Needing a visit to one of my wife and I’s favorite spots in Atlanta to stock up on the essentials of cooking, The Dekalb Farmer’s Market, I searched desperately to find a local spot serving breakfast (thank you Urbanspoon/Zomato) with the first to pop up on a quick search being Sun in My Belly, the Decatur restaurant located off of College Ave. As many a firefighter cook can tell you, there’s nothing worse then shopping for food on an empty stomach because before you know it, you’ve blown through the budget of the day with dreams of lobster and steak, so off to fill them we went.
A bit removed from the neighborhood’s surrounding hustle and bustle, this place is easy to drive by and not know it was a restaurant (I’m raising my hand right now cause I was THAT guy). Parking was in the rear and plentiful except, as noted by some, for Sunday brunch when jazz is playing. The structure itself is unique, brick driven and industrial on the outside, with the words J.A. Bailey & Sons Hardware Co. boldly stenciled in red wrapping the building. A few tables, umbrellas, chairs, and un-light string bulbs are the only wink to a restaurant being inside the premises.
The stark exterior belays the comfortable and colorful interior. This seems to be a running theme with a lot of Atlanta restaurants trying to be eclectic and crafty. Some are more successful than others, and after winding my way through the myriad of different rooms, Sun in My Belly has struck a good balance. Not seeming to try too hard with being en vogue yet balancing the color and whimsy with minimalistic art and subdued couches. I liked the vibe.
Also in line with many cafés, there was the prerequisite coffee bar littered with pastries. With the café spilling into the kitchen, it denied any feeling of being exclusive, catering to a knowledgeable clientele that drives coffee aficionados flocking like at other joints. Having just become a coffee drinker myself, I am more sensitive to catching this. On a side note, yes, many a firefighter will tell you that coffee is what runs the fire service (and all four branches of the military too), so a good cup of Jo is a must.
Being the first to enter the restaurant, service was slow to acknowledge us and there existed that momentary awkwardness as server stared at server to determine who’d be responsible to help us. Never a good feeling and one surely to color the customer’s overall experience, a shame. Once seated, coffee was ordered and menus dispersed. As my eyes wandered the offerings, the Belly Benedict screamed ORDER ME! But alas, it is only available on the weekends. (Ok, please indulge a quick soapbox, so excuse me while I step on it. My feeling is if there exists a specialty item, don’t place it on the menu and leave it to the responsibility of the server to educate the customer of its existence. Don’t tease, please.)
It was a good, complex bite.
As I recovered from the emotional loss of the Benedict, my wife beat me to the punch with ordering the P.B.L.T. (Pimento, Bacon, Lettuce, Fried Green Tomato) Sandwich. It tickled her to see this on the menu as she recently discussed making a sandwich at home very similar to this and was pleased to see a rendition for her to taste. Stacked high and imposing, it delivered on taste with the Pimento cheese and scallion aioli striking a great balance with the buttered, toasted bread, thick cut bacon, and fried but acidic green tomatoes. The plate was rounded out with some well-seasoned skillet potatoes. This was a winner of a dish.
Challah French Toast (yes, that's it).
Wanting to share something sweet with my wife’s savory and having gravitated towards Pain Perdu for longer then I can remember, I took a crack at the Challah French Toast. Stuffed with honeyed ricotta and some seasonal fruit (a baked banana was offered but declined) I was excited. What followed was a first for me and not something I’ll soon forget. First and foremost, let us first discuss the size of the French Toast that was placed in front of me. For $10, this was far and away the most expensive per square inch French Toast I had ever seen. My wife’s eyes grew large as the server paced the plate in front of me with it’s petite offering because she knows my body size and physique hide a voracious appetite that surprises other firefighters daily. This was an insult. Even the server hovered over the table seemingly waiting the coming question, “That’s it?” ready with a comforting retort. But the disappointment didn’t end there. The bread was insufficiently battered and dry, which in hindsight would not have been an issue if not for the fact that the honeyed ricotta was one of the most inedible things I’ve encountered in a while. Lacking the needed sweetness from a strong honey and having a texture that bordered on being grainy…Wait, on second thought, it didn’t just border, it walked over the line, unfolded a lawn chair, cracked open a beer and settled in on watching the big game on TV. For the first time, perhaps ever, I had the server return the plate and order something else. WOW.
Screaming past the hunger phase straight into hypoglycemia, I ordered the safest thing on the menu, the Pimento Omelet. So shell shocked by the previous attempt at eating, the only thing that made me perk up and take notice of the dish was the addition of the Pimento cheese, a first for me. It was deliciously spicy and had me clamoring for more of the cheese. The execution of the omelet was up to par but nothing to write home about, and having already partaken in the potatoes with my wife’s dish, there was nothing else to say. Overall, I’d have to label it a safe, standard dish.
The awkward entry and the hesitant hovering after delivering the dilapidated French Toast being the only exceptions, the service was general strong. Though we were the first to be seated, as the restaurant began to fill with other customers, our server was on top of our experience.
So what is a firefighter to do when he spends his hard earned money on an establishment that repays him and his wife with a great dish, a standard dish, and the only dish in his history that he found inedible? Hold to your integrity and judge them honestly and fairly. Sun in My Belly had a bad day in the kitchen with their French Toast. It happens to the best of us. The atmosphere, décor, service, and P.B.L.T. will entice me to come back and perhaps try the weekend edition of the Belly Benedict, but with reservations.
Reviewed: Feb. 2014