Monday, October 13, 2014

Da Via in Dunwoody

Who would have thought that in one of the nicer (read: pricier) parts of Atlanta there would be a restaurant where you can partake of quality food, beer, and wine and do it all on the cheap? I am happy to have learned that such a place exists.

15 miles north of downtown Atlanta you will find Dunwoody, Georgia, draped on what probably count as foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Dunwoody existed as a rural burg for many generations before Atlanta started to sprawl, though it never incorporated as an official town through all that time.

In 1971 the Perimeter Mall was built here, and with it being immediately accessible from the beltway that is Interstate 285, the end of Dunwoody's idyllic days became inevitable. Today it is one of the shoulder-to-shoulder, cobbled-together suburbs that make Atlanta the USA's second largest metropolis in terms of size and ninth largest in terms of population.

Counterintuitively, Dunwoody finally incorporated in 2006, more than 170 years after it was first settled and decades after it first seemed to get swallowed by the big city. Although many people call it "Atlanta Perimeter" without the word "Dunwoody" ever crossing their lips, it is technically separate from Atlanta proper and even from DeKalb County now that it has its own police force, fire department, and city hall. It is also a business hub with modern office towers and the corporate headquarters of Porsche Cars North America, InterContinental Hotels Group, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

As of the 2010 census it had a population of more than 46,000 living within its 13 square miles, and as you might expect given that those 13 square miles are urbanized and shared with a cluster of businesses and hotels, many of Dunwoody's residents reside in condos, apartments, and lofts. With the median family income sitting just north of a hundred grand, those dwellings tend to be handsome and upscale, and many of the residents get where they are going by walking along the leafy thoroughfares rather than driving on them.

But I digress. I think I have established why you would not expect to find a good cheap restaurant here, but it's about time I started talking about the restaurant itself:

At first glance, da Via Italian Market Eating seems to be a strange name for a sit-down restaurant. But at second glance, after you learn that da Via means "the street" in Italian, this restaurant's angle starts to make sense in a way I hope to soon make clear.

Da Via is not a glittering Italian eatery like this one in Tampa or this one in Manhattan, but it is damn good with homemade sauces and market fresh ingredients. All entrees go for a mere $6.95 and all libations for a mere $3.

The beer and wine selections are not extensive but they are high on quality. Beers come from two nearby breweries, Monday Night and Sweetwater, though if you are not a craft beer kind of person you can still order Miller Lite. Meanwhile, the wines (Pinot Noir if you want red and Chardonnay if you want white) come from California's Coastal Vines Cellars.

And did I mention that when you order beer, they give it to you in a coozie that you may take home?

Da Via's entrees come in the form of piadas, pastas, and salads, and although you sit down to eat, there are no waitresses or waiters. Instead you go through a serving line and exercise control over what goes into the finished product, much like you would at Subway.

If you choose salad, you tell the preparer if you want romaine, iceberg, or spinach, and you tell him which other veggies to include; which cheese; which dressing; and which meat, if any (the choices being chicken, sausage, meatballs, or -- for $2 extra -- salmon).

The same options that exist for salad exist for pasta, the only difference being that you have to choose between penne and spaghetti rather than romaine, iceberg, and spinach. And of course you have to choose between sauces rather than dressings, the options being Bolognese, Rosa, Spicy Napoletana, and Mild Napoletana.

I have enjoyed everything I've gotten here, as you can tell from the fact that the pasta bowl pictured at the beginning of this post looked like this five minutes later:

I had never heard of piadas until last week. It turns out that they have been a popular street food for many years in the Romagna region of northeast Italy, made by putting the fillings atop a flatbread, then folding the flatbread over and cooking it.

My first experience eating here did not involve salad, pasta, or piadas, however. Instead it involved da Via sticks, which are billed as an appetizer and are very similar to a burrito except for being a little skinnier and a little less stuffed. Two Sundays ago I wandered into da Via craving something pizza-like; saw a tray of piping hot pepperoni-stuffed da Via sticks sitting on the counter; and knew I had to try them. I ordered two, then fell deeply in love with their price of $1.95 each, then fell even deeper in love with their taste.

If you find yourself in these parts you will be doing yourself a disservice not to come to da Via. To get here, turn north off of Perimeter Center West onto Olde Perimeter Way and follow it a couple blocks up a gradual hill. Da Via will be on your right, marked by its yellow bicycle parked on the sidewalk near an old-looking street clock:

Obviously you can eat inside, but if you are like me and Erika, you will choose to eat in the outdoor dining area that sits just below sidewalk level:

When you are done, I recommend working off the calories by walking around the area. As tends to be the case in places whose urbanization occurred in recent decades rather than generations ago, the area right around da Via has lots of chain stores and chain restaurants rather than old school mom-and-pops.

But that does not mean that Dunwoody is "the same as everywhere else," for if you look closely you will find lots of hidden gems that are not visible to people in their cars -- things like the following statue. It sits amid an immaculate landscape below an office tower, rendered invisible to cars by a hedge and slope. But when you are walking, all you need to do is peer over the hedge and you will see it sitting there.

But then again again, who looks closely even when they are walking? Make yourself one of those who does. Make yourself one of those who notices the pointed lobes on the leaves of English ivy climbing up the trunk of an oak; one of those who takes a second look at that dragonfly and realizes it's actually a hummingbird. You won't regret it.

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