First look: Diesel Filling Station

Gastropub overload sinks in

We're all worn out with tapas, aren't we? A trend that turned into a cliché overnight, tapas restaurants are now in danger of being overtaken by a new fad: the gastropub.

In at least one way, Atlanta is the perfect place for these British-inspired watering holes that (ideally) serve first-rate cooking, instead of the usual heat-and-serve bar food. Since they are the kind of place you can hang out at the bar and watch a game as well as eat a decent meal, they aren't subject to the blue laws that require most bars in town to close on Sundays.

We've got some good ones in town – the Glenwood and Holeman and Finch, for example – and now, just as we've got some really mediocre tapas venues, we're going to get some not-so-hot gastropubs.

The case in point is Diesel Filling Station (870 N. Highland Ave., 404-815-1820). This is the gastropub that replaces the regrettably defunct Dish in Virginia-Highland. A former gas station given an unusually cool rehab by the former owners, the place was looking a bit worn when we visited last Sunday.

Diesel does have a friendly staff, although our server seemed to truly inhabit the ozone. For example, he brought our ice-cream dessert to the table and said, "Oh, you need spoons to eat this. I'll be right back." He came back a bit later and jet-propelled forks onto the table and sprinted away, disappearing from sight. "Shall we watch the ice cream melt or shall we try to eat it with a fork?" We chose the latter.

The menu here is nothing fancy. There are starters such as fried green tomatoes, black-eyed-pea hummus (with okra and roasted tomatoes) and something called "tuna salsa," a dip made with tuna, avocados, tomatoes and onions.

We weren't very hungry so I ordered a cup of the beer-cheese soup. The stuff – made with a dark ale and three unidentified cheeses – tasted like the 1970s. It was good enough, but – holy crap! – it was served in a Coca-Cola mug surrounded by what literally looked like left-over, gnawed pieces of bread plucked from someone's plate. I'm sure they weren't, but I wasn't sure enough to eat them.

Half the menu is burgers and sandwiches. Wayne chose the "BBQ burger" with barbecue sauce, cheddar cheese, bacon and slaw. It was a bit overcooked and served on what looked like a Kaiser roll that was too spongy for its heavy contents. Flavor was fine, even if the insubstantial bread made eating it messy.

Entrees are the usual – a few steaks, the inevitable short rib, pecan-crusted trout, seafood cakes. After eating a fried short rib at the Feed Store a few weeks back, I was intrigued by the country-fried rib-eye steak here. As it happened, the restaurant was out of rib-eyes but substituted a strip steak.

Maybe the rib-eye works better, but the strip steak seemed too thick for its battered crust, which was anointed with unpleasant brown gravy. Really dry mashed potatoes and decent sautéed squash were also on the plate.

For dessert – the one we ate with forks – we ordered deep-fried chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate and caramel sauces. The menu said something about mint and a chocolate cigar too, but we didn't encounter either. This reminded me of the zillion-calorie dessert at Chili's that Men's Health declared the nation's unhealthiest. There was nothing to dislike about Diesel's version and we did a pretty good job cleaning up the plate with our forks.

I really wanted to like this place, but mainly it just made me wish Dish was still around.

Here and there

We were wandering around Virginia-Highland a few days after our meal at Diesel and decided to visit Everybody's Pizza for the first time in several years. I was partly motivated by eating an unpleasant thin-crust pizza at Little Azio the week before. It had made me nostalgic for Everybody's "pizza crisps," which I've always loved.

Usually, I've ordered the undecorated cheese crisp but decided to try the Thai one containing, sprouts, peanuts, chicken, onions, roasted red peppers, peanut sauce and honey-roasted garlic. This seemed like a lot to ask a thin crust to support, but the pizza was delicious. Dare I say it was better than Savage Pizza's Thai version.

Wayne also ordered a pizza crisp – one featuring Buffalo-spiced chicken, onions, cheddar, chopped lettuce and blue cheese dressing. Honestly, I could not bring myself to taste it, although it pleased him. Actually, if you threw the basic ingredients of Buffalo chicken wings into a blender and served it as a milk shake, he'd happily eat it.

I confess, we were a bit shocked by the prices – about $15 for each of our pizzas. But that's life in the yuppie ghetto ...

I'm sorry to report that Zocalo has closed its taqueria in Grant Park. I haven't gotten details yet, but found the door locked when I visited last Tuesday night. The restaurant's windows provided a view of the restaurant in obvious disassembly.

This is a major bummer for me, since I frequently picked up dinner there Tuesday nights after conducting group therapy. OK, the truth is that I weaned myself off Popeyes by eating at Zocalo. Now what? ...

Fourth and Swift has opened and early reports are mainly positive ...

I'm joining others who have been raving about Morelli's Gourmet Ice Cream (749 Moreland Ave., 404-622-0210) in Ormewood Park. I'm so glad it's not in waddling distance, because I would be there daily for the dulce de leche. A sweet corn ice cream is an exotic departure, as is another flavor that blends coconut with jalapeño.

The new shop, which replaces a Bruster's, has no indoor seating, just a few tables outside. This deters nobody. There's a constant stream of customers, one of whom told me she'd been there three times that week already. "I don't want to see the before and after pictures," she said.

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