I just got back from a brief but food-filled trip to Seattle, and, as usual, it filled me with envy. Sure, the city is much, much bigger than Athens, with a large and diverse population that fuels many a small food-based business. A glance out the window of the brand-new light rail shows not only a huge number of Thai and Vietnamese restaurants, but Ethiopian and Cambodian as well. Still, even given the disparity in demographics and size, there are restaurants and eateries it supports that could exist here. Volunteer Park Cafe is comparable to a place like Heirloom, focusing on fresh and local ingredients and packing its customers far more tightly. Paseo, which operates out of a tiny, hot-pink shack near the water, puts together marvelous Caribbean sandwiches highly dependent on fresh seafood, but its cash-only policies, cheerful atmosphere and loud music call to mind a smaller, more focused Cali ‘N Tito’s.
Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream has four different shops plus a food truck, with a limited selection of flavors, some of which rotate seasonally, and a light and beautiful product. With the great swing toward froyo throughout much of the country, Athens included, ice cream has been left behind. There’s room for both products, and fancy flavors like cardamom and salted caramel (the latter genuinely salty and better for it) compensate for the somewhat hefty price tag. Cafe Besalu made me realize that high-end pastry is basically nonexistent in Athens. It’s hard enough to find in Atlanta. Both a plum tart and a creation involving gruyère and onions were phenomenally constructed and airy, rather than the chunky, dense, unfortunate creations that exist most places. Maybe there’s not a market here, but it seems to me that both the ice cream and the pastry could make a go of it, in small quarters and with minimal staff.
Ba Bar is worth a side trip for quick, tasty, hip Vietnamese food, with karaoke in two languages one night a week. And Agua Verde, while nothing special food-wise, has nice views and can be paddled to. Elliott Bay Book Company is a phenomenal independent bookstore that survives (and thrives) in the town of Amazon, not least by handing out dog treats to canine visitors.
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