NEW KID ON THE BLOCK: A restaurant of long standing, with a clientele it’s built over years and years, has an easier time with a difficult location than a new place trying to find an audience. Such is the case with Thai E3 Cuisine (269 E. Broad St., 706-215-9500), which a couple of months ago moved into the space the now-shuttered Speakeasy had occupied for years.
In some ways, it’s an excellent location: a beautiful historic building with great views of UGA’s North Campus and enough space to foster many intimate seating arrangements. The problem is that people don’t know it’s there, even with the entrance newly painted in bright shades to draw in passers-by, because it’s upstairs and its on-street presence is limited. As with Speakeasy, one has to hike up the steep staircase to get to the dining room, but once you’re up there, it’s perfectly pleasant, although not exactly crowded.
Like the other Thai restaurants in town, E3 offers a weekday lunch special in which you pick your main dish and your protein (chicken, beef, tofu, shrimp) or lack thereof (straight veggie) and get a cup of soup and a crispy veggie roll gratis, for $8.99 in this case. That’s the most accessible way to experience the restaurant, and it works fine, with about 20 different options (fried rice, noodles, “special entrees,” curries and sweet-and-sour Bangkok chicken), although you can ask to see and then order off of the full menu even at lunch. The soup is generally good; the veggie roll is drizzled with a sweetish sauce and not particularly exciting. The same special, upped to $10.99, is available at dinner, too.
Noodle dishes feel fresh and not too goopy with palm sugar, with a bit of bite to the noodles themselves, whether they’re thin or wide. Pad Thai may be a boring dish on which to judge a restaurant, but it’s a standard, and E3’s version is well done, lightly sauced and liberal with fresh bean sprouts. If you stray from the specials, you’ll find even better stuff, like a larb made with ground chicken and plenty of onion, a refreshing dish best suited to hotter months but worth eating any time. The pla tod—large chunks of white fish, battered with rice flour and fried, then tossed with lots of scallions, carrots cut to resemble flowers and other vegetables in a garlicky brown sauce—is equally good.
E3 has a large menu, so there’s more exploring to do. Let’s just hope it sticks around long enough to give us the opportunity. It’s open 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and 5–9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Friday, noon–10 p.m. Saturday and 3–8 p.m. Sunday.
B.I.G.: You could be forgiven for assuming Bone Island Grillhouse (2055 Oconee Conn., 706-623-0255), just across the way from Cheddar’s, Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, McDonald’s and Starbucks, is a chain. Just about everything else in the area is. But, despite the fact that its name, aesthetic and menu are similar to Bonefish Grill, which has more than 200 locations spread across the country, Bone Island Grillhouse is only the second branch of a restaurant that has its original location on Lake Oconee.
Rather than being comparable to a Chili’s, it’s aiming more at a steakhouse atmosphere, with a large fireplace behind glass, a warm and clubby feel and a menu that privileges simple preparations and sides, but with an emphasis on surf over turf. The best thing it does is a salad that comes standard with pretty much anything you order, served family-style out of a fancy white bowl and featuring a whole bunch of housemade dark-bread croutons. The restaurant knows this, and so it offers the house salad dressing (a slightly sweet vinaigrette with parmesan and herbs) for sale by the bottle.
Seafood entrees are straightforward. The seared piece of salmon technically is dressed with horseradish compound butter, but you’d mostly just know that from reading the menu. In practice, it’s just a nice piece of fish, cooked without fireworks, maybe just a touch over-salted, and paired with rice and broccoli (both equally simple). The Key West mahi-mahi is comparable, although it comes with a mango salsa.
Among the appetizers, the fries are underwhelming, even when topped with cheese and bacon, but the catfish poppers are nicely done, and the sausage dip is not bad. Starches are a bit of a weak point, with the exception of the cheese grits that form a base for several of the bowls, and service is a strong suit.
Bone Island Grillhouse is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, closed Sunday, has a full bar (a nice place to eat should all the seats in the dining room be full), does catering, and has a whole bunch of gluten-free options on its large menu, as well as a loyalty program that offers discounts.
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