GRAZING: Some food is best in your rearview mirror

You, too, may experience a server with magical powers

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Photo credit: CLIFF BOSTOCK
URBAN BUCOLIC ARTINESS: Bona Fide Deluxe is an art-deco jewel sitting on a green patch next to the Candler Park-Edgewood MARTA station.

When you write about food, the experience of taste is obviously not just in the present-moment. The review is a memory and memory is notoriously tricky. I, for example, often dream about meals I’ve eaten. Something that seemed pretty routine when it was getting mangled in my mouth may become interesting in my dream. This is frequently kind of synesthetic. I remember years ago devouring fried sardines and anchovies at restaurants in the Cinque Terre, five towns that are part of the Italian Riviera. I woke up one night, dreaming of eating the fish while salt water blew in my face, hearing the opening line of Moby Dick in my brain: “I am Ishmael.” Yeah, those little fish had taken on the proportions of whales in my obsessed brain. Even without such unconscious stirrings, simply sitting down to write about something I have eaten can bring greater appreciation of it.

Or it can work in quite the opposite way.

I really, badly wanted to go Moby-Dick over Bona Fide Deluxe, a new stylish bar and sandwich shop from the people who operate the sublime and pricey Banshee in East Atlanta Village. Here’s how it called me: In March, I wrote about meeting a couple at El Tesoro whom I overheard raving about it. I checked out the menu and saw that they sold mainly sub-style sandwiches, including one made with porchetta — every Italian pig’s favorite afterlife incarnation — that I’d been eating at the Buttery, where I yearned for an acidic, spicy spike to dissolve some of the fat. Banshee promised that in the form of a salsa verde with jalapeno. I couldn’t wait. I went to the restaurant with Wayne Johnson, fell instantly in love with the Art Deco look of the place and the staff. But that sandwich. Oily AF and no crunchy skin. Bread that paled beside the Buttery’s. I brought half of it home, awoke at 2 a.m., and visited it in the refrigerator. It said: “You don’t have to.” I sat down to write about it in April and felt guilty. I wasn’t that excited by the other dishes I sampled— beets, a Greek salad, the gigantic cold cut sub. I fell asleep. In the morning, feeling guilty, I decided I would go back and write about it in May.

So I returned. Again, I was magnetized by the environs. Located next to the Candler Park-Edgewood MARTA station (with parking available there), the large space features two curtained screens that look like they should be showing Busby Berkeley movies instead of sports events. There’s a weirdly wonderful collection of random cheap-ass chandeliers, a bunch of those apocalyptic light boxes above the bar, and lots of colored light. So much colored light that if you go during the evening, taking pictures of your food will be difficult. There’s a large gravel patio and a green patch in front of the restaurant, which is next door to VinAtl, a wine shop with a tasting room.

IT BLEW UP!: Sandwiches come to the table at Bona Fide wrapped in brown paper. This take on the classic Vietnamese banh mi erupted into an eating challenge that provoked a server to sweep it up and carry it back to the kitchen for a redo. PHOTO CREDIT: CLIFF BOSTOCK


This go-round I decided to order the vegan banh mi made with sweet and sour shiitake mushrooms, cauliflower, carrots, cucumbers, and jalapenos. It was plunked on my table in a brown paper wrapping. While Wayne scoured the place for napkins, I tore open my sandwich and reflexively shouted, “It’s alive!” The sandwich had convulsed it’s over-abundant contents so that it looked impossible to pick up and was indelicately sitting upon a pool of what looked like half-digested shrooms. I stared at the sandwich. A staffer stopped and asked if I needed anything. “Yeah, I guess I need silverware, because my hands don’t want to plunge into this.” He said: “Oh, yeah, someone went overboard.” He scooped up the mess and quickly returned with a compacter version that, frankly, was so over-loaded with cilantro that I left all but a few bites behind. I also sampled a hairy fish dip I liked and took a bite of another sub that was lovely to look at and lovely to hold but if you eat it…you get the point.

