Photo Credit: Austin Steele
WIENERS: The latest eatery to open out in the sprawling mall that is the Epps Bridge Centre is Charlie Graingers (1791 Oconee Connector, 706-521-5767), a franchise out of North Carolina that mostly offers hot dogs but adds turkey salad, pimento cheese and brisket to the mix. Located right across the parking lot from the movie theater, it provides a place to get a quick bite and should find an audience with families.
It’s been a little while since the Athens area had a dedicated hot doggery, and these are fine: not exceptional, not terrible. They’re available in a whole lot of different combinations of toppings, a notable number of which are named after hats. Sometimes the dude behind the counter may mix up what exactly is on a Stetson (mayo, cheese, chili, fried potato stix) versus a Fedora (mayo, cheese, bacon bits). The Sombrero (cheese, tomatoes, jalapeños) is the best of the haberdashery-themed dogs, and if you like things simple (I mostly do), the Easy Street comes with only mustard and hot or cold sauerkraut. The chili is nothing special. There are other, wilder toppings, like Sriracha and “Jamaican relish,” which is just another name for chow chow.
If you don’t do hot dogs, you might do brisket, available in a sandwich or a bowl, with a molasses-based sauce that isn’t as sticky as something you might get at Chili’s but detracts from the meat, which has decent texture and taste for a franchise operation. If you want to pretend you’re getting something healthy, there’s always “The Original,” a sandwich combining pimento cheese, a big scoop of turkey salad, lettuce, tomatoes and a bit of that chow chow. It is almost impossible to get your mouth around, and it would be far better dissected into its components.
The pink lemonade is highly thought of and worth drinking, and the service is fast and friendly. The store isn’t huge inside, but it has a few tables outside and a whole bunch of heavy gas lanterns. Charlie Grainger’s is open 11 a.m.–8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon–5 p.m. on Sunday.
ROLL OUT: Four years ago, I wrote about the Pendergrass Flea Market (5641 U.S. 129) and its impressive array of food options, both in the food court and elsewhere throughout the enormous building. What a dummy I am for not going more often. The place is packed to the gills Saturday and Sunday, for good reason. If you are looking for a place to get any kind of fidget spinner you want, it’s here. If you want cabeza tacos or stuffed Pokémon, a quick chiropractic appointment, a lightly used washer-dryer set, some boiled peanuts or just a few hours of entertainment, that’s all here too.
Newly added to the food court is Spice Hut, an Indian eatery that also offers Mexican caldos and tacos. No relation to any number of Indian restaurants by the same name, it’s run by a very cheerful entrepreneur from Delhi who will press gulab jamun on your children and hand you samples of anything you might like to try, while telling you that most of his clientele doesn’t eat Indian food. The naan and the samosas are both too greasy, tasting of oil more than anything else, but the butter chicken is silky and good, served over nice basmati rice. The owner says the dishes, which his mother makes, vary frequently. Bring cash or at least your ATM card (there’s a machine nearby); most of the food-court businesses don’t take credit cards.
Out in the thick of things, on the main interior street, about halfway to the food court, is Beyond Ice Cream, a wonderful new stand doing rolled ice cream, a Thai trend that, in this case, is being executed by Latinos. Pick your flavor (cookies and cream, blackberry, strawberry, Nutella, etc.) and watch as the two workers’ muscled forearms pour ingredients onto a cold metal disc and scrape them across it repeatedly to combine them into ice cream before shaving them up in long curls and popping them in a Styrofoam cup or waffle dish. The result is not only popular on Instagram but, in this case, fresh and delicious. If the line is long, you could get impatient, but the product is good, fairly inexpensive ($3 for a cup, $4 for a bowl) and novel. The mango-and-pineapple combination is equally creamy and icy, full of concentrated and fresh fruit, and definitely worth stopping for.
The flea market is open Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m.–6 p.m. and will celebrate its 25th anniversary on June 11 with a big party.