AKADEMICS: If you really like beer, you’re probably irritated by Bud Light’s “Dilly Dilly” ad campaign, which presents terrible, weak beer as a signifier of camaraderie (because you certainly can’t sell it on taste). If you want to look at it in a more positive light, it’s a sign that the beer market has changed tremendously, and that people are demonstrably more interested in the kind of beer people actually drank back in olden times.
Akademia Brewing Co. (150 Crane Dr., 678-726-2288) fits in with the latter, with a strong commitment to making odd and interesting beers. The former Musician’s Warehouse, near Best Buy, is a huge space, with a patio that’s bound to be more appealing once the view of Georgia Square Mall is blocked. There’s a giant bar, with tanks behind it from which beer is poured, touching oxygen for the first time, plus a view of the brewing area and a lot of flexible space well suited for private parties. The aesthetic is half fancy (large custom light fixtures, the gorgeous bar) and half factory (dudes hosing off the floor, plants that appear to have been hastily purchased at Home Depot).
What sets Akademia apart from its fellow brewing companies is the fact that it’s also a full-service restaurant, complete with high chairs. The kitchen can be a little slow when there’s a large party booked, and some things on the menu need some work, but the bar snacks are solid, and there’s even a kids’ menu, with inexpensively priced PB&J and the like. Anything described as a “flatbread” is closer to pita—yes, technically a flatbread, but not really the kind of thin pizza that word usually conveys—which means it gets soggy when piled with toppings. The deconstructed pork souvlaki falls into that category.
More ambitious things, like the Mediterranean shrimp with roasted tomatoes, herbed feta cheese and large couscous, don’t really come together, but both the fried cheese curds and the french fries that come with beer-based dipping sauces are tasty. Ditto for the burgers, which feature good combinations of ingredients and some of the same excellent sauces but are made on a pretzel bun that is better in theory than in practice, because it dissolves into nothingness due to moisture. Keep it simpler, and you’ll be happy.
The opposite is perhaps true of the beer, the menu for which changes frequently. You can get full pours, half pours or pick four small glasses to make yourself a flight if you want to sample a bunch. The Dom, a German kölsch-style ale, is light and sparkly and goes well with food. On the other hand, there is some crazy stuff down at the bottom of the menu, which starts light and ends up heavy. For example, the Horn of Plenty is a cranberry sour stout with cinnamon and Bulleit bourbon-soaked Jack Daniel’s wood chips that the menu describes as “Thanksgiving in a glass.” It is insanely fragrant and hard to drink more than a small glass of, but also impressive and complex.
If I had to pick my favorite, it’s probably Niobe’s Tears, a lemony gose, but the Hoprodite, a New England IPA, is really nice, especially if you like something in your IPAs besides bitterness. Akademia also has guest taps (plus wine) and sells crowlers of beer. It’s open every day, from 11 a.m. until at least 11 p.m.
EXTRACURRICULARS: Watkinsville’s Chops and Hops (2 S. Main St., 706-310-1101), which has been open a number of years now, recently hired Josh Aaron, formerly of Jefferson’s The Savory Spoon (and Akademia, where he was originally going to be the chef), to run its kitchen, and the result is a restaurant that is now a great option for vegetarians, despite the meat in its name. Aaron has always loved and celebrated vegetables. His roasted okra at his original restaurant was revelatory. Chops and Hops now has a vegetable plate that changes frequently enough to be market priced and have its components chalked on a board at the entrance of the restaurant.
I may roll my eyes at its presentation on a cutting board, because I am a fan of plates, which are a superior technology when it comes to containing food and sauces, but the clear investment in produce is evident. On a recent day, the selections included: two salads (one with tomatoes and a lovely, mild mozzarella; the other with spinach, a tangy feta, strawberries and candied pecans); half a spaghetti squash, roasted and topped with marinara sauce; large brussels sprouts, lightly roasted and topped with an agave syrup; and a sort of mushroom casserole with copious amounts of cheese.
It’s not quite the power lunch at The National in terms of sophistication and top-to-bottom excellence, but it shows appreciation of nature’s bounty and is cooked with affection. A “loaded vegetable” soup, also on special, was based on a deeply flavored vegetable stock, and the pimento cheese available as an appetizer seemed to be spiked with pimentón and is fantastic. Vegetarians, go check it out. The hours remain lunch and dinner every day.
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