Over a year ago, I described Edgewood Avenue as undergoing "gentrification." A reader of the online version of my column left an enraged comment about how much she hates the word "gentrification."
I had never really given the word much thought. In ordinary usage, it refers to a formerly poor urban neighborhood that is overtaken by upwardly mobile types. They end up pushing out the poor folks.
It occurred to me, after reading the commenter's tirade, that the term is indeed loaded with all kinds of classist implications – primarily that a neighborhood is necessarily improved by this change, or that the upper class necessarily eclipses the lower one instead of living in harmony with it. During the early days of a neighborhood's gentrification, you also see a lot of "slumming." Suburban types visit such areas to check out the urban wildlife.
Whatever you want to call it, there is a dramatic clash of cultures occurring on Edgewood Avenue. After I exited Rolling Bones last week, for example, people were lined up on the other side of a fence begging for food and money. It is easy to dismiss such people as nuisances, or even as exotic figures that might be depicted by Goya. But the suffering is real. Maybe nothing expresses this mélange of cultures as well as Café 458, which feeds the poor on weekdays and the comparatively affluent on weekends.
The newest restaurant to open on Edgewood is the Bureau (327 Edgewood Ave., 678-732-0067). Yes, it's another gastropub, but in the way I recently called Eros a "gastrodisco," I think the Bureau is our first "gastrogallery." The space literally includes a large art gallery, and the pub, overall, is dramatic in scale and design. The entry level feels like the upstairs floor of an industrial-chic loft. A broad stairway leads downstairs to a room with a huge bar and a pool table.
Chef Jay Clark is an alumnus of Shaun Doty's earliest restaurants and did a stint at Babbo, Mario Batali's Italian restaurant in New York (where Bruce Logue, chef of La Pietra Cucina, also worked). Clark's menu is brief and changes somewhat daily. Wayne and I had a great meal for the most part during our one visit.
My favorite from the "finger food" section of the menu was the chicken liver bruschetta. Unlike Doty's famous treatment of chicken liver, this is smoothly blended like classic chopped liver and spread thickly on toast with some pickled onion. We also tried a sandwich of pork rillettes. Now, rillettes, by definition, is meat cooked in fat, so you expect an oily texture. The fat was overwhelming in this version, however, which was made with toast points (which Wayne always calls his "favorite vegetable"). The bread tasted like it had been grilled in butter. All I tasted was fat.
Wayne was excited to see poutine on the menu. Frankly, I'd never tried this Canadian obsession of french fries, with gravy and cheese. Actually, the recipe calls for cheese curds but Clark has substituted hunks of melting cheese a la your favorite nachos. It's the curds that allegedly make this dish, so Wayne wasn't entirely happy. He wasn't so unhappy that he didn't eat the entire, gigantic portion, though, including every drop of the gravy.
Our entrees were particularly good. I ordered the chicken paprikash. I don't even remember the last time I encountered a Hungarian-style dish in Atlanta. When I first started cooking with serious intent in my mid-20s, I developed something of an obsession with paprika, which my mother frequently used sparingly in her own cooking. There are a lot of different paprikas, ranging from the delicate to the intense and aromatic. Clark uses a mild version here, and the juicy chicken is served with lots of cabbage and crème fraiche. A wonderful cold-weather dish.
Wayne ordered Gulf snapper grilled crispy and juicy, served over a sauce of eggplant, tomato and olives. It tasted straight out of Provence. (We were both tempted by a dish of pork cheeks with cannellini and green beans.)
We tried both the flourless chocolate cake and the granita made with pear cider and garnished with chopped pears. The latter was served in two Chinese-style porcelain spoons. You'll want about three times that amount. The ganache-like cake was good, but the usual.
With dishes like head cheese with cipollini and gribiche, lamb chops with salsa verde, and the pork rillettes, there's a bit of Holeman & Finch about the Bureau's menu. The beer list is fascinating, according to Wayne. I still don't really get the pub's name. Apparently, "the Bureau" is an allusion to the FBI, so you may want to leave your contraband at home.
Meanwhile, if you want an experience of post-gentrification, head out on Buford Highway. The stretch of apartment buildings between Lenox Road and Clairmont was, once upon a time, the city's (white) swinging singles district. But it has followed the trend along Buford Highway north of Clairmont to become home to the city's burgeoning immigrant Asian and Latin communities. This transition has occurred over decades.
Here you see the classism of a term like "gentrification." To say that the area has deteriorated because of the exodus of young white singles and repopulation by comparatively poor immigrants is just not accurate. The area seems more prosperous than ever and, interestingly, I have never encountered the degree of begging there that I have intown. What's that all about?
I lunched at Macchu Picchu (404-320-3226) last week. This Peruvian cafe has been up and down during the last few years but I dined well last week. There are weekday lunch specials for about $8, but my server talked me into her favorite on the regular menu – a dish of stewed beef in a cilantro sauce with red beans and rice. The sauce, full of tiny peas, was mild but I added a bit of aji sauce to it. This pink chile sauce, almost fiery, is served with your bread here.
It occurred to me while chatting with my server that part of what has happened along Buford Highway is that the American-born children of immigrants have gone to work in many of these restaurants, so that the area offers a picture of assimilation that, weirdly, still hasn't occurred in our inner-city neighborhoods.