Grub Notes

Cantaritos’ Pan-Latin Brunch and More Food News

Cantaritos Café

CANTARITOS CAFÉ (2467 Jefferson Road, 706-850-0844): This new restaurant in Homewood Hills moved into the space that was most recently the Peruvian restaurant Mifflin House and before that was the much beloved Big Family Cafe, a California-style diner with a huge menu that satisfied a wide range of folks. Cantaritos is situated between those two in vibe, being both a breakfast and lunch place that makes delicious burritos and a pan-Latin restaurant that includes Peruvian foods among its offerings. I was accused of burying the lede by one friend when I didn’t immediately mention that, rather than chips and salsa, Cantaritos brings every diner a free bowl of soup, so here’s that information up front. There’s something more delightful about a soup because it’s out of the ordinary. 

The place is a bit hard to locate and doesn’t have a permanent sign yet, just a small bilingual chalkboard out front, but it’s worth seeking out. Mexican, Cali-Mex, Peruvian, Colombian, Salvadoran—there’s a little bit of each of those things on the large menu, plus brunchy stuff like crepes and French toast served all day. It’s fun to mix and match. Get an arepa with your lomo saltado or a pupusa with your burrito. Perhaps the best thing on the menu is the chilaquiles, one of the best dishes invented to reuse leftovers, available with several different salsas. You can upgrade it with chicken or steak, but neither is necessary. The tortillas are crisp around the edges but soaked with sauce, egg and crema in the middle. It’s a gorgeous combination of texture and flavor. A less good restaurant would make things soggier, because that’s what entropy does, but Cantaritos makes its range of textures broad. Another highlight is the California A.M., a grilled burrito filled with scrambled eggs, chorizo, hunks of sweet plantain, fried potatoes and cheese, moving from sweet to salty, soft things to things that meet your bite with a little resistance. Served with a side of fruit, toast or potato hash, it’s a good value, too, at $9.50 for the plate. On the lunch side of the menu is bandeja paisa, sometimes known as the national dish of Colombia, which is the kind of meal that could fuel someone for a long time: thin-pounded, grilled and flavorful steak, fat slices of chicharron, egg prepared however you want it, a pile of avocado, matchsticks of a salty queso fresco, slices of maduro, a mound of rice. The pupusas are pretty good (the curtido slaw that accompanies it is worth noting), but if you’re going to get a filled griddled corn cake, you’d do better with the arepas, which are thinner and less floppy. The reina pepiada iteration, named for a Venezuelan beauty queen, is filled with what is essentially a chicken salad, and it’s fresh and sweet. Empanadas are fine, but no one beats Cali N Tito’s on that front. 

There’s more, too: sandwiches, shrimp, specials on the weekends, a well-priced kids menu, a container of candies on your way out the door. What there isn’t yet is a liquor license, so you’ll have to stick with agua frescas for the moment. Cantaritos is open 7:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8:30 a.m.–3 p.m. on Sunday.

CLEAN EATZ (1791 Oconee Connector #560, near Old Navy, 706-850-6415): This franchise started by Don and Evonne Varady, both competitive bodybuilders, focuses on healthy eating, and it’s as much a lifestyle brand as it is a restaurant. Would you wear an entire outfit from a restaurant you enjoyed, with its logo incorporated into a tattered American flag? Water bottles, beanies, fanny packs and more are all flogged in a brochure you can pick up that also advertises weekend motivational retreats run by the founders. How’s the food? It’s OK. As an American, my taste buds have been trained like most of yours to prefer fat and salt, which means that I can’t help but compare a “healthy” Philly cheesesteak to an unhealthy one. I think that’s the point of the lifestyle marketing at Clean Eatz, to reel you in and make you as excited about its wrapz, burgerz, flatbreadz and the like as you would be about a Doritos Locos taco. It’s more geared to aspiring and actual gym enthusiasts than a place like Maepole, which has a similar ethic. You can pick up any number of deep-frozen meals from the cases at one end of the space (there are discounts for ordering in volume) or you can order from the cafe menu, and they don’t completely overlap. A wrap that enfolds salmon, spinach, bacon and Green Goddess sauce ain’t bad. The macaroni and cheese is supposedly made with whole-wheat pasta, but it doesn’t taste like it. The portions are reasonable sizes, which probably means many people think they’re small. Everything is labeled with the calorie count, and there are lots of gluten-free and keto choices; it tends toward lighter animal protein rather than vegetarian options. Clean Eatz is open 11 a.m.–7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m.–3 p.m. on weekends.