Discerning the state of the restaurant business in Atlanta is virtually impossible. Every day online you read reports of restaurants that have closed, reopened and two days later close again because an employee tested positive for COVID-19. Two weeks later, you read they have reopened again, but only for patio dining and takeout. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is particularly distressing for gay people. Our social (and often working) lives have long been rooted in the bar and restaurant scene.
I did recently dine on the patio at Grana, which opened on Piedmont Avenue just as the pandemic hit in March, requiring owner/chef Pat Pascarella to offer takeout food only. Now, the restaurant, located across from Grindhouse Killer Burgers, is open for full service and I’m guessing it will become popular with the gays. Location is one reason, but the restaurant’s rather down-home Italian-American fare is another. I learned years ago that gay men generally prefer comfort food — “mommy food” — above all else. Well, your mother isn’t in the kitchen at Grana, but Pascarella, who also owns White Bull in Decatur, tells everyone that the restaurant is a tribute to the cooking of his mother, grandmother, and every other female in his extended family.
Apparently, Pascarella’s mommy preferred mainly straightforward classics, including the Neapolitan pizzas of southern Italy. I was excited to try the Gettin’ Figgy With It pie. It is made with vincotto, fontina, speck, and figs, topped with fresh arugula after it leaves the oven. I have been obsessed with fig pizzas for years and this was one of the best ever. All flavors work perfectly together: peppery, creamy, sweet, fruity, salty. There are 11 other pies, some bordering on the exotic, like The Truffle, which includes stracchino, burrata, robiolina, and black truffle (probably in oil form). Another includes sun gold tomatoes, zucchini, squash blossoms, and burrata. I want that.
I’ve tried one pasta dish: paccheri alla norma, thick tubes of hollow pasta in a pomodoro sauce with anchovies, ricotta, and eggplant. It’s not fancy, but it’s just what Pascarella promises: comfort. Other pastas include pappardelle with a pork ragu and pecorino cheese, ricotta ravioli, and corn agnolotti. There are four equally classic entrees — two chicken dishes, wood-roasted branzino (bass), and porchetta, none of which I tried.
The menu includes five types of meatballs. Our choice was three in a tomato/mostarda sauce. There are also vegetables; we got a dramatic treatment of roasted corn, standing vertical with mad curls of scorched leaves. The plate contained a sauce of lemon aioli and Calabrian peppers. All good.
The dining room and bar were open during our visit. It’s a huge, clubby space with an open kitchen. Only one table was occupied inside. Besides the relatively small patio, Grana also offers rooftop dining. Prices are in the medium range — just under $20 for pizzas and pastas, with entrees a few dollars higher. Be warned: portions are gigantic, so don’t overdo it or satiation will rapidly spoil the fun and your figure.