If "belly" weren't a part of the name, you probably wouldn't think North Highland's newest eatery, Belly General Store, had anything to do with food. From the outside, it looks like another hip 'n' crunchy, possibly snooty gift shop where you'd expect to find fair-trade pottery or a few chocolate bars whose profits benefit a rainforest preservation fund. Step inside, though, and you're immediately greeted by a smiling, enthusiastic, young staff happy to talk you through the menu. A large whiteboard announces a roster of snacks whose old-timey flair seems sure to please.
Snark attack: In my darkest, snarkiest heart I first visited Belly bent on hating it. Some friends who passed through the store called it a "freakish mish-mash" and a "Star Provisions/Sprout wannabe." The powder blue scooter in Belly's front window brought out the sneering skeptic in me, as did the rack of baby clothes in the back of the shop. But when I approached the counter and looked at the menu, my black heart melted. It's impossible to be curmudgeonly in the face of deviled eggs being offered with the sandwiches. Belly's self-hyped cupcakes ($1.50), with flavors like carrot cake with walnut buttercream and peanut butter and jelly, are adorable in their wonky homemade-ness. Their arrangement, though, sans cover on a Boos Block by the cash register, is a little too within curious kids' reach.
Yummy yummy in my tummy: Belly's old-fashioned snack counter seating is delightfully nostalgic, with its low stools that intensify the kid-at-an-ice-cream-counter feeling and view of row upon row of wooden shelves and an accompanying ladder that recall the mom-and-pop grocery of yesteryear. The prosciutto, pecorino and basil pesto panino ($7) is a heavenly marriage of salty yet buttery ham, nutty cheese and potent pesto. These goodies are wedged between slices of beautifully thin and crispy bread. The chicken salad on ciabatta ($6) would please the most hardcore followers of The Southern Belle Primer with its chunks of white meat and pecans. An airier ciabatta or a more generous hand with the salad would make this satisfying sandwich a treat to drive across town for.
Kiss these grits: On a Sunday morning visit to Belly, we worry there will be nowhere left to sit. The surprisingly few customers are only milling about, picking up luxury food items such as Marie Belle hot chocolate and Niman Ranch bacon and setting them back down. Perhaps no one knows breakfast is available, which is a shame. Delicious (often organic) juices ($1.50 small, $2.50 large) are squeezed to order. The homemade garlic bagel ($1.50) is worthy of a love song, with its crunchy exterior and cushy bite. A handmade flour tortilla stuffed with scrambled egg, cheddar, country ham and potatoes ($4) is such melting, heady eating my friend and I fight over the last bit. The creamiest, thickest grits imaginable with country ham and egg ($4) make us feel right as rain after a long, wine-soaked Saturday night.
As a store, Belly is indeed a bit kooky. Yet for having been open just over a month, its smooth running is admirable. This new neighborhood favorite should indeed expect the crowds to belly up to its charming counter.