When Chick-fil-A opened a unit on Cascade Road just west of I-285 in southwest Atlanta, residents of Cascade Heights cheered. Finally, they no longer had to drive far to settle their fix for a chicken sandwich. And while coffee and fellowship could be found at the Starbucks down the street, the neighborhood didn’t have an upscale daytime dining spot. That is, until Gocha’s Breakfast Bar arrived.
Situated in a narrow storefront in the strip mall at the intersection of Cascade and Fairburn roads, Gocha’s is a venture by Gocha Hawkins, owner of Gocha Salon in Midtown. With nearly 30 years in the beauty industry, Hawkins has gained her own fame as a stylist to the stars. Celebs like Kandi Burruss, Nicki Minaj, Beyonce, Drake and Serena Williams all sport hairdos by Hawkins.
Now, she’s added restaurateur to her resume.
“I’ve always been the one who cooks when the family comes to town,” Hawkins said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in January, soon after the restaurant debuted. “I cook all the meals, and people have always loved my cooking. My grandmother was a cook, and I worked at the country club with her, and several restaurants after that.”
I’m generally skeptical of eateries opened by folks who jump into the restaurant business because they are great home cooks. Turns out, Hawkins’ brunch-focused recipes, many of them Southern favorites, are legit hits and deserve to be fed to the masses. Indeed, the Sunday church crowd flocks here. Even a table for a weekday lunch can come with a 30-minute wait time.
But the Chicken and Waffle Stack is worth the wait. Made with a slightly sweet batter, these waffles stand above the pack — puffy, airy inside, and with a satisfying crispness at the edges. The chicken strips aren’t overly breaded, staying on the lighter side even after the dip in the deep fryer. The presentation makes this classic Southern combo especially appealing, with each waffle quarter and chicken tender threaded on a long wooden stick. Sitting atop is a scattering of fresh berries, a shake or two of powdered sugar and a drizzle of vanilla sauce.
Gocha’s Krunch-Tastic French Toast is another of her specialties. A creative crunchy coating takes the already indulgent bready brunch dish to even greater heights of decadence, which, like the chicken and waffle, gets berry and vanilla bean sauce treatment.
Break into more bread goodness with an order of the flaky, from-scratch Betta Than Yo Momma Biscuits. You’ll find biscuits and gravy in the offering, too, and featuring veggie sausage crumbles instead of pork. However, the nicely peppered gravy cooled into a congealed glob quickly.
Brunching at Gocha’s doesn’t have to equate to a hearty, sleep-inducing meal. Gocha’s goes easy on the greasy spoon fare. Veggies are everywhere. A properly cooked omelet is filled with mushrooms, peppers and spinach, and served with a ramekin of fresh, mild salsa. Multigrain toast that needed more toast time gets a generous spread of smashed avocado topped with bright red cherry tomatoes, pickled sweet onions, capers and a flourish of wispy cilantro leaves.
The trendy Impossible Burger that’s become almost impossible to find due to a shortage of the plant-based patty can be found here. The Gocha’s version isn’t taking the Impossible Burger to new heights, but it’s hard to argue with the taste — or the accompanying Parmesan truffle fries. The faux meat impresses far more on a burger than as crumbles on a taco, a filling option during Taco Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
It’s also hard to argue with the grits. I like my grits cooked to a near smoothness, but with some graininess still visible. Apparently, that’s how Hawkins and her team like ‘em, too. Add cheese for a small upcharge. Try them with jalapeno peppers. Or, get the shrimp grit cake. A creamy herb sauce pairs nicely with the sauteed shrimp, but the impressive execution is really with the cake itself. As with the chicken strips with the waffles, the round grit patty was fried to a beautiful golden brown yet managed not to be heavy or slicked with oil.
Gocha’s offers the casual air of a diner. A genuinely cordial staff make eating here a pleasant affair, although service can be slow to get started once you’re seated. After your order is in the system, however, food is fairly quick to follow.
Gocha’s full bar is another feature that distinguishes it from the competition. On any given day, it seems that at least half of the adult diners are sipping from Champagne flutes filled with mimosas. It’s especially true Mondays through Wednesdays, when the cocktail is discounted to $5; Tuesdays and Wednesdays it’s bottoms-up for $18 with all the mimosas you can drink during a two-hour limit.
I’m still skeptical of eateries opened by folks who jump into the restaurant business because they are great home cooks, but Gocha Hawkins seems to have found a recipe for success.
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