Photo Credit: Porter McLeod
SLOW AND STEADY: I’m not sure I would have thought when the Dondero family opened Donderos’ Kitchen (now at 590 N. Milledge Ave.) about nine years ago that the business would still be around, let alone be as successful as it has become. Rather than expanding too quickly and trying to be everything to everyone, they added new features slowly and focused on what did well for them: a small market with some packaged goods, a selection of ceramics and gift items, prepared foods both refrigerated and frozen, a hot soup daily. A couple of years ago, they took over the concession stand at the botanical garden, which is run with efficiency and quality, retailing nice sandwiches, some baked goods and a few other options.
For what seemed like a long time (I pass the store on my regular route home), Donderos' worked on renovating the pink house on Milledge next door to their initial location, scraping, painting, etc., and finally opening in September. The wait was well worth it. Turn into the parking lot off Cobb Street (there’s no entrance on Milledge), and you’ll find several light-filled rooms with high ceilings. The whole place is very family-friendly, with regular story hour provided by Avid Bookshop, a children’s room with toys and a changing table in one restroom.
The stuff that’s available pre-made for pickup hasn’t changed a ton. You can get a container of mildly sweet sesame noodles, a cold and giant club sandwich, a dense chicken salad croissant, some fairly discrete pimento cheese. Snackies beckon from baskets and containers all over the place. The roasted garlic-chili peanuts, made in-house and packed in plastic baggies, are not only tasty on their own but an excellent addition to a simple stir-fry at home, where they add protein and zip. Baked goods in the case are reliably tasty: The chocolate chip cookies are enormous and very serious about the amount of chocolate they contain, and a slice of lemon pie turns out to be more like a lemon bar (i.e., a vehicle for hoovering lemon curd).
All of this is nice and good for assembling a meal when the fridge and pantry at home are empty, but the real news is the menu of made-to-order foods that has been added, Monday through Saturday, from morning until 2 p.m., which includes breakfast the entire time. Donderos’ makes an excellent and hefty breakfast burrito, wrapped tightly enough to let you forgo a knife and fork and served with a little container of excellent salsa. The basic version enfolds potatoes, eggs and cheese, which can be jazzed up with high-quality bacon, grilled veggies or fried green tomatoes for $1.50 more or reformatted into a skillet.
Hot sandwiches, which are described as flatbreads, are more like quesadillas, and the one that features fried green tomatoes and copious amounts of goat cheese, with a thick roasted red pepper sauce on the side, is a keeper. Hot soups are available until close (7 p.m. weekdays, 3 p.m. Saturday) and vary from bland (chickpeas that need a bunch more salt) to tasty (tomato bisque).
Donderos’ is open every day but Sunday, serves no booze, does a lot of coffee and tea, takes credit cards and gives discounts to those who use alternative transportation.
NEW SPACES: When Opa Robby’s Market opened in a former auto service shop in front of Target at 3129 Atlanta Hwy., it was like a lightbulb clicking on. There is no reason Athens can’t Buford Highway it up, turning the big boxes and strip malls abandoned for greener versions of the same into creative small businesses. Opa Robby’s is colorful and sweet, but it’s more than just cute.
Here are some of the things you can purchase: organic and regular veggies and fruits (beets, rainbow carrots, buttercream potatoes, greens, apples), some of which have been readied for cooking; nuts; local honey; meats from Atlanta Sausage Company (not only a wide variety of sausages, including a really flavorful Tuscan variety, but also whole smoked turkey legs); crockpot-ready meals frozen in big bags; pickles (okra, beets, peaches); waxy, red-rind hoop cheese; delicious zucchini bread spiked with dried cranberries and chocolate chips; blue glass bottles; peach cider; gourds and pumpkins; casseroles in the freezer; handmade wooden benches; old-fashioned candy by the piece; and the occasional weird piece like an M&M-themed glass-top table.
The interior, which you enter through the rolled-up garage doors, is busy and cheerful, potentially bearing the scent of onions and garlic cooking in the first step of a butternut squash soup. The owners know just how to leave you alone, and they package your goods carefully, wrapping the jars in newspaper. The prices are generally very good—as low as $1 a pound for beets, which can make it worth the drive and easily beat out what you would pay at Target.
The store is open 10 a.m.–6 p.m. every day except Sunday, when it opens at noon. You can pay with a credit card (unless you prefer AmEx) and EBT is on its way.