Photo Credit: Savannah Cole
Compared to 2017, last year brought a whole bunch of delights and some extremely solid new additions to the Athens-area food scene. Downtown remained fairly quiet, but if you were willing and able to drive, you could find a lot on the outskirts of or actually outside Athens.
Perhaps the best addition to our town last year was Buvez, a light-filled dawn-to-dusk European-style café on Barber Street that manages to have something for pretty much everyone: families with kids, folks on a date night, people who need a co-working space, retirees with time to nurse a coffee, people who just want a delicious pre-made sandwich to go. The menu continues to be small, with a few sandwiches, pastries and snacks, plus coffee, beer, wine, wine-based aperitifs and snoballs, which means it’s good top to bottom. Manila Express, the adorable Filipino food truck that says it’s adding a delivery option in 2019, even started doing Wednesday pop-ups in the parking lot that make use of the shaved ice machine.
More ambitious and an impressive newcomer is The Expat, in Five Points, with a refined French-influenced menu—the charcuterie and cheese are especially worth your time—and a long, thoughtful list of cocktails. It’s a restaurant and a bar for grown-ups without being stodgy, focused on real experiences rather than on fostering FOMO.
La Michoacana Antojitos Mexicanos (aka La Michoacana Ice Cream Parlor), on the other hand, has one of the strongest Instagram games in town. The incredibly cute, candy-colored paleteria on Jefferson Road does every kind of popsicle you can think of and then some. Across the street is Taqueria Juaritos, inside the Petro Express, doing excellent Mexican food, including some hearty, vegetable-forward soups.
Peter Dale’s Maepole, on Chase Street, already feels like it’s been part of this town for years, so quickly did it become a routine for a lot of folks. Want to grab something quick without sacrificing your New Year’s resolutions for health and wellness? Dale has you covered, with food that doesn’t rely on high-fructose corn syrup or excessive salt and is sustainably sourced. The outdoor dining area is one of the loveliest spots in town.
Bajan Delight, on Vine Street, opened at the end of the year, but is well worth your time to investigate, especially for its unctuous, deeply flavorful oxtail, served with rice and peas, plantains and steamed cabbage.
Not in Athens but worth a trip are Off the Vine Produce, in Winterville, with biscuits, sandwiches and home-churned ice cream on weekends, and Cafe Racer Coffee and Donuts, in Crawford, doing serious coffee and good doughnuts out of the itty-bittiest space in a field.
Also outside of town but opened prior to 2018 are Pinky’s Indian Cuisine (in a gas station in Commerce) and Doughnut World (in a gas station in Winder), both of which confirm the opinion that petrol-adjacent eats can be some of the best around. Magnolia Cafe opened in Crawford in the fall, serving breakfast and lunch Sunday through Tuesday. G Brand BBQ also began serving in Crawford, doing brisket and pork, plus super-good green beans in a big, airy space right by the water tower and giving Crawford three new restaurants in the space of a year (!). Winterville also added Peach Pit Cafe (barbecue) and a retail location for Piedmont Provisions, selling jam, chutney, syrups, shrubs, vinegar, hot sauce and more in a variety of unusual flavors next to the Golden Pantry at the town’s five-point intersection.
Watkinsville lost Chick-n-Fix and JB’s Smokin’ Pig, but added a branch of local chain Winghouse Grill in the latter’s building, as well as a location of Jacob’s Pizza, a whole-grain-focused pizzeria out of Colbert. Pub on Main took over what had been Pour on the main drag and quickly attracted a large following with its lawn games, family-friendly atmosphere and drinks list, including frosé. Suncatcher Cafe, which does biscuits and other quick breakfast, added a Sunday lunch option. Also in the OC, in the swanky new shopping center that also houses the second branch of Mama’s Boy, are Treehouse Market (a fancy convenience store that also makes sandwiches to order) and The Falls (an upscale place with great views and prices to match).
The Epps Bridge area added chains Poké Bar and Nothing Bundt Cakes, but was otherwise fairly quiet—something you can likely expect to change whenever the next phase of development begins. On the other hand, The Mark development on Oconee Street stepped into that void, opening a Crazy Dough’s Artisan Slice Bar and a Frutta Bowls, with Purpose Snackery and I Heart Mac and Cheese yet to come.
Over on the Eastside, Taste of India completed its move from downtown after its building was sold, moving into the Ansonborough development toward the end of the year and eliminating its buffet but maintaining lunch specials. The Menchie’s and Firehouse Subs by the Eastside Publix both closed.
Downtown added a Chick-fil-A and a Wings Over, as well as Koa Surf Bar and Restaurant (poké and such), Franklin House Cafe (coffee, cute toasts, sandwiches), Alumni Cookie Dough (formerly known as Dawg Dough, doing scoops of food-safe raw cookie dough on Thomas Street), Lindsey’s Culinary Market (which moved from Prince and expanded to eat-in operations, even adding a liquor license) and Starland Pizzeria and Pub (which took over Transmetropolitan and vastly simplified it to good effect). Burgerim, a franchise, is yet to open on Broad.
Taqueria Mundos moved into the former Huddle House on North Avenue, with a wide-ranging menu and an amazing Sunday buffet that, sadly, is no more. It’s still worth a trip. Chain WNB Factory opened in the former/original Blind Pig on Williams Street. Five Points added a second location of Atlanta Highway’s Sakura (sushi and hibachi), and its Waffle House shuttered, to many tears. (It’ll be occupied by another location of Watkinsville’s Fully Loaded Pizza Kitchen this year.) Baxter Street’s Hungry Howie’s closed, but the area added Four Fat Cows, a premium ice creamery, and should add D92 Korean BBQ and Paws Up, a cat café in the former Off Campus Bookstore, in the upcoming months.
Milledge Avenue added Cakewalk (a retail store with cakes from several suppliers) in the middle of Greek Row and Athens Pizza in the former Koyla near the bypass. In Normaltown, Half-Shepherd Market and Cheese Shop (with sandwiches, as well as cheese and snacks) opened recently. The Prince Avenue location of Siri Thai closed unexpectedly and was replaced by Blia’s Thai Kitchen. Hawthorne’s JR Crickets (wings, ribs, shrimp and more) seems to be doing quite well. Caborita Cantina and Grill opened on Mitchell Bridge Road, and Hokulia Shave Ice moved three cheerful trailers around to different locations during the warmer months. Rashe’s Cuisine hasn’t opened a brick-and-mortar location yet, but is still doing catering, and owner Rashe Malcolm is running a Community Market at the Jittery Joe’s Roaster on Barber Street every Saturday through Mar. 9 from 11 a.m.–3 p.m., with vendors and food trucks, benefiting her upcoming Culinary Kitchen of Athens.
Both Sonny’s BBQ and then its successor Malinda’s Country Kitchen, on Atlanta Highway, closed, as did The Fish Shack on Broad at Hancock. In addition to the places noted above as yet to open, you should be able to expect El Barrio Tacos and Tequila (in Five Points), Normaltown Brewing Co. (Tracy Street warehouses), Lumberjaxe (the axe-throwing bar, which has not changed its name after all), Lil’ Ice Cream Dude’s Cool World (still in progress, I am promised, in Ansonborough), a branch of Tuscaloosa, AL’s Chuck’s Fish in the Greyhound station downtown, the return of Square One Fish Co. and perhaps the third location of Cali N Tito’s, on Jefferson Road.