Norwood: Almost as Awesome as Melville

I’ve landed myself a gig working on a book about Joburg’s northern suburbs. This assignment involves hanging around various neighborhoods — eating in restaurants, visiting shops, drinking coffee, taking photos, etc. — and writing about it. Cool, huh? (I’m f-ing lucky.)

The book will be published by Gerald Garner and will be called SandtonPlaces, a sequel to Gerald’s JoburgPlaces books. (You can read more about Gerald’s books, as well as his Joburg tours, on his website.)

SandtonPlaces will be about Sandton, obviously, but it will also include several of Sandton’s surrounding suburbs. Those of you familiar with Sandton are probably surprised that I’ll be writing about it. Sandton is not known to be the most interesting part of Joburg. Don’t worry though. The Sandton quirkiness is there, and I’m finding it.

Anyway, Gerald gave me the go-ahead to publish some of my discoveries here as I go along. I’ll start by telling you about Norwood, which is not part of Sandton, but due north of downtown Jozi on the way toward Sandton.

Norwood - street scene

Grant Avenue, Norwood.

Norwood is one of the city’s most interesting suburbs. I like Norwood because it reminds me of Melville, where I live. Grant Avenue is to Norwood what 7th Street is to Melville.

As with Melville, many people believe Norwood is past its heyday — that the area is declining into oblivion.

I don’t know what Norwood was like before, but from what I’ve seen I disagree. I found so many interesting things to explore and discover in Norwood. Here are just couple of the quirkiest highlights along Norwood’s Grant Avenue main drag.

Norwood - RTG schnitzel burger

Ladies schnitzel burger at Ready to Go (RTG), an American-style kosher diner on Grant.

I could write a whole post about the enjoyable yet bizarre lunch that I had at RTG. It’s a Jewish deli/American-style diner, serving kosher meat and no dairy. (There is a large Jewish community in Norwood.) As I walked by, two regulars named Raffi and Gavin invited me to sit with them. They regaled me with stories about life in Joburg.

I got up to take some photos of the restaurant and was questioned — in a friendly but pointed manner — by two members of the community police who were eating in the restaurant. The men asked me for my business card and my ID. Then they asked if I’m Jewish, which, incidentally, I am. I was then allowed to continue taking photos. It was so hilarious. I loved it. My schnitzel burger was good too.

Norwood - Ascot coffee

Cappuccino at the Ascot Hotel.

Hidden on a quiet Grant Avenue corner is a small, unassuming boutique hotel called the Ascot. This place is a best-kept secret — it’s classy, cool, and unpretentious all at once. The small lounge/restaurant is great for coffee, cocktails, or a meal. There’s live jazz at the Ascot on Saturday nights. I also saw one of the hotel rooms, which was beautiful. I’d love to stay there.

Norwood - Cherry merchandise

The Cherry Boutique and Spa. This is not your run-of-the-mill spa. I think the photo speaks for itself.

The Cherry Boutique and Spa is ajacent to the Ascot. The two places are under the same ownership. While having coffee at the Ascot I started chatting with Nicky, the owner, and she took me over to see the spa. Spas don’t usually excite me that much but I was really taken by Cherry’s friendly staff and quirky, whimsical, slightly naughty decor. Nicky invited me to come back for a free pedicure, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I’ll definitely go back. [UPDATE: As of February 2014, Cherry seems to have closed down. Shame.]

Norwood - Giovanni

In addition to the Jewish community, there is also a large Italian community in Norwood. Giovanni’s is the most popular Italian restaurant there. I haven’t gotten the chance to eat there yet. But I love the sign.

Norwood - Zahavas breakfast

Shakshuka at Zahava’s.

There are a couple of great Mediterranean restaurants on Grant, including Zahava’s. Zahava’s doubles as an art gallery and also has a beautiful outdoor courtyard in the back. I sat at the front counter, overlooking the street, and had the shakshuka: an Israeli dish of eggs, veggies, and tomatoes baked together in a skillet. So good.

Norwood - Schwarma Co inside

Mounds of schwarma toppings at the Schwarma Company.

The Schwarma Company is the most popular restaurant on Grant Avenue. The schwarmas, the desserts, the Turkish coffee, the hot guy who owns the place…It’s all awesome. Go. Enough said.

Norwood - Lampost outside

Antique furniture spills onto the street outside the Lamp Post.

The Lamp Post is an antique shop. It’s also a cafe, a tailor, an art studio, and an event venue. It’s quirkiest shop on Grant Avenue. Worth a visit.

Norwood - guy in park

Happy man outside the city park on the corner of Grant Avenue and Ivy Road. This park is beautiful and well-kept — a great place to hang out on a nice day.

Norwood - Ivy Rd park

Another shot of the park.

Norwood - Stage Door Cafe

Nightfall at the Stage Door Café.

There used to be a restaurant in Norwood called the Piccolo Café, which was famous for its pizza and its drag shows. The bad news is that Piccolo closed last year. The good news is the space has been taken over by Michael Southerden and his partner Kevin Mills-Davies, and re-opened as the Stage Door Café. My friend Michelle and I stumbled in there by accident one evening and soon found ourselves engrossed in conversation with Michael and eating delicious peri-peri chicken livers and margherita pizza.

