While Atlanta is possessed of any number of postcard-perfect town squares, one suburban downtown that has been wholly transformed in recent years is Duluth. In particular, the Parsons Alley development, a warren of shops, restaurants and public spaces at the corner of Main and West Lawrenceville streets, is a culinary destination in its own right. From oyster bars to coffee nooks, here’s a look.
Good Word Brewing & Public House
A town without a proper tavern is unacceptable. Fortunately, the developers of Parsons Alley had the good sense to anchor their historical venue with a stellar watering hole that serves good food to boot. Any visit to the alley should begin at Good Word, where the visions of owner-brewer Todd DiMatteo and executive chef Brian Crain are thoughtfully entwined.
While DiMatteo crafts the beer, he also keeps a watchful eye on the kitchen, where the spirit of his Puerto Rican grandmother resides like a guardian angel. Start with a glass of You Do You, I’ll Do Me — an easy-drinking table beer — and a dish of corn fritters. Served over swirls of Duke’s mayo and topped with cotija and cilantro, the hush pups are a delicious commingling of DiMatteo’s American South-meets-Latin American philosophy. While you may savor shrimp empanadas, tostones with red-pepper sofrito, or a fisherman’s stew with chorizo, fennel and grilled bread for sopping, the pork cheek tacos on hand-pressed tortillas with salsa verde and crispy watermelon radishes will make for a fine introduction. (Maybe skip the fries and go with a cup of luscious refried black beans and rice.)
Any second plate — say, roast chicken, braised beef with winter veggies or a classic cheeseburger — will provide a fine excuse for moving on to the heady The Universe Says, a juicy green IPA with a noticeable kick. Should you choose to end on a sweet note, Tres Leches Butter Cake is a winner: Inside a little cazuela are two sweet slices of light-as-a-feather cake; a scoop of velvety, condensed-milk-based ice cream; cinnamon-and-brown-sugar churro crumbles; and a puddle of burnt-cinnamon creme anglaise. Gimme that spoon! No doubt DiMatteo’s grandmother, Maria Esther Pena, would approve.
3085 Main St. NW, Suite 52, Duluth. 404-973-2077, goodwordbrewing.com.
I once had a colleague who often waxed nostalgic about the barbecue he enjoyed at Dreamland’s mother ship in Tuscaloosa, Ala., back in the day. Roll ribs? As the sign on the side of the building proclaims of the restaurant’s iconic, hickory-kissed pork ribs, “Ain’t nothing like ‘em nowhere.” I might not go so far as to say the food here is dreamy, but I feel comfortable declaring this casual pit stop one of downtown Duluth’s better family-friendly options. Affordable, too.
Order a big glass of sweet tea and maybe a cup of the chunky Brunswick stew, then dig into some ‘cue. Ribs, pulled pork and smoked sausage won’t let you down, and we were happy with the mac and cheese and the old-fashioned, long-simmered pole beans. As for other go-withs, pork-and-beans are standard issue, and the main ingredient of the potato salad seemed to have been boiled so long the spuds were largely leached of flavor. On the plus side, the Smokehouse Cobb with chicken was a ginormous pile of greens, veggies, boiled egg and so on; and the sweet-tangy BBQ vinaigrette was a nice accompaniment. While we pigged out, the weight watcher among us munched on her big salad bowl for days. Well done, Dreamland. You’re nothing to snooze about.
3540 W. Lawrenceville St., Duluth. 770-366-7427, dreamlandbbq.com.
Noona Steakhouse & Oyster Bar
When I was growing up, we used to polish off raw Apalachicolas by the dozen and think nothing of it. Nowadays you need to be flush with cash if you want to eat your fill of oysters, so it's nice to see Korean-inspired Noona offer a $1-a-bivalve happy hour from 4-6 p.m. daily. Think of it as the suburban equivalent of Watchman's Seafood & Spirits' like-minded weekday special.
One Saturday afternoon, I sat at Noona’s bar and enjoyed a dozen Chesapeake Bay Barcats and White Stone River beauties with a French 75. Carefully shucked by an attentive crew, the oysters had been scrubbed to the nines and were wonderfully pristine and fresh-tasting. If only the service, the cocktails and the food that followed had been as thoughtful.
Though the French 75 was a little flat, the Asian Medicine (a riff on the classic Penicillin made with Japanese whisky) was a tad better. For whatever reason, the blase bartender steered me away from bossam wraps and the wagyu tartare but endorsed the house burger. For $18, I got a charred American wagyu patty dressed up with mushroom-onion jam, horseradish cream and Gruyere. A heavenly sounding combo for sure, yet none of those flavors really came together to elevate the charry-tasting but unremarkable beef. The side of house-made honey-butter potato chips dusted with spice helped things a little, but considering that Noona is the poshest joint on the alley and received a three-star rating from the AJC earlier this year, the experience was a letdown.
Wish I’d followed my instincts and gone with the tartare and kimchi fried rice.
3550 W. Lawrenceville St., Suite 310, Duluth. 678-404-5001, noonaduluth.com.
The signature Jersey-style creation of pizzaiolo Anthony Spina, this simple amalgamation of sweet tomato sauce, mozzarella and fresh basil is a 16-square-inch miracle: juicy at the center and edged with crunchy crust-handles that snap to the bite. Perversely, Nina & Rafi, O4W's new sister restaurant at Studioplex on Auburn Avenue, doesn't offer the famous Grandma Pie, so the only place to find one is Duluth. Make every effort to get here; just don't be in any hurry once you place your order. It takes 20 to 30 minutes for the pie to bake.
While waiting, you can nibble on a fresh salad — the Greek version was a tad on the salt-and-vinegar side for my taste — and sip a beer. Technically, O4W is not on the alley, but it’s just steps away. Once you’ve had your fill of pie, you can stroll the Town Green, City Hall and the rest of this vibrant downtown.
3117 Main St., Duluth. 678-587-5420, o4wpizza.com.
Chocolate and doughnuts
Joey and Karissa Tuttle started their Simply Done Donuts (3550 W. Lawrenceville St., Suite 340, Duluth; 678-772-0523, simplydonedonuts.com) as a food truck in 2015 and two years later opened their sunny Parsons Alley brick-and-mortar. I love Simply Done's style: Small cake doughnuts are always sold in pairs, so you can mix and match everything from Apple Pie to Man Bait (maple icing and crumbled bacon). The coffee program is strong, too, so Simply Done is a sweet spot to begin the day. … Parsons Alley is also home to a world-class chocolate company. Perched on a prime corner, the Chocolaterie (3099 Main St., Duluth; 678-585-3338, thechocolaterie.com) offers a stunning selection of truffles, toffees, barks, fudge and house-churned ice cream. Try a nut-and-caramel turtle or a scoop of pistachio almond.
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