Of course, the Silver Skillet has been voted "Best Breakfast in Atlanta." The moveable letters on the restaurant's sign have carried that permanent message for as long as I can remember.
But at noon the other day, none of the near-capacity crowd appeared to be ordering omelets. They knew the local secret of this Midtown institution, established in 1956. If a dealmaker's breakfast (eggs, biscuits, grits and gravy) merits the Skillet an asterisk in tourist guidebooks, then lunch is even better.
Biscuits are traditionally breakfast food, and you'll miss them at lunch here unless you specifically request them. But the other customs observed at lunchtime are compensatory. First of all, you write your order in pencil and hand the chit to your server, as if this were the Piedmont Driving Club. What you choose should probably depend on the sides you're in the mood for. Dishes under the "Favorites" category -- such as spicy catfish strips, and roast beef and dressing -- come with two vegetables, corn bread and a yeast roll. The corn bread, a warm and savory muffin, gets its pale color from the white (not yellow) cornmeal that connoisseurs prefer. While the yeast roll tastes like a commercial vendor's, it does arrive hot.
You won't get vegetables or bread with the "Cold Plates." They come instead with a hard-boiled egg and the restaurant's own potato salad and coleslaw, both fine versions. They are especially good as the supporting cast for chicken salad.
Items under "Salads" come without sides. The most unusual selection, the Dutch salad, adds smoked link sausage and sliced pickles to the customary chef's mix of sliced turkey, American and Swiss cheese strips, boiled eggs and tomatoes.
My cured ham steak was a thick, juicy slice, with some nice browning from the skillet. But if, like me, you rarely get to eat sliced ham, the saltier, fattier country ham steak served here may be more gratifying. (The menu describes it as "Famous," a distinction only the fried chicken breast shares.) My two vegetables, spinach and mixed peas, were both daily specials. They promised to be "fresh," but the spinach, more black than green and closer to pureed than finely chopped, seemed canned. The distinct mineral flavor that only over-cooking extracts redeemed it, however, evoking a pleasant taste memory from childhood. The crowder and black-eyed peas made a nice contrast tossed together in their small bowl.
Look no further than blackberry cobbler a la mode for dessert. My big bowl contained a generous portion of the pastry topping, and the berries themselves were still intact, proof enough that this restaurant does, where it matters most, cook from scratch.
More Christmas Baking
Not to be outdone by the seasonal offerings at Alon's, the Bread Garden is baking, to order, a buche de noël ($28) and a pannetone ($9). The former can be made with yellow or chocolate sponge cake, a filling of chestnut cream, dark chocolate, raspberry or dark chocolate, and a white or dark chocolate cladding. Orders must be placed at least three days before pick up. 549 Amsterdam Ave. 404-875-1166.
The bakery at Ansley Mall's Publix has produced some great-looking gingerbread houses. The manager reports they're being snapped up fast (at $24.99 each) but that more may be baked to meet demand. 1544 Piedmont Ave. 404-898-1850.
Beyond Love Cakes
The Flying Biscuit has revamped its "Non-Stop Breakfast" menu, adding, among other things, three omelets to its all-day breakfast offerings. (There is also a separate dinner menu after 5 p.m.) The new Southern Scramble -- eggs with sauteed greens, cheddar and turkey bacon -- should be a new classic. Also keep in mind the daily happenings here: Children under 12 eat free Monday to Thursday, 4-7 p.m., if their chaperones purchase an item from the regular menu. And on Fridays, a three-course "wine tasting dinner" is offered at both locations for $25. 1655 McLendon Ave., 404-687-8888; 1001 Piedmont Ave., 404-874-8887. www.flyingbiscuit.com.
New Year's Eve a la Carte
Amid a crush of astronomic fixed-price New Year's Eve options, Babette's Cafe is offering its regular menu a la carte, along with some luxe holiday supplements. The special appetizers include sautéed fois gras on toasted brioche with dried fig compote. Butter-poached lobster with leeks is one of the special entrees. Reservations and a $20 per person deposit are required. 573 N. Highland Ave. 404-523-9121.