Stage Door is a lovely, charming place designed with a theatrical theme. It had only been open two weeks when I went, but apparently Kevin is a seasoned drag performer and the shows will be starting up again soon.

Norwood - sunset from Stage Door

Norwood sunset Instagram.

These are just a few Norwood recommendations to get you started. There will be more in the book.

My SandtonPlaces explorations continue. Stay tuned for more from Jozi’s northern suburbs.

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20 Comments

  • Reply elegsabiff May 23, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    Honestly, I’m welling up. I lived in Norwood for years, if Meat on Grant Avenue is still thriving you have to get their biltong, the best in town. And Giovanni’s had the best pizza I ever tasted, if it’s the one I’m thinking of,up near Kookies. Oh man. The original houses were apparently for railway employees, I was told, although no railway nearby so that might not be true, and there were still pondokkies with their pressed ceilings dotted about 15 years ago, although most had been demolished in favour of bijou millionaire residences on those tiny pieces of land. It was THE place back then, by the time we sold our pondokkie and left, I’m sorry to hear it is declining. Once again, so enjoying your blog. Didn’t realise you were in Melville, and now I’m nostalgic for Koljander as well. Time for a Joburg holiday, I think.

    • Reply 2summers May 23, 2013 at 9:03 pm

      Ah, cool. I’m glad this post is bringing back memories for you. Yes, Meat on Grant is still there! Very nice, too. (It will be in the book.) I’ve also written a post about Koljander — here it is if you want to keep reminiscing 🙂
      http://2summers.net/2011/03/24/handmade-on-melvilles-main-road/

      • Reply elegsabiff May 27, 2013 at 9:40 pm

        Koljander blog was lekker, thanks – hope you’ve tried their melk tert. Damn, definitely time for a trip back.

        There’s no equivalent to home-industry shops like Koljander in the UK and when I’ve tried sounding people out they assure me there’d be no interest!

        • Reply 2summers May 28, 2013 at 7:26 am

          Weird. Who wouldn’t like homemade stuff??

  • Reply Wisaal May 23, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    Tough job you have 🙂 If I *ever* leave the city, Norwood is on the list…

    • Reply 2summers May 24, 2013 at 10:16 am

      Hahaha. I love that you never leave the city 🙂

  • Reply eremophila May 24, 2013 at 6:19 am

    Congrats on your fab job! Smokey will be thrilled you can continue to support him in the manner he deserves! 🙂

    • Reply 2summers May 24, 2013 at 10:17 am

      Ha, thanks! Smokey does lead an expensive lifestyle.

  • Reply Natasha May 24, 2013 at 10:13 am

    I LOVE Norwood! Think it’s time I pop in for a visit again.

    • Reply 2summers May 24, 2013 at 10:17 am

      I’m glad I reminded you 🙂

  • Reply Dr Kuks (@drkuks) May 26, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    Im so glad you have featured my neighbourhood, Norwood!! I live in one of the “bijou residences” that elegsabiff wrote about. I have always wondered who the original houses were built for. I think Melville has the edge on quirkiness maybe because the general population of Norwood is older. Norwood is very Jewish but has a strong African diaspora presence as well- mainly Francophone. I see that an Ethiopian restaurant has opened opposite Ascot. Shwarma Company is my favourite spot. Meat on Grant and the Lamp Stop are definite visits.

    • Reply 2summers May 27, 2013 at 4:57 pm

      We should meet at the Schwarma Company sometime soon!

    • Reply Ashkey January 25, 2014 at 11:19 am

      Just wish it’d be more clean! You also have to sift through the restaurants available, it’s kinda okay!

      • Reply 2summers January 25, 2014 at 12:21 pm

        Yep, like every other place in Joburg (and the world), you have to separate the good from the bad. Thanks for the comment!

  • Reply dr.zeek December 5, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    Hi,

    “Piccola” was actually called “piccola prima donna”.

    It closed because one of the owners (and drag artiste), Fabrizio, passed away in a motor vehicle accident a few years’ back.

    I remember those shows well – what fun!

  • Reply tesfaye w September 25, 2014 at 12:17 am

    yes! Norwood has a lot to offer this day, now not to miss the new Queen Sheba Ethiopian restaurant it give you a real African experiance with their beautiful set up to tske you with their exotic ethiopian food!
    should try worth it!

    • Reply 2summers September 26, 2014 at 9:11 am

      Yes, I’ve been to Queen Sheeba before and loved it. I think I even mentioned it in my blog once.

  • Reply Chad January 18, 2015 at 4:18 am

    Awesome blog. I have fond me,or ies of Norwood as a child growing up in yoevil. IM actually looking at opening up a restaurant on grant.thanks for your insight to the place

    • Reply 2summers January 19, 2015 at 1:19 pm

      Thanks so much, Chad. Thanks for the comment and I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog.

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