Editor’s note: Leila’s Land & Sea has closed since this tour was published.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that the First Baptist Church in East Point was a filming location for “Stranger Things.” This city located just southwest of Atlanta and bordering Hartsfield-Jackson airport is full of character. In its historic downtown district, on streets like White Way and East Point, Sunday churchgoers waiting to get into places like Thumbs-Up Diner may share the sidewalk with panhandlers. There’s no high-brow dining here, but who needs that when you’ve got dinky shack Taco Pete? Good grub? Most of the time. Attitude? Always. Here are seven dishes that match the spunk of this city.
Crawtator Crusted Grouper at Louisiana Bistreaux
If you order an excess of entrees at Louisiana Bistreaux, there are times when the spices, amply applied to dirty rice and seafood, can become so muddled that many dishes taste the same. The plate with a distinct personality: Crawtator Crusted Grouper. It could be the fish, crusted with crushed Zapp’s chips. It could be the bed of grits cooked up with jalapeno and Gouda cheese, but I think it’s the Cajun crawfish cream sauce — silky and unstoppably sop-able with chunks of bread. Who dat doing the saucier thing at Louisiana Bistreaux? Whoever it is, is doing a fine job dressing up this fish.
Louisiana Bistreaux, 1375 Virginia Ave., East Point. 404-762-6755, louisianabistreaux.com.
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Calzone at Oz Pizza
The calzone at Oz is a belly buster. It’s a round of pizza dough bigger than your head, loaded and folded with ricotta, mozzarella, garlic, more mozzarella, oregano and more mozzarella still. (I plunked down 85 cents extra to add pepperoni to the filling and don’t regret that decision.) What makes it more delightful is the heaping side of marinara that’s chunky with onion strips, heady with oregano and heated with red peppers. During a recent weekday lunch visit, Oz was packed with what appeared to be office workers and locals. Lucky are those who can make Oz’s calzone a regular on their midday meal rotation. The restaurant is located directly across from the East Point MARTA station; if you ride the train, it could be your stop, too.
Oz Pizza, 2805 Main St., East Point. 404-761-7006, ozpizza.net.
Nubian Salad at Lov’n It Live
The food here is raw, vegan and organic. It’s not for everyone, but having read a testimonial while waiting for my Nubian Salad to arrive, I appreciate what Lov’n It Live has done during its 12 years in business to help diners feel good while fueling up. As the mantra above the door preaches: “Let food be your medicine / Let medicine be your food.”
The Nubian Salad is not a normal salad, if “normal” for you equates to a mélange of greens and crunchy stuff tossed in a dressing. In this case, it’s three rounded balls formed from avocado, onions, celery, tomato and grains of Canadian wild rice as long as porcupine spines, nesting on a bed of field greens. For added restoration, order the sorrel drink that zings with ginger. Don’t hate on Lov’n It Live by showing up when doors are locked. Note the atypical hours of operation: 1-8 p.m. daily, except Tuesdays.
Lov’n It Live, 2796 East Point St., East Point. 404-765-9220, lovingitlive.com.
100% Lump Crab Cakes at Spondivits
Casual seafood spot Spondivits has a lot of rules, at least if you read all the signs. No split checks. No extra plates. No arguing with staff. No wife beater shirts. My favorite sign is the one on the benches out front: “This is not a bus stop bench.” I wonder how many people have sat on the bench waiting for a MARTA bus, only to see it pass by, then walked inside to inquire, “Is this a bus stop?”
Rule No. 1, when ordering food at Spondivits: get the crab cakes. They are superbly meaty, containing zero filler. How do they do that? A little bit of heavy cream, just enough to help moisten and bind it, before setting the mix into ring molds, said chef Glenn Gagne, who’s been helming this kitchen for the past 27 years. The sauteed seafood cakes are plated atop a mound of rice that tastes like Gagne cracked the code for Rice-A-Roni, and served with two sauces, roasted red pepper and poblano. Ordering Gagne’s clam chowder might be rule No. 2. This uber-creamy recipe has been in his family for six generations, and it won him bragging rights three years in a row at the Cape Cod Chowder Festival.
Spondivits, 1219 Virginia Ave., East Point. 404-767-1569, spondivits.net.
Oxtails with Rice at Q’s Restaurant
When the mood for oxtail strikes, cafeteria-style Q’s Restaurant has you covered. At $19.99, oxtails with rice is the most expensive dinner on the menu board, but worth the moola if you want fall-off-the-bone oxtails served with peppery pan juices. These homestyle dinners come with two sides and a cornbread muffin. If succotash is on the steam table the day you visit, don’t miss it. Q’s wet, saucy version is heavy on tomato and okra, light on corn.
Sitting down at this no-frills neighborhood cafeteria without a dessert on your tray would be just plain wrong. According to an employee, the owner’s grandmother makes all the cakes. They’re marvelously moist. Get the chocolate chip.
Q’s Restaurant, 1599 White Way, East Point. 404-767-9894, http://qsrestaurant.berlindoener.info.
All-American Single Burger at BGR Grille
The menu at counter-order joint BGR Grille is long and varied: burgers and sandwiches, bowls and barbecue, wings, tacos and steaks. Burgers are where I found its sweet spot — but not specialties like the Southerner with bacon, fried green tomato and a fried egg, or the Spicy Jamaican Jerk. Go for a classic: the All-American Single, with your choice of a single turkey or steak patty (both were equally good) plus lettuce, tomato and onions on a brioche bun. It reminded me of my high school days hanging out at Steak ‘n Shake; my retiree dining partner recalled eating something similar at a lunch counter at a drugstore back in the day. You get the idea.
While waiting in line to place my order, I watched the cashier grab package after package for patrons, and I wondered if I was in the wrong place. Turns out, BGR Grille doubles as a UPS pickup center. Alrighty, then. It’s one more reason you’ve got to be patient here, because this kitchen is fairly slow anyway. But getting a burger cooked to order is just one of those things worth waiting for.
BGR Grille, 1603 White Way, East Point. 404-921-2288, www.thebgrgrille.com.
Dungeness Crab Leg Platter at Leila’s Land & Sea
Leila’s is a bare-bones, takeout operation located in a grungy little strip mall on Washington Road. But its Dungeness Crab is fit for kings. The fresh crab is steamed to perfection then showered with freshly minced garlic and near drowning in warm butter.
Leila’s is run by a family who moved here a year ago from Philadelphia, reasoning that the Philly market was too crowded for their fish and seafood concept. Welcome to Atlanta, Leila’s. And your quirks — from that Philly Fish Hoagie (a dense sandwich of deftly seasoned fried whiting with lettuce, tomato, cheese, pickles and onions) to the powder blue plastic Adirondack chairs to plop in while we wait — make you a perfect addition to the neighborhood.
Leila’s Land & Sea, 3278 Washington Road, East Point. 404-549-7634, http://leilaslandandsea.com.