Cheap Eats - Ample pie

Cozy up to cheesy calzones at Grant Park's neighborhood pizza joint

The heart of historic Grant Park, Grant Central Pizza & Pasta has something of a cozy fishbowl feeling. You get the sense that the place never gets too busy. The servers float around, apparently more concerned about who's making whom and the baseball scores than about who ordered the eggplant parmigiana. The regulars here don't seem fazed one bit by the service. It's a relaxed, anything-goes atmosphere. A woman sits at the bar reading a romance novel, and the bartender, clearly the man in charge here, imparts a kiss on another patron's towheaded son. A butch biker chick ambles up to the bar and he jokes with her, asking if she'll be having tonight's special: breaded fish.
Of course, Grant Central doesn't serve fish. It's your everyday neighborhood pizza joint, differing slightly from its stepbrother, Grant Central East, in one respect: It serves pasta as well as pizza pies. The menu is diverse and there's a good deal of flexibility. I order a pesto calzone, which is not on the menu, with spinach and mushrooms ($4.50 plus 45 cents for each topping and $1.50 for the pesto sauce) and a small dinner salad ($2.50).
Grant Central's dinner salad is the standard pizza joint fare, nearly identical to Fellini's and its East Atlanta counterpart: Romaine lettuce with black olives, coarsely chopped white onion, thinly sliced mushrooms, Roma tomatoes, feta and green peppers. Don't get me wrong, topped with bleu cheese dressing, it's plenty good and a satisfying complement to any pizza pie or carbo-heavy calzone. But there's nothing that distinguishes Grant Central's green salad from the rest of the pack.
It takes a good 20 minutes or so before my calzone arrives. It smells wonderful, a doughy, crescent moon on a plate. For cheese freaks, I highly recommend the calzone. However, I'm a girl with a penchant for pesto, of which the calzone seemed significantly deficient. Whatever pesto sauce had been slathered over the innards of my calzone was overwhelmed by melted ricotta and mozzarella. A fresh marinara sauce for dipping partially made up for this fact, but of course it didn't stretch as far as I would've liked. Somewhat disappointing but in no way inferior, the best thing about the calzone was its chewy crust.
Another visit gave me a greater appreciation for Grant Central West. This time I went for the eggplant parmigiana ($6.50). Not only was it delivered to our table quickly, it was so far the best I've sampled of Grant Central's fare, East or West. Lightly breaded yet still somewhat resistant to my fork, sliced eggplant was wedged between layers of mozzarella, fresh marinara and plum tomatoes. Extremely satisfying in and of itself, it was accompanied by a side dish of fettucine marinara and garlic toast (also good). We'd also ordered a pizza topped with spinach, mushrooms and artichoke hearts. Finally, a dish not drowning in cheese, its thin crust was littered with fresh spinach, rendered juicy by the artichoke hearts and balanced by the mushroom's meaty neutrality. Sure, Grant Central West does pasta, but their pizza is the reason patrons keep coming back.