Grazing on Edgewood Avenue

Dining along the 'revitalized' Old Fourth Ward corridor

When I first mentioned the revitalization of Edgewood Avenue in a 2006 column, I used the term "gentrification," a common signifier of the way the usually white middle and upper-middle class take over neighborhoods typically home to comparatively poor people. My use of the term enraged some readers, who claimed that no such thing was happening on Edgewood and in the rest of Old Fourth Ward. They wrote that community leaders in fact struggled to maintain "diversity," often a code word itself to describe racial makeup.

Regardless what people say, there is plenty of suffering along Edgewood Avenue and its adjoining residential streets. The area was developed during the Reconstruction Era, along with other then-suburban neighborhoods like Grant Park and Inman Park. For the purpose of this roundup, I'll talk mainly about the stretch of Edgewood Avenue west of Boulevard and a few blocks east, parallel to Auburn Avenue. The area is part of the Old Fourth Ward and was home to Martin Luther King Jr., who helped lead America into a second bloody civil war for true equality.

One thing is true. When the changes along Edgewood began to accelerate, the immediate area was still a site of drug traffic, petty crime, and homeless hideaways. But according to Grant Henry, the enormously big-hearted owner of the wonderfully weird Sister Louisa's Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium (466 Edgewood Ave.), safety isn't much of an issue anymore.

"The perception of crime on Edgewood is based on fear and is a misperception," Henry says. "When I first opened Church, taxis refused to come to Edgewood. Now they circle it like eagles."

Matt Ruppert, owner of Noni's Bar & Deli agrees. "Violent crime is nothing exceptional compared to other neighborhoods. The number of crackhead zombies is drastically lower than July 2008 when we first opened," Ruppert says.

Edgewood Avenue is indeed the most "diverse" party and dining area in the city. By "diverse" in this case, I'm talking age, sexual orientation, and lifestyle, as much as race. This is by no means a comprehensive list, rather a roundup of my favorites on the street.

Noni's (357 Edgewood Ave.) has been a regular, low-cost destination for me since its opening. I like the chicken-eggplant Parmesan, the cioppino, the Caesar salad, the muffuletta, and the arugula-Parmesan salad. What really brought phenomenal success to the restaurant is its pioneering late-night dance parties, which became a hedonistic hit, attracting a blend of so-called hipsters and students and everyone else.

The Sound Table (483 Edgewood Ave.) is small plate heaven. At a recent dinner, I sampled cumin-heavy ropa vieja with Parmesan grits, crispy pan-fried "brick" chicken, arugula salad, and Brussels sprouts and cauliflower roasted in sake and lime juice. I'd like some zippier newbies on the menu, but you can't really go wrong here. There's more. The Sound Table features some of the best DJs in America and even if you arrive before the late dancing, the dinnertime soundtrack is without peer.

Edgewood Corner Tavern (464 Edgewood Ave.) is part of a local cluster of hangouts with the same name. I recently made a $9 dinner out of three sliders on the app menu and was blown away: fried green tomato with pimento cheese and arugula; brisket with smoked gouda and salsa (some ingredients missing, alas); and a burger with cheddar, bacon, lettuce, and tomato. The music was a bit heavy metal for my taste, but the website plays smooth vocals, so maybe I need more exposure.

Pizzeria Vesuvius (327 Edgewood Ave.) is a few doors from Noni's and is also home to the open-late Edgewood Speakeasy. This restaurant has opened, closed, and opened again. This is its best incarnation with antipasti and pies featuring sourced, locally smoked meats. The Fico, Neapolitan-style pizza, is my fave: house-cured prosciutto, fig spread, Gorgonzola dolce, baby arugula, 10-year-aged balsamico.

Harold's Chicken & Ice Bar (349 Edgewood Ave.) serves the city's best fried chicken gizzards with barbecue sauce on the side. Yeah, I don't know anybody else in the city that does this, but it was a favorite when I was a kid and I'm sooo glad it's available. Basically this is a sports bar and tables are pretty limited, so big groups are hard to accommodate. The fried chicken is awesome, period.

Heading east on Edgewood takes you to three of the city's best restaurants, Miso Izakaya (619 Edgewood Ave.), BoccaLupo (753 Edgewood Ave.), and, at the very end, One Eared Stag (1029 Edgewood Ave.). Talk about diversity. These restaurants offer, respectively, Japanese, Italian and, um, everything nose-to-tail from everywhere. I can't think of anything I'd strongly discourage eating at any of these. I do recommend you carry a heavy wallet. On the way to those three, is Ammazza (591-A Edgewood Ave.), a quite fun Neapolitan pizzeria with community tables. There's also a franchise of the iconic breakfast spot, Thumbs Up (573 Edgewood Ave.). Lighter wallets work well at both.

But if you want a really amazing lunch for feather-light wallets, turn back around and head all the way west, under the freeway, until you arrive at Sweet Auburn Curb Market (209 Edgewood Ave.), a sprawling facility full of fresh produce and meats, many with classic Southern "soul-food" in mind. But it's also packed with what amount to stationary food trucks. My faves these days are the original Bell Street Burritos (shrimp with green sauce), Arepa Mia (pabellón), and High Road Craft Ice Cream (whatever). But newcomers open all the time, including Ratio Bakery, which specializes in gluten-free baked goods.

I have to think, though, that no restaurant on Edgewood expresses the neighborhood's history and character more than Café 458 (458 Edgewood Ave.). This is actually a restaurant — not a soup kitchen — for the homeless operated by the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency. As such, it is part of a facility that provides numerous services to the homeless with the goal of recovering a stable life. It's amazing.

Café 458 is open to the public only for Sunday brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m., serving my favorites like chicken and waffles, sweet-potato pancakes, and shrimp and grits. All income benefits the center. That includes tips for the volunteer servers. Maybe it's because most don't work regularly in restaurants or because they're working for such a good cause, but the servers smile constantly and are as solicitous as your mama on a really good day. If you're having a bad week, nothing can start the new one better than brunch here with a group of friends or alone.

Then you can return next week to eat and party like hell.

?Editor's note: This story has been updated since its original publication.

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