Two weeks ago, we got on the road again for our third trip out of town in three weeks. This time, our destination was the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama, about which more in the next chapter, with secondary stops in Chattanooga that I will come back to next week. The most direct route to Scottsboro from Marietta is through Rome and across Lookout and Sand Mountains, but I decided to make this as much of an interstate trip as we could so that we might get there and back quicker. We even thought that we might be home before sundown. Heh. I heard a radio spot at a restaurant in the morning that said, “From Soddy-Daisy to Sand Mountain…” and darned if that wasn’t precisely the range that we covered on this trip.
Of course, one advantage of taking the interstate through Chattanooga in the morning is that we could stop somewhere for breakfast. I saw that Julie Darling Donuts had some good buzz on Urbanspoon, so we moseyed on over to that city’s wonderfully fun North Shore neighborhood. We didn’t even have to pay to park, as the restaurant shares a small parking lot with three other businesses. This was a super little stop; they serve up some really good and really inexpensive treats here, and they do it in a very family-friendly space.
Doughnuts here will run guests between 89 cents and $1.19, and, since we were all eating light in anticipation of meals to come, this was a really inexpensive stop. The signature prize of this shop is a bizarre, but wonderful, pancake and bacon doughnut. Marie, bacon-phobic as ever, recoiled at the thought. Normally, I don’t order bacon around her, as even the smell does her in, but I couldn’t resist trying one of these. My photos of it came out terribly; you can see it and read some glowing praise over at a fun and sadly irregularly-published blog called Pork and Butterbeans that I recommend you read.
All of our creations were tasty and fun, with our daughter’s key lime doughnut probably the most flavorful of the six. Best of all, we were able to enjoy them in a very relaxed space to kick back and laze for a few minutes, and let the baby get some wiggles out in a much more baby-friendly environment than most restaurants can offer. There are a few tables with awesome and silly formica tops, but there’s also an expansive area with leather couches and magazines around a coffee table. That way, I could enjoy my smelly bacon in comfort and distance and not antagonize Marie with its fragrance. This also gave us plenty of room to indulge in the increasingly comical mortification of the girlchild when “Billie Jean” came on the radio and Marie and I started singing along to it. Then I noticed the fireplace and the hearth, which would make a perfect stage. Funny how my imitation of Michael Jackson’s speaking voice has her roaring with laughter, but stand on a hearth and point with a single finger and the kid runs away, red-faced.
Most of the decor is done with an eye towards 1950s-era kitsch. It’s not deliberately designed as “a fifties doughnut shop,” with all the attendant baggage; it just uses retro fixtures, some old 45s and found photos on the walls, and a mascot, I suppose you’d say, who’s a silhouette of a ponytailed girl in a poodle skirt. Speaking of dogs, the outdoor patio is pet-friendly, and it looked like three groups from the neighborhood had taken their morning walk here when we left, sending sorties inside to order the doughnuts while the dogs all sniffed and shuffled outside.
It all adds up to an experience that’s incredibly welcoming and charming. Serving good food at low prices in a friendly space? That’s the essence of a good place in my book. Best of all, unlike so many of Atlanta’s very good doughnut shops – Sublime, Ray’s, Dough in the Box – Julie Darling’s stays open to the comparatively very late hour of 9 pm. They can do that because this is a pedestrian-packed corridor in a thriving neighborhood, and it makes me jealous that Atlanta, for all its size, is so very far behind Chattanooga in making city life accommodating and vibrant. Good for them!