Cheap Eats: Kitsch'n 155 in Decatur

Retro diner has a taste for simpler times

Visiting Kitsch'n 155 on Clairmont Road (aka State Route 155) is a bit like stepping back in time. The iconic building is a Conestoga wagon-shaped relic of 1960s Arby's ambition, now painted bright red and white with matching Coca-Cola table umbrellas outside. Inside, the time warp is brought to life in equally bright red vinyl seats and stools, a stone wall painted turquoise, vintage signs, even an Etch A Sketch (which is really just an early iPad prototype, right?) on the counter.

The menu behind the counter maintains the feel with pure, straightforward Americana: a (as in one) salad, a chicken sandwich, a quarter-pound hot dog, a few basic variations on the hamburger, grilled cheese, shakes and malts. Given the state of the stock market and the madness in Washington, D.C., Kitsch'n 155 apparently hopes that capturing the '60s can offer some comfort in these chaotic times. And comfort is definitely what this cute little neighborhood refuge provides.

Owners Randy and Lisa Stewart establish a family-friendly vibe of homegrown hospitality and make it clear that Kitsch'n 155 is all about simple food done well. Family recipes and words like "fresh" and "natural" are strewn all over the menu. The burgers are plain-old thick and juicy, a hefty 7 ounces of quality "all natural black Angus beef" — no smashing here.

They're satisfying for sure, but more like what you might make at home than something to write home about, which is probably the point. You do have the option of a "bacon blue" version with pepper maple bacon and crumbled blue cheese, but that's about as crazy as the menu gets. The veggie burger, while still straightforward, really does bring "fresh" and "natural" to life with a grilled house-made patty featuring black beans and a peppery kick of spices, served on a just-right brioche bun. For those in search of worthy beef-free burgers around Atlanta, this is worth a ride down Route 155.

While the everyday menu is succinct, the kitchen also turns out a daily Blue Plate special, a few veggie sides and one sandwich special, all posted each morning to Facebook and Twitter to keep fans in the know. These specials likewise don't stray from the simple good-food approach, with staples like country-fried steak, meatloaf and crab cakes. One visit was rewarded with a spot-on plate of fried chicken, paired with mashed potatoes and collard greens. The chicken was browned and crisp outside, juicy inside, lightly but nicely seasoned — everything a plate of fried chicken should be. The mashed potatoes and greens both shouted "homemade," with skins mixed in to the chunky potatoes, a deft touch of butter and garlic, and greens with a nicely bitter bite and firm but yielding texture that lets you know they're fresh (and not drowned down to a soggy mess).

Another visit and another sampling of a daily special showed that simplicity can sometimes mean playing it a bit too safe. The pimiento cheese sandwich seemed like a no-brainer and, indeed, looked like a perfect rendition — a nice blend of grated cheeses flecked with pimientos and held together with just enough mayonnaise, served on toasted multigrain bread with sliced tomato and lettuce — but it lacked seasoning and would have benefited from the tang of sharper cheddar. After all, with so much pimiento cheese being spread about town these days, a throwback version can seem a bit too old-fashioned.

When it comes time for dessert, the simple good-food mantra works especially well with house-made baked goods, from a brown sugar-laden cookie with walnuts and dried cranberry to a perfectly flaky pie crust encasing a lovably oozing mess of blueberries. There are always shakes, malts and floats, but hitting one of the county fair-worthy pastries is a great way to end a meal at Kitsch'n 155. As you sit back and savor the old-fashioned pie and cookies, you can't help but let a little bit of the '60s seep into your thoughts — at least until your smartphone buzzes you back into 2011.

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