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Sunday Column: Dining on both sides of the Perimeter

FLOODING 4

This way to good food

In yesterday’s Sunday Column, I summarized the ITP/OTP slapfest that broke out on this blog recently.

TAKING SIDES

It seemed a simple enough request.

As I announced last week, we are busy assembling a group of local food writers to help contribute restaurant reviews and blog items as we work to expand our footprint and deepen our coverage of dining throughout the metro area.

So I ran a call-out for applicants in the Food and More blog a couple of weeks ago that specified we were looking for a writer familiar with restaurants outside the Perimeter. We also said we wanted someone who could cook, use blogging software and knew the difference between “flare” and “flair.”

But that OTP clause makes sense, right? There’s a lot of ground to cover in this megalopolis we call home. Though we try to cover Dixie like the voracious boll weevil here at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, we’ve done a better job of chewing intown.

Alas, that brief mention of the Perimeter was one part of the entire post that got people talking. It didn’t take long at all for camps to square off on either side of I-285.

The comments started rolling in:

“Great. Just what this place needs is reviews of TGI Friday’s, Applebee’s and Chili’s. Don’t forget Outback and Red Lobster for those special occasion meals …”

Such was the initial volley from an intown reader. People joined in the jeering section, reeling off the names of chain restaurants that dot the suburban landscape and bestowing their greatest contempt on Denny’s. (One satisfied Denny’s customer felt compelled to point out the breakfasts are “memorable.”)

I thought it was curious that people complain so much about chains in suburbia when the same ones line Peachtree Road, Piedmont Road, Ponce de Leon Avenue and North Druid Hills Road. But, you know, whatever …

Then came the first riposte:

“OTP rules! and I don’t mean Chili’s”

The intown folks didn’t buy it:

“Ya sure OTP rules. Top restaurants and Chefs make it a habit to open their establishments in places with low population densities and low disposable incomes.”

Uh-oh. Battle lines had been drawn.

“Up here in redneck Johns Creek we know nuttin about good eatin or any kind of money. Lucky for us [Country Club] of the South has outside bathrooms. I think most of the money IS in North Fulton, you morons.”

It looked like war was about to break out on the blog. But then some reasonable souls started actually naming restaurants in the northern suburbs — from the upscale Trattoria One 41 to the down-home Greenwood’s on Green Street. A number of people made the unassailable claim that most of the best Korean, Mexican, Chinese and other ethnic cuisines are to be found outside the Perimeter.

“I don’t know anybody with deep roots in the area who lives or eats exclusively ITP or OTP. There’s great pho in Norcross, authentic Mexican in Jonesboro and Conyers, and killer BBQ all over the place, just for a few examples … [I]f you can’t find a great meal on either side of the Great Divide you just ain’t trying.”

One comment, from a parent of a child in a sports league, really caught my eye:

” If you have kids, you are always toting them to some game or tournament at the other end of tarnation. The consolation to the hour-long drive was going to eat someplace new.”

That really got me thinking. People who live intown often find themselves in the ‘burbs looking for food after a soccer match, or a trip to Lumber Liquidators, or a test drive at CarMax. They stay on busy streets and highways filled with shiny new construction where they see nothing but chains. They don’t know where to go, so they end up at Chili’s. They may not know, for instance, that there is such a place as downtown Alpharetta, filled with locally owned restaurants.

People who live in the suburbs and come intown to eat do so because they’ve heard about the restaurant. Maybe it was reviewed in the paper or created some buzz on the blogs. They may have a good meal, or they may stumble into a place that can’t keep up with all the attention. And then they think, “I could’ve had just as good a meal without the hour of driving.”

Before they know it, the “T” word is forming on their lips. “Trendy.” Who needs it?

Not everyone has the perspective of this commenter, whom I would like to hug, given half a chance:

“It’s just a highway, people. It means nothing. It doesn’t separate good restaurants from bad, or wealthy people from poor ones, or chains from non-chains.”

