cotti and shrimp lin­guine are avail­able. Desserts, alas, are pretty medi­ocre.

The restau­rant has a siz­able din­ing room, but I like to eat in the bar area where I can read trash on my Kin­dle and phone while watch­ing the staff. Their leader is Jessy, who has taught me how to watch tele­vi­sion for the first time in my life. Amanda is a preg­nant go-go dancer. Adam is a mu­si­cian who is con­sid­er­ing be­com­ing a mu­sic ther­a­pist. I don’t know any­thing about the new­est server, Josh. Miss Jean, by the way, holds a PhD and com­mis­er­ates with me about the im­prac­ti­cal­ity of such an ex­pen­sive de­gree.

Prices are low. Spe­cials rarely cost more than $12.

(451 Chero­kee Ave., 404-523-8900)

Ha­vana Sand­wich Shop: I was re­cently headed to­ward a fa­vorite taque­ria on Bu­ford High­way when I no­ticed that this sim­ple, iconic lunch spot that opened in 1976 and burned in 2008 has been re­built and re­opened. I can’t be­lieve I hadn’t no­ticed ear­lier. I was a fre­quent cus­tomer for years, in part be­cause I was mar­ried briefly to a Cuban woman. (My love of her coun­try’s food out­lasted our love for one an­other. I’m gay, af­ter all.)

The place looks eerily the same as it did from the be­gin­ning, as does the menu. The sim­ple Cuban sand­wich – pork, pick­les, ham, mus­tard, and cheese be­tween lay­ers of crunchy grilled bread – will prob­a­bly reas­cend to its long­time place as best in the city. The pork is glo­ri­ously fla­vor­ful. You can fur­ther amp up the fla­vor of this and any other dish with a squeeze of gar­licky mojo from a bot­tle on ev­ery ta­ble.

Or­der half a sand­wich with a bowl of black beans like none you’ve tasted and a pile of yel­low rice topped with tomato sauce. Spoon the beans over the rice. Also back are the stews of ropa vieja and pi­cadillo and you can eat them straight up or on sand­wiches too. I could go on, but just go your­self.

(2905 Bu­ford Hwy., 404-636-4094)

Cliff Bo­s­tock is a long­time din­ing critic and psy­chother­a­pist turned life coach. www. cliff­bo­stock.com.

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