FISH TALE: It seems to happen every few years that some entrepreneur, enamored with the chill pace of life in Athens but wishing it were a little more like the beach, decides to open up a seafood restaurant here, despite the fact that we’re a good four hours’ drive from the coast. I get the impulse. Beach life, with its seafood shacks and even more laid-back atmosphere than our own burg, is great. Who wouldn’t want to recapture it (apart from a hyper-locavore)? But, valiant though the attempts might be, seafood is at its best fresh out of the water, and besides, much of the appeal of your various low-key marine-oriented eateries derives from your being in a vacation frame of mind.
Chris Lloyd, owner of Hilltop Grille on Atlanta Highway, a successful clone of Atlanta’s Houston’s, has done a great job renovating the formerly run-down gray house right at the Five Points intersection into Marker 7 Coastal Grill (1195 S. Milledge Ave., 706-850-3451), exactly such a seafood restaurant, targeted to the folks who put flip-flop stickers on their cars. Like his original venture, it has art supplied by his father-in-law, Jack Davis—in this case a charmingly sloshed-looking pelican holding a beer, the condensation from which drips into an alligator’s mouth. The big deck (semi-covered) contains a majority of the seating, and even when the weather is hot, the large tree that hangs over it adds nice shade. Hefty wooden furniture from reclaimed boats is pleasant to sit in.
The menu isn’t terrifically ambitious. The weirdest thing on it is sriracha, cheerfully explained by a waitress as “a Japanese hot sauce”(not quite, but close). Your absolute best bet is the basket of fried catfish, which doesn’t sound super sexy but is damn well executed. At $10, with a giant pile of Old Bay-dusted fries and some decent coleslaw, it’s also fairly priced. The starters are OK fun. Smoked salmon pimento cheese may be served with rounds of toasted bread that feel a little stale, but the flavors of pimento, cheese, salmon and dill all come through well, without fighting. The fried artichoke hearts are a touch salty, but make a good bar snack. The mahi burger with dill aioli is among the better fish burgers in town, but the fact that it’s served on a split English muffin, presumably because the patty is too wet for anything else to hold up, feels strange.
The fish tacos (also available in a shrimp iteration) can be grilled or fried, and the staff recommends the former. I’m pretty sure that no grilled fish taco can ever beat one made with fried fish, but I trusted their strong opinion. They’re not very exciting, despite that sriracha aioli, and you had better prep with a couple of pieces of paper towel torn from the roll on the table before the juice runs all the way down your arm, but the copious pico de gallo makes them feel light and relatively nutritious. The shrimp that make up the centerpiece of the shrimp and andouille are simply cooked and good, but the andouille is cut too thin; the grits upon which they sit are rather too much on the gritty side; and a side of red beans and rice is made with Spanish rice and overcooked beans.
Stick to the simpler stuff and you’ll be happier, which, after all, is kind of the attitude the restaurant promotes, with a no-reservations policy that leads to people hanging out on the lawn waiting to get in, and a coozie delivered to your table with your beer. Said beer list has some nice options, as do the wine choices, and although drink specials aren’t very heavily promoted, the restaurant has a large full bar inside. If you’re worried about parking (limited but well organized in the lot right next to Marker 7), Lloyd has worked out a deal with the fire station across the street, which allows customers to park there. The restaurant is open for dinner every night (when a few entrees get added to the menu) and lunch Tuesday through Sunday and accepts credit cards.
GROCERY ADVENTURES: Taj Mahal’s relocation to 2161 W. Broad St., just down from the Alps intersection, means slightly smaller digs, but the store has as much crammed in as ever. Chest freezers line the windowed wall, and refrigerators abound, with prepackaged frozen meals and ingredients, as well as considerable amounts of meat (lamb, goat). Some digging can reveal tiny veggie samosas, frozen and packed in a Ziploc bag, which can be soggy when reheated but have a flavorful filling. The staff may seem busy complaining about unloading heavy boxes, but is happy to help you locate spices and other ingredients (asafetida either ground or in a brick, whole black mustard seeds, tamarind paste), which are always priced ridiculously low. English cookies and candies are arrayed to the side of the counter, promoting impulse buys. Hot food is sometimes available, too, as previously, but have a backup plan in mind, in case it’s not. The store doesn’t open early, but it closes fairly late and takes credit cards.
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