Visits to Edgewood Morelli's, Watershed and Noni's

Ice cream, raw pork and dependable Italian

This week, we're taking a speedy update tour of three places. Hold onto your fork, it's a bumpy ride.

I'm an ice cream fanatic. I can eat bottomless tubs of the stuff with no problem. Well the calories are a problem, of course, and it's a mixed blessing that Morelli's Ice Cream, whose closest competitor is in Florence, Italy, is so close to our house in Grant Park.

Recently, Morelli's expanded to a second location in the Edgewood Retail District (1220 Caroline St., 404-584-2500). Unlike the original, this location has indoor seating and a case displaying all the flavors, plus some designer sundaes. Those are the work of Kevin Gillespie of Woodfire Grill, a partner in the new store.

I ordered one of them, named after banoffee pie, the banana-toffee-coffee pie favored by Paula Deen and other inhabitants of the bottom circle of culinary hell. I don't mean it wasn't delicious. Who can refuse banana ice cream drizzled with dulce de leche and chocolate sauce, spiked with toffee and coffee flavors, then topped with three shortbread cookies? I must say the $8.95 price seemed exorbitant to me, until I finished the whole thing and realized it would accommodate two normal people.

I returned the next day to order a medium waffle cone. I skipped the cotton candy but was tempted by the blueberry-lavender. I also skipped my all-time favorite, ginger-lavender, and the best-selling salted caramel. Instead I combined dulce de leche and pecan-praline. It's frightening how fast it disappeared.

Complaints? The line — more like a formless cluster — can be just as maddeningly slow as at the original store. There are the usual multiple taste-testers, acting as though they are making a life-and-death decision. How the ultra-friendly, patient staff endures it, I don't know.

A shocker

I dine every Friday night with friends who leave it to me to choose the restaurant. Last week, after being unable to get a table at No. 246, we headed to Watershed (406 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-378-4900). We arrived about 8 p.m. and found the restaurant half empty, although it was almost full when we left 90 minutes later.

Our meal was a shock — and not in a good way. Recently, I reported a rumor that the restaurant's owners are looking for a second location where chef Joe Truex can return to a style closer to what he cooked at his own defunct restaurant, Repast. Meanwhile, Watershed remains — in part because of customer expectations — an icon of Southern cooking whose former chef, Scott Peacock, haunts the kitchen.

Most of the food was acceptable, with one notable exception. I ordered a pork chop grilled medium that arrived at the table literally raw in parts. It's rare for me to return a dish to the kitchen, but I obviously couldn't eat this as prepared. Weirdly, the server took a fork to the chop and carried it off, leaving my dinner plate of mediocre, half-eaten okra and tomatoes behind. The rest of the chop, looking like a reheated scrap, was soon redeposited on the plate. To the restaurant's credit, it comped my entrée.

My friend Ryan ordered the seafood jambalaya. Flavors were fresh, but the bowl held outrageously little seafood for its $26 price. Its void was filled with clever but disproportionately dominant arancine (fried rice balls). The best dish on the table, ordered by Michael and Jay, was the porcini-crusted sea scallops over kale, potato gnocchi and wild mushrooms. Jay, the most complainingly frugal of us, ordered the prime beef burger. He griped about its $14 cost and the scarce amount of cheddar cheese, declaring it "no better than an average burger." Bobby ate his leftovers and said it was far better than average.

Starters generally did better. I liked my ridiculously creamy-rich soup, thick with puréed white corn, garnished with corn relish. Ditto for a wedge salad with red peppers, soppressata, Gorgonzola, olives and pickled sunchoke.

A dessert of chocolate terrine with pistachios, sea salt and olive oil was praised by all. I found the banana bread pudding rolled in chopped pecans with rum sauce much less to my taste. Poorly shaped, it actually tasted kind of stale.

To sound a final sour note, it's time for Watershed to get a face-lift. The once fetching décor now bears the look of old age.

Still a great bargain

Noni's Bar & Deli (357 Edgewood Ave., 404-343-1808) remains one of our favorites for inexpensive Italian food in the Old Fourth Ward. Wayne remains disappointed that the restaurant removed its pea and pecorino salad from the menu, but the nearly as good Caesar salad remains on the menu.

I always get the same thing here — the eggplant-chicken Parmesan. It's a study in both excess and restraint since the added crispy chicken breast atop the usual slices of eggplant is not utterly drowned under the cheese and marinara. Go lighter still, if you want, with the pastas. You choose your own sauce. I like the puttanesca.

The restaurant has become a popular late-night hangout, especially with students at nearby Georgia State University. It's open Monday-Saturday until 2:30 a.m. As we were finishing our meal, a DJ was setting up a giant speaker right behind my head. We didn't stay long enough to be deafened.

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