SOUTHERN CULTURE FISH AND GRITS (810 Hawthorne Ave., 706-850-1360): There aren’t a ton of Black-owned restaurants in Athens, so it’s a bummer every time one closes. Even if JR Crickets was a franchise, it was a friendly one that had a loyal audience and made some very solid wings, and it was a shame to see it go. Thankfully, Delia and Bernard Anderson took over the space with this new, non-chain restaurant.
The name could have easily connoted a rickrack-and-monograms-type lowcountry eatery, but what we got is more of a classic meat and three with a few extras, including a full bar—a rare and welcome combination. The interior has barely changed since the previous tenants, still painted in red and black throughout, with some UGA-focused decorations and a couple of TVs behind the bar. If you arrive during the early part of lunch, it’s likely to be quiet, and take-out or dining on the uncovered patio is an option I’d recommend if you’re taking public health recommendations into consideration. Although the original menu seems to have included more seafood (e.g., crab boil), the surf options seem mostly limited to fried fish at the moment: whiting, tilapia or catfish. Plates come with tea or lemonade, two vegetable sides and your choice of bread, unless you get the veggie plate of four sides. Pricing is a little higher than I’d generally expect ($12.99 for the standard meat and two; $13.99 or higher for specialty plates), and the portions aren’t huge, but food is expensive right now, and costs keep going up. Sometimes it’s worth it to spend more to keep a small business operating and paying its rent.
Some of the sides are very good: soft and flavorful cabbage, green beans that remind me of the ones my husband’s Georgia-born grandmother used to make. The titular grits are pretty good, too. They’re not fancy (no Red Mule here), but the texture is good (not too runny), the cheese version doesn’t skimp on the cheddar, and there is no sugar to be found. The fried chicken is nicely done, with a salty, crisp batter and a tender interior. The ribs, an occasional rather than a regular item, are a little overbaked, but they taste good, with a pleasantly smoky flavor; the kitchen doesn’t douse them with sauce, either, a frequent device to camouflage an inferior product. The coleslaw has too much mayo, and even though Samin Nosrat says it’s impossible to overcook beans, I found the lima beans too mushy for my taste.
One piece of decor that definitely dates from the previous tenant is a sign that promises wings, but the new folks are happy to oblige. They even make a lemon pepper flavor that is copiously sauced. There are big slices of sugary cake (Key lime and red velvet) for dessert. Folks who live nearby are delighted to have the restaurant as an option, and Sundays in particular seem like a big deal. It also offers catering and some fried appetizers that could go with a football game. Southern Culture is open for lunch Wednesday–Sunday 11 a.m.–5 p.m., and its bar is open Wednesday and Friday–Sunday from 8 p.m.–2 a.m.
MOLLY’S COFFEE COMPANY (8830 Macon Highway, 762-499-2002): This shiny new coffee shop that opened in July 2020 near the second location of Mama’s Boy (on the other side of the street) has been excellent on its public safety measures from the beginning, shifting to drive-through only when it’s warranted, limiting in-person hanging out when numbers are high but less terrifying, requiring its customers to behave like decent humans toward each other and masking up reliably.
The coffee, you’ll be happy to hear, is also quite good. Owner Molly Stokes worked at various coffee shops in town before starting her own, and she uses 1000 Faces beans here. The basic drip coffee isn’t mind-blowing, which it can be at 1000 Faces itself when it’s filtered slowly from beans literally roasted in the next room, but it’s a very nice cup of coffee. The cafe also offers a small but meticulously crafted selection of specialty coffee drinks, including particularly good mochas accented with mint, caramel and the like. They’re not designed for Instagram, they’re not too sugary, and they’re much better for it. The drive-through works smoothly and doesn’t seem to get backed up the way Dunkin or Starbucks does, although if you’re heading to Molly’s from the center of Athens, you could get a little tripped up by the bend Macon Highway takes just before the shop comes up on your left. If you need more than just a drink, there are pastries from Kiki’s Bakeshop, and Athens Bagel Company provided bagels when it wasn’t in the middle of a big renovation. Molly’s is open from 7 a.m.–5 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m.–5 p.m. weekends.
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