That said, I’m ready to dive into this debate. Head first.

110 comments Add your comment

cw

September 4th, 2010
5:22 pm

Everything about O.T.P Just Sucks…………………

boots

September 4th, 2010
5:22 pm

Atlanta is a city with 6 million people in the metro area. I eat out a lot on business and for personal reasons, too, and I can say that there are great places both OTP and ITP. There is no need to have everyone bash each other’s lifestyles. I will say that the reviews in the AJC tend to be ITP, but that makes more sense since it is a central location. I like a few OTP places like Oakstreet Cafe, but there are plenty of places for us to enjoy a good meal whereever we are.

count_schemula

September 4th, 2010
5:40 pm

If OTP moves ITP it’s still OTP. Just because there is a homeless person sleeping under your landscaping and your neighbor has a 1978 Caprice on 26″ does not give you street cred. I love it when someone thinks that just because they moved 20 miles to the south and cross some arbitrary landmark that all of the sudden they are hardcore. Pasty white bread gentrification (PWBG) is always PWBG, whether it’s in Acworth, Kennesaw or the Old Fourth Ward. Drink all the PBR you want, ITP would be a whole lot more ITP without so many new fake OTP converts. It’s no accident that Buckhead died and 24 hour clubs vanished when the frosty haired white people showed up bringing their OTP Cobb County values ITP. Just because you left your MacBook Pro on the front seat of your car your car and your window got smashed and your laptop got stolen and you ride an $8000 bicycle with day-glo spandex and does not mean you have street cred. Check the mirror, the OTP you rail against is probably you. Oh, you own a set of reusable bags for the grocery store? Well, I take back everything I said.

"Chef" Tim Dix

September 4th, 2010
5:48 pm

Wow! I thought the only people left ITP were housed at the Fed Pen.

The things you learn in the AJC!

atlfunlvr

September 4th, 2010
6:08 pm

count_schemula nails it!

lkjlkj

September 4th, 2010
7:11 pm

It’s been my experience that a fair number of people like my wife and I (late 30s/early 40s, no kids) who live ITP knock OTP but have rarely ventured OTP. They -think- they know what’s OTP, but they really don’t.

I find the knock on chain restaurants a bit funny, too. ITP is loaded with them, same as everywhere else. Venture out and you’ll see. Is the Flying Biscuit suddenly going to lose the ‘hip’ factor since it’s now a chain? I’d bet it will. Same with stuff like Flip. It may not change as it expands, but its image among the hipsters sure will.

Good food is good food.

BPJ

September 4th, 2010
7:15 pm

Children, children, calm down!

I’ve lived here long enough to remember when there was no I-285 (and when Lester Maddox “inaugurated” it by riding on the hood of a car). Metro Atlanta has excellent restaurants all over. If you think there’s nothing south of I-20, check out Serenbe.

Because intown is more densely populated, there is a greater concentration of good restaurants, but there are plenty elsewhere. I love exploring Buford Highway. I’ve been to excellent places in Roswell and Marietta. Where I live, in Midtown, we walk to Tierra, Table 1280, Veni Vidi Vici, Tamarind, the Oceanaire, and many others. But please allow for different strokes………………

SlaveGirl

September 4th, 2010
7:54 pm

I’m so glad to be reading more of Kessler! I’ll be trekking north to Sweet Apple to view baby furniture and have an early dinner with my niece next week. Dining suggestions welcome!

Cammy

September 4th, 2010
8:11 pm

I’ve seen McDonald’s both ITP and OTP…

Really?

September 9th, 2010
4:50 pm

I would have to say that the idiotic comments from the ITPers are mostly worse than those form the OTPers. Some of you ITPers might want to get over yourself, we all get it, living inside the city makes you feel good, I’d bet just as good as people who choose not to live in the city. So where does that leave us? Noone is right or worng, it’s a matter of taste and priorities, that’s all. There is no definitive answer to where the Best food is in the metro area period.