Food & DrinkGrub Notes

On Phickles’ Promising Expansion and Eddie’s So-So Calzones

PHWORTH IT: Phin and Angie Tillman are a nice local success story. Many moons ago, when I was looking for some affordable lumber, I went out to Southern Surplus, and the guys behind the counter talked me into buying a jar of the locally produced pickles they were selling as an impulse buy. Naturally suspicious, I caved out of curiosity, and it turned out that Phickles Pickles were, in fact, delicious—not redolent of clove or sugar or anything fancy, but just straightforward and somewhat spicy pickles that let their ingredient shine. Since then, the business has expanded greatly, supplying restaurants not only in Athens but far beyond and wholesaling to grocery and gift stores. The scaling up of production hasn’t resulted in a drop in quality, and every step the Tillmans have taken has been true to their product.

Phickles Phun Foods (720 Baxter St., 706-224-4311), next to the scooter shop just down from the Milledge intersection, is one of their most recent projects. Retailing not only the pickles but an array of small-batch foodstuffs and some of the items they’ve begun making over the past year, it’s a nice place to browse and to converse with Angie, who can sell anyone on anything.

Rasta Beans, a twist on Phickles’ standard pickled green beans, with jerk spices added, are the kind of snack that will keep you standing with your fridge door open, digging into the jar for yet another. Southern Charm, the company’s newish pimento cheese, is available in tubs and is a big step up from most prepackaged products. There is no sugar here (indeed, pretty much everything the store sells is a testament to Angie’s hot tooth; she says, “It’s spicy!” with great glee no matter what she’s talking about), and they don’t skimp on pimentos. Better yet is Hot Mess, the white version of pimento cheese studded with Phickles’ pickled jalapenos. The spice level is pitched just right: hot enough to keep you coming back for yet another punch in the taste buds, but not so hot as to make you pause in your eating for long.

The store also carries housemade chicken salad, which isn’t spicy but would pair well with some pickles on a sandwich. It, too, is salty more than sweet, and feels made with real ingredients, although it could be milled a touch finer. Sometimes there’s egg salad (also with pickles incorporated) or hummus. Sometimes there’s regular salad, made with arugula, capicola, mozzarella, sriracha salt and a hot vinaigrette. There are all kinds of snacky items on the shelves, including Pork Clouds (fancy pork rinds, kettle cooked in olive oil, and available in rosemary and sea salt, Malabar black pepper, habañero and cinnamon Ceylon flavors, the first of which is rather too perfumy), caramels from Shotwell Candy Co., in Memphis (both “old-fashioned,” as in the cocktail, not as in nostalgia, and craft beer and pretzel, all packaged in pretty twists of brown paper and pleasantly not too sweet), Hooch (a limeade-flavored carbonated mixer), bacon jam, hot sauce, fancy salts, etc.

You could not do your grocery shopping here, but you could put together a nice gift basket, and, thanks to Square, you can pay with a credit card. The plan is to make and sell sandwiches eventually, but more renovation of the space is necessary first. The Phun Store is open, sort of, Wednesday through Friday from 11 a.m.–5 p.m. and Saturday from noon–4 p.m., but its hours change fairly frequently, especially if the Tillmans are off making deliveries out of state. Your best bet is to check its Facebook page for updates.

‘ZONING: Eddie’s Calzones (265 E. Clayton St., 706-549-9676), which has another location in Columbia, SC, is a strange restaurant to place. Remnants of Al’s #1 Italian Beef appear throughout the space. The windows have been cleaned with indifference. Asking for a non-bottled water results in a cup of iceless, lukewarm H2O filled from the small sink just behind the counter. It is technically a chain, but it feels more akin to some kind of less professional local business, operating for decades and to the point of not sweating the small stuff.

The calzones are clearly made with fresh ingredients. You can see the big dough hook and the girl dressed like a punk rock volleyball player stretching out pieces of dough and forming them into half-moons around your ingredients. Unfortunately, the product is thoroughly mediocre and under-baked to boot. Do you think a macaroni-and-cheese calzone sounds like a good idea? It is not. A styrofoam container (dine in or take-out) of tater tots topped with bacon and cheese is blah. The “garden calzone” (spinach, mozzarella, ricotta, garlic, mushrooms, black olives, tomatoes) is a slight improvement, and it’s possible that you could craft something better (the menu is fully customizable), but I am skeptical.

Eddie’s does have a place in that it both delivers and serves pints of Ben & Jerry’s until 4 a.m. every day; Tuesdays allow you to get two calzones for $10, and there is a daily $5 special calzone.