Photo Credit: Randy Schafer
DIY: Although for a long time one could cobble together an acceptable Korean meal from Eat Hibachi, now apparently known as Hibachi Express, on Broad Street downtown, and Fooks Foods on South Milledge, it wasn’t the same as having full-fledged Korean BBQ accessible on a regular basis. Hence, the desire for Iron Factory—255 W. Washington St., 706-395-6877.
Athens has a sizable Korean population, as does the state of Georgia in general. The food is tasty, whether you are a vegetarian or meat-eater, and often easy to relate to. That is, there is plenty in the varied cuisine to please those who want to eat weird stuff, but also much if your tastes are a work in progress.
Finally, the whole process of Korean BBQ, in which you can either cook your own stuff or, as Iron Factory promotes, watch your waiter do it in front of you, is nearly as entertaining as traditional shrimp-flipping teppanyaki.
Most places out on Buford Highway and thereabouts in the Atlanta suburbs that focus on the same kind of food also include panchan, a selection of free dishes of pickles and mostly savory treats. Iron Factory does not, and its prices are higher, but you also save on gas money and don’t have to take your life in your hands driving on I-85.
Your choice of beef, pork, seafood or vegetables comes with a salad, unlimited kimchi and spicy bean sprouts (cooked on the grill with the other food), fried or steamed rice and the fixins for wrapping up your grilled food, which is prepared on the heated dome that takes up the middle of the table. “Fixins” in this case means romaine, thin-sliced pickled radishes (a better bet for forming a more easily consumable wrap, because they protect your delicate fingers from the hot filling), pickled jalapenos and garlic, and a three-sectioned holder for sauces (faintly sweet white, steak-sauce-esque brown, habanero-spiked and addictive reddish brown).
The product itself is solid, whether bulgogi (marinated steak), pork belly (the wine is better than the plain) or shrimp, although vegetarians who don’t love mushrooms will have a tough time. The waiter-cooks vary in smoothness and ability to deliver the required patter, but they’ve all been trained on how not to overcook the proteins.
There are gems among the appetizers. The fried tofu with “house sauce” is gently cooked and bland in a way that is either appealing (it was to me) or not worth the effort. The kimchi dumplings are pleasant. The seafood pancake is a bit overpriced at $9 for what you get, but it would also be easy to make a meal out of several of them. The stuffed mushrooms (pork belly and kimchi) are substantial and nicely flavored.
Everything, in other words, is pretty tasty, and if you treat the restaurant as a date-night kind of place, you will be fairly happy. Iron Factory also has karaoke rooms, a long list of sugary cocktails, outdoor seating and live music. It takes credit cards and is open for dinner and late night every day.
SUGAR SUGAR: Kiki’s Bakeshop (20 Greensboro Highway, 706-769-6766) took over the former Granary in Watkinsville a few months ago, and owner Kirsten Bradford has ambitions to expand into dining proper, but her cute store also has sweets, breads and to-go stuff in the refrigerated case from which one can make a lunch.
Her cookies are big and thick but taste of nice ingredients. Her bread—at least the sourdough—strongly resembles Luna’s in flavor and crumb, meaning it makes for good sandwiches, especially if you pick up a container of her zippy pimento cheese (nice flavor; maybe a touch overmixed but not skimping on the pimentos). The chicken salad is somewhere between fancy and classic, with no weird ingredients, and ditto for the tuna salad.
The hummus is super-smooth and a bit thin but goes well with the housemade pita chips available in bags nearby. If there are bacon-cheddar-scallion biscuits (domed, awesomely lumpy), snap them up. The cheese rounds aren’t as much of a home run, but you may be lucky enough to snag a beautiful slice of plum upside-down cake.
The array of baking supplies is smaller than it was but still notable, and you can bring your own containers to have them filled with high-quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar. There are sodas and other beverages, both fancy and not, available cold. Kiki’s is open 7 a.m.–5:30 p.m. weekdays and 7 a.m.–4 p.m. Saturday, and with slightly different hours and full-service hot breakfast and lunch at Local Table, which Kiki’s just started in the space next-door. Kiki’s takes credit cards, does catering and is booze-free.