Wandering Billy

Food For Thought

A smorgasbord of cheap and tasty eats, and
Common Grounds for uncommonly good musicians

By Billy Eye

“Anybody who believes that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach flunked geography.” — Robert Byrne

Foodies . . . aren’t they funny folk? The other day a friend remarked that he was craving Five Guys, which reminded me, why have I never been tasked with writing a food column? Could it be because my palate is more of the wooden variety? Getting paid for eating . . . nothing could possibly top that unless I also landed a gig as a mattress tester.

There’s a movement afoot to entice us to eat locally; turns out you can get a terrific meal downtown for what inferior fast food costs. Cafe Europa tosses the best Caesar salad in town with that distinctive anchovy taste I long for. Buon Apetito in the Piedmont Building, with its impressive 1920s terra cotta & and stone entrance way, serves divine Italian roast beef hoagies with a warm amber au jus and side salad that I’m crazy about. Mid-City Sandwich Co., where Fincastles used to be, offers a simple but delish Reuben on rye; order half a sandwich and pair it with their garlic-rific tomato basil soup or a Thai chicken flatbread pizza.

Switch it up for lunch! As I sit here typing (can’t call it writing), I’m enjoying the finest hummus I’ve ever tasted and a kifta mezze of chopped lamb and beef blended with aromatic spices from Jerusalem Market that is to die for. Everything I’ve sampled there is just phenomenal; freshly prepared, healthy and the price is right. A slice of Caprese at Pizzeria L’Italiano is an addictive delight for the taste buds, and Noma at LeBauer Park offers sumptuously affordable Vietnamese and Thai specialties — red curry bowls, pho, fresh spring rolls with peanut dipping sauce and savory banh mi baguettes.

***

At year’s end there was an alarming number of empty storefronts languishing around the Tate Street commons; now, however, there are renewed but confusing signs of life there. For a brief moment, while the exterior of 413 Tate was being repainted, what was left of the 1992 signage for Nikita, our first Indian restaurant, was exposed like a note in a bottle tossed into the ocean of time. No. 413 was occupied by The College Shop from 1949 until the early 1980s when it was split into two units; in the mid-’80s it was home to Hot Tamales. Now inhabiting that space is Sam’s Oven & Grill where the menu is heavily tilted towards pizza, wings and subs. Odd, given that there are three other joints within a few yards slinging pizza and subs (besides New York Pizza and Manhattan there’s Slices which I highly recommend). Get this, there’s another pizzeria scheduled to open on the same block! A banner suggests that 331 Tate, that teeny-tiny, two-story storefront sandwiched between NYP and Sushi Republic, may again spring to life. It’s been largely abandoned since 1968 when the barber shop that operated out of there closed, but I heard a rumor a coffee shop was there briefly? You may be surprised to learn this was the original location of Leon’s Beauty Salon in the 1940s.

***

Attended a dynamite night of powerful music from Rhiannon Giddens, Molly McGinn and Laurelyn Dossett at Common Grounds the other night. Naturally, Eye showed up at the last minute for a concert that was sold out three hours after it was announced so there was no chance of getting in (yeah, right!). Space prohibits telling you just how brilliant these performers are, or how lucky we are to bask in their presence, but Common Grounds at Elam and Walker is increasingly becoming the city’s hippest musical nightspot. There was one revolting disruption, however. As Grammy winner Rhiannon Giddens was introducing a song she had written from a slave narrative, an inebriated club goer witlessly blurted out that his great aunt had written Gone With The Wind and had to be ejected. Jeez. 

***

I’ve been remiss for far too long in thanking Elise Allison at the History Museum for her invaluable assistance researching the most arcane and unusual aspects of our city’s history. What a rich resource we have in that museum and in curators like Elise who ensure our past remains is as alive and vibrant as the present. Also, congratulations to superfriend Nathan and Isabella Bueno who are expecting what will undoubtedly be the most beautiful baby girl ever. And little wonder: If this were Hollywood, Mom would likely be the next Liz Taylor.  OH

Have a suggestion as to where Billy Eye should wander next? Email billy@tvparty.com with “Billy Eye” in the subject line.

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