Tried and True: Decatur
written by HEATHER KW BROWN | photography courtesy of DECATUR TOURISM BUREAU; RANDY DICKERSON; DECATUR ARTS ALLIANCE; JUSTEN CLAY; SQUARE PUB; HEIDI GELDHAUSER; REVIVAL
A DOORWAY TO GREAT EXPECTATIONS
Five down, 27 more to go. Armed with a notebook and a pencil, my son scribbled the location of our latest discovery, while my daughter scoured nearby building exteriors for handcrafted, secret doors hidden at ankle height. Eagerly anticipating the next one, she also questioned why anyone would make a fairy-sized door that no one can actually use. Now, we also had to find a good answer.
Consisting of 32 miniature doors created by 24 local artists, Secret Doors Decatur — organized by resident artist Larry Holland and funded by the Decatur Arts Alliance — was designed to fill the area with whimsy. For us, it furnished a fun excuse to explore the city. Although the doors are sprinkled throughout Decatur, our scavenger hunt started and ended around historic Decatur Square, where copious distractions and delicious detours easily derailed our efforts.
Leaving our Northside nook on a quest to entertain the kids soon turned into motivation for the whole family to try new places and revisit a few favorites.
IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME
I’ve lived in Atlanta’s suburbs for almost 13 years and my previous visits to Decatur revolved around beer (Decatur Craft Beer Festival) and books (AJC Decatur Book Festival) with a couple of chef-driven restaurants thrown in for obvious reasons. Apparently, coming out of my Kennesaw comfort zone was long overdue and I realized that, when timed properly, the 35-minute drive is as laid-back as the community itself.
The Decatur Visitors Center, located one block north of the historic Old DeKalb County Courthouse, is an ideal stop to jumpstart the search for secret doors (hint, hint). While there, learn how the city was established in 1823 at the intersection of two Indian paths, known today as Ponce de Leon and Clairemont avenues, then mosey to the historic square to start your modern-day exploits.
Warning: Decatur’s 4 square miles are packed with more than 200 vendors, and though some are familiar, most are independent boutique shops, restaurants and services that have embraced the local-is-better vibe.
For fashionistas hunting original looks, this hometown conviction equates to distinct clothing and funky cool gifts. While Squash Blossom specializes in women’s apparel and accessories, Sq/ft has clothes for men and women as well as a wide range of unique gifts that will have you ruminating birthday lists that don’t exist. I spent time in each of these shops, purely for the sake of research, yet somehow, I left with a cute dress, a pair of audacious socks for a friend’s birthday and narrowly escaped investing in a new pair of summer sandals.
Typically, bookstores are at the top of our page of priorities. In Decatur, Little Shop of Stories not only has the hearts of residents, it also holds the bookmark for best independent bookshop, some would say, in the state of Georgia (and beyond). As avid readers and library loafers, we lost track of time but gained a greater respect for the true meaning of “small but mighty.”
One wall, counter to ceiling, is decorated with sketches of book covers signed by their respective authors while the opposite is home to framed posters from past AJC Decatur Book Festivals, the largest independent and fourth largest book festival in the country. My kids immediately ran to the stacks in the back, my husband veered off in a different direction and I’d barely finished reading the first book jacket when my son sprinted back saying, “Look what they have!”
And so it went for much longer than we thought. By the time we left — bag of books in hand — darkness had put an end to our search for doors and hunger now determined our next move.
A MOVEABLE FEAST
Full of acclaimed restaurants and craft beer bars, Decatur can be challenging for indecisive diners like ourselves. Of course, hotspots like Kimball House, Cakes and Ale, Leon’s Full Service and Brickstore Pub continue to accumulate kudos, but our debate began with visions of venturing to Squash Blossom Little Shop of Stories, The Iberian Pig for Spanish tapas like the lomo de cerdo — seared Kurobuta pork tenderloin, garlic alioli, crispy onions, chimichurri and shaved one-year Manchego — and the broccolini frito, cast iron seared broccolini, herb
fromage blanc, paprika oil, and Espellette pepper, among many others. Or we could pull up a chair at The Pinewood, where the chicken cordon bly decked with a savory cheddar waffle, crispy chicken, shaved ham, Swiss cheese and crystal gravy dip is a clever play on Executive Chef Mike Blydenstein’s name.
Speaking of irresistible food, Kevin Gillespie’s Revival is a respite for Southern comfort food fans and residing in the backyard is Communion, a food truck and beer garden guaranteed to tickle the fancy of anyone with valid tokens. Torn in all directions, we decided to hop from one foodie haven to another, sneaking a spot at many of the city’s best tables. No way are we picking favorites, but my kids would certainly vote for Ford Fry’s No. 246, simply because their brief wait included a patio bedecked with string lights and a ping-pong table. My husband, on the other hand, who has been a patron a number of times, has yet to stray from the meatballs here. He graciously shared a morsel, from which I soon realized the sacrifice he’d made.
Other stops on our list included a stint at The Square Pub, where the green chile cheeseburger has its own following and Java Monkey, which makes almost everyone happy with its offering of caffeine, wine or both. And then there’s Revolution Doughnuts. It’s worth noting that I’m typically not one to indulge in fried dough topped with sugar often, but sometimes you simply have to give in. Their concoctions are a prime time for submission. Needless to say, we ended our day on a memorable note.
Being dispatched back to Decatur to locate the remaining secret doors is already planned, as is a second scavenger hunt called Garden Go Seek, where we’ll ditch the doors in lieu of eight green spaces. If we hunt down all of the answers successfully, a treasure box awaits. And maybe another book. And a sweet treat to share.