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Fuel: Start your engines

Killer pizza in Kirkwood

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"A tarp. I'm going to hang a huge tarp there and project movies on it," the cook/owner/waiter of Fuel Pizza (2012-A Hosea L. Williams Drive, 404-373-2778), told us.

Sitting on the patio, we had asked what was going on in the car detailing shop next door. "They smoke chickens all night and make a lot of noise," Lisa told us. "I'm going to put up that tarp if they don't calm down."

Actually, we didn't mind the distraction at all. Fuel, located in a former Sinclair service station, is in Kirkwood, which, like nearby Oakhurst, is a so-called transitional neighborhood. Except for the auto detail shop, you might not realize it, though, since the rest of the commercial district caters to a hip but gritty sensibility. There's a cozy coffeehouse called Gathering Grounds, a pub, a huge Arden's Garden, even a pet supply store whose window includes a portrait of a bird in a shower cap.

Fuel is just as gritty as its surroundings. The interior is a few haphazardly placed tables and a bar with a view of the kitchen. Lisa is probably the restaurant's most striking fixture – kinda tough and very funny. I don't think she'll take much shit from her neighbors.

The good news is that her pizza is killer. It is all made on a thin, almost crackery crust – my favorite – and ingredients range from the usual to the gourmet, or nearly so, such as pancetta, prosciutto, roasted red peppers, feta and a decent fresh mozzarella.

You can, of course, mix and match ingredients, but we both ordered specialty pizzas. I selected the "signature pizza" topped with olive oil, roasted garlic, spinach, roasted red peppers, red onions, feta and mozzarella. It was a terrific variety of flavors, but I actually preferred Wayne's simpler choice, the not-so-simply named "Jackie-O."

It was a golden cheese pie topped with fresh, intensely green arugula. Although I've had plenty of pizzas featuring fresh arugula, this one differed in that the greens had been lightly tossed in a lemon-basil vinaigrette. The slightly sweet and tart flavor was a unique contrast with the pie's sharp Parmesan. I want one right now. (Exactly why the pizza is named after Jacqueline Onassis, I have no idea – and Lisa didn't seem to remember, either, only that a friend gave it the name.)

We also sampled a spinach salad with a balsamic vinaigrette, crispy pancetta and bits of Gorgonzola – another nicely balanced variety of flavors.

You'll also find calzones and other salads on the menu. The only dessert, which we did not try, is a chocolate-chip cannoli. The place, which for reasons I can't explain any more than the name of the Jackie-O pizza, reminds me of a scene out of Last Exit to Brooklyn. Go.

Two Southern favorites

Two longtime Atlanta favorites have something to celebrate these days. Mary Mac's Tearoom (224 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-876-1800) has remodeled its rambling dining rooms, and the Colonnade (1879 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-874-5642) is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year.

I visited Mary Mac's, which is only 62 years old, last week with my friend Gregg, who eats there regularly and dotes on the same dish I ordered – chicken and dumplings, a comfort food that is hard to find anywhere in our city. Honestly, my dish last week didn't measure up to earlier experiences – it was on the dry, gelatinous side with very little chicken. My sides of collards and fried green tomatoes were flawless, though.

The redo of the restaurant is impressive, almost luxurious, with some great colors and new art – and an uncountable number of framed pictures and memorabilia.

One complaint that applies to other restaurants as well: Establish a lost-and-found. I left my (prescription) sunglasses on the table there and when I returned, the server told me he'd handed them to the host, but, at this writing, nobody could find them. I had the same thing happen a year ago with a book at another restaurant.

Meanwhile, the Colonnade is celebrating its 80th anniversary with some menu changes. I hadn't eaten in the restaurant in many months when Wayne and I visited last week. As every intowner knows, the Colonnade clientele has long been described as "gays and grays," although the gays are mainly as gray as the old folks these days. The two populations tend to eat in shifts – the gay folks arriving later in the evening.

The Colonnade opened in 1927 at the corner of Piedmont and Lindbergh and moved to its present location in 1962. A fire gutted the place in 1992, when it was completely remodeled. I've had several longtime favorites here. The fried chicken is some of the best in the city. For years – back in the '80s – I ate only the fried oysters, and for the last 15 years I've mainly ordered the lamb shank, which was dirt cheap, compared to prices on other Atlanta menus.

The new menu includes nightly specials and, as it happens, Wednesday night's special was the (now rather expensive) lamb shank. I'm not much impressed with the new, fancy treatment of it, even though it looked beautiful on the plate.

The shank was coated in caramelized onions and served over tasty mashed root vegetables and some mashed potatoes. The problem was the shank itself – exceedingly fatty and gamy. I'm guessing it was a fluke. Our server told us that it was the first evening they'd served the shank this way, and I begged for a return to the old style. (I asked a nearby diner his opinion, and he concurred with me.)

Wayne ordered another menu item new to us – chicken Marsala. Props to the kitchen for using a free-range bird, but I'm sorry to say the "mushroom-Marsala demi glace" was way too reduced and, even weirder, lacked much flavor of Marsala at all. The chicken was served over potatoes with goat cheese, which was nearly undetectable.

My advice is to stick to the old favorites, especially the fried chicken. While you're there, check out the framed menu from the original restaurant. It's by the cash register. The highlight is a whole broiled lobster for $2.75. Nothing on the lunch menu costs over $1.

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