Eating in Bars, Pt. 1: There are some exceptions to the idea that bars have substandard food, based on chicken wings and hockey-puck hamburgers, mostly in the gastropub movement, which hasnâ€™t really made it to Athens yet. The Volstead (351 E. Clayton St.) is no gastropub, but it doesnâ€™t market itself as one, either. Its owners have chosen, instead, to brand it as the love child of Paula Deen and Applebeeâ€™s.
The interior is rather nicer than what you might expect, given that description, and the new owners of the space have clearly put some money into renovating the former Frameworks, with lots of shiny wood and fancy sinks in the restrooms. The menu tilts heavily toward fried this and that, although a lot of it is very well executed, like the little corn and jalapeno fritters you could easily eat an entire basket of without thinking. The onion rings donâ€™t fare quite as well. Theyâ€™re beautiful, but the taste is lacking. Nothing listed on the big trifold is tremendously surprising, although it offers a lot of options. Itâ€™s bar food, in a bar, and seeing the place turn into a dry lunch destination would be odd.
The burgers are decent, though cooked rather too thoroughly and enthusiastically, and they come with many different choices of topping. For some reason, like many other places around town, the kitchen feels the need to deep-fry a hot dog, which is a waste of a good sausage. The result isnâ€™t any better than cooking it on a grill or griddle; in fact, itâ€™s often worse, adding grease but no boost in flavor. What would Paula Deen think? The scramble dog is a different option, perhaps invented to make a meager amount of protein go farther. Essentially, itâ€™s a chili dog, only with the hot dog cut into pieces, scrambled around, then topped with the chili plus cheese and crumbled saltines. It sounds like damning with faint praise to say itâ€™s not as gross as it sounds or looks, but if you order something like this, you expect it to be a little gross. Indeed, you might be seeking that quality. It is excellent hangover food.
There are some vegetarian options, too, including a black bean burger and a decent grilled cheese, made on the same bread as the disappointingly zipless Cuban. The soundtrack tends to country but not exclusively, and the bar is big on touting its ice rail, which keeps drinks cold. The Volstead is open for lunch and dinner every day, and its bar is open until 2 a.m. most nights. It takes credit cards and delivers through bulldawgfood.com.
Eating in Bars, Pt. 2: The Georgian has always been a lovely space. Unfortunately, most of the restaurants that have opened on its ground floor have failed on the culinary front. The Georgian Tap Room (247 E. Washington St.) is as little of a gastropub as The Volstead, but it manages to overdeliver on the execution of its small menu.
A brief list of burgers, sandwiches, salads and wraps and a nice selection of beers on tap notable for the absence of items from the big American breweries donâ€™t promise much, but it turns out that the burgers at the Tap Room are some of the best in town. The meat is ground in-house from sirloin and brisket, and thereâ€™s nothing fancy about the way theyâ€™re put together (apart from the selection of cheese, which starts with the standards, like American and Cheddar, but moves on to incorporate bleu and others). Itâ€™s just a really nicely shaped, seasoned, cooked and assembled burger, which is more than you get most places. You also get two patties for your $8, which is a smart way to solve the potential problem that individually theyâ€™re on the small side but probably formed in the perfect ratio for cooking.
The pasta salad is a bit heavy on the vinaigrette, but the chicken cordon bleu sandwich takes something that is frequently flabby and flavorless and makes it tasty and fulfilling. The atmosphere, as ever, is very pleasant, with the requisite TVs neither hidden nor intrusive and a friendly, efficient staff. Vegetarians may have a rough time finding something to order apart from the salad section (and even there, to some extent). The hours are geared toward lunch and early happy hour, with later ones on the weekend: Mondayâ€“Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.â€“7 p.m.; Thursdayâ€“Saturday, 11:30 a.m.â€“2 a.m.
What Up?: Fuzzyâ€™s Taco Shop, in the new downtown deck, is open, with lots of TVs. A location of Chipotle Mexican Grill is replacing the Package Warehouse on Alps, which is having a going-out-of-business sale. The space next to Jimboâ€™s on Baxter, formerly home to Butt Hutt BBQ, has a new sign for Runtâ€™s BBQ. Little Italy is now open Sundays, noonâ€“8 p.m. Mama’s Boy has a “grab-n-go” special: a free small coffee when you place a to-go order for any biscuit sandwich from 7â€“9 a.m., Mondayâ€“Wednesday. A Taste of Oconee is scheduled for Jan. 28 at the Oconee County Civic Center. Teachers, military, firefighters and law enforcement receive discounts on the price of admission.
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