West Egg Café
Two Inch Cuffs, November 2012. Photos by Jason Travis.
Interview with Jennifer Johnson, Co-Owner
Whether it's after a hard night partying or before a hard day of work, brunch makes everything better. And while there's a lot of great places in Atlanta for brunch, no place does it better than West Egg Café, which doles out brunch love all day long. Don't believe me? Just ask the Sunday morning brunch crowd who often wait 2 hours for a table (ok, 45 minutes, but it feels much longer!). Unlike New York, we don't usually wait in long lines for anything unless it's absolutely worth it. And with a menu boasting items like fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese, coca-cola cupcakes, pig and grits, chicken and waffles, and boozy milkshakes, it's worth every penny. We chatted with West Egg co-owner, Jennifer Johnson, about what makes brunch the most magical part of the day.
West Egg is a reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Why did you choose it as a name for the restaurant?
The Great Gatsby is one of my all-time favorite books. In fact, my husband and I (we've been married now for 15 years now) had a reading from it at our wedding. So before the restaurant was even a twinkle in our eye, it's always been close to my heart. When we decided to open on the Westside of Atlanta, we started out as a breakfast-all-day kind of place. I thought I could have a little not inside joke—I love it when people recognize the reference—but worst case, if nobody recognizes the connection, you've got West Egg, hopefully it rolls of your tongue and it's geographically correct. And best case scenario someone asks, "Is that from The Great Gatsby?" That's how we got here. We ended up moving from our old location down the street back in 2010 to this space. It was the first time we put the quote up from The Great Gatsby that referenced West Egg and let people in on what perhaps was an inside joke then.
What makes brunch so much more magical than any other meal of the day?
It's funny, we talk about that a lot. Saturdays and Sundays are our two busiest times, but Sunday is always busier than Saturday even though we're open for the same hours and we serve the same menu on both those days. There's something magical about Sunday. Years ago, it probably started out as a religious connection for some people, that Sunday was a day where people say "I'm not going to run my errands today because the stores don't even open until 12 something" because Saturday tends to be that day that's filled with so many other things. Sunday, I think, is that day where people are willing to say, "I'm going to commit myself to my day being about waiting for brunch for a while, sitting down for brunch, having a cocktail with brunch, being with friends” and I love to see that. There is something magical about people who commit a day to relaxing and rejuvenating them back to the week.
West Egg definitely has a neighborhood feel. What role do you think a restaurant plays in the community?
I love that you think that, because I do think of West Egg as being a neighborhood-driven restaurant. You always hear about chef-driven and we have a wonderful chef and wonderful pastry chef here, but I like the concept of neighborhood-driven. When I was in school, the places I always gravitated to were the independent restaurants that weren't very expensive that you could go to on a regular basis. You look forward to those special occasion places, but the places that were close to my heart were the ones that became the concept of the third place, where it's not home and it's not work, it's another place where you feel totally at home. To us, it was really important we create a place where you could come several times during the day. We cover for all the meal segments, we've got coffee, we've got wine, we've got Wi-Fi, we've got the kind of place where you can come in dressed up, you don't have to, and you can bring your family. And a big part of that was to make a place that was affordable. We wanted a place that people could still get out of the house to be with their community, be able to afford it, and feel like they have that experience.
How do you like your eggs?
Sunny-side up or over easy, I like 'em raw and runny. I like it when the egg is like a sauce to everything else I'm eating.
Now that you're in the business of breakfast, what is a deal-breaker for you when you go out?
Ooh good one! I have to think about this one... I'm easy to please. I don't think in my life I've ever sent food back. I think it's in the nature of you know who the people in the kitchen are wherever you go and you know they're working hard to get it right. If the egg sat for too long, it may have been over easy when they put it on the plate, but it might have sat there for a second while they're waiting for something so by the time it got to you it was over medium. There's almost no deal-breaker in that sense because I'm going to be a happy customer no matter what you put in front of me. And eggs are not easy to get right because of the timing. I love potatoes, I love all things carb and I always order them when I eat here. I wanna make sure they're making them well. I don't like them deep-fried. They cook them on the flat top so they're a little caramelized on the outside with a little caramelized onion that are still soft on the inside. It's really like the basic things. If you're going to do something simple—eggs, potatoes, a chocolate chip cookie—you have to try your hardest to make the best egg, potatoes or chocolate chip cookie you've ever put in front of somebody. Because when it's complicated and the ingredients are kinda fussy, you can kinda get away with more. But with the simple things, you have to get it right.
If you ever had to leave Atlanta, what would you miss the most?
I am a huge fan of the Botanical Gardens here. The whole compound of Piedmont Park and the Botanical Gardens is a beautiful core to our city. Especially with the kids now, we spend a lot of time there. Being part of this development, the Westside development, has been exciting. When I was transitioning from lawyer to here, I had this moment seeing all the city planning and I love watching cities develop in a smart way. It doesn't always happen and sometimes it happens with a few trials and errors. Seeing the Beltline. Oh, I don't want to leave Atlanta because I want to see what happens with the Beltline and I'm so excited about that! You can finally connect to all parts of the city in a way that doesn't necessarily involve our cars.
Tell us about The General Muir.
The General Muir, we're calling it a tribute to the New York Jewish deli. You're not gonna walk in there and be like, "Oh, this looks just like Katz's!". We hope our pastrami that we're going to cure in house and smoke in house will be as good as Katz's. It's a project that's really dear to my heart. The General Muir is the name of the ship that brought my grandparents and my mom to this country in 1949 after the war. They landed in New York where my mom grew up in the Bronx and I'm really excited to honor them. It's their journey, but it's the journey of many of our families that have come to the country and be part of the wave of, in that case, it was sort of last wave of the deli culture and what they brought from Eastern Europe. We're gonna honor it and we're going to push it out of the traditional mold. We're excited Chef Todd Ginsberg, who was previously at Bocado, is going to be one of our partners in the project and we know he's going to take the best deli you've ever had, like bagels in house, then it's also going to be his take on whatever he wants to do. So we're really excited! We're aiming for an opening in December/January.