NEDZA’S: This little business started as a pop-up just about five years ago, making fancy puffle waffles stuffed with fruit, Nutella and ice cream, and retailing them from a table at farmers’ markets and the like around Athens. Each waffle had a handwritten, personalized compliment written on its sleeve in Sharpie, in a kind of relentless positivity. Nedza’s started doing catering, then expanded into donuts from a truck, and finally moved into a space with four walls and a roof last year, at 1591 S. Lumpkin St., in the same strip as Mediterranean Grill. The menu is bigger now, with donuts and waffles still a big part of things, but biscuits and grits and so on are in the picture, too.
Here is my beef with the restaurant: If you’re going to base your brand on love (“love is served” appears in a mural on the wall by the register), maybe you shouldn’t have your entire staff maskless together in a very open kitchen, especially when you haven’t even bothered with the opt-out sign on your door. If you care about love, it seems like you should demonstrate it to your community through your actions to keep them safe. If you are a cautious person, I would, at the very least, stick to take-out here, but also know there is a patio in the back and some outdoor seating out front. Here’s hoping that changes.
The food approach is maximalist: huge biscuits piled high with toppings, cookies that require two hands to eat, grits that incorporate not only pimento cheese but also sausage/bacon, egg and cheese. Sometimes that works. Sometimes it’s less successful. The biscuits tend to wilt under the weight and moisture of so much stuff, and the lower half crumbles into nothingness. The hot chicken biscuit, with a well-fried and somewhat spicy hunk of bird, also includes a huge amount of coleslaw, which essentially dissolves the biscuit. You need a fork to eat it. Nedza’s knows how to fry things well. Not only is the hot chicken decent, but so are the fried green tomatoes, the fried chicken that comes atop a waffle and the donuts, all of which are impressively crisp. The chicken and waffle combo also includes a cream cheese syrup that is better than regular syrup, whereas the sausage, egg and cheese waffle combo is too sweet. The grits are good: flavorful, salted enough, thick and creamy. The donuts are still well made, too, although the baddie (a cronut minus the ™, made from layered croissant dough and stuffed with one cream or another, depending on the week) is really too heavy.
Nedza’s is open from 7 a.m.–2:30 p.m., Tuesday–Sunday and serves beer and wine.
CAFE RACER: By every tenet I hold in my heart, Cafe Racer (3 Arnoldsville Road in Crawford, 706-899-0210) should not be a restaurant I love. It keeps short, variable hours. It’s way out of town. Its social media is jammed with emojis and its own kind of slang. Like Nedza’s, it is apt to pile on toppings. It’s not very fast with bringing out orders. Whatever. I forgive it all because the food is reliably delicious, like drive out to Oglethorpe County delicious.
Thursday nights now bring a pop-up burger offering from 5–8 p.m. that is just as worth the drive as the biscuits, donuts and coffee are in the a.m. The burgers are good, smashed and double-stacked, then topped with things like jalapeno cream cheese, a fried egg, racer sauce (a little spicier than the usual ketchup/mayo mix), fried onion strings and more. You can get them on a brioche roll (sweeter, soggier) or a sesame potato bun (equally good, a little more resilient). But what really sings are the fries. I didn’t drive that far looking for what might be the best fries in the Athens metro area, but that’s what I found. Double fried, long, classically square cut, appropriately salted, they somehow balance a soft interior with an incredibly crisp exterior that will maintain its bite the entire way back to Athens. They are platonically ideal fries. There is magic happening to make them what they are. The restaurant is drive-through only, open Thursday–Sunday, but the staff is still masked and asks that you do the same by the window. Check specials and ever-variable hours on Instagram at @caferacerhwy78, and order ahead at caferacer78.com.
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