During pandemic, Pea Ridge offers old-fashioned hospitality

Plenty of restaurants that reopened for takeout during the pandemic rushed to make online ordering available. Not Pea Ridge. It wasn’t because of the cost to update website functionality. It was simply because that’s not how they do things here.

“We are old-fashioned,” said owner John Peter Casey, better known as JP.

Open since 2015, Pea Ridge is a casual restaurant that serves up homestyle American fare inside an unassuming cinder block building on the outskirts of Decatur. The restaurant’s name references an area along Lawrenceville Highway where pea farmers once sold their crops.

Metro Atlanta boasts countless small, indie operations with a big heart and a loyal following. That Pea Ridge is one of those kinds of neighborhood joints has been evident throughout the pandemic.

JP watched business plummet the weekend of March 14-15. “That was probably one of the worst, if not the worst, Sunday sales days ever,” he said. “I started watching what was going on around the world and thought, ‘We are going to be in some trouble here.’” Within two days, he had closed the restaurant, donated the perishable food to a women’s shelter, cleaned the place up and locked the doors. “It was pretty sad,” he said.

Despite inquiries from regulars, he didn’t feel comfortable shifting immediately to takeout. “I felt it was too risky to put employees at risk. Customers, too,” he said.

When the time was right, though, he tried to give guests the kind of takeout service they’d expect from Pea Ridge: a live voice on the other end of the line who could talk about the specials, recommend a few dishes, maybe even chit-chat for an extra minute or two. “When they call, we are able to give them the information they need,” JP said.

JP relishes personal interaction as much as his loyal customers. Since reopening Pea Ridge, he’s been a fixture on the premises. “I like to be around to greet people,” he said.

He greeted plenty of people when Pea Ridge opened May 15 for takeout. “We got slammed,” he said. “We were almost overwhelmed with the amount of people placing orders.”

Pea Ridge regulars continue to support the restaurant with their dining dollars multiple times a week. And those that are comfortable dining out during the pandemic have been taking seats at the few tables on the narrow patio.

“People have been saying, ‘We missed you so much. Thank you for reopening.’ I cannot tell you how incredible that has been.”

JP caters to the needs of guests as much as possible, which is why he feels torn about his decision not to open the dining room just yet. “There are regular customers of ours that want us to reopen. … I’m not quite ready for that,” he said, adding, “I’ll know when the time is right.”

If patio demand grows beyond the current 12-seat capacity, in keeping with state guidelines, he’ll just make more room by shifting the potted shrubbery that gives the outdoor space its shape and serves as a buffer from highway traffic.

Ever the optimist, the restaurateur continues to find an upside to the challenges that current conditions present. “Imagine if it happened during the dead of winter. We wouldn’t be able to have people outside,” he said.

Somehow, you can imagine JP making it work.

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Menu: full menu

Alcohol: beer, half-priced bottles of wine and specialty single-serve or quart-sized cocktails, such as the Pea RitaWhat I ordered: fresh catch, Buffalo shrimp sandwich, flash-fried North Carolina trout sandwich, Pea Ridge-style burger, vegetarian meatloaf and romaine wrap with beef. Fish entrees rotate every few days and are a popular pick. The nice-sized portion of grilled tuna was cooked to a requested medium rare and paired well with mix of field peas, Romanesco broccoli and shiitake mushrooms. The Buffalo shrimp offered excellent heat on Cuban-style bread, while the trout held its crispness during transit. The burger was solid, but the accompanying house-made chips with a creamy horseradish were memorable. The black bean meatloaf was Thai-inflected, with a green coconut curry sauce and a side of rice, making for a filling vegan option. JP threw in a few house-made desserts: a slice of coconut cream pie with cinnamon-coconut ice cream and chocolate vanilla pound cake. They all were worth the calories.Service options: order via phone; takeout or patio service only; no delivery; pay on-site.

Safety protocols: following all state-mandated safety guidelines; staff wears masks and gloves; sanitizing all surfaces, including designated outdoor tables and chairs; customers are not allowed inside the dining room; all pens and clipboards sanitized after each use

Address, phone: 2607 Lawrenceville Highway, Decatur; 470-268-4051

Hours: noon-8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays

Website: pearidgerestaurant.com


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