June 6, 2012

Grub Notes

Hit the Deck

Momma Goldberg's Deli

New Deli: Upon hearing that the final piece of the puzzle to the new downtown deck was a franchise out of Auburn, AL called Momma Goldberg’s Deli (245 N. Lumpkin St.), you could be excused for sighing. Did every business in the deck have to be a chain? And what kind of deli could come out of southeastern Alabama? Or be open until 3 a.m., serving beer? It’s all very weird, but it also sort of works.

The space is as corporate as that of Fuzzy’s, next door, although possibly less welcoming. As is usual in this kind of place, you’re funneled to the counter to place your order, then assigned a number, and your food is swiftly assembled by a crew of college kids overseen by a detail-oriented manager. Things work pretty smoothly, although it’s still a bit of a shock to find no option to add a tip when the servers run your credit card. The food is probably better than expected, for the most part. The Momma’s Love, the restaurant’s signature sandwich, is sizable, served on a sub roll stuffed with roast beef, ham, turkey, muenster, lettuce and tomato, dosed with spicy mustard and “Momma’s sauce,” then steamed quickly in a big stainless-steel box. The bread doesn’t quite hold up to the blast of hot, moist air, but the sandwich itself is fine, a decent delivery system for a bunch of protein. The Reuben and the Pastrama Momma (pastrami, pepper Jack, spicy mustard and pickles), both served on Jewish rye, are solid, if smallish, and toasted rather than steamed. If you are a dude with a hearty appetite, you might have to get two to be satisfied. Or a side. Don’t, however, get the potato bacon soup, which has a weird, filmy texture and no real bacon flavor or, indeed, presence.

The salads are actually a highlight, made to order in front of you and tossed in a giant metal bowl with as much or as little in the way of dressing as you request. An anthropomorphized green onion, resembling the veggies that used to adorn Mellow Mushroom’s website, appears to be a logo of sorts for the dressings, which are numerous and a point of pride. The Momma’s Western, which includes grilled chicken, corn, black beans and shredded cheddar, might make for a better and more satisfying lunch than anything involving bread. I didn’t manage to try the house nachos, which are made with Doritos, but I remain suspicious and intrigued in equal parts. The restaurant serves beer and Dr. Brown’s Soda, has some impulse dessert buys at the register that do not look appealing, and does take-out and catering. It’s open every day for lunch and dinner and late nights six days a week.

Winterville Adventures: Apart from Wok Star, positively reviewed some time ago in this space, there is very little on the culinary scene in Winterville, especially since Cafe Marigold closed. Many of you have no doubt had Mickey Wickmire’s catering, though, from Classic City Chef, and a short while back he opened a location open to the general public, called Winterville Café (315 Athens Rd.), that slightly expands the offerings in Athens’ little neighbor.

The café used to do lunch on weekdays, but business just wasn’t there, so now your only option is its Friday night fish fry, a venerable tradition growing out of the Roman Catholic strictures on eating meat on Fridays and visible still in the number of country cooking restaurants around Athens that offer fried fish as a special that day. From 4:30 to 9 p.m., you can go pick up fried catfish (filets or whole), fried oysters, fried scallops and fried shrimp, all of which come with coleslaw, french fries, tartar sauce and cocktail sauce, plus chicken tenders, BBQ pork, hamburgers and whatever Wickmire puts on special (e.g., shrimp scampi, sauteed tilapia with lemon caper butter, saffron rice and green beans).

The space is tiny and you can’t eat inside, but there are some tables outside around the corner. The coleslaw gets a thumbs up, being simple and tasty, not full of sugar or mucked up with fancy ingredients. The fried stuff is less good. Most everything is heavy and dark, battered too strongly and over-fried, although the catfish filet doesn’t have this problem for the most part, remaining moist and substantial, not fried into submission. The BBQ has good smoke flavor, and it isn’t chopped too fine, so it’s not a wet mess, but chopping always leads to weaker results than pulling, and a chunk here and there with poor texture is disappointing. The folks who work the counter are super nice, though, and I certainly want to encourage more food in Winterville. Winterville Café takes credit cards for orders over $20, through its computer. All others bring cash.

What Up?: The Branded Butcher is open in the former Flight space on Lumpkin, by the Georgia Theatre, serving dinner, brunch and charcuterie, all by Chef Matt Palmerlee, formerly of Farm 255.