Have you ever have one of those nights where inexplicably everything turns out perfectly? No? Well, I’m feeling ya, but here’s how to solve it.
My friend Vic called and said “Pick you two up at six; I’m taking you out for dinner.” He got no argument from me. A free meal is a free meal, and I’m a cheap bastard. It began with a ride downtown to the empty streets of old Atlanta, past the court house, and down to Mitchell Street. The strips of cooling asphalt and cement sidewalks, were long emptied, because the impotent powers that be in Atlanta still haven’t figured out how to create a Manhattan-like night life in some of the most important 50 square blocks of Georgia. They still think another stadium for millionaires to frolic in and a crappy $10 hot dog are what’s needed to add substance to our tedious, empty lives. Such a waste.
But a stone’s throw from the current stadiums, in a small, old store front on Mitchell, rests an establishment called Lunacy Black Market. Small, quiet and unassuming. No giant three story fish out front, no ginormous chain restaurant sign, no 20 acre mall parking lot. Just a door and two plate glass windows on a quiet city side street.
Inside hosts the perfect atmosphere. You can sit at a small table or lean back into a couch to rid yourself of the day’s events and begin a meal of quality. The music is perfect, loud enough to hear strains of Latin funk or a little Marvin Gaye, but soft enough that your conversation is never intruded upon. The other diners seem to be as relaxed as you are. The walls are hung with local art and a series of Kimonos.
Lunacy is the creation of Paul Luna and Cynthia Thomet. Cynthia, a goddess with skin as soft and perfect as cocoa butter and a smile as warm and inviting as buttered toast, starts your evening … a little wine maybe? Paul, a trim, quiet man with an artist’s bearing and a single long braid drifting down his back, is occasionally seen coming out of the kitchen to hand-deliver some small succulent dish or talk briefly with a patron; then he silently glides back to the kitchen.
I suppose you would define it as a tapas bar, but that label ain’t quite right. Some call it a restaurant; I would define it “as a place to spend an evening.” The menus are hand written on slabs of cardboard and you start by ordering a few of the many $2 to $4 items. Or you can ask for them to decide for you and bring you what Paul feels is right. Some of the selections sound rather generic and simple, the rice cakes or garbanzo beans for instance. I imagine some pass on these humble dishes due to their rather common sounding names, but don’t make that mistake. I would hurt a man for another of those rice cakes and I would be inclined to write my sons out of my will for some more of that cabbage salad.
I regret I didn’t write down the names of things as I ate, so I’ll have re-create the meal (as my father liked to point out) from my rather inadequate memory. The night started (and ended) with a decent red wine. Cynthia then brought out an antipasto dish, of olives, salami, red pepper, mozzarella, bread slices, a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar … in short, the food of the gods, I could have stuffed myself on that alone all evening. It was followed by a crisp, shredded cabbage salad. Who knows what was in that salad … but between the walnuts, gorgonzola cheese, a hint of lemon and mint, it was incredible. It included things I never thought of putting in a salad, and somehow I’m going to steal that recipe.
There are no condiments at the table; no salt, no pepper, no sloppy topped Texas Pete’s hot sauce lurking behind the packets of Splenda. And lord, don’t ask for ketchup because, trust me, you don’t want to fuck this meal up.
The night progressed, with a series of small dishes which we divided between us. Garbanzo beans, rice cakes, a chicken leg, shrimp, shredded pork and peppers, a braised pork rib, each item better than the last. Finally the food ended with plate of two generous slabs of Paul’s handmade mozzarella and diced tomatoes. Paul brought the mozzarella to the table himself. He looked at me and slowly and seriously said, “You’ve never eaten mozzarella like this” … he was right. I’ve eaten a lot of mozzarella in my day –it’s one of my favorites –but I think that the Polly-O factory should shut itself down now out of complete embarrassment, you can hardly call that stuff cheese once you taste Paul’s handmade creation. It was wonderful; it has ruined all other mozzarella for me. Paul described and mimed how he made the mozzarella — starting it, pulling it, shocking it in warm water … and then told me “I never eat the stuff.” Ok WTF???!!! This magnificent cheese and it never crosses his palette? Nope, the poor, wonderful bastard is lactose intolerant. Of all the wicked curses that the gods place upon us, this has to be among the worst. I can’t imagine life without butter, cheese and cream. In my world, butter, salt, garlic, bacon and ice cream are the five basic food groups, and going without any of them is not an option.
Lunacy is so different from my cooking, which consists mainly of huge quantities of smoked meats, heavy spices, garlic and massive amounts of jalapeño and habanero … Lunacy is a true change of pace, with its many dishes of small quantities, beautifully cooked, the fantastic textures and delicate flavors, the unrushed tone of the evening.
You leave filled in more ways than one.
Paul ends his cooking with a cleaning of his kitchen; the artist always readies his studio for the next day’s creation. Then Paul, Cynthia and staff sit down for theirs, what they call the family dinner. The atmosphere is so fundamentally different from the restaurants, diners, and fast chain food atrocities which we are so accustomed. Lunacy Black Market is what food and atmosphere are supposed to be when someone gets it right. Don’t miss it, take one evening off, just the two of you, don’t plan anything else, just drive downtown, talk, eat, relax, eat some more, laugh and drive slowly home, very happy.
Oh, and keep a sharp eye out for the evil scum that lurk like Gollum to boot cars for a living, thank you very much downtown Atlanta!
Lunacy Black Market
231 Mitchell Street NW
Atlanta, GA 30303
404 736 6164
Lunacy does not take reservations
Lunch / Wed-Fri / 11:00am-2:30pm
Dinner / Wed-Sat / 6:00-10:00pm
Late Lunch / Sunday / 2:00-9:00pm
Large Groups: The venue is small. They serve customers on a first-come, first-served basis, and cannot guarantee seating. Parties of six or more automatically receive a chef’s choice of food, priced at $27.60 pp and are also automatically charged a 20% gratuity.