Alive in Little Five?

Inman Park Patio opens, plus visits to Belly and Sundown Cafe

What are we going to do about Little Five Points? Although I love Savage Pizza and Teaspace, the neighborhood seems unwilling to support anything that charges more than $10 for entrees. Now, I know those children of the Golden Ghetto who swarm into the neighborhood to spend their lavish allowances on piercings and whole-body tattoos probably aren't going to become gourmands, but what explains the behavior of nearby Inman Park, where money flows quite freely?

The recent closing of Bang, an effort at some serious American cuisine, eliminated the one fairly upscale restaurant in the immediate hood, leaving Inman Park's Sotto Sotto and Fritti the nearest serious restaurant.

The opening of The Inman Park Patio (1029 Edgewood Ave., 4404-659-5757) improves things substantially for the area, though not in L5P central. The reinvention of a dreadful earlier restaurant, The Patio, by new owners is a welcome addition. The menu is Italian and comparisons to Sotto Sotto and Fritti would be unfair. That pair on North Highland is uncompromisingly true to Tuscan cuisine and they are citywide destination restaurants. This new restaurant is hidden away, across from the MARTA station, and is a truly neighborhood restaurant. The owners have wisely mixed up prices so just about anyone in the area can afford to eat there. On Tuesdays, you can enjoy all-you-can-eat pizza for $10, and on Mondays, bottles of wine are half-price.

The decor has not changed — unless you count people as furniture. Whereas the former restaurant was almost always empty, the new one's dining room was crowded on a night notoriously bad for restaurants in our city. One thing the restaurant's owners do appear to have wisely done is keep the dining space confined to a main dining room and the bar area. This is actually a very large space for a neighborhood restaurant.

The atmosphere is festive. Our server Melissa, herewith declared Waitron of the Week, was delightfully neurotic and attentive. She apologized profusely when she didn't appear immediately at our table when we were seated. And when I asked her name at the meal's end, she replied, "What did I do wrong?" Melissa would make a good server in a Woody Allen film.

The food was great. I liked my pancetta-wrapped shrimp starter: Its five jumbo shrimp were grilled until smoky and a bit black and their ribbon of pancetta turned crispy. A very light but pointed chili-garlic sauce was drizzled on the shrimp. Wayne ordered a pear and gorgonzola salad made with mixed field greens and a zippy lemon-thyme vinaigrette. There is also a starter called "BYOB" — Build Your Own Bruschetta. You could make a meal out of it.

I was disappointed that the restaurant was out of its osso bucco, one of my favorite dishes, but I was happy with pan-seared duck, almost fork tender, arranged over homey garlic-mashed potatoes. The plate was spotted with a black grape sauce. Some pleasantly salty and crunchy sauteed green beans were on the side.

As much as I liked the duck, I preferred Wayne's herb-crusted ahi tuna served with baby field greens. The tuna is seared, meltingly tender and blessed by the mild herb crust. There was a caponata on the plate and a balsamic reduction for further contrast to the tuna.

You'll also find a menu of pastas, including some creative raviolis, and a few pizzas. Anything with the meatballs is universally recommended.

br>?Eating around
My friend Michael Saunders and I dined at Sundown Cafe last week. Chef David Waller has abbreviated the menu to some old favorites and regularly changing specials. We both ordered a special of freshly made tamales steamed in corn husks, filled with pork and served with a New Mexico chile sauce. This is one of my favorite dishes at Sundown and if you get the chance to try it, don't pass it up ...

I stopped by Belly (722 N. Highland Ave., 404-872-1003), the new gourmet shop in the old Fleeman's Pharmacy location. I can't go in that building without remembering that day so many years ago when Mrs. Fleeman, having a bad day, drove her car through the window into her husband's pharmacy.

Belly might remind you a bit of Star Provisions and, it's no wonder. Raymond Hook, who turned that shop adjacent to Bacchanalia into cheese paradise, has a hand in Belly, where you can find a good selection of artisan products. Sandwiches and soups make the shop worth a visit for lunch or a light evening meal — if you can find a parking space ...

br>?Gossip and feedback
I'm sorry to report that Anne Reeves, Goddess of Food PR, is leaving the Liz Lapidus firm. Anyone who works in media knows that PR people can be either the bane of your existence or a genuine help. Anne has always been the latter, not deluging me with minutiae of every restaurant she represented. She will be freelancing for a while and if anyone is in need of a PR goddess, her e-mail is anne@annereeves.com ...

Cafe de Nice, one of my faves, especially for coq au vin, has bitten the dust. Granted, the restaurant had service that threatened to legitimize George Bush's contempt for the French, but I loved the place ...

Reader Jonathan Wilson writes: Have you ever been to Gumbeaux out in Douglasville? It is hard to believe that you would find great Cajun food out there but it's a great place. My favorite is the "king quarter shrimp" but I have never had a bad dish ...

Java Jive, one of Midtown's favorites for weekend breakfast, turns 10 Feb. 19. Shira Levetan and Steven Horwitz serve breakfast every morning except Monday and my longtime fave here is the gingerbread waffles with lemon curd (available only on weekends) ...

The newest in the booming College Park area is Kosmos, on Main Street, near the popular Oscar's. Chef Connie Carriveau's menu features New American cuisine with a touch of European, Latin and Asian influences. Vegetarians will be happy to hear that the chef offers especially creative meat-free dishes.

Leave Cliff Bostock a voicemail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1010, or e-mail him at cliff.bostock@creativeloafing.com.

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