Restaurant Review - Dynamic Dish: The personal touch

A gem on Edgewood Avenue

Like the best novels, Dynamic Dish has an unexpected story to tell. It's not really a story about health food, although most of the food served here could be defined as "healthy." It's not even a story about vegetarianism, even though the food is usually vegetarian and often vegan. Instead, Dynamic Dish tells an obsessive tale about ingredients, aesthetics, responsibility and quality.

David Sweeney is the chef and proprietor of this quirky, sleek cafe on Edgewood Avenue. Sweeney is American, but has spent much of his life in Germany. The look of Dynamic Dish is European, and there's a midcentury Danish feel to the sunny storefront: White walls and light wood tables are accented by caramel-colored wood, orange vintage pieces and fresh flowers. The whole place breathes a sparse, clean warmth. The building is LEED certified, meaning the United States Green Building Council has certified that it is an "environmentally responsible and sustainable building, using cost effective construction processes and environmental design elements systems." Sweeney is an avid recycler, gathers rain water in a cistern and uses energy-efficient heating in the building. Almost 100 percent of what is served in the restaurant is organic.

Many people, including Sweeney himself, have commented on the strangeness of his chosen location: on a stretch of Edgewood between Boulevard and downtown that has struggled to emerge as a viable place to do business. It seems the tide is turning, with a number of new restaurants opening nearby in recent months. But there is a pioneer spirit to Dynamic Dish, and a sweetness to finding this beautiful and personal-feeling space tucked into a stretch of shabby, abandoned storefronts. It's like stumbling across a small box of jewels in the back of a musty thrift store.

It's a cool-looking place, but the real jewels here are Sweeney's daily creations. Usually, there's a soup, a salad, and one or two entrees to choose from. The first time I visited, late last summer, I was not prepared for the intensity of flavor in a roasted eggplant and pesto sandwich, each ingredient in the pesto proudly showcasing its own distinct personality, each complementing the sweet eggplant. I was astounded by the salad of local lettuces that accompanied the sandwich, each leaf dressed and laid lovingly in a stack. These ingredients obviously had been coddled and coaxed gently into being a paragon of flavor and texture.

Returning on the cold winter days of these past few weeks, Sweeney's soups have been a revelation, acting as comfort and tonic. I swear the thick, warm carrot, sweet potato and ginger soup of a few weeks back made me feel as though I was becoming stronger with every bite, like some sort of modern, organic version of Popeye's spinach. The ginger was so bold as to be spicy, cutting through the sweet orange roots like a delicious knife.

The brilliance of Sweeney's cooking is in these unexpected twists: the overload of ginger in the carrot soup, the sweetness of apples and tang of pink peppercorns in a hearty beet soup, the addition of ground nuts in the ricotta filling for an organic stuffed eggplant. A favorite sandwich pairs that same muscular pesto with tofu and roasted carrots and onions. It's one of those rare places where the aesthetic is so tied to the personality of the proprietor that it's possible to follow the theme through all aspects of the place. Bread from the Magnolia Bakery accompanies the soup and arrives on the table in leaf-shaped wooden bowls – another small and lovely unexpected detail.

The space has only five tables, only three or four dishes every day, and usually only two people working. Generally those people are Sweeney – running back and forth between cooking and serving‚ and Paul, the sweet, joke-cracking deaf waiter. The restaurant is now open for dinner a couple nights a week, and the vibe at night is relaxed and friendly, like a spontaneous gathering of friends. The dinner menu is the same as in the daytime, and right now alcohol is BYO, although a wine-and-beer license is a possibility in the future. Sweeney apologized on a recent Saturday night for the pacing of the service, saying, "We're just a two-man operation," but I had barely noticed. The meandering pacing seemed perfect for the informal atmosphere, and at $35 for a fantastic dinner for three, I could hardly find complaint.

I've never seen meat at Dynamic Dish, although Sweeney does occasionally serve organic chicken dishes. Sometimes it's hard to remember that words like "green," "organic" and "vegetarian" are not just marketing tools or ideologies; they are simply words that are useful to describe certain dishes, buildings and ways of life. Sweeney has made his cafe as a reflection of himself, not as a marketing-driven bid for any one type of person or eater's loyalty. It's interesting to note that Dynamic Dish is only a block-and-a-half away from the now closed Power Plant, a vegetarian restaurant that was strict in its meatlessness, but not in its quality or healthfulness.

It's going to be hard for me to resist seeing Dynamic Dish as a canary in the coal mine, on more than one level. Can Atlanta support a restaurant that is quirky, unique and hard to fit into any comfortable category? Can Edgewood Avenue learn to thrive, and possibly to be a fertile spot where independent operators can start projects we might not see elsewhere? I hope so. Dynamic Dish is the sort of place that a great city and a great neighborhood would consider a true treasure. Long-term success for this place would be a wonderful story indeed.