TACO TALK: The building next to the Shell station on Oconee Street right before it becomes Lexington Road has been a series of restaurants. I can’t remember any farther back than when Peaches occupied it, but that gave way to Taqueria Mi Tierra (which still operates a branch out at the J&J Flea Market, making particularly excellent salsas and grilling whole delicious chickens over charcoal for a pittance), which in turn became El Azteca, a depressingly mainstream Mexican restaurant that hung on for a long time. Now, because it’s easy to replace like with like when you have the decor or the particular kitchen equipment, Taqueria El Agave (1280 Oconee St., 706-549-2639) has moved in and is a step in the right direction.
You can get the basic fajitas and burritos, but its Facebook ads promising Taco Tuesday show Mexican-style soft tacos made with corn tortillas, not crunchy shells of ground beef and lettuce. El Agave isn’t exactly a marisqueria, but it seems to emphasize seafood, offering several different soups made with fish, shrimp, squid, etc. on the weekend, as well as a menudo special. The shrimp you can order in tacos or other preparations such as camarones al mojo de ajo (in a garlic sauce, basically), are high quality, plump and well cooked. The ceviche that tops a tostada is fresh and zippy.
The tacos are pretty well made on the whole, although the meatier preparations can be greasy. In addition to shrimp, you can get al pastor, chicken, carnitas, chorizo, asada and lengua, all savory and salty, but you might regret the indulgence later. A fairly hot green sauce comes standard, but you may be able to talk the staff into the even hotter creamy red sauce, which starts gentle before it crescendos to ring your ears. Sopes are a bit too doughy, and the tortillas that make up the tacos are fine but not particularly noteworthy, but on the whole the place is a big improvement over its predecessors.
Aguas frescas are available to drink, although the restaurant doesn’t make all of them in house. A big glass of the sandia (watermelon) is a refreshing thing to have on a hot day. El Agave is open for lunch and dinner every day, with a full bar in the back of the space and several TVs that tend to be tuned to ESPN, especially soccer.
WENT TO MARKET: As we’ve talked and talked over the development still revising its plans for the St. Joseph’s property on Prince, one thing that keeps coming up is what kind of independent grocery store could even locate there, if not Daily Groceries. There’s a potential answer to that question just down the road in Madison, where the new Farmview Market (2610 Eatonton Road, 844-210-7030) is a combination grocery store, weekend farmers market and café. Admittedly, the space is pretty large, not exactly the kind of compact urban grocery store folks who live near downtown Athens imagine—it more resembles Fresh Market in its cute displays—but it packs in a lot.
An excellent butcher shop with a wide selection of organic and/or local meats, poultry and seafood greets you when you enter. To the left is the store, with produce (again, much of it organic or grown in the largely agricultural Morgan County area), dry goods, staples and gift-y things (fancy cakes, soaps, arty stuff). The prices are fairly high, but the quality of the offerings is, too, and there are good sales (e.g., Wagyu ground beef for $6.99 a pound). On Saturdays from 8 a.m.–1 p.m., a farmers market occupies a covered outdoor area to the right of the entrance, with a King of Pops cooler, live music and plants for sale alongside duck eggs, veggies, crafts and more.
Head to the right of the inside of the space and you’ll find the restaurant, which pairs counter service with a surprisingly fancy menu and plenty of booth seating. The excellent burger, for example, is made with local ground beef, housemade bacon, pimento cheese, crispy Vidalia onion rings and local lettuce and tomatoes. The bun can’t quite contain it (or the sandwich that combines braised Georgia heritage pork, the same Vidalia onion rings, bacon aioli and a slightly-too-cooked fried egg), but everything else works swimmingly.
A rice bowl made with Anson Mills Carolina Gold varies its toppings but focuses on greens and root vegetables. Specials vary weekly and might include salmon with Red Mule cheese grits and a pea relish. There’s also breakfast, a PB&J made with peanut butter from Chamblee and a big dessert case with craft ice cream from High Road in Marietta, layer cakes and other sweets. The market is open from 7 a.m.–7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and the café does breakfast the same days from 7–10:30 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m.–3 p.m.
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