Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones
A well crafted kale salad from Farm Cart.
Summer in Athens doesn’t really mean any less to eat (although restaurants take the occasional renovation break), but it does mean less new stuff to eat. Usually by August, places are getting ready for football season, prepping their menus and their staff to expect big crowds. But May through July are fairly sleepy on the new-eatery front, which means Grub Notes may be taking some field trips in the near future.
GUESS WHO’S BACK: Athens’ various farmers markets are a nice place to find stuff to munch on that goes beyond the raw veggies sold there, beauteous as they often are. The return of Farm Cart, which sets up at Athens Farmers Market in Bishop Park on Saturday mornings to do breakfast and at the Wednesday evening version of the market in the Creature Comforts parking lot downtown to do dinner, is a nice plus. It’s not that one can’t be happy grabbing a spinach and feta pastry or a big soft pretzel from The Comerian (which reports its brick-and-mortar location may finally open this summer), but it’s great to have the option of something more substantial.
The nighttime version of the cart is less mobbed, especially if you go early, and the offerings at both times are smartly limited. For breakfast, you can build your own biscuit with any combination of sausage or bacon, cheese, fresh fried egg and an excellent pepper jelly, and there are grits (plain and cheese) as a side. The staff seems a little overwhelmed at times, but the fact that they toast the split biscuits on the griddle gets a thumbs up.
At dinner, burgers are usually available (simple, good, not earth-shaking, especially for $8.50, but pleasant; you should add the same pepper jelly) as well as a vegetarian option, for example, a grilled cheese with Full Moon Farm spinach on challah, a marvelous innovation in the bread department. Add a well-crafted kale salad with mint, sorrel, strawberries, pecans and toasted sesame seeds that lets its ingredients rather than its dressing take the lead, and you will be well fed and eager to buy some stuff from the other vendors. The cart now takes Square.
NEW AND NOTABLE: Over at the West Broad Farmers Market, in addition to Mannaweenta Ethiopian Restaurant, which is still serving until it gets a permanent location on the Eastside, and some health-oriented soul food, a newer booth, Abrahim’s Parlor, is now set up and serving “Trini food at its finest.” I’ve never had Trinidadian food before, although it seems to have some similarities to the cuisine of the Canary Islands (which I sampled during the 1996 Olympics, having been dragged into a colorful tent by my mother).
No doubt that’s the case for many of you, but the cheerful kids serving up “doubles” and the flavors that await will convert you. A “double” is a sort of sandwich with a thin, puffy fried bread that resembles poori enclosing a delicious scoop of curried chickpeas. Three sauces can further enhance the flavor: a habanero one that seems like a good way not to taste anything for the next few days, a vinegary tamarind sauce that tastes of far more than sugar and a delightful chunky, green mint condiment. The stuff is a mess to eat but worth the greasy hands, and, at $3 per double, more than merely affordable. Abrahim’s also has sweets, breads, chai and “mango drink” and is cash only.
ANOTHER VISIT: The “most improved” award goes to The Pine, which hired Jarad Blanton, late of The World Famous, and has a new menu and much better food. Whether Blanton insisted on higher quality ingredients or the owners came around on their own, the components of the dishes are as much better as their combinations, visible in the small side salads that are now made of better greens, with a couple of pretty, thinly sliced fancy radishes on top. Blanton’s hallmark is food that requires a Wet Wipe at the end of the meal, and his Korean BBQ sandwich, bursting with kimchi and dressed with a sweet (but not too sweet) chili aioli, is a wonderful mess.
The caramelized turnips, sliced and gorgeously browned to bring out the inherent rooty sweetness of the vegetable, are equally good. The quinoa salad is a big bowl of health that gets some punch from the queso fresco and the pecan vinaigrette it incorporates. The deviled eggs are still too cold (no doubt due to health inspectors’ requirements that everything be refrigerated), but the flatbreads are much improved. Much closer to pizzas than previously, they can be a bit floppy toward the center and a little unevenly scattered with ingredients, but they certainly have their moments.
The atmosphere remains pleasant and low-key, with the option to eat at the long bar a good one and the glamour shot of a llama making one somewhat curious about what exactly that animal tastes like. Blanton also does a buttermilk biscuit brunch Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m.–2 p.m., with a focused menu that includes pimento cheese grits and chocolate milk.