Breakfast is held in high regard in Atlanta, drawing large groups of ravenous church ladies and bearded, tattooed, pork-chop-sideburned dudes who gather on weekends chomping on biscuits, country ham and all matter of animal fat. It may be an afterthought in other cities and countries, but Atlantans eat massive breakfasts and there are a bunch of places that serve exceptional breakfast/lunch fare, generally until about 3 pm. (Most of these places are closed in the evening.)
In this article, I will be taking a look at Atlanta's breakfast/lunch scene from the perspective of a vegetarian Jew from the Westside of L.A., where, by the way, people don't give a crap about breakfast and many consider coffee and a bran muffin to be a sufficient meal. Surprisingly, all of the restaurants in Atlanta that I mention here have plenty of vegetarian options and their menus veer off from your usual diner fare.
Living in Grant Park, I am fortunate to have two excellent breakfast/lunch spots within walking distance of my house. Both are a good stroll, though. More so than any of the other places, Ria's Bluebird (421 Memorial Dr. 30312) has a menu that caters to both vegetarians and vegans. I'd like to tell you all about that menu, but I almost always order the Tempeh Reuben, which comes on marbled rye bread and is one of the grooviest vegetarian reubens I have ever consumed. I have often pondered the BBQ Veggie Riblet sandwich, but have never ordered it. I have sampled several breakfast items, which are fine, especially the Huevos, fried eggs on top of blue corn tortillas with tomatillo salsa, cheese and black beans and that was excellent, as is Ria's coffee. The vegetarian sausages are the same in almost every breakfast spot in Atlanta (Trader Joes? Not sure.) This little place is super hipster right down to the waiter's nerdy-cool eyeglasses.
The tempeh reuben at Ria's
Not any less hipster is The Stone Soup Kitchen (584 Woodward Ave. 30312), also in my hood, which has a menu that is in no way traditionally Southern. I have not tried the soup, but the breakfasty Mexican gringo dishes are recommendable. On my first visit, I adventurously ordered the SSK Burrito, a breakfast burrito with two scrambled eggs, black beans and pepper jack cheese topped with pineapple, mango salsa and spicy red sauce. This could have been a real miss, but it was a hit. The pimento cheese sandwich is very good, not grilled, and the cheese grits are super creamy and taste not the slightest bit healthy. The Stone Soup Kitchen also has a fine selection of soda and coffee.
For a while, my favorite breakfast/lunch place in town was The West Egg Cafe (110 Howell Mill Rd. 30318), whose roasted garlic grits are the best I have ever had. They still are the best grits around, but the place is not quite the same. The original space had a funky, laid-back, old school San Francisco coffeehouse type ambience, but they have since moved down the block to a less cozy space, which has the same generic look as every other restaurant in town. The upside is that they are now open until 10 pm and serve breakfast all day. Their basic breakfast, the blue plate special, is less than thrilling, highlighted only by the grits. I can cook better eggs. Much better is their fantastic Fried Egg sandwich, which is two eggs over hard, cheddar cheese, field greens, onion and tomato jam on toasted challah. (This isn't the Jew challah bread they used to serve at my Jew temple in the '80s, but something far more groovy.) It's particularly the sweetness of the tomato jam that makes this sandwich into some sort of gourmet, postmodern, nouveau Southern cuisine butt-kicker. The West Egg is also known for its fabulous cupcakes.
The place we used to go to all the time before we discovered all the better places in town is the Silver Skillet (200 14th St. 30318), which has the vintage look of a classic diner that you find more commonly on the East Coast. Opened in 1956, the Silver Skillet is by far the most attractive diner in Atlanta with its sexy wood booths and olive green upholstery. The breakfast here is fine. I haven't cared for any of the lunch items. This is definitely a breakfast spot to be more appreciated by meat eaters, though it's probably one of the better places in town for a slice of pie. They serve Lemon Icebox Pie, which my wife is crazy for, Chocolate Meringue Pie and Blackberry Cobbler.
One place that is no secret is the Highland Bakery (655 Highland Ave. #10 30312), which is always crowded, though I have never waited more than five minutes for a table. Almost everything I've had at the Highland Bakery has been top-notch, from the sweet potato pancakes with pecans to the cowboy benedict with seasoned black beans, tortillas, poached eggs, hollandaise sauce and corn salsa, to the small assortment of mini muffins (blueberry, chocolate chip, etc.) to the French toast, fluffy fat chunks of bread with myriad toppings, to the pimento cheese sandwich on sourdough, which is grilled and one of the best in town. Even the scrambled eggs are just fantastic, though I'm not really sure what makes them so special. The high-ceilinged space is always noisy, but comforting at the same time. This might be the most popular breakfast/lunch spot in Atlanta.
The pimento cheese sandwich at the Highland Bakery
However, the city's whole breakfast/lunch scene was knocked on its tail by the recent arrival of the incredibly fabulous, ridiculously cheap and even more hipster Home Grown (968 Memorial Dr. 30316). The main room is old, wood-paneled and has some character. There is some fine hipster art on the walls and a gallery in the back. The waiters are the usual hipsterini. I don't know why hipsters have been drawn to the breakfast/lunch scene in Atlanta like it was a free record store appearance by the Kings of Leon, but they have. The guy serving you your eggs likely has some dumb tattoos, a lip piercing and an ironic take on '90s gangsta rap. Home Grown is similar to Ria's, but the food is just a tad more scrumptious than all the other spots I've mentioned. The pimento cheese sandwich here comes grilled on Texas Toast and is a big drippy mess, but a glorious one that transcends the original basic pimento cheese concept, which is something a Southern mom would fix for a kid's lunch. The fried green tomatoes, which come with horseradish sauce, are plump slices of tomatoes, delicately breaded and just perfect, the best I've ever had. There is a vegan sloppy joe, which I have wondered about, but never tried. The cheese grits are excellent, as is the jalapeno cole slaw, which is a bit of a different take on cole slaw with large chunks of cabbage and just the occasional bite of jalapeno. The menu is small and to the point. I keep expecting it to expand like the crowds at Home Grown, but it hasn't yet.
Home Grown hipster art
breakfast at Home Grown
So, no real reason to go to the Waffle House, which has decent food, is open later than other places, but has way too much yellow in its design, or IHOP, which is cheap and basically edible, but hardly inspired, when there are numerous fantabulous places to gorge yourself on carbohydrates and hipster-cooked tofu scrambles.