ATL: The map of locations of J. Christopher’s, the Atlanta-based breakfast chain, pretty much overlays the northern part of Atlanta and its suburbs, plus one in Peachtree City, one in Macon and now one in Athens, on the ground floor of the Stiles Building (1650 S. Lumpkin St., 706-850-3520) in the heart of Five Points. The space housed Five Points Deli for years, with big refrigerated cases that held cold salads and the like. Then it was The Local Jam, a friendly, locally oriented spot that still focused on breakfast and lunch. Now it’s yet another business that closes at 2 p.m. Especially considering that the building has its own parking (for now) right in front, what is it about the two big rooms that negates the possibility of dinner?
There’s no question that J. Christopher’s is a franchise, from the art on the walls (bright, generic, inoffensive, big) to the immediate reaction of the staff to the presence of a small child (kids’ placemat, crayons) to the squeaky clean feeling of the whole place. Big Fiestaware mugs sit upside-down on saucers at every place, encouraging you to have a cup of coffee in surroundings that can feel a little like Central Perk on “Friends.” Does it have as much genuine character as the restaurant that preceded it or the also new BIG Family Cafe over in Homewood Hills? It does not, but it is not an unpleasant place for a couple of eggs, some pancakes or a speedy lunch.
The kitchen moves with alacrity and efficiency, sending out orders about as fast as Waffle House. The interior has been renovated somewhat, lowering the bar that was previously adapted from the cold cases to allow for individual seating in regular-height chairs and widening the doorway between the two eating spaces to make the whole place seem more open.
The skillet with sausage and gravy, onions, peppers, cheddar and oven-roasted potatoes all topped with two sunny-side-up eggs has good flavor, although the potatoes are a bit uniformly cut and could use more of a crust. The Billy Goat omelet (spinach, portobello mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese) needs more equitable distribution of its ingredients throughout; the goat cheese is tasty, but it should lend its strong flavor to the whole dish rather than being bunched into only a third of the folded-over eggs. Steak and eggs is filed under “Late Risers,” but makes a nice lunch. The steak is cooked a bit on the rare side when ordered medium rare, but it’s tender and well seasoned, and the dish feels better executed than at comparable breakfast joints. The patty melt, in the burger section, is the best thing I tried, rendered similarly to a Reuben with Swiss and Thousand Island on rye.
J. Christopher’s is open for breakfast and lunch every day. It serves no booze and takes credit cards.
ATH: When the sign went up for Athens Wok (493 E. Clayton St., 706-850-2695), in the right half of the old Bluebird Cafe space at the corner of Washington and Thomas, it wasn’t very promising. The combination of Chinese, sushi and Thai suggested success at none of those cuisines, but, in fact, the place isn’t bad, and it provides a valuable service to downtown, which has been absent Chinese food for some years now. Nothing it offers is superlative, but most of it suggests fresh ingredients, and the Thai/Laotian couple who run the place are friendly as can be.
Most Thai food tends to be not only dumbed down for an American palate but far too sweet. The curries at Athens Wok are not exactly Pok Pok quality, but one can taste separate ingredients rather than sugary sludge (Thai basil, chilies, coriander), and the veggies they coat, although hardly farm-fresh, are cooked delicately, not steamed into submission.
The menu is divided among Chinese, Thai, Korean and Japanese, with a bit of barbecued beef here, an unexceptional but decent sushi roll there, and a lot of veggie + protein + rice dishes that are either fairly mainstream Chinese or Thai. You can get bubble tea or Thai tea as well as beer, wine and soft drinks, and the staff goes above and beyond to be accommodating, even when overrun with Methodists from the conference across the street at the Classic Center and short on supplies as a result. Tofu is a particular highlight, cut into triangles, well pressed and cooked to a fine texture. Ditto for the soup that comes with the lunch combo, which doesn’t seem dumped out of a packet into a cup of hot water.
Dinner offers more options than lunch, and the small bar is open as late as midnight on weekends. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner every day, does take-out and takes credit cards.
WHAT'S UP?: La Puerta del Sol, the new restaurant from the folks behind Cali N Tito's, is open in East Athens. Iron Factory, the new Korean BBQ joint, is open in the former Farm 255/Echo space downtown.