GO FOR IT ALL: The Greek salad, a sandwich bigger than a baby’s torso, and a cool glass of punched-up fruitiness. PHOTO CREDIT: CLIFF BOSTOCK
DOUBLE PUNCH: It’s two fists full of cold cuts. PHOTO CREDIT: CLIFF BOSTOCK
PICKLED BEETS: To quote the menu: "pink peppercorn ranch, ricotta salata, dill." Let’s go! PHOTO CREDIT: CLIFF BOSTOCK


Y’ALL LIKE LIGHT?: You get your boxes full of apocalypse and liqueurs, your chandelier excess, your pinkish purple butt warmers, and a sign that looks like soft-serve ice cream impersonating a genie. PHOTO CREDIT: CLIFF BOSTOCK

How can this be? I haven’t eaten at Banshee in several years because of COVID but I did pig out on hotdogs for the first time ever at their Screamin’ Weenies gig outside the restaurant during that time. (It remains open 11 p.m.-2 a.m., Friday and Saturday only, now.) The sandwiches at Bona Fide were, I’m told, previewed at Banshee as part of a take-out operation during those same COVID months. Honestly, I hate to nay-say a restaurant during these weird economic times, but my advice is to go to Bona Fide to drink. Wayne really liked the cocktails. If I drank alcohol, lots of it, maybe I’d like the food a lot better.

Speaking of porchetta, anchovies, and the Italian coast, have you been to Alici Oyster Bar? Yes, that translates to Anchovies Oyster Bar and it’s owned by Chef Pat Pascarella’s Porchetta Group (Bastone, Grana, and White Bull), and features the food of the Amalfi coast, which is south of and far more glamorous than the Cinque Terre. My Friday lunch mate, Miss Rose, is a seafood junkie and I knew she’d want to go to this restaurant that opened in February.

OPEN AND AIRY: Alici Oyster Bar at Midtown Promenade is serving lunch and dinner. In order to enjoy the restaurant’s menu, your job will be finding a parking space in a lot where Trader Joe’s has reserved many parking spaces for its customers alone. PHOTO CREDIT: CLIFF BOSTOCK
THE BETTER COD: The lunch menu offers the choice of a grilled and blackened or fried cod sandwich. The former, with a lemon aioli, turned out to be the better choice. PHOTO CREDIT: CLIFF BOSTOCK

I love raw oysters but, being of unsound economic status, I don’t like trying to sate hunger with $4 or $5 slurp puppets when I know I can easily eat 12. And I don’t drink, so I can’t supplement raw oysters with booze. And then there was that time in Florida I did actually eat enough suspicious, uncooked oysters to turn yellow with hepatitis for months. So, Rose and I got two each and ordered cod sandwiches. Rose made the better choice — the grilled, blackened cod with lemon aioli. Mine was the crispy-fried version with the caper aioli that my mother addicted me to when I was a kid. There was a problem, though. There were no capers. I pointed this out to our wonderful server.

“Yes, there are capers in it,” she corrected me.

“So, they are invisible capers?”

“They are mixed in…”

“To the point they cannot be seen or tasted,” I said. “Magic.”

Our server, who literally, neo-misogynistically gasped when I earlier told her we needed separate checks, laughed.

Alici is charming enough. We ate on the patio where we watched cars creep about endlessly in futile search for parking. I dropped Miss Rose at the door, then parked in one of the reserved Trader Joe’s spots, and power-walked to Alici with a detour through the store to buy a bag of Chicken Orange that, as usual, wasn’t there.

NO COMPARISON: Trader Joe’s popular version of the classic Indian palak paneer is back after a months-long hiatus reportedly because of a lawsuit that alleged it was dangerously high in iron. Meanwhile, Lidl vended its own version that is anemic in quantity and flavor due to its inclusion of rice. PHOTO CREDIT: CLIFF BOSTOCK

And speaking of Chicken Orange, basically a main-course orange popsicle that is Trader Joe’s best seller, I still dote on their frozen Indian foods. My favorite dinner side is the palak paneer, which they discontinued for months, because, according to a lawsuit, the gooey blend of spinach and paneer cheese had a dangerously high iron content. It’s back, though, and I’ve been unable to learn whether the iron was a real concern or not. In the interim, I tried the palak paneer from the newish Lidl on Memorial Drive and ugh. It costs the same $3.99 but half the box is Basmati rice, so don’t bother. Apart from the pastries, I’ve not found Lidl on Memorial much competition to my local Aldi where I do buy a lot of cheese.

THE MEEKER RUEBEN: Not up for the $16.99 Rueben at Brooklyn Bagel Bakery & Deli at Ansley Mall? Try the $12.99 open-face Rueben Melt instead. It’s still too much food for one person, but easier to share with the dude outside begging for something to eat. PHOTO CREDIT: CLIFF BOSTOCK

Now, thinking more about sandwiches like Bona Fide Deluxe’s, I’m struggling to understand the appeal of gigantic sandwiches that are pushing $20. Is it another way of charging people a lot of money while antithetically giving them the option to save money by sharing their sandwich? Recently, I stopped by Brooklyn Bagel Bakery & Deli on my way into LA Fitness at Ansley Mall. I passed on the $16.99 Rueben and ordered the $12.99 open-face Rueben Melt, which was two slices of rye bread loaded with more corned beef, Swiss cheese, and kraut than I wanted for a light lunch, especially with added free potato salad. Perhaps I have become delicate. It was good, though, and I enjoyed practicing my Spanish with the kosher Latinos on staff.

