Food & DrinkGrub Notes

The Rook & Pawn is a Good Escape From the Grind

HIDEAWAY: Judging by the level of response (a big one) when Flagpole first broke the news about the opening of The Rook & Pawn (294 W. Washington St., 706-543-5040), Athens’ first board-game café, it doesn’t really matter how good the food is here. People wanted access to their huge library of games, and they didn’t care who thought they were nerds. If, on the other hand, you are not a nerd or are a different kind, whose eyes cross every time you try to understand the “Settlers of Catan” breed of games, you may require a little more convincing.

Hidden away behind Philanthropy, the clothing store next to Ted’s Most Best, The Rook & Pawn has a few parking spaces in the adjacent surface lot and a lunch special that allows you to play games for free if you’re eating on a weekday, plus get a hand stamp allowing you to return and play as much as you like for the rest of the day. The usual charge is $5 for the day.

The staff is eager to educate but hangs back until attention is requested. They’re happy to advise on games and instruct the slow-on-the-uptake (i.e., yours truly) in the finer points of how to play something involving cards, tokens and a lot of strategy. Order food and drink at the bar by the entrance, select your game, and head down the long, narrow space decorated with doors on the walls and with individual dimmer-equipped lights over each table.

The menu is heavily focused on things that are easy to eat with one hand or nibble at over a long period of time, with lots of bowls of stuff (olives, nuts, candy, Phickles pickles, ice cream), a cute three-tiered selection of tea sandwiches and sweets, cheese plates, hummus and the like. Nothing requires much in the way of utensils; salads are about as complicated as it gets. Donderos’ Kitchen supplies the baked goods, including big, flat cookies that can be served a la mode for an upcharge and a dense, savory muffin consisting mostly of eggs and vegetables, plus meat, in some instances.

Sandwiches are panini-style, mostly pressed and grilled, prepared with restraint. Often, when dates are involved, a dish can rapidly become too sticky and sweet, but the sandwich that combines bacon, finely chopped dates and goat cheese on a roll is well balanced, not too strong in any one direction. The Monte Cristo may leave you with powdered sugar marks on your pants. It’s grilled rather than fried but possibly better for it, with the requisite jam (from Piedmont Provisions) on the side, allowing you to decide just how much sweetness you want with your ham, turkey and cheese.

Sandwich specials are written on the chalkboard behind the bar, and there are smoothies and sodas as well as grown-up drinks. The lack of windows and the absorbing nature of the games, plus the solid sustenance, makes The Rook & Pawn a good escape from the daily grind. It’s open 11 a.m.–midnight Monday through Friday and 9 a.m.–midnight weekends.

COZY SHACK: Savie Arnold’s adorable bakery, Sweetie Pie by Savie (150 E. Whitehall Road, 706-850-9255), is doing rather well in its Eastside location, the historic grocery building where Rooter’s operated for a few years. The interior continues to be darn cute, as well as spick-and-span, with a large case for pastries, a selection of refrigerated cakes, some frozen sweets and coffee and tea drinks made to order in the a.m., all available for quick pick-up and take-out.

What’s on offer changes daily, but it might include nice little muffins (sweet but not too sweet, with cranberries, blueberries, orange, chocolate chips or pecans), a big pan of coffee cake from which the staff will cut you a generous piece, good and large scones or even some cookies you may not feel too guilty eating for breakfast. The green tea cupcake sounds more exciting than the standard red velvet, but the latter is actually a little more successful, thanks to a well-executed cream-cheese icing that bests the buttercream on the former. (It’s fine; buttercream is just hard to make exciting.) Want to treat someone? The freezer case may contain a small plastic clamshell of macarons, brightly colored, about the size of a half-dollar and sandwiching either chocolate or good jam, that will delight the recipient.

Arnold can do far more than these relatively simple treats, especially if you order in advance on her website (, and she meets all kinds of dietary restrictions. The shop is open Tuesday through Saturday from 7:30 a.m.–3 p.m. and takes credit cards through Clover, which is similar to Square. As with previous businesses in the same location, the zoning on the property doesn’t allow for lingering at a table over your espresso or Thai tea.