Power Breakfasts: More Than OK

Art of the Meal

If an army marches on its stomach, Atlanta business must ka-ching along on breakfast. Not the business lunch, nor even the lavish, expense-account dinner can compete with the kind of every-morning commerce ritual that gets your blood moving and your brain thinking about money. For that, you need a handy hangout with fast service, the head-clearing aroma of strong coffee and enough protein to trigger another Atkins Revolution.

That’s what makes the OK Cafe “the original power breakfast in the ATL,” crows executive chef Jeffrey L. Palsa. The restaurant’s location at the intersection of Northside Parkway and West Paces Ferry Road (just down the road from the Governor’s Mansion) is ideally situated for confabs between politicos and business types.

OK Cafe is cute without being gimmicky. The concept is Southern diner, and the waitresses wear the shirtdresses and crepe-soled shoes to prove it. Many of them will even call you “honey,” and mean it. This thoroughly modern old-fashioned cafe shows its tongue-in-cheekiness with exuberant displays of funky, folky art, all by locals.

At lunch and dinner, the OK Cafe offers Southern standards like meat loaf, fried chicken, big burgers. I like to sit at the counter and watch the grill team rock ‘n’ roll to the oldies soundtrack and a clattering rush of business that has a line spilling out the door. (A lighted sign outside lets you know how long the wait is.) You’ll also find fresh seasonal vegetables like spring peas, or a good, rich squash casserole, and a choice of gravy (brown or milk) with your mashed potatoes. The Take-Away Cafe, a separate section on the other side of the restaurant, has your quick getaway down to a science, with sandwiches, salads and steam-table trays of most of the cafe’s menu, sold by weight.

Breakfast is best at peak hours (between 7 and 9 a.m.), when the bacon is still crisp and waitresses rush steamy eggs to tables to make way for the next order. The menu offers plenty of high-octane fuel (buttermilk biscuits, omelets, baked ham, thick-sliced bacon, sausage, stone-ground grits, pancakes, waffles, French toast), along with renewable energy (fresh fruit, power shakes with wheat germ, bagels, muffins, egg-white omelets, even scrambled tofu with broccoli and water chestnuts). I suspect the latter items are for the regulars, because if you’re just here every so often, how can you resist the high-cholesterol charms of eggs, scrambled with bits of onion and red pepper, and the smoky bite of bacon against big, crisp cubes of potato? The primary-yellow cheese grits are also worthwhile, made with real, slow-cooked grits and cheddar.

The buttermilk biscuits are good, if heavy, in the way your aunts made them, but the buttermilk pancakes are like down comforters. You can order the blueberry and strawberry griddle cakes with fruit inside, on top or both, but we liked the unorthodox Granny Smith apple and pecan version: A dinner-plate-sized pancake, rolled and doused with apple butter, dotted with sauteed apple slices, and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and pecan bits. Incredibly, we were offered syrup as a lily-gilder.

A few things could have been better: A poached egg ordered soft had to be sent back when it arrived hard-boiled; the replacement returned perfectly cooked, but in a pool of water. Our apple cider tasted of carton. But those are small concerns, and though it’s good, the food is almost beside the point. This daily fellowship of restless energy, eager to get going, is the real nourishment. There’s nothing like starting the day with Atlanta’s best and brightest to make you feel ready to take on the world.

Krista Reese is Georgia Trend’s restaurant critic. Contact her at gtcritic@mindspring.com.

Categories: Art of the Meal