Veg­gie heaven at Bella’s on Cheshire Bridge

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The dirt­i­est street in At­lanta, Cheshire Bridge, is suf­fer­ing an apoc­a­lyp­tic case of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion. Po­lice are ha­rass­ing sex­ual play­grounds like Tokyo Valentino and land­lords are ter­mi­nat­ing leases faster than you can say “Jun­gle.” Mean­while, more hideously de­signed con­dos and apart­ments are un­der con­struc­tion, even as home­less gay kids fill up the shrink­ing ar­chi­pel­ago of un­seen, un­de­vel­oped spa­ces.

What­ever your feel­ings about this, you know that some good restau­rants have longth­rived on Cheshire Bridge de­spite the hor­ror — the hor­ror! — of their sexy neigh­bors. The most re­cent to open is

Bella’s Best Or­ganic Gourmet (1839 Cheshire Bridge Rd., 404-872-6081, bel­las­best­cook­ies.com).

It is barely no­tice­able, lo­cated in a yel­low cot­tage next to Las Mar­gar­i­tas.

The new café takes its name from chef/ co-owner Kim Pur­nell’s Aunt Bella, her fam­ily’s good-cook­ing ma­tri­arch. Pur­nell orig­i­nally opened Bella’s with her hus­band Ray Grady on Ben­nett Street in 2006, fol­low­ing 20 years as a pro­fes­sor of rhetoric in the com­mu­ni­ca­tions depart­ment of the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia. They moved op­er­a­tions to Cheshire Bridge late last year.

I ab­so­lutely love the place. The in­te­rior fea­tures a main bak­ery area and three din­ing rooms. My fa­vorite space is a sunny al­cove full of house­plants and flow­ers with a ta­ble for two. Dur­ing my two vis­its so far, the restau­rant has been pretty de­serted — cater­ing is a sig­nif­i­cant part of the busi­ness — but I ex­pect word to catch on. It’s open for break­fast (all day) and lunch only.

The deal here is or­ganic, mainly veg­e­tar­ian cui­sine, plus some ex­quis­ite pas­tries. Dishes made with eggs, whether quiche or scram­bled and lay­ered with one of Pur­nell’s gi­gan­tic bis­cuits, are su­perb. If you’re ac­cus­tomed to buy­ing cheap eggs at Kroger, you’ll be shocked by the fla­vor. You can also sup­ple­ment your pro­tein with choices like tem­peh and ve­gan ba­con. I in­cluded the lat­ter on my bis­cuit and was sur­prised by its fla­vor, although I hon­estly thought it was su­per­flu­ous.

My big sur­prise, speak­ing of pro­tein, was the veg­gie burger. Pur­nell makes hers with or­ganic black-eyed peas, car­rots, bar­ley, brown rice, kale, onions and (very lit­tle) gar­lic. Served on flat bread, it is the best faux burger I’ve ever had — not be­cause it im­per­son­ates beef, but be­cause its fla­vors are so clear and its tex­ture is al dente. There’s also a com­pelling porta­bella sand­wich and a grilled-cheese. The menu fea­tures com­plex soups and sal­ads, and ev­ery­thing from pan­cakes and French toast to lasagna and hum­mus.

But what re­ally sold me on Bella’s is the gin­ger cookie. I grew up eat­ing gin­ger snaps and have spent my life hunt­ing good ones. Bella’s is the best I’ve had in me­mory — even bet­ter than the ad­dic­tive lit­tle ones at Trader Joe’s. What makes it so good? It ac­tu­ally has enough gin­ger in it to sting the back of the throat a bit. It’s also crisp on the first bite and then turns chewy. I swear I could eat them all day long. Among many other sweets, Pur­nell also bakes a Pol­ish pas­try her Aunt Bella loved — the stru­cia. I’ve yet to try one — that would mean skip­ping a gin­ger cookie — but the ver­sion stud­ded with figs will even­tu­ally get in my mouth.

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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