For the last 10 years, the occasional recommendation was dropped on me that I ought to have breakfast at OK Cafe in Buckhead.
OK Cafe is an old fashioned diner with reasonably priced meals and good service. It had been there forever and would be there forever, so I put it on the back burner as a place I’d get to eventually.
However, it was destroyed by fire before I got around to eating there. I was a little saddened that I didn’t get to try it out, but hey, time marches on. When the news came that OK Cafe was being renovated, I was eager not to let my chance at redemption slip away. I also brought two friends who had eaten at the first incarnation of the place, so they could tell me what has changed about it.
They tell me that literally nothing whatsoever has changed there. From the layout to the service ware to the light fixtures, everything looks exactly as it did before. This includes…um…the giant Georgia 1956 flag with the Confederate battle emblem framed majestically at the midpoint of the dining room where one’s eyes simply cannot help but gravitate, no matter what table those eyes are sitting at. I guess the flag didn’t get caught up in the fire.
Time stands still at the OK Cafe. It’s predictable, delivering all the comfort foods of Southern living that this restaurant has perfected over its very many years as an Atlanta landmark. Its family-friendly atmosphere with kiddos running just a little wild and its kitschy decor are just what one wants in a Sunday afternoon get together.
The lines of folks waiting to get in at this no-frills and no-reservations historic institution always looks excruciatingly long, but the crowds are actually seated quite quickly. My party of four arrived at 12:30 p.m. on a Sunday and was seated within a half hour. Most of the servers are making a career of it, and being a little older and wiser than the average restaurant staff members, their warmth and experience shone through at every turn.
The service is as golden as the food. OK Cafe can fry up just about anything to perfection. We had the crab and crawfish cakes, held together by a stalwart shell of fried goodness with nary a crumble in sight. We had the fried pickles, their golden crust flexible enough to bend with the wet insides but stable enough to contain them without tearing. We had the jalapeño fried cheese grits, formed as perfect two-bite nuggets with only the barest, least offensive kind of peppery jolt to the taste buds. Let’s not even state the obvious about the french fries.
Aside from the fried, there is plenty of delicious color. The black cow was frothy and delicious, served in proper soda fountain style. The potato salad left all the red skin in the mix, for an earthy riff on a classic in need of refreshing. The corn muffins were bursting with actual niblets of corn. The avocado in the omelet was both smooth and startling.
Each of us loved the mac ’n’ cheese for a different reason, and the burger was nothing to scoff at. Right down to the pecan pie, served warm with a smaller nut size so it’s plenty pliable, and the key lime pie, with a proper sour and without the neon green, OK Cafe nails just about everything that makes a Great American Diner.
Now if they could just take down that embarrassing relic of an America that is long gone for good reason, I’d be glad to eat there again next Sunday.
OK Cafe, 1284 West Paces Ferry Road, okcafe.com.
Megan Volpert lives in Decatur, teaches in Roswell and writes books about pop culture.