Back in 1997-98, when I was president of the Plaza Midwood Neighborhood Association, the board participated in a community-building exercise offered by Neighborhood Development. Our goal was to envision the community we wanted to be. My dream was to create a gourmet ghetto and/or antique alley in the last original storefronts still standing on Central Avenue.
Flash forward 10 years, and the business district between Commonwealth and Plaza Midwood has a bit of both. It's difficult to peg the turning point, but I think it started with a Neighborhood Development grant to install brick pavers and old-fashioned street lights. Then came the relocation of the post office and library to more suitable quarters. That made room for Thomas Street Tavern and Boris and Natasha, respectively.
Fuel Pizza's investors fell in love with the vintage filling station on the corner of Central and Pecan about the same time Lenore Jones Deutsch managed the coup of the century and got the owner of the Plasma Alliance building to sell it to her. Almost immediately, Nova's Bakery approached her, and soon had a home of its own. Something Classic catering moved in shortly thereafter a few doors down.
On the other side of Central, empty storefronts became antique stores, 1511 and Century Antiques. Mama's Caribbean Restaurant nestled itself next to a trendy clothing boutique.
The Penguin on Thomas was restored to its present retro-dining glory, and a series of restaurants occupied the old Ho Toy across the street until finally settling on Dish, which serves Southern comfort food. Meanwhile, John's Country Kitchen and The Diamond Restaurant still managed to pack in customers.
In the old Porter Paint store on the Plaza across from Queen's Gallery, Creation offered innovative Asian fusion cuisine in the front, and, in the back, we received a bonus with the fabulous Open Door Studio, a dance school. Eventually, Lulu's replaced Jimmy's Deli next to the VFW Hall.
Zada Jane's Corner Café is the newest addition. It replaces the long-empty Presidential Cleaner on the corner of Thomas and Central across from No Grease barber shop. Serving breakfast all day as well as lunch and dinner, Zada Jane's offers down-home cooking with a twist. For example, the Bunny Rancheros is a mixture of pan-fried potatoes, a choice of breakfast meat, topped with two perfectly cooked eggs. Interpreted strictly, it would be corned beef hash with a fried egg in the middle, but Bunny Rancheros is so much better, because it offers variations such as chorizo among the crispy, tender potatoes, and spicy queso sauce over the eggs.
It is the cuisine of the New South: a South with a proud tradition, but also one able to adapt and accept new cultural influences. My husband smiles when I suggest this lofty goal for a breakfast platter.
It may just be breakfast, but breakfast after a dream come true.