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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