Field Trip: If you happen to find yourself in the vicinity of Lexington, GA, a small town about 25 minutes east of Athens, I’d recommend that you not ignore it. Lexington is most famous locally for housing Paul’s BBQ, one of the best choices for pork in Northeast Georgia. Only open on Saturday afternoons and the Fourth of July, the restaurant fits every stereotype you have of a BBQ restaurant (eccentric hours, red-and-white-checked tablecloths, obscure brand of white bread on the tables, pig art everywhere) in charming fashion and is worth the journey on its own.
Saturday is probably a better day to make a trip out to Lexington than Monday, when only two places on the Main Street strip were open: Oglethorpe Fresh (a combination music store, framer’s, farmers’ market, craft vendor, barber, pecan-cracker, source of local history and live music venue—it’s possible I’ve left something out) and Sabine’s Coffee Haus (210 W. Main St.). The latter was the aim of my journey, and if you, too, have been craving German food, not to mention a kind of Stars Hollow vibe, you might want to gas up your car.
Sabine’s occupies a small house with two rooms devoted to seating (one plain, one fancy) and one for retail, with a counter, a cooler and a chalked menu board. The normal offerings consist of sandwiches (ham and cheese, and chicken salad, both on unremarkable croissants) and a small case of cookies. The macaroons were colorful but nothing special, and although the sandwiches were cutely presented, accompanied by a handful of grape tomatoes and some lovely little cornichons, they, too, weren’t out of the ordinary. The reason I ventured afield was the promise of authentic German food, not to be found otherwise any closer than Helen, GA.
Sabine’s has a covered outdoor grill in its parking lot, built of stone, on which a cheerful German fellow will cook you bratwurst and onions, plated with sauerkraut and a large roll. It was raining and cold when I arrived, and hearing that the restaurant was, in fact, out of sausages was a bummer, but a bit of whining (“We came all the way from Athens!”) produced the last two from the refrigerator. The folks in charge get their own grind of meat at Earth Fare, which suggests quality and produces distinctive, if perhaps a little underfatted, results.
On a miserable, wet Georgia winter day, they were marvelous, with sizable puddles on either side of good grain mustard and ketchup sprinkled with curry powder. Even better was the shot of espresso that appeared to accompany them, a pairing previously unthought-of but surprisingly harmonious. It was also the best cup of coffee I have had in at least three or four years, pulled with deftness and care, and all effusive compliments were deflected with gruff modesty. The friendliness (the grill operator is positively jubilant) and thoroughly local vibe of everything, with other people wandering in to inquire about sausages or discuss bridge club, totally charms.
Sabine’s has big plans for the future, hoping to acquire a liquor license to serve wine and beer and to put on Oktoberfest in the fall. The hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays, and they accept credit cards, although if you want to leave a tip you may have to bring cash.
Cookie Monster: It can be hard to find a good cookie in Athens. We don’t have a great bakery scene, and there’s always something to nitpick about most everyone’s offerings. Always Baked Cookies, the delivery company that specializes in late-night runs for folks with sudden sweets cravings, just opened a branch inside Athens Bagel Company, on Jackson Street downtown.
Its claims to fame are: 1. that it always keeps its cookies warm, and 2. that it gives all proceeds to charity. The latter is admirable. The former unfortunately, at least in my experience, leads to all the different flavors melding, meaning none is particularly distinguishable from any other.
The light sprinkle of salt before the guy behind the counter warms them even more (the cookies sit in warming devices already) isn’t a bad idea, but the cookies themselves have a flavor that suggests they may also be made with salted butter. On the other hand, they’re hot cookies downtown available late at night, so... there’s that. I’ve always enjoyed the ones at Jittery Joe’s downtown, a block and a half away, but they can be a little thick and occasionally doughy as a result. Ditto for Big City Bread’s, which have a more sophisticated flavor (notes of coffee in the chocolate, an orange polenta cookie that’s not too sweet) but similar texture issues.
If you’re really looking for a great cookie, Heirloom Cafe in Boulevard should be your destination. Both a pecan sandie and a large chocolate chip sampled recently were spot on, the former delicate and crumbly in just the right way and the latter well balanced in all aspects, showing off its fine ingredients while remaining impressively simple.