TWO NECESSITIES: The Victorian Atlanta and Bellwood Coffee share this space in East Atlanta Village where the air is vegan and the drinks are energizing. PHOTO CREDIT: CLIFF BOSTOCK
TAKE ME TO YOUR BARISTA: You are lost in the jungle. You reach a clearing. There are eight seats. Make me a cortado, please, kind sir. PHOTO CREDIT: CLIFF BOSTOCK

Another economic mystification for me is the epidemic of adopting plants. I don’t exempt myself. Throughout my 20s and 30s, I was always surrounded by plants and, being a good phenomenologist, I conversed with them regularly. (I have two gigantic plants that, seriously, go back to the ‘70s and ‘80s.) I began adding more plants to my office during COVID because, you know, the cats only want to talk about my inhumanity. Recently, I stumbled into a coffee shop, Bellwood, that is anchored inside a plant shop, the Victorian, in East Atlanta Village. I had a great cortado and enjoyed watching a couple of plants get repotted with all the groovy vibes and wishes for a happy life that newborns receive at their baptism.

Nonetheless, I asked a customer, “Why do you buy plants here instead of at Home Depot or Lowe’s, where they are significantly cheaper?”

“Because this is a healthier vibe. I love that I can pick a nice pot and the repotting feels like a ritual,” she said.

The coffee bar itself is small — maybe eight seats — and vends a few pastries as well as skillful coffee drinks. Both Bellwood and the Victorian have other locations where they operate individually.

THE MEEKER RUEBEN: Not up for the $16.99 Rueben at Brooklyn Bagel Bakery & Deli at Ansley Mall? Try the $12.99 open-face Rueben Melt instead. It’s still too much food for one person, but easier to share with the dude outside begging for something to eat. PHOTO CREDIT: CLIFF BOSTOCK
BUSTED!: This guy was recently kidnapped but was promptly returned to his life behind bars at R Thomas Deluxe Grill. If you can work your pinky through the cage wire, you can give him a neck rub, though you may be risking amputation, of course PHOTO CREDIT: CLIFF BOSTOCK
PURE HIPPIE DELIGHT: This chicken curry wrap at R. Thomas was surprisingly good. Bro, you are going to eat the whole thing and then talk to the birds. PHOTO CREDIT: CLIFF BOSTOCK


SUP MY DUDE?: When your server at R Thomas reminds you that you could have attended a Doors concert and watched Jim Morrison get dragged off stage by the cops instead of interviewing at Yale. By the way, as far, as I can recollect, this shirt and all the posters for the concert were the wrong date. It was actually on Dec. 9. PHOTO CREDIT: CLIFF BOSTOCK

And speaking of deluxe sandwiches and colorful decors, Miss Rose and I recently visited R Thomas Deluxe Grill. You’ve likely heard that three of the restaurant’s infamous parrots were abducted recently. Incredibly, police did manage to track down the criminal and the birds were returned after a few days. I celebrated by ordering the chicken curry basil wrap — a surprisingly tasty neo-post-Hippie dish. The best moment of the meal was seeing our server wearing a t-shirt advertising the Doors concert in December 1967 in New Haven, Conn. I was actually in New Haven interviewing for a fellowship that day. My fellow candidates were not interested in paying the $5 to see Jim Morrison freak out and get arrested, causing a mini-riot, so we talked, basically, about critical race theory in the dorm instead. Seriously. —CL—

Bona Fide Deluxe, 1454 La France St., 404-228-2391,  @bona_fide_deluxe

Alici Oyster Bar, 931 Monroe Dr. (Midtown Promenade), 404-876-1000, @alicioysterbar

Brooklyn Bagel Bakery & Deli, 1544 Piedmont Ave. (Ansley Mall), 404-835-2396,  @brooklynbageldeli

The Victorian + Bellwood Coffee, 1336 Glenwood Ave., 404-986-2822,,  @bellwoodcoffee, @thevictorianatlanta.

R. Thomas Deluxe Grill, 1812 Peachtree Rd., 404-881-0246, @rthomasdeluxegrill