#313 – Café Circa in the Old Fourth Ward – Modern Speakeasy May Be One of Atlanta’s Best Kept Secrets
Café Circa is over two years old but remains one of Atlanta’s best-kept secrets. That’s not to say that it sits empty, waiting for patrons – the joint was jumpin’ last night (on a Monday night) with standing-room-only to sip signature cocktails and hear the incomparable Francine Reed belt out the blues. It was the perfect place to surprise my husband with his birthday dinner – creative cocktails, great food, and one of Atlanta’s best-loved blues singers.
We started off the evening perusing the signature cocktails on the menu – there are so many interesting and tantalizing choices that it’s difficult to choose just one! (Note: the drink menu changes seasonally, so the cocktails listed on the website may not always be the ones offered. Consider them just a preview of what you might expect!) I started with the Southern Solstice, a refreshing combination of sloe gin, Applejack, Velvet Falernum and peaches; my hubby tried the Autumn Harvest, a warm and homey combo including apple-cinnamon-infused Bombay Sapphire gin and Gosling’s black rum, apple cider and clove reduction.
Café Circa is my favorite kind of restaurant – you can truly make a meal from their small plates, which are well-crafted, mini-entrées (not throw away, overly-fried, appetizers). They’re flavorful and diverse, meant for sharing (if you’re that generous!) and ideal for a night out with drinks. We started off with our server’s top recommendation, the Spiced Curry Poached Mussels (pictured in collage – below, left), served in a coconut curry reduction with red peppers and rice. (Our server explained that he’d never tried mussels until he tried them at Café Circa during a menu tasting, and now he can’t get enough!) You need to ask for some bread to map up the broth, because you won’t want to waste it! The Ackee and Salt Fish (pictured) is the dish that will keep me coming back. This traditional Jamaican dish – consisting of red peppers, poblano peppers, onions, salt cod, and ackee (a West African fruit) on a hard dough bread – was a great dish for the very cold night we were having. We also sampled the Calamari (pictured in collage, below right), served with citrus vinaigrette and cilantro aioli, which was some of the freshest tasting calamari I’ve had in awhile (no rubbery bites here!), and the Sweet Plantains, which are drizzled with orange-thyme honey and sprinkled with sea salt – a delightful play on salty and sweet and more than adequate for a dessert dish (but read on for more about our actual dessert). My hubby also enjoyed the Roasted Lamb Ribs (pictured in collage – below middle) with mango barbeque sauce, but I was so stuffed by that point – and saving room for dessert!
We each had another cocktail – how can you pick just one from the incredible drinks menu? Ben tried the Boulevard Belle, a surprisingly refreshing mix of Bacardi rum, jalapeño syrup, lime juice, red bell pepper and cilantro – the kick of the jalapeño syrup really warms the back of your throat at the end of your sip. It’s one of my top picks for next time. My second drink was the Winter’s Embrace, more of a dessert-feel with a combination of Aviation gin, Absolut Vanilla, Cherry Heering, cantaloupe and cranberry – it was a great winter drink and complemented the Sweet Plantains well. (Boulevard Belle & Winter’s Embrace pictured, right)
Because it was my hubby’s birthday, we couldn’t get out without dessert – we tried the Triple Chocolate Love, which certainly did not disappoint (though we were both so full by the time we ordered it, I don’t think we could possibly have enjoyed it was much as we should have). It’s a ginger chocolate cake, Grand Marnier chocolate mousse with cocoa whipped cream on top. It was, without a doubt, a chocolatey piece of heaven (pictured, right).
Café Circa is clearly a neighborhood favorite: a packed house on a Monday night – standing-room only! – speaks loudly for the popularity of a restaurant. While the neighborhood is still in transition, venues like Café Circa are hopeful signs of positive change. And the exemplary service and friendliness of the staff welcome you in as if it’s your neighborhood spot…even if it’s not.
And there are two more chances in 2010 for you to hear the amazing Francine Reed singing at Café Circa – December 20 and December 27 – click here for more info!
Full disclosure: Café Circa graciously hosted us for dinner and our bill was comped by the house.