During pandemic, Pea Ridge offers old-fashioned hospitality

Pea Ridge owner John Peter “JP” Casey relishes personal interaction with his guests. Since reopening the restaurant, he s been a fixture on the premises. “I like to be around to greet people,” he said. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
Caption
Pea Ridge owner John Peter “JP” Casey relishes personal interaction with his guests. Since reopening the restaurant, he s been a fixture on the premises. “I like to be around to greet people,” he said. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

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.

Pea Ridge is open for takeout as well as patio service. Owner John Peter “JP” Casey said that if patio demand grows beyond its current 12-seat capacity, he ll make more room by shifting the potted shrubbery that gives the outdoor space its shape and serves as a buffer from highway traffic. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
Caption
Pea Ridge is open for takeout as well as patio service. Owner John Peter “JP” Casey said that if patio demand grows beyond its current 12-seat capacity, he ll make more room by shifting the potted shrubbery that gives the outdoor space its shape and serves as a buffer from highway traffic. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

“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.

Pea Ridge offers homestyle American fare. Pictured, clockwise from top left: Pea Ridge-style burger with house-made fries and a creamy horseradish dip; market catch, featuring grilled tuna; Buffalo shrimp sandwich with a side of wilted Swiss chard and melted Asiago; and the flash-fried North Carolina trout sandwich with coleslaw. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
Caption
Pea Ridge offers homestyle American fare. Pictured, clockwise from top left: Pea Ridge-style burger with house-made fries and a creamy horseradish dip; market catch, featuring grilled tuna; Buffalo shrimp sandwich with a side of wilted Swiss chard and melted Asiago; and the flash-fried North Carolina trout sandwich with coleslaw. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

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.

The Buffalo shrimp sandwich from Pea Ridge offers excellent heat. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
Caption
The Buffalo shrimp sandwich from Pea Ridge offers excellent heat. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

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.

Chocolate-vanilla pound cake (foreground) was among the recent chef’s daily pastries at Pea Ridge. Coconut cream pie (background) is a regular dessert item at the restaurant. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
Caption
Chocolate-vanilla pound cake (foreground) was among the recent chef’s daily pastries at Pea Ridge. Coconut cream pie (background) is a regular dessert item at the restaurant. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

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.”

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. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
Caption
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. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

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.

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

PEA RIDGE

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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