If I say that “resilience” is the word to describe the restaurant scene in Athens in 2021, you might think that’s a positive thing, and in a lot of ways, it is. A lot of places stayed open, adapting again and yet again—protecting their staff or not.
People quit their restaurant jobs in Athens like elsewhere, because it’s an exhausting and not particularly well-paid field of work. Consider the reliably insane behavior of customers (which certainly didn’t get better or kinder this year), the health risks, the bad bosses and the fact that it now feels more like a grim march and less like a fun group of weirdos who work the late shift. Some people even opened new ones or took steps toward doing so that should bear fruit in 2022.
Whatever the case, please be kind to food service employees and understanding of their situation. I might not love eating at every restaurant in town, but I do appreciate their existence and the dedication it takes to run a kitchen and a business, especially those that do it well. Here’s some of what happened during this crap year speckled with occasional rainbows.
RIP to Pub on Main, in Watkinsville, replaced by a Blind Pig Tavern; the Watkinsville location of Winghouse Grill (to be White Tiger’s expansion in 2022!); Dickey’s Barbecue Pit and Dominick’s, also both in Watkinsville; and Diablo’s Southwest Grill in the Epps Bridge shopping corridor. Downtown Athens lost Max and Uncle Ernie’s, replaced by Paloma Park, doing tapas and drinks, and Fuzzy’s Taco Shop at the end of the year.
Here’s what opened: Iguana’s Mexican Grill, by Davis Estates on Milledge Avenue, and next door to it, the delightful Achachi International Market, with snacks and ingredients from West Africa, India, Pakistan and more. ZZ and Simone’s, the new pizza/gelato/cocktail spot from the folks behind Dinner Party (which changed its name from Donna Chang’s earlier this year), opened at the end of the year on Lumpkin Street, just down from the middle of Five Points, and Bitty and Beau’s, doing coffee, opened in the same complex. Butcher & Vine, a swanky charcuterie place, opened its second location, also in Five Points. Sabor Latino opened a second location, doing delightful Ecuadorian food on Oglethorpe Avenue, near Mitchell Bridge Road, and Southern Culture Fish and Grits opened in the former J.R. Crickets on Hawthorne Avenue at Oglethorpe. Condor Chocolates opened its long promised and eagerly anticipated downtown location (hooray!). Agua Linda underwent the world’s longest renovation, survived it with a cheerful food truck through the terrible hot summer, reopened with rooftop eating, and kept the truck (La Carreta) for pop-ups around town. Mama Ning’s Thai, a pleasant and well-run Thai restaurant, opened in downtown Watkinsville, and Oyishi Japanese Cuisine, an unremarkable Japanese restaurant, opened on Experiment Station Road. Suncatcher Cafe, which has been doing biscuits and other breakfast out of a small space next to a gas station in Watkinsville for a few years, added a second location at the University of North Georgia in Oconee. Classic City Eats, formerly Champy’s, moved to Watkinsville. Munch Hut, a late-night eats place, moved into the former Gyro Wrap downtown (but that beloved franchise looks to be returning this year on College Avenue, not far from its original digs), and Scoville Hot Chicken, a small chain out of Atlanta, took the space at Jackson and Broad streets downtown, doing one thing quite well. Winghouse Grill opened an Athens location in the former Ike & Jane in Normaltown. Amici opened a second location in a fancy space in the Falls of Oconee shopping center. MaiKai Kava Lounge opened on Baxter Street, serving specialty teas and kava.
