Food & DrinkGrub Notes

Restaurants’ Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year

The pandemic shuttered dining rooms everywhere in 2020. Credit: Whitley Carpenter/file

Is it a grim joke to write this column at all this year? Kinda. I have eaten in one restaurant one time, since March, outside, at a place in Chapel Hill, NC, that I was assured was being as cautious as possible. Do I miss it? Hell, yes. Take-out is not the same. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy or eat take-out, but I can’t write about it in the same way because, in the end, it’s just food in a box or clamshell or quart container. It’s not the whole series of interactions and logistics and design that make restaurants interesting to dissect. 

The last proper column I filed was supposed to run Mar. 18 but never did. It covered C’est la Vie, an extremely sweet and tasty real French bistro in the middle of the bitty town of Washington, GA., and Danielsville’s Pig Skins BBQ, a more humble operation but one that makes really good pork rinds fried to order. (If you take them with you, and you would because it’s primarily a take-out operation, you can hear them still snapping like a bowl of milked-up Rice Krispies.) 

I feel lucky that I had just been to New Orleans over spring break, eating as many amazing sandwiches as I could cram in my face hole. Since then, everything has been discombobulated, and it feels unfair to judge restaurants when they are, for the most part, doing their best to survive. They have been smushed between an extremely big rock and an extremely hard place, already operating with thin margins in a high-risk business. The advent of a pandemic that meant being inside with others sans masks was a very bad idea that meant they often had to choose between staying open at all and staying open under circumstances that might spread a dangerous disease to others. Places that relied heavily on catering large events as part of their business model were in more trouble than most. Places that had outdoor seating were in better shape. Hours and menus changed frequently. Places closed, and then they reopened. Sometimes they didn’t. 

So far, although 2020 has been a truly horrible year, it hasn’t yet resulted in the kind of mass closings of local businesses that 2019 was full of—yet. Just as you keep hearing that you shouldn’t stop wearing masks and being careful because a vaccine is on the horizon, you shouldn’t stop tipping outrageously well when you get take-out or supporting local restaurants with your dollars. You should keep ignoring DoorDash and Uber Eats and the like in favor of picking up from restaurants or using the local delivery services Cosmic and Bulldawg Food. You should vote with your dollars wherever and whenever you can and direct them to the folks who are trying to keep you and yours safe and well-fed while paying their employees decently and treating them well. 

Anyway, here’s what happened this year:

RIP Steak ‘n Shake, the Danielsville location of Blazer’s, Hot Thomas BBQ (after many years), LRG Provisions in Five Points, Homewood Social, JR Crickets, Mama Jewel’s Kitchen, Gyro Wrap (there are still rumors that someone’s going to reopen it), Cinnaholic, di’lishi, La Michoacana at the Georgia Square Mall and Wings Over Athens.

Places that opened in this godforsaken year include: Los Primos Taqueria Express in the former Golden Chick on 441-S; Tamez Barbecue on Broad at Hancock; the Cafe on Lumpkin and the Local 706 in Five Points; a second location of the Crab Hut (formerly Kajun Seafood) and Corner’s Edge Butcher Shoppe, both on the Eastside; Joe and Sam’s (doing coffee and more in the former Watkinsville Keba); The Lark (a wine project from Krista Slater of The Expat, in the former Avid Bookshop on Prince); Molly’s Coffee Company on Macon Highway; Stacked Sandwiches and More on Baxter; Ding Tea, El Azteca, Jinya Ramen Bar and Cravings downtown; Knuckies Pizza and Hoagies in The Mark; Rashe’s Cuisine’s brick-and-mortar on Vine; Tacos los Plebes #2 on Danielsville Road in the former Huddle House; Nedza’s, just down from Five Points, doing waffles, ice cream, donuts and more; Oglethorpe Garage near the loop on Oglethorpe; Hook and Reel Cajun Seafood and Bar in On the Border’s old site on Atlanta Highway; and Athentic Brewing in Boulevard, which has beer and has been hosting pop-ups. The Plate Sale increased the frequency of its pop-ups, doing smart versions of Southern food at Hendershots several days a week.

George’s Lowcountry Table built a brand-new space on Macon Highway and moved into it recently. Champy’s changed its name to Classic City Eats, then closed in November in advance of a move to Watkinsville, with a reopening planned for February 2021. Eddie’s Calzones downtown moved down the block into the former Zaxby’s on Clayton and became Eddie’s Calzones and Drafts, with self-service beer taps. Bubble Cafe moved into the former downtown Taco Stand out of its tiny space under Marvin’s. Independent Baking Company was sold but is continuing steady. WNB Factory moved into the shopping center by the Eastside Walmart. Agua Linda has temporarily closed for renovations and will be serving out of La Carreta, its food truck, but isn’t yet. Word is that Uncle Ernie’s will be moving to the space the same folks own at the corner of Hawthorne and Oglethorpe, as its space and that of Max have been sold, but there’s no official confirmation on that yet.

Yet to come, in 2021, should the inevitable alien invasion not take place: another Amici, in the Falls shopping center in Oconee County; an Andy’s Frozen Custard in the former KFC at Broad and Alps; Mama Ning’s Thai in Watkinsville; a third location of Wing House Grill in Normaltown in the former Ike and Jane; a second Tacuari Sabor Latino, on Oglethorpe in the former Transmetropolitan; Condor Chocolates downtown; a Flying Biscuit on Prince, by the Walgreen’s in a mixed-use building; a Farm Burger on Prince in the St. Joe development; perhaps still a restaurant in the former Go Bar on Prince; a Cheba Hut; a second Butcher and Vine in the former LRG in Five Points; and, someday, I swear, the third Cali n Tito’s, off Jefferson Road.