Arts & Culture

Grub Notes

In 2010’s year-end round-up, I wished for a French restaurant, better street food and Greek cuisine. Two out of three’s not so bad. The year 2011 brought us some lovely additions to the local scene, as well as the requisite number of franchises and a ridiculous amount of yogurt. Here are the highlights.

Heirloom Cafe and Fresh Market opened in a renovated gas station at the corner of Chase and Boulevard, bringing new life to a lot that had been an eyesore for years. Its ambitions were large (to be a resource for the neighborhood for meals from morning to night and retail some prepared foods and groceries on the side, all based on local, sustainable ingredients prepared with care), but many of them were fulfilled. Many of the dinner items are excellent—breakfast perhaps even more so because of the lower pricepoint. Lunch has nice sandwiches and pretty little side dishes. The people involved care about obscure grains, and they love vegetables.

Ted’s Most Best, the pizza place from Jessica Greene (of The Grit) and Jay Totty on Washington Street in a gorgeously renovated industrial space, continues to charm thoroughly. Its pizza is simple and excellent. Its salads are enormous and beautiful. Its desserts are cute, its staff enthusiastic and friendly, and even its pizza boxes are occasionally individually decorated.

Sakura Steak House is tucked away next to a dollar store, a computer repair shop and a sporting goods retailer that has a lot of hunting supplies, none of which would seem to bode well, but the sushi and all of the other offerings are prepared by serious, detail-oriented chefs. Yes, they can flip shrimp tails in the air, but the food is more than just entertainment.

Kabana, on Tallassee Road, is an endless source of frustration, with its inconsistent hours, frequent lack of whatever you wanted to order, weird service and so on, but it is also worth the trouble, with wonderful Indian cuisine (both veg and non) and equally delicious Jamaican cooking. 

Etienne Brasserie, which replaced the Cotton Club at the corner of Broad and Jackson downtown, is the French restaurant mentioned above. Not everything is executed to perfection, but many dishes are very good, and the porc mignon is more than that. The atmosphere is casual but nice, and the prices not bad at all.

Viva Argentine Cuisine, on the Eastside, is a funny little place with some things worth going a little out of your way for, like its Argentine cheesesteak, one of the best sandwiches in Athens, and its nicely cooked meats. Plus, its mini-cupcakes, each with a dollop of filling in the middle, are super cute.

The Georgia Theatre Restaurant, run by Ken Manring of White Tiger, that sits atop the Georgia Theatre, has a tiny menu, but everything is well executed. It’s a great place to get a vegetarian or BBQ sandwich with a beer and an amazing view of our town.

Sr. Sol opened a second location, on Broad Street, in the former digs of El Patron, with food as good as and atmosphere more pleasant than its original. Also expanding were Big Easy Café, with an Athens location on Baxter; Keba, with two new franchises; The Blind Pig, where McAlister’s Deli had been, on Broad; Yoforia, with a new location in the downtown deck; Ike & Jane, with a mini-branch in the renovated Georgia Museum of Art (and soon to be running OK Coffee downtown); Donderos’ Kitchen, which is now running the café at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia; and Butt Hutt BBQ, which opened in the Macon Highway location of Jot ‘Em Down at the very end of the year and should be finishing up its move down Baxter Street in March.

In other yogurt news, YoDawgs on Baxter, Menchie’s in Beechwood and Georgetown Square and Polarberry at Timothy and Atlanta Highway added more of the sweet stuff to our town, with more planned to open. George’s Lowcountry Table on South Milledge and Sisters Creole Market served up their own versions of Low Country and Cajun cuisines, with the former more formal and the latter in a funky, warm environment. Watkinsville gained Kumquat Mae, a bakery and café, Acapulco’s Mexican Grill and Dominick’s Italian Cuisine, a chain out of the Atlanta area. Stuffed Burger opened on Baxter in the former Falafel King, putting its toppings inside its patties and retailing awesome whoopie pies. The Dogg Pound took over Hollis Ribs on Broad, near Hancock, doing a kajillion different kinds of hot dogs with style. Team Biscuits and Burgers started a local drive-through on Danielsville Road, and Talk of the Town Country Cooking opened in what had been Gateway Café for years, nearby. Farther afield, Big Al’s BBQ Pit cooks up great ribs and good pork in Statham, Bubba’s BBQ operates out of an auction house in Arnoldsville, and Wok Star is about the only game in town in Winterville these days, doing some pretty good Chinese.

Al’s #1 Italian Beef and Gigi’s Cupcakes opened franchises downtown. The Volstead put significant dollars into a bar and restaurant on Clayton downtown. The Local Jam took over the old Five Points Deli spot on Milledge, rolling a badass breakfast burrito. Honey B’s Deli serves soul food and breakfast on Prince, Little Cuckoo Chocolates does sandwiches as well as sweets in the Chase Street Warehouses, and Yummy Bites cooks burgers and more on the Thomas Street end of Clayton. Also open in 2011: Sweet Pepper’s Deli, China 1, Grilled Teriyaki and The Tap Room in the Georgian.

We Said Bye-Bye To: Wilson’s Soul Food (sigh), Off the Hook Steak and Seafood, Flight Tapas and Bar, the Prince Avenue Huddle House, the Iron Grill (where Casa Mia is due to open), Marble Slab, Uncle Jerry’s Biscuits and Burgers, Dari Delite, Allen’s (again, sigh), Pupuseria El Coquito (replaced by The Food Palace), Reds, the Daily Neighborhood Deli, the European Deli, Totonno’s Famous Meatballs, Toshiro and, at the end of the year, Black Forest Bakery.

Farm 255 hired Whitney Otawka as its new chef, meaning a new menu. Fooks Foods moved across town to South Milledge. Doc Chey’s became Chango’s Noodle House and Espresso Royale Caffe turned into Jittery Joe’s, with little changing apart from their names. White Tiger added Sunday brunch and dinner Thursday–Saturday.

On the horizon in 2012 are a lot more franchises, some in the deck and some not, but also Marker 7 Coastal Grill in Five Points, from the folks who brought you Hilltop Grille, which appears to have received its building permit and should be something interesting. This year, I wish for Greek food (again), a Korean mega-grocery store like Super H or Assi (which could be a real alternative to Walmart), and an Athens location of Farm Burger. It could happen!