MACHO LIBRE: Why, exactly, Chef Richard Miley’s second restaurant (he also owns/runs Chops and Hops, in Watkinsville) is called Catch 22 Gastropub (1021 Parkway Blvd., off Epps Bridge Road, 706-549-6333) is a matter of some mystery. The Joseph Heller novel to which it alludes takes its name from a paradox resulting from military bureaucracy, a double bind that ensures there is no good way out of the situation.
That all suggests something very different from what you find when you walk in the door: a pleasant, unpretentious restaurant with a somewhat macho but often tasty menu and a focus on craft beers. The location, in the land of chain restaurants and big-box stores, is a bit of a surprise, but inexpensive rents in strip malls can lead to greater freedom on the part of entrepreneurs. The long, rectangular room has been gussied up a bit with craft-beer whatnot, a line of taps above the bar and a windowed kitchen, so you can see some of what’s going on in food prep without being subjected to unwanted noises and smells.
Appetizers, snacks and sandwiches come on flat, wooden artist’s palettes, a move that will make you appreciate the technology of the plate. Still, mechanics aside, there is a lot of good stuff to be found. The “filthy fries,” for example, are a mound of excellently cooked french fries, drowned in “beer cheese” and dotted with bacon and herbs. The rosemary can be a mite strong, but the dish itself is a really well executed and sharp version of a pub standard, not to mention able to feed two hungry people. The Scotch egg is done with chorizo rather than English-style sausage and is a nice little bite.
The pastrami sandwich is an absolute mess to eat, with the cured meat and smoked Gouda piled into a long, top-split roll. It’s got plenty of zip (dijon mustard and jalapeno pickles), but it can be hard to get every flavor into your mouth at once unless you can unhinge your jaw, python-style. The house burger comes with sriracha ketchup, bacon jam and grilled onions, all of which are good but placed beneath the patty (which itself could use some more aggressive seasoning), where they soak the bottom bun and cause you to have to flip the whole thing upside-down to eat it.
The “plates” actually do make use of plates—deep ones, to accommodate sauce—and, again, there is a lot of solid workmanship on display. The shrimp and grits is fairly straightforward but well prepared, the grits perhaps slightly too smooth but pleasantly pablum-like. The scallops with sriracha soy and a side of lovely fingerling potatoes are beautiful specimens and perfectly cooked. The sauce may overwhelm them for the most part, but you still get a rush of sweetness from the gently cooked interior.
Catch 22 has a fairly serious commitment to craft beer, with a long list that includes genres (helpful) and regular events devoted to specific releases. It also serves wine and is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday and brunch on Sunday.
WARMTH: With the long-awaited opening of Ideal Bagel, Matt Downes/Luna Bakery’s new project, the $64,000 question is whether Athens can support two bagel bakeries. Carbophobes aside, why the heck not? Ideal and Athens Bagel Co. both make round breads with a hole in the middle, but they both do so well and with different strengths. Ideal’s are smaller, less salty and less interested in being everything to everyone. It has specialty cream cheeses, too, but fewer of them.
Ideal’s menus for breakfast and lunch are pleasingly brief. The former has two highlights: the house-smoked fish (lox, salmon, trout salad) draped or spooned onto a split bagel with pickled red onion, paper-thin slices of tomato, capers and your choice of cream cheese (I recommend plain); and the 1959, a sandwich on Luna’s sourdough loaf that combines scrambled eggs and ketchup. The latter is svelte, simple and perfect, the kind of food that will send you mentally spiraling back to your childhood playing on the kitchen floor.
The interior, with black-and-white tile and windows easily steamed up by the warmth and humidity inside, creates the same kind of nostalgic happiness. You can also get a bagel with grape jelly and local sausage or one called the Cadillac that includes a fabulous egg and some nice bacon but could use a slice of cheese to complete the picture. Lunch consists of sandwiches made with fresh-sliced Boar’s Head meats and cheeses. Both the Rueben [sic] and the Tresper (roast beef, pepper Jack, red onions, peppers and spicy mayo on an onion Kaiser) are exceedingly well balanced, with big taste inside a manageable package.
You can also purchase kids’ lunches for a mere $3.50, as well as Counter Culture Coffee (brewed or still in bean form), bagel chips, housemade pickles and even fresh fruit. Ideal is open 7 a.m.–3 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m.–3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. It serves no booze but does plenty of takeout and accepts credit cards.
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