By Wendell Brock, For the AJC #atlanta-ga
Jodi Stallings savors milestones the way her customers do her restaurant’s fried chicken, tomato aspic and stiff martinis.
Last Halloween, she and her husband, David, bought the Colonnade from her father. It had been 40 years to the day since her dad acquired the Cheshire Bridge Road landmark. Stallings was 9 then. She expects to stick around the Southern comfort-food destination well into her senior years.
“I’ll probably be in a wheelchair going around asking people how they like their fried chicken,” she joked in a recent phone interview.
Concerned about the safety of her patrons, some of whom used to dine in the restaurant seven days a week — as well as her employees, many of whom have been on the payroll for decades — Stallings closed the Colonnade from March 16 through July 30, with one exception.
“Somebody sent me a message on Facebook, and they said, ‘Are you going to do fried chicken on Mother’s Day? Because my mother is 92 years old, and she can’t have Mother’s Day without Colonnade fried chicken.’”
She couldn’t say no.
“I was so excited,” Stallings recalled. “It would have been so upsetting to be at home on Mother’s Day. I mean, you think you want Mother’s Day off. But, then, to think that you don’t even really have a choice, it would have been just heartbreaking.”
The restaurant ended up selling 350 chicken plates between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. that day.
Having her staff together again on the holiday was like practice for July 31. After a 4½ month pause, the restaurant reopened for dine-in and carryout — down only eight employees (from 46); tables spaced 6 feet apart; and with designated parking spaces for curbside pickup. On Friday, the Colonnade plans to unveil patio seating, next to the porte-cochère with the squiggly blue-neon sign.
Resolutely old-school, the Colonnade just started taking credit cards three years ago, and it doesn’t use computers. Servers jot orders on tickets, then bark the instructions to the cooks. No one can hear you when you’re wearing a mask, Stallings said, so, for possibly the first time ever, the normally frenetic kitchen is quiet.
You will find most of the Colonnade classics on the current menu: fried chicken (the No. 1 seller), fried shrimp (No. 2) and perennial favorites, like turkey and dressing, salmon croquettes and pot roast. When the restaurant reopened, one guest was so famished for her faves — chicken livers, fried chicken, fried shrimp and prime rib — that she and husband ordered them all. “I thought it was funny,” Stallings said. “I laughed so hard.”
She estimated about 45 percent of their business is carryout. If a guest isn’t comfortable going inside, a staffer will take the order — and the credit-card machine — outside.
One milestone Stallings is determined to reach is the restaurant’s centenary in 2027. “We’ve been very fortunate,” she said. “We really want to get to that 100-year marker.”
Will cottage cheese and peaches still be on the menu? You bet.
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Menu: Southern comfort food; slightly abbreviated menu
Alcohol: dine-in only
What I ordered: fried shrimp, with coleslaw and onion rings; pot roast, with pole beans and mac and cheese; veggie plate, with seasonal squash, crowder peas, stewed corn and fried okra; an a la carte order of pears with cheese and tomato aspic; coconut cream pie
Service options: dine-in; takeout; order in person or by phone; no delivery
Safety protocols: follows standard CDC guidelines
Address, phone: 1879 Cheshire Bridge Road NE, Atlanta; 404-874-5642
Hours: 5-9 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays. 12-8 p.m. Sundays