It’s not too often that college students get the treat of high-class dining. Cakes & Ale in Decatur, located just 10 minutes southeast of campus, serves unassuming food in a welcoming environment. With an ever-evolving seasonal menu, Chef Billy Allin cooks humble dishes with careful sourcing for top-quality ingredients. There is little room for error with simple food, but Cakes & Ale succeeds on every level in their attention to detail.
Cakes & Ale is the perfect restaurant to try on a date, when your parents want to take you out to a nice meal or if you just want to try some downright good food. The dimly lit restaurant hums with the noise of people enjoying their food and waiters reciting the specials for the day.
As you enter, there is a sitting area and a sleek bar on the left. People sip champagne and sample a few snacks, like citrus Arancini, or one of the four raw cold-water oysters. And please get an oyster or two or six. Yes, even if you think you don’t like oysters, just get one, it would be a shame to miss out. The Shigoku was my favorite. Topped with minced shallot, it’s a salty, refreshing beginning to what will be a fantastic meal.
Clearly the most important part of any dining experience is the main meal, so I will offer a few suggestions, although you really cannot go wrong with what you order at Cakes & Ale. Personally, I would stray from the third column of the menu, which houses the main plates. Unless you’re really in the mood for a nice piece of protein, look more in the first two columns.
Starting at five dollars and ending in the mid-teens, there is a mix of traditional and more adventurous dishes. Unlike most fancy restaurants, it is surprisingly easy to share dishes here, thanks to Chef Allin. Take advantage of his graciousness because, as you’ll remember from my Antico Pizza article, dining should not be a solitary act.
Pick some dishes from the middle column, some familiar and some foreign. Gnocchi is one of my favorite pastas, and Cakes & Ale does it justice with fresh herbs and bright vegetables. Sticking with the Italian theme, the Sopressata on Croutons sounds ordinary, but Allin adds bok choy and candied kumquat. Weird, huh? You might not have heard of Chicories before, so try it, what’s the worst that can happen? Allin’s food is not experimental by any means, but certain dishes are layered, which is why seemingly weird combinations of ingredients actually make sense together. Even Atlanta magazine rates Cakes & Ale as the third best restaurant in Atlanta.
While I am not a dessert eater (you are probably asking, “what kind of person are you?” But I don’t have an answer), the dessert menu has four desserts. Of course, there is coffee and espresso, but you can also opt for a variety of port, cognac, brandy, champagne, bourbon, whiskey and okay, you get the point (if you’re into that sort of thing).
But even better than dessert and the ridiculous amount of post-dinner alcohol offered is the Cakes & Ale Bakery, right next door. They serve breakfast and lunch, but are open as late as the main restaurant with coffee and pastries. Stop by during the day to pick up a pastry or bread, or sit down and enjoy a sandwich and a beer. It’s great to have a separate yet contiguous bakery, since it can focus on just a few items and perfect them in a very casual setting.
The last secret to Cakes & Ale is that on every Sunday they serve Sunday Supper. Sunday Supper is a pre-fixed menu that is usually cheaper with suggested pairings of wine, beer and cocktails that change weekly. But it’s no secret that Cakes & Ale is a fabulous restaurant in all regards.
–By Ethan Samuels