You might remember Sonny Azani from another time. From 1985 to 2003, he ran Sonny’s on Ponce and Sonny’s Delicatessen off Roswell Road, serving Middle Eastern food to metro Atlanta. He’s a boisterous, tan fellow and has a wobbly gait for a man who has been shuffling back and forth in restaurants for, well, 18 years. Sonny will engage you in lively banter from the outset, and at some point during a meal most male customers will receive a hearty back slap from him after he makes you laugh. And he will make you laugh.
Sonny’s latest venture —an expanded deli with plenty of space for in-house dining — opened earlier this year. Sonny’s Place is a clean, vibrant place filled with natural light. Pictures of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem flank the walls, and large platters of prepared Mediterranean salads and dips sit on display in refrigerated cases. When asked about his alcohol selection, he responded: “Ehh, you know, nothing fancy,” and points to a small collection of wine and imported beer on the front counter. The same could be said about dining at Sonny’s — enjoyable but nothing fancy.
The restaurant opens at 8 a.m daily . You can pop in to try its toasted bagels sourced from Brooklyn Water Bagel Co., which Sonny has been using since 1987. He proclaims them “the best bagels in the country.” They are thin, chewy things, which I order smeared with scallion cream cheese ($3) that has been whipped to airy softness.
If you are more of an egg person in the morning, try the malawach ($12). The Middle Eastern version of a breakfast sandwich features an omelet made with spinach, cheese, onions and bell peppers stuffed between crispy layers of phyllo and served with seasoned tomato dipping sauce on the side. If you want something spicier, there is shakshouka ($10). Chopped onions, mushroom and zucchini are simmered in a spicy, chunky tomato sauce and comes with your choice of eggs —scrambled or sunny side up, according to the menu — placed on top of the tomato stew. Seasoned home fries, warm pita bread and a spoonful of skhug (a Middle Eastern chile relish for mixing in more heat) accompany the dish.
Around dinner time, a pickled medley of cauliflower, carrots and peppers are served to each diner. It’s sharp with vinegar but goes well with Sonny’s Middle Eastern specialties. If you like thyme, try the zatar pizza ($10). Zatar (also spelled za’atar) is an oily mixture of thyme, salt and sesame seeds, and here it’s melted into the pizza’s layers of Parmesan and mozzarella cheese. Lift up the cheese hood and zatar is heaped all over a steamy mixture of chopped zucchini, onions, peppers, squash and tomatoes. Use both hands to eat this as the thin flat bread crust is not sturdy enough for the saucy vegetable layer.
Tiberias fish ($14) is an Israeli specialty featuring a whole tilapia rubbed with salt and cumin, stuffed with garlic cloves, placed on a bed of tomatoes, lemons and onions and wrapped in foil for a 20-minute bake.
The menu discloses the long cooking time so I place an order for one before my dining companion arrives. The creature arrives steaming and smothered in wilted greens and lemon slices with sweet garlic nuggets embedded in its flaky flesh. The fish is loaded with cumin and citrus flavor, but my dining companion and I crave more salting throughout.
Otherwise, the whole fish — also served with a side of more soft than crunchy fries — will amply feed a hungry diner or two.
Sonny’s Place is a solid neighborhood spot for Middle Eastern dining. Go for the malawach, go for the shakshouka and go for Sonny. It is his place after all.SONNY’S PLACE