Restaurant Review - Strip joint

Celebrity Cafe a racy hub for sweet somethings, oversized salads and soups from scratch

Street drugs, drag clubs, rad-con preachers and gay-ghetto stereotypes are disappearing from Peachtree's Midtown strip as quickly as mainstream business interests can pave them over. The transformation is not without its benefits. The First Baptist Church finally got the message and moved to the suburbs. Rundown office stacks formerly inhabited by bums are being rehabbed and rented out as lofts. A new restaurant opens every 15 minutes.
Some of these eateries are no more than Buckhead watering holes, nightclubs thinly disguised with play kitchens and celebrity chefs who essentially serve as spokesmodels.
Maybe I'm odd. But sometimes I like getting a bite to eat without having to fight wine consultants with mullet cuts and head-banging sound systems playing dreck from the likes of Eminem and his pal Elton John.
Celebrity Cafe & Bakery, in business about six months in a former gas station at Eighth Street, serves real food, some of it pretty good, minus the glitz. Celebrity is second cousin to a small, Houston, Texas, chain. Decorations and facilities range from a service counter set off by glass bakery cases to an exhibition bakeshop, comfy seating and a set of all-you-can-drink soda dispensers.
Owner Britt Kearce says everything is made from scratch — soups, roast chickens for sandwiches and salads, all baked goods. The individual quiche of the day is thus a fine place to start. (Quiche! Christ! Can't you imagine those club hostesses in spike-heel sandals curling their toes at the very thought?) The regular with ham, bacon and cheese features a flaky, crisp-tender crust and warm, custard-soft center. Variations such as Mexican rancho with peppers and tomato turn up regularly ($3.95).
Folks with room-temperature cholesterol counts will move right along to the Oreo cheesecake. Rich and light-textured with a solid Oreo cookie crust, hunks of chocolate distributed throughout the cake and a creamy white "filling" on top, this is a dessert to eat on through to the plate ($3.50). A very rich carrot cake studded with raisins, coconut and pecans is worth the calories, too. High, wide and double-layer delicious, the carrot cake is iced with cream cheese frosting. ($2.95).
A dessert promoted as "Our Famous Topper Cake," on the other hand — an upside-down brownie with caramel and pecans and topped with fudge, served warm — struck me as more sugar than satisfaction ($2.95). Chocolate-nut drop cookies, also mediocre, were the best of several kinds of cookies. Maybe this stuff appeals to Texans.
Items that I saw or read about but didn't taste include chess, chocolate-chess and buttermilk pies, chocolate and coconut icebox pies, yellow cake with chocolate icing, Italian cream cake, pound cakes in eight flavors, cinnamon rolls (choice of raisin or orange), scones, challah, tea breads, muffins and cupcakes. Whole round cakes run $22.50-$40, pies $10.50-$14.
On the whole, I'd rather have a good soup than a bland cookie. Fresh broccoli taste and thick cheesiness came through in one soup of the day despite a slight floury taste. Spicy meat-and-bean chili was also worth eating. At $3.95, Celebrity's hubcap-size bowls offer much better value than the $3.50 cups. Crackers and a small, sweet muffin are included.
There's nothing small about the Cobb salad. Two of us split one and plenty remained to take home. The chopped parts — turkey, good avocado, blue cheese, hard-boiled egg, tomato — are arranged on fluffy leaf lettuce in a glass souffle dish ($7.95).
Pineapple cream cheese and sliced ham on cinnamon-raisin-swirl toast is perfectly adequate if not quite the century's best new idea ($4.95). Egg salad is nothing special ($4.50). Both come with extra crunchy potato chips. Specialty sandwiches, which are served with fresh fruit, include rye with jack cheese, bacon, avocado, lettuce and tomato ($8.95) and chicken breast with provolone on sesame bun ($8.50).
Various helpful, on-the-run combinations are offered, such as half-sandwich and soup, soup and salad, any three items from a list of six and so on. Celebrity is geared to takeout, faxed orders and catering. A man just ahead of me in line one evening ordered cookies and snacks for 100, to be picked up the next day. Proprietor Kearce said it would be no problem.