I glance at the check and prepare to signal the waitress. Surely they forgot to charge us for something. Four of us just ate three courses for $30? That can’t be right. But it is – at West Cobb Diner.
Chef-owner Chad Martin tells me the restaurant was designed with value in mind. Money is not spent on things “that don’t transfer to the plate.” The utensils and china are inexpensive, and the diner pays for no advertising. The restaurant is sparsely decorated with area photos taken by a local teenager – ones they fit into pre-made frames. The focus is on the food.
Value is expected because it is a diner, right? Well, it is and it isn’t. West Cobb Diner is not a typical diner. You’ll hear the expected din of crowded conversation and dishes clanking in the open kitchen, but that’s where the parallels end. Warm wood tones replace the classic stainless steel vibe – traces of the Atlanta Bread Co. that originally inhabited the space.
The “diner” moniker, a catchall term, was chosen to free Martin from constraints in menu design. The food is not all standard diner fare. Instead, you’ll find items with a decided Southern slant. The Southern comfort foods such as fried chicken (lunch $7/dinner $10) and meatloaf ($7/$9) are interspersed with Asian- and Latin-inspired dishes such as the Thai rice noodle salad ($6) with sesame tuna ($3) or the zesty blackened-shrimp and mango salad ($8).
After some difficulty narrowing our selections from the lengthy menu, we order black-eyed pea cakes ($5) and fried-green tomatoes with shrimp remoulade ($5). We are most intrigued by the three huge herb-flecked pea pancakes. Crème fraîche and a heavenly smoky-tomato jam grace the top of each cake, a mixture of mashed and whole black-eyed peas. The jam is made in-house by smoking whole tomatoes, pureeing them and cooking them down with a bit of honey, balsamic and lemon zest.
The kids receive their cheap eats ($3.50 including drink) shortly after we complete our appetizers. Easily the best I’ve had, the chicken fingers – cousin to the menu’s thyme and black pepper adult version – exemplify the dichotomy of the perfectly crunchy exterior with a moist interior oozing with juices. It is one of the rare occasions I am tempted by what’s on my child’s plate. Only with great restraint do I avoid snarfing more than a few bites of the chicken.
Fortunately, our value-priced, super-size meals follow closely behind. The mesquite skillet pork chops ($8/$11) bear resemblance to the chicken – perfectly cooked with a moist-juicy interior. The pork chops are dressed with a slightly over-sweet Granny Smith apple chutney made in-house. As with the green-tomato chutney on the fried chicken, I scrape it to the side – these well-seasoned chops need no accompaniment.
Don’t miss this diner’s vegetable plate ($6) – one that will transport you back to a Southern family potluck. Vegetables smack of down-home Southern recipes – traditional, tried and true. We particularly enjoy the simply prepared squash and onions and the broccoli casserole with large chunks of broccoli and cheddar curds. Another favorite, the stewed okra and tomatoes, contains pork and a hearty broth, reminiscent of Brunswick stew.
Unlike most diners, West Cobb doesn’t serve breakfast all day. If you make it before 10:30 a.m., try the three-meat omelet ($7) with bacon, sausage, ham and cheddar. Rich, hearty and low-carb, it has great depth of flavor.
Whether you are looking for breakfast or not, you should arrive early – this joint is packed. The locals have discovered the value in West Cobb Diner’s food. If I lived nearby, I might heed my daughter’s request: “Mommy, I think I want to come here often.”WEST COBB DINER 3451 Ernest Barrett Parkway, Marietta, 770-422-7717 Food: Southern diner Service: Well-intentioned but inexperienced and overwhelmed at times Best dishes: Mesquite skillet pork chops, three-meat omelet, kids’ chicken fingers, vegetable plate Vegetarian selections: Appetizers, vegetable plate, salads Credit cards: Visa, Mastercard, Amex, Discover Hours: 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 6:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays Children: Yes Parking: Shared lot Reservations: No Wheelchair access: Yes Smoking: No Noise level: Moderate to loud Patio: Yes Takeout: Yes