Atlanta Orders In: Joy Cafe now offers dinner and drinks on its Peachtree patio

This takeout dinner from Joy Cafe includes: Cobb salad; fried chicken; salmon and lentil salad; and green-tomato tarts in the background. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
This takeout dinner from Joy Cafe includes: Cobb salad; fried chicken; salmon and lentil salad; and green-tomato tarts in the background. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Before she became famous for brunch — the shrimp and grits and the biscuits with gravy that Guy Fieri brayed about on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" — Joy Austin Beber was a personal chef. “I would literally go into people’s kitchens with my little suitcase, with all my food and all my stuff,” she said, “and I would cook a week’s worth of meals and refrigerate or freeze them, depending on what the client wanted.”

This was not how the DeKalb County native, who grew up in Statesboro and earned a business degree from Georgia Southern University, had planned her career. But, when she got laid off from her sales job around 2006, she had to hustle.

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Joy Cafe offers chocolate-caramel cake for dessert. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Joy Cafe offers chocolate-caramel cake for dessert. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

After some success as a roving cook, Beber got her own professional catering kitchen: a 424-square-foot space on the second floor of a Chamblee swimming facility with no windows, no air-conditioning, no elevator. “So, when I say humble beginnings, I am dead serious about that,” said Beber, 50, remembering how she lugged 50-pound bags of flour up the stairs and hauled the garbage down.

In 2011, Beber and her husband, Jon, opened Joy Cafe, a breakfast-and-lunch spot on Pharr Road. Before long, her namesake cafe soared to stardom on the wings of the couple’s from-scratch cooking: biscuits and pies like her grandmothers made; chicken and Cobb salads for the ladies who lunch; and a chicken, spinach and feta burger topped with provolone, bacon and jalapeño-chioptle aioli — their all-time No. 1 seller.

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Joy Cafe’s fried green-tomato tarts are made by stacking a puff pastry disc moistened with bacon jam with a fried green tomato, pimento cheese and crumbled bacon. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Joy Cafe’s fried green-tomato tarts are made by stacking a puff pastry disc moistened with bacon jam with a fried green tomato, pimento cheese and crumbled bacon. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

“I’m simple Southern," Beber said, comparing her style with her husband’s. “I’ve got recipes that are 100 years old, passed down through the generations of women in my family. He’s fancy. He’s your sauce man. He follows a lot of the famous chefs, and what they do, and how they do it. I always say, ‘Separate, we are both great cooks, but together, we are deadly.’”

In 2017, having made their mark in Buckhead, the Bebers moved Joy Cafe to a Midtown office building with gurgling fountains and a Peachtree-hugging patio. They catered to the city’s three largest law firms. Lunch sales were brisk.

Then, on March 17, thanks to COVID-19, it all fell apart. According to Beber, their building went from 90 percent occupancy to 10 percent. Regulars who stopped by for sandwiches and salads vanished.

The couple knew their business model no longer was sustainable, so they decided to add dinner, and highlight their cocktail program. “We’ve always wanted to do dinner,” Beber said, “but we were always so busy with the catering that dinner kind of got pushed in the backseat.”

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Joy Austin Beber and Jon Beber are co-executive chefs of Joy Cafe in Midtown, which they founded in 2011. Courtesy of Atlys Media
Joy Austin Beber and Jon Beber are co-executive chefs of Joy Cafe in Midtown, which they founded in 2011. Courtesy of Atlys Media

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Joy Cafe recently rolled out a dinner menu featuring Joy’s Southern comforts (fried chicken and macaroni and cheese; meatloaf with garlic mashed potatoes) and Jon’s fancier fare (halibut puttanesca; a double bone-in pork chop with wild mushroom and Madeira ragu).

“My husband is crazy, so we have pork belly, but it’s pork belly with the ribs still attached," Beber joked. “So, you get the crunchy of the chicharrones on top.”

One appetizer that recognizably is hers is a green-tomato tart: a puff-pastry disc topped with bacon jam, a fried green tomato, her grandma’s pimento cheese and bacon crumbles.

Meanwhile, the cafe’s 1,700-square-foot, dog-friendly patio has adapted well to the pandemic. The Bebers have been able to move tables outside, and space them 6 feet apart, with no problem.

While it’s taken a minute for dinner to take off, the cafe continues to do a steady brunch business, especially on weekends. "We easily do 400 people every Saturday and Sunday,” Beber said.

Though the owners believe their cafe has been pigeonholed as a breakfast nook, that seems to be changing. Case in point: A regular customer who recently piped up: “I come in for brunch all the time. I didn’t know y’all could do this for dinner!” For some, that might seem like a swipe. For Joy Beber, it was pure flattery.

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

Joy Cafe is located in an office building on Peachtree Street in Midtown. Courtesy of Atlys Media
Joy Cafe is located in an office building on Peachtree Street in Midtown. Courtesy of Atlys Media

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

JOY CAFE

Menu: traditional Southern, with a twist

Alcohol: full bar; beer, wine and mimosa kits to go

What I ordered: fried green tomato tarts; salmon with lentil salad; Cobb salad; fried chicken with macaroni and cheese; chocolate-caramel cake. Really liked the tarts, the mac and cheese and the Cobb

Service options: dine-in and takeout; no delivery.

Patio: yes

Mask policy: staff, yes; customers, no.

Address, phone: 1100 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta; 404-996-1377

Hours: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays. 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. 5:30-9:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays

Website: joycafeatl.com

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