Germany is a strange place. On the one hand, it seems like the model of high efficiency and bourgeois pleasure, all business and beer. But the country also has a deep fascination with the metaphysical. Homeopathy and energetic healing prosper there. My own spiritual quest took me there many times and, while my spirit was well fed, my body was often in agony.
To put it otherwise: The German diet of fried and fatty foods sucks.
Or at least my exposure to it does. In the small town I frequently visited, the only food I considered edible during my first visits was Turkish. Later, though, I discovered an ovo-lacto-vegetarian restaurant in an ancient hotel. Not only was the food healthy; it was far better than most of such food I'd eaten in America.
Maybe it's coincidence that the best such food in Atlanta right now is being cooked by an American Army brat who has spent most of his life in Germany. David Sweeney is the proprietor of Dynamic Dish (427 Edgewood Ave., 404-688-4344), an "organic delicatessen" in the Sweet Auburn district.
Sweeney, who learned his craft in Germany, has been back in the States less than a year. He moved back because he wanted to be around his sister's children while they are growing up. He freely admits that he has proceeded in his endeavor without a lot of forethought in some areas. There's the location, for example. With a nondescript exterior identified by some nearly invisible lettering on the windows, the space he rented is a few blocks west of Edgewood's intersection with Boulevard.
"A lot of people are mystified why you located here," I remarked to him. It's one of those areas that keeps struggling to develop.
Javaology, Café 458 and Rolling Bones are both nearby and prospering. But Power Plant, an initially impressive vegan restaurant, closed recently. I know two people – Chris Lopez and Matt Ruppert – who are both opening restaurants in the area soon.
"I keep asking myself why I picked this place, too," he said. "I liked the building and the neighborhood, but I admit it's been rough." In fact, he's scaled his operation back from offering a much broader selection of prepared foods to offering a few sandwiches and a special soup or entree daily. But he also works the weekly intown street markets such as East Atlanta Village's, selling prepared foods.
The man deserves to prosper. Once you get past the exterior of the building, next to a thrift store, you enter a serene space with communal tables and two-tops. There are some odds and ends, mainly service pieces, for sale on some shelves. But your attention should go directly to the blackboard.
Sweeney's offerings are sometimes complex and sometimes simple, but they always have completely clear flavors, many of them shocking in the way the first organic heirloom tomato of the summer tastes after a winter of eating mealy, greenhouse-grown tomatoes. An example is a "pate" of butternut squash, spread on yummy pumpkin sourdough bread (from Magnolia Bread Company in Cherokee County). It is sweet, creamy and crunchy with sunflower seeds. The sweetness contrasts with a salad of slightly vinegary, thin-sliced beets and tart apples.
I've sampled three warm dishes. One was a tagine – all organic – of pumpkin, peppers, fennel and chickpeas over feather-light couscous. You'll lick the bowl. I've also sampled a red-lentil soup that was just unbelievable. Besides the lentils, it featured sweet peppers, red pepper, leeks, coconut milk and ginger. Kind of Thai, kind of American. The ginger, one of my favorite flavors, was strong and bracing.
Another special was a quiche, made with a spelt crust, filled with sunchokes, heirloom peppers, kabocha squash and pecorino cheese. Of sandwiches, my favorite has been rosemary-roasted tofu with a pesto of basil and walnuts, layered with roasted carrots and onions. Another sandwich, on the menu daily, was less impressive. It's a tofu club sandwich featuring tempeh "bacon," tomatoes and Russian dressing. It's great but I liked the other, with its interesting roasted carrots, better.
There are also desserts from outside organic vendors.
I don't know anyone who comes close to preparing this quality of healthy cooking. Technically, Sweeney's food is not purely vegetarian since, for example, the quiche contains milk, eggs and cheese. Indeed, he says he's "meat-friendly," although I've not encountered any meat in his deli yet. But what you do get, with the olive oil being an exception, is 100 percent organic cooking.
Not the Copa, the Copacabana ...
Did you know Barry Manilow is coming to town Jan. 19? I didn't. In fact, I thought he was dead. I wouldn't know the male predecessor of Celine Dion was alive and still singing crap had I not visited Marco's Pita (752 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-607-0071) last week. This café, which calls itself "a healthy alternative to fast food," is papered with fliers announcing every upcoming musical event in the city. The original home of Tortillas, the place is colorful and funky, to say the least. It's like stepping into a calendar.
Unfortunately, the food is on the edge. I don't really understand why. I ordered the Mediterranean Special of baba ghanouj, stuffed grape leaves, hummus, cucumber salad (substituting for tabbouleh) and slices of pita. The two spreads were good, although the baba ghanouj was kind of weak on flavor. The grape leaves were excessively oily and mushy, but the truth is I never much like these anywhere. The cuke salad was great, including quite flavorful tomatoes.
What was grim was my falafel pita. I ordered it spicy with a peppery tahini and it included the novel ingredients of pickles and turnips. But, oy, the falafel itself was so dry I couldn't swallow it without pulling it out of the pita and dragging it through the hummus. I assume it was cooked hours ahead of time, because it was not served hot, either.
I know you guys can do better.