March 20, 2019

Alley Eats at Homewood Social, and The Expat’s New Lunch Menu

Grub Notes

Photo Credit: Savannah Cole

The Expat

SOCIAL: The space in the Homewood Hills shopping center that was previously Ten Pins Tavern and before that Kingpins Bowl and Brew has been vacant for more than two years, but restaurateur/entrepreneur Matt Downes et al. have been working on it for a good bit of that time. It takes walking in the door to Homewood Social (2451 Jefferson Road, 706-850-8787, to realize just how much has changed. The bowling lanes are in the same place, as far as I can tell, but the bar and eating area that used to be on one side of the establishment has been shifted to the other, and there’s now a substantial outside socializing area, with table tennis, cornhole, giant Jenga and the like.

Bowling will cost you $30 an hour for a lane (not per person), plus $2 shoe rental, but the place works just as well as a bar and eatery as an entertainment option. Grab a box of the game Exploding Kittens or a chess board or send your kids outside to run around while they wait for their food, and kick back. Beer comes by pint, pitcher, can and bottle and goes from High Life to Creature Comforts to Left Hand Milk Stout, for a variety of tastes, and the bar offers some specialty cocktails, like a Moscow Mule made with gin, a mezcal-based Paloma and a Brown Derby with honey-lavender syrup.

The food is generally good enough to go just for that. The pizza is a bit of a weak spot because of its ambitions. Rather than popping something out of a box into the oven, the kitchen is trying for a hand-tossed, thin-crust pie with blobs of real mozzarella, but either the oven isn’t powerful enough, or they’re underbaking it. The taste and the price are good ($9–$12 for a 14-inch pie), but the slices are too floppy. Char that sucker. At the other end of the spectrum are the fried cheese curds, beer-battered and fluffy as greasy little clouds. You may regret eating a whole basket, but it’s hard not to. The wings are on the dry side, which I like, and well fried, not drowning in sauce. If you prefer fried cauliflower, you can get that, too.

Then there’s a big section devoted to sandwiches and salads, to which you can add fries, tots or housemade potato chips for $2. The pork banh mi, which comes with a vinegary dipping sauce, isn’t exactly the real thing—it’s missing the pâté—but it ain’t bad, either, with nicely pickled veggies, slices of jalapeño and a spicy mayo. The bread even has a good crust that shatters when you bite it. There’s a vegan version, too, and an Impossible Burger if you don’t want a meat one. The Homewood sandwich combines meatballs—which hearken back to the long-departed and dearly missed meatball place at the corner of Hawthorne and Oglethorpe—pepperoni, sausage, marinara sauce and mozzarella, all of which fuse into a meaty, cheesy, tomatoey blob of goodness.

What else is there? Hot chicken, a salad full of Marcona almonds, a grilled pimento cheese, a muffaletta, something called a TAT (avocado, tomato, mozzarella) and funnel cakes for dessert. The menu reads as smartly organized, making use of some ingredients multiple times without seeming repetitive, and accommodating of a wide variety of diets, including gluten-free. It works for snacks. It works for kids. It works for people who don’t feel like cooking that night. And, of course, it works for bowlers. Hear hear.

Homewood Social is open Monday through Thursday from 3 p.m.–midnight, Friday from 3 p.m.–2 a.m., Saturday from noon–2 a.m. and Sunday from noon–midnight.

MIDDAY: It’s hard for most restaurants in Athens to make an upscale lunch work, economically—The National being one huge exception. The Expat, in Five Points, is giving it a go nonetheless, with lunch from 11 a.m.–2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Is it as refined and detail-oriented as dinner while being less expensive? You bet your boots. There are even cocktails, should you be able to imbibe in the middle of the day.

The French onion soup is rich and beautiful, and although it seems a terrible waste to use gougères instead of the traditional croutons, because their nature is to be light and fluffy, not soup-soaked, the result is still good: deeply herbal and complex. The hummus made from red lentils is lovely stuff, best with the restaurant’s fennel-heavy crackers, as the radishes that also accompany it dilute its flavor with their water. The housemade pasta with bolognese feels really nice in your teeth, and the egg that tops the croque madame is perfection. The burger is good, although not as good as the one at Bistro Off Broad, in Winder.

The single best way to tell the difference between quality levels in restaurants is to look at their salad greens, and the side salad at The Expat shouldn’t be overlooked for that reason. Simply and lightly dressed, with no accoutrements to camouflage bad greens, it lets its leaves express the wonder of spring. Let’s hope the lunch sticks around.