Eat­ing through the grief at Grant Cen­tral

GA Voice - - Front Page -

My last three weeks have to­tally sucked. First, a 120-year-old oak tree fell on the wrap­around porch of the house where I’ve lived for over 20 years. The next day, my clos­est friend of 35 years, Bette Har­ri­son, died.

Grief, like stom­ach flu, be­comes very slim­ming. Most peo­ple lose their ap­petite. That’s why friends and neigh­bors used to bring by pots of food to the fam­ily of the de­ceased. I re­mem­ber as a very young kid go­ing into the house of a friend and see­ing his dead grand­mother laid out on a ping pong ta­ble with a red vel­vet cake by her head, along with other dishes from head to toe.

I couldn’t see do­ing that with Bette, who was a re­tired fea­ture writer at the AJC, but I knew I had to eat. When I need din­ner and com­fort, I go to

(451 Chero­kee Ave., 404-523-8900, gc­pat­lanta.com). I’ve writ­ten about it be­fore, but I’m not sure I’ve ever ex­pressed my grat­i­tude for its pres­ence a few blocks from my home.

What most peo­ple come to crave in dark times is sim­ple nur­tu­rance – cook­ing that may be im­per­fect, but is soul­ful, that doesn’t cost a for­tune, that isn’t aes­thet­i­cally con­trived, that grounds you and re­minds you that you don’t have to do any­thing at the present mo­ment ex­cept eat and breathe.

Grant Cen­tral is a typ­i­cal New York-style pizze­ria. That means usu­ally su­per-thick pies – not my fa­vorite. But I do like their cal­zones. I never get any­thing but the plain cheese one with some mari­nara on the side. Who­ever’s in the kitchen will pre­pare it dif­fer­ently. I like the bot­tom nearly charred with a top that’s glis­ten­ing with swipes of olive oil. Bread, cheese and toma­toes are sacra­ments.

My fa­vorite dish by far here is still Wed­nes­day’s spe­cial, chicken pic­cata. That’s two breast cut­lets slightly caramelized and topped with a sauce of ca­pers, le­mon and but­ter. The chicken is flopped over a moun­tain of creamy mashed red pota­toes next to a pile of broc­coli, an om­nipresent veg­etable at the restau­rant. Other daily spe­cials in­clude a 10,000-calo­rie chicken parmi­giana, lin­guine with shrimp

ta Grant Cen­tral Pizza and Pas-

and chicken man­i­cotti. A re­cur­ring sum­mer side spe­cial is a wa­ter­melon salad, sweet with some pun­gent feta and tingly mint.

You can, of course, build your own pizza or pasta dishes. My fave re­mains Ms. Jean’s Spe­cial – penne with creamy mari­nara, basil, Kala­mata olives and Ital­ian sausage. I also dig the lin­guine with meat­balls. Desserts, from South­ern Sweets, just don’t cut it.

But the point I re­ally wanted to cite here is the com­fort pro­vided by the front staff. Most nights, the per­son in charge be­hind the bar is the volup­tuous Jessy, whose hair changes color as of­ten as her neu­rotic pre­oc­cu­pa­tions. She is hi­lar­i­ous and amaz­ingly ef­fi­cient. She can take a phone or­der, pour some­one a beer and show you a cat video all at once. These days the only male server is Hierony­mus. He’s lots of fun, be­cause he’s easy to ma­nip­u­late, de­spite the odd name. Ev­ery­one who works here is a good-hearted char­ac­ter.

It is se­ri­ously a great com­fort to me to have this refuge avail­able. The day Bette died, this is the place I headed. I didn’t want to talk about it, but I knew I could give my­self an hour’s relief from the sear­ing grief with food that I en­joy and a staff whose heart is a great mag­net in the neigh­bor­hood. If I had to put Bette on a ping pong ta­ble, it would be here.

Cliff Bostock is a for­mer psy­chother­a­pist now spe­cial­iz­ing in life coach­ing. Con­tact him at 404-518-4415 or cliff­bo­stock@gmail.com.

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