Food & DrinkGrub Notes

Stuff Your Face at Athens’ Lunch Counters and with Out-of-Town ‘Cue

GOTTA GET BACK IN TIME: The fact that Athens now has four pharmacies that serve either light meals or ice cream is pretty damn near unbelievable for a town our size. Hodgson’s Pharmacy, in Five Points, recently rebuilt its ice cream counter from scratch in a different location, closer to the front of the building than to the parking lot, and done up with shiny red and chrome stools to look like an old-fashioned soda fountain.

ADD Drug, around the corner, next to Earth Fare, is still going strong, making milkshakes, malts, cherry Coke the old-school way, tiny and wonderful hamburgers, french fries while you watch, pimento cheese sandwiches, tomato sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches and more. The ladies who operate behind the low counter are impressively nimble, and the experience manages to evoke nostalgia without schmaltz.

Em’s Kitchen, attached to Hawthorne Drugs, by Bell’s, has a big menu that includes an array of baked goodies made fresh daily, big salads and breakfast from omelets to grits to biscuits. It also offers table seating in a space it’s made its own, separated from the rest of the pharmacy.

Jennings Mill Drug Company (1360 Caduceus Way, Building 400, Suite 105, in Oconee County, 706-621-5996) may have an address that is as sterile as can be, accessed off the Oconee Connector in a fairly ritzy new medical complex near all that Epps Bridge whatnot, but it is very much a local pharmacy, offering delivery, promoting other small businesses and run by people whose names you would get to know if you frequented it.

The soda fountain, as they call it, is part of that, and it’s quite likely the pharmacist will be the one asking you whether you want your sandwich on wheat, sourdough or a bagel. It’s not exactly a soda fountain proper, but there is soda (plus pellet ice!) and there are milkshakes made to order. Seating is at tables rather than at the counter.

The emphasis seems mostly to be on healthier options, even as the standards remain on the menu; fro-yo joins the ice cream, and you can sub a small bag of Mama Bird’s Granola for chips if you prefer a more nutritious side item. You can get a slaw dog (nice, basic) or a “Mervin” (chili cheese dog with diced onions and mustard), but you can also get Anna’s Southwestern Chicken Wrap, which includes all-white-meat chicken, avocado, lettuce, tomato, black beans and cheddar and comes with a side of salsa for dipping.

The “Lauren,” a pimento cheese sandwich that incorporates cayenne and hot mustard for a little kick, plus tons of pimentos, is both classically simple and more fun than most gooey versions of same. You might also be so lucky as to order a cup of the kale, parmesan and sausage soup, which is hearty but feels freshly made and good for you.

No sandwich costs more than $5.50, and they are ready in a jiffy, either to-go or to eat in. If you stop in earlier in the day, you can grab a bagel with cream cheese, pimento cheese or Nutella (add banana for 50 cents more) and a Jittery Joe’s coffee. The pharmacy is open weekdays from 9 a.m.–6 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m.–1 p.m. (closed Sunday), but the lunch options don’t run all day.

AFIELD: Continuing in the nostalgia vein, should you find yourself in the Charlotte, NC, area or even passing by it up I-85, you should make a special point of seeking out Bar-B-Q King (2900 Wilkinson Blvd., in Charlotte, 704-399-8344). Guy Fieri may have given it his thumbs up, but do not let that deter you!

Open since 1959, it is an old-fashioned drive-in, with individual speakers for ordering next to each half-roofed parking space. Should yours not be working (not all of them do), a speedy dude will pop out of nowhere to write down what you want, take your payment and deliver your food a few minutes later on a tray or two.

It is easy to forget, living in northeast Georgia, just how good a BBQ sandwich can be. Most of the time, even when they are on the better side, they are too wet, the pork too finely chopped, too saucy or too big. Bar-B-Q King’s has none of those problems. The restaurant opts for a sesame-seed-studded bun (brilliant), tops the pork (chopped but not obliterated) with a small amount of not-too-soggy coleslaw and just enough sauce to taste, then spears a single slice of pickle on the top with a toothpick.

The pork done as a plate is good, too, but for once, the sandwich bests it. The sauce is hot and complex and great. The potato salad is mustardy and wonderful. The baked beans are as good as the rest. Bar-B-Q King is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m.–10 p.m., but takes occasional vacations, so check its Facebook page or call if you’re planning a trip.