In this Top Chef crazy restaurant town, can Aunt Bella make it? “Aunt who?” you ask. That would be former University of Georgia professor and now restaurateur, Dr. Kim Grady’s aunt, the woman who helped raise her and gave her the inspiration for Bella’s Best Organic Gourmet, a newly opened bakery restaurant tucked among the boutiques, art galleries and antique shops on Bennett Street in south Buckhead.
As Kim tells the story, while working on her doctoral dissertation, she would bake nightly to relax. The next day she would bring her baked goods to class. Kim’s students were the first to urge her to consider going into the baking business.
Kim reconnected with her childhood friend, now husband, Ray Grady, several years ago. Ray, a big, soft-spoken man, and Kim’s number one fan, likes to tell of the first time he sampled Kim’s baked goods. He says, “The first time I tasted (it), I cussed… It was that good.” You can tell that Ray doesn’t cuss very often.
Kim and Ray began selling their all-organic vegetarian baked goods and other goodies at local farmer’s markets in Sandy Springs, Emory and Tucker. Even now, with the demands of their new restaurant, they still have a stall at each market.
It was a reader who suggested that I visit Bella’s Best. They had been open just a month and a day when I stopped in with two friends for lunch. It’s a space with lots of potential and is clearly a work in progress. Ray was behind the baked goods counter. Save for him and Kim in the kitchen, we were the only others in the place.
In addition to the sweet baked goods, the savory offerings consisted of a spinach quiche, a stuffed red pepper, a vegetable pie and a pastry Kim calls “strucla” which on this day was filled with portabella mushrooms. All are individually sized so we chose to share one of each.
Strucla is Kim’s pièce de résistance. Originally made by her Aunt Bella as a treat at Christmas time, this pastry has its roots in Polish baking. The dough has cream cheese in it but remains light with a firm, chewy texture. Kim fills each pastry with a variety of homemade organic fruit preserves and vegetables. The portabella strucla was excellent and with a side salad, would make the perfect lunch for those well-heeled shoppers who frequent Bennett Street. On other days a tomato basil strucla and a spinach artichoke strucla are in the offerings.
The stuffed red pepper was filled with cooked grains, red onion, corn and peas. It was the perfect doneness with all of the veggies still having a brightness and toothsome crunch.
The spinach quiche and the vegetable pie were also quite good. Kim uses the same dough for these as she does her strucla. The lack of a side or garnish makes it feel like you’re dining in a bakery more than a restaurant. Kim later explained that when their traffic picks up she will have the ability to include more garnishes and sides, but for now, she tries to limit her perishables. All of her baked products are made fresh each day.
For dessert, we tried Kim’s signature strucla, a “classic” apricot. As Ray explains, “It has apricots, walnuts, golden raisins, coconut and some hmmm, hmmm, hmmm.” It was gooey and not too sweet. We also tried a fig strucla, a ginger cookie and the pecan shortbread. All were very good with the ginger cookie packing a spicy punch.
Kim emerged from the kitchen to inquire how we liked our lunch. It’s clear that she and Ray have big plans for this restaurant even talking of eventually opening a kid’s baking school and a meals-to-go section. It’s also clear that those plans are firmly rooted in values that honor family and community.
Making it in the restaurant business is tough. Kim and Ray have already fielded offers to sell their products through grocery chains and other restaurants, but have resisted, fearful that they would not be able to maintain the quality and high standards that are the bedrocks of their business.
As to the original question, will Aunt Bella make it? It’s clear that she already has.
Bella’s Best Organic Gourmet is located at 25-D Bennett St. For more information, call 404-603-4733 or visit bellasbestcookies.com.
Art Huckabee is one of Yelp’s Elite Reviewers, as well as a pilot, gourmet cook and food lover. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.