Photo Credit: Anne Yarbrough
MUSCLES: It’s been sad to watch restaurant after restaurant fail in the beautiful space on the ground floor of The Georgian, which is blessed with high ceilings, vintage tiled floors, stained-glass windows dating to its time as a hotel and a fine location with a surprising amount of parking for downtown. Perhaps folks in that area are more focused on imbibing than filling their stomachs with food, or maybe it just hasn’t found the right tenant until now.
South Kitchen + Bar (247 E. Washington St., 706-850-6277) may finally be that tenant. Owned by the team that brought you Trappeze and Highwire Lounge, it has a smart business pedigree. In other words, this is no dream project from someone with delusions that it is a lark to own a restaurant. Chris Benson, the man in the kitchen, has run things on the culinary end at Trappeze for some time, where he created dishes that nicely balanced punchy flavors with nods to bar standards. He’s doing much of the same here, although the ambitions are slightly greater.
One of the smartest ways to eat at South is to hit up its happy hour, which features a light crowd, good specials on drinks and several of the menu’s small plates at low, low prices. The fried calamari, for example, is in no way small and easily feeds two people. The “shaved lemon slices” (also fried) with which it is garnished should be cut considerably thinner, but the combination of honey hoisin sauce and wasabi ginger mayo, zig-zagged across the squid a la IHOP syrup, is surprisingly successful.
The deviled egg trio is indeed a small dish, a nice little snack that’s still well priced at $4. One of them mixes in pimento cheese and bacon, one relies on Masala curry, and the most enjoyable egg interprets hot wings and blue cheese with élan. Housemade pickles are a repeated highlight. The smoked chicken thigh rillettes, served in a mound that calls to mind Close Encounters of the Third Kind, needs more fat to bind it together, but the pickles and olives that come with it will keep you snacking away happily.
Pork belly has hit the point of market saturation, even in Athens, and is often poorly cooked, but Benson does a fine job with it here, pairing it with fried pickled okra (hard to eat daintily but a great bar nibble) and a passable but unexciting truffled creamy macaroni and cheese. In general, he does better with salt and vinegar than with sweet stuff; the wahoo medallions with grits and peach chutney are well cooked but need salt, whereas the broccoli rabe that comes on the side is really nice stuff.
Lunch has just gotten started, and, from a fried green tomato BLT that is, in fact, a rather successful po' boy, to simple but good sliders (little in the way of toppings; a faint pink line running through the middle of the flat patty), a zippy tomato soup and a Waldorf salad modification that incorporates blueberries, there is much that will please you here, too.
Service, at least if you draw Frank Ke for your waiter, hits the sweet spot between too friendly/attentive and too cool for you. The drinks menu is a focus as well, with intelligent craft cocktails made with good ingredients and a well described small list of wines by the glass and draft beer. South is open for lunch and dinner Monday–Saturday and takes credit cards.
HEART: The location that once housed Caliente Cab on Tallassee Road has likewise been a spot of significant turnover, each tenant somehow managing to have less atmosphere than the ones that preceded it. Rashe’s Cuisine (706-850-4164) is attempting to change that to some extent, making use of the stage and hosting live music and private parties, but the food business is largely take-out, ordered from a sliding window and served up in Styrofoam.
None of which is cause not to recommend it, but order carefully. The curries tend to be rather bony, and the patties, while a great lunch deal (one patty, a big hunk of Coco bread and a large soda for about $4), are uninspiring. The cabbage is a far cry from the spicy, sweet stuff Kelly’s serves, but is in some ways preferable, depending on your tastes. Rice and peas can be one of the great dishes of the cuisine, the cheapest way to create a complete protein and also a showcase for a complex broth, but it’s just fine here.
What is very good and worth scheduling a Friday trip to Rashe’s for is the fried fish on special that day, served with four large pieces and an array of wonderful pickled peppers and carrots, plus a couple of sides. Ditto the jerk wings, available all the time, which are not overly spicy but are big, dry-rubbed (i.e., not gross and saucy), well-priced and juicy.
Rashe’s is open Thursday–Sunday for lunch and dinner (closing at 9 p.m. most days and 5 on Sunday), serves no booze, but does take credit cards and does catering. Be friendly with the staff, and your appreciation will be returned with clues on what is especially worth your time on a given day.