Photo Credit: Savannah Cole
TAKE ME FOR A RIDE IN THE CAR CAR: Since Paul’s Bar-B-Q in Lexington closed, there aren’t so many culinary reasons to head out 78 east from Athens into Oglethorpe County. Cafe Racer Coffee + Donuts (3 Arnoldsville Road, in Crawford, 706-899-0210) is trying to change that. Named for the lightweight, stripped-down motorcycles popular in 1960s England, it operates out of the former Biscuit Barn, in a tiny space that does drive-thru service out of a window on either side of the small building. If it’s open, the flag with the logo is flying. Everything is as cute as can be, and the name is apt, considering the minimal menu: coffee, a few teas, doughnuts made fresh daily, a single biscuit.
Owned and operated by service-industry veterans who used to live in Athens and now enjoy the quiet of the country, it does not talk down to its rural surroundings one bit. The coffee program, which uses Counter Culture beans, is serious and focused: drip, iced, latte, mocha, cubano, cortado, macchiato, frappé. That’s it. No pumpkin spice in sight. The doughnuts are similar, with flavors that change daily. Maybe a tiny bit darkly fried, they are not too sweet, which makes them quite good, and the icing is drizzled, not slathered on. Glazes can include vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, but also espresso (the absolute best of the bunch), blueberry, grapefruit, lemon, watermelon and so on. Flavors are subtle and well executed, and although they’re probably best first thing in the morning (they’re fried at 5:30 a.m.), the doughnuts are still tasty later in the day.
The biscuit comes with scrambled egg, a wonderful sausage patty, cheese and fresh grape jelly, a combination at which I usually turn up my nose (I don’t love savory and sweet together; yes, it’s a regular argument in my house), but that works perfectly in this case. Service is speedy and friendly, and there are doughnut holes as well as the full-size tori. Cafe Racer is open weekdays from 6:30–11:30 a.m.
Photo Credit: Savannah Cole
A LITTLE FARTHER: Keep going three miles down the road, and you’ll come to a location of gas-station chicken franchise Krispy Krunchy (1185 Athens Road, in Crawford, 706-743-3308), inside the convenience store behind the Valero. There’s another one in Statham (inside Pat’s, at 1937 Atlanta Hwy.), but both are relatively new to the area. The chain, founded in Lafayette, LA in 1989, is expanding rapidly and has a ton of locations in Atlanta. Is it worth a special trip? No, but if you’re in the area and you want some pretty good chicken, it’s worth a brief detour.
Take-out only, it aligns with the register inside the convenience store and—in theory, at least—has shrimp and fish as well as chicken and chicken tenders. The spice blend that covers everything is an upgrade over KFC, especially on the big potato wedges. A handwritten sign promises barbecue sandwiches, but you’re better off sticking to the chicken, unless you really like a heavily sauced crock-pot-based barbecue. Krispy Krunchy has biscuits in the a.m., opens very early in the morning and serves daily until there’s no more chicken. As you’d expect, its prices are quite reasonable.
FARTHER YET: Drive and drive and drive some more until you get to Savannah, and it’d be wise to build a trip to Narobia’s Grits and Gravy (2019 Habersham St., in Savannah, 912-231-0563) into your schedule. Savannah has many fancier options that have attracted national coverage and a lot of tourist-focused restaurants like Paula Deen’s empire, but Narobia’s will leave you far more satisfied than the latter. The space isn’t big, and a line of working-class African Americans and heavily pierced art-school kids wait out front for tables, either at small booths inside or under a metal-roofed patio out back, where there’s more elbow room.
The menu is more seafood-oriented breakfast than meat-and-three, and you would be wise to use the name of the restaurant as a guide. Pretty much everything comes with grits, and they are superlative: swole rather than runny, with fat individual grains perceptible by your taste buds. They don’t even need gravy, but you should get it anyway. Most plates also come with two eggs and biscuit or toast, but you can sub in French toast, hash browns or hot cakes for a slight upcharge.
Fried salmon patties are a great option, peppery and meaty. So is shrimp, which is fresh and simply treated. Do your kids only eat pancakes? They have those, and they are well browned. You can customize your meal in any number of ways, including adding liver, a fruit cup, bacon (turkey or regular), tilapia and so on. Narobia’s is open 7 a.m.–1 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m.–2 p.m. Saturday.