The More Things Change, Pt. 1: Farm 255 (255 W. Washington St.) has been through several chefs since it opened six-and-a-half years ago. It has moved a little more toward fine dining over the years, and it has continued to expand in various other ways as well, adding its wonderful Farm Cart, opening two locations of Farm Burger (neither in Athens) and playing with bar offerings and charcuterie.
Whitney Otawka, who comes from Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island most recently and a stint on “Top Chef,” is the latest to take the helm. And yet, no matter whoâ€™s running things in the kitchen, the product doesnâ€™t vary a ton. The biggest reason for that is the restaurantâ€™s farm-committed focus. No foams, no really exotic ingredientsâ€”itâ€™s firmly in the Alice Waters school of cooking, not the Thomas Keller one that likes to show off.
Otawka has redone the menu, although there are still familiar options, like the always solid burger, and it remains tightly curated, in terms of the number of choices. The â€œtastesâ€ section at the top is a nice alternative or addition to appetizers, and the olives are good to snack on while you wait for your cooked food. â€œCracklinâ€™ hushpuppiesâ€ with local honey are a good idea, but they donâ€™t exactly crackle. Fried stuff in general is an area of weakness. The flavors of all the things that go in the fryer are sound, but they tend to wilt more than crunch.
The â€œFarm salad,â€ with butterhead lettuce, beautiful grapefruit, shaved fennel, Spinning Spider feta, Marcona almonds and a cumin vinaigrette is delicate and intelligent, although it could be more balanced. If you manage to get everything in a bite, it works well, but thatâ€™s difficult to achieve, so you end up with mouthfuls that are too salty and others that are under-seasoned.
Many would suggest that the “Moonshine meatballs,” at $10 for a mini frying pan of three small meatballs nestled in roasted garlic polenta and sauced with a red onion agrodolce, are overpriced. They are not. Those meatballs are a perfect dish and well worth the price. They taste substantial and seriously chef-y, with lovely texture. You will want more bread to wipe the skillet clean. The fish and chips is clearly gussied up, and in a nice way, with a mustardy remoulade served in a small Ball jar on the side, but the fryer problems are evident here, tooâ€”a shame when the ingredients are good. Itâ€™s not a bad dish, but at $22, it should be better executed.
A roasted pork loin with tiny cubes of butternut squash, big pearls of hominy and an arugula pistou on top sounds weirder than it is. It comes out as a comfort-driven, Mexican-accented dish, with the potential sweetness of the sauce minimized by the broth in which it sits. A lemon tart for dessert is fine, but the crust is underwhelming. The wine list is still among the best in town, although the whites tend to be served too cold and the reds too warm.
The atmosphere, which is equally conducive to date night, meeting friends for a drink and a snack, large parties and more, remains totally pleasant and low-key. Farm is still open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday, with new fried chicken suppers on Tuesdays.
The More Things Change, Pt. 2: The long time Butt Hutt BBQ (now at 480 Macon Hwy.) was closed on Baxter Street while renovating the Sudz Laundry down a few blocks was intolerable. Where could one go to get ribs of equal quality? Only to Statham or Lawrenceville. When Jot â€˜Em Down closed, the Butt Huttâ€™s owners saw an opportunity and moved in, starting up business in what felt like no time.
What has changed, apart from ZIP code? Thereâ€™s table service now, by cute waitresses. The menu is a little bigger, incorporating things like salads (really?). And there is significantly more parking. But no one has monkeyed with the essentials of the cue and the always excellent sides, which is darn good news. The parking lot, 100 percent big trucks until I pulled in, gives a clue that the restaurant remains serious about its pork. The sauce could still use a little improvement (mixing them yields the best results), and the stew is merely pretty good, but nearly everything else is the best example of its kind in town.
The potato salad, which is clearly not vegetarian, is good enough to eat a tub of. The ribs are succulent, smoked, not sauced ahead of time and pull right off the bone. The pork is moist, pulled, and does not need alteration. The chicken mull is reliably tasty. Both kinds of slaw (mayo and non) are zippy and good on a sandwich or off.
Butt Hutt, Iâ€™m so happy youâ€™re back. Donâ€™t leave me again. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner every day, closing at 6 p.m. on Sunday, does take-out and catering, takes credit cards and now even has BYOB, handily being located across the street from a liquor store. The renovated Baxter street store should still open at some point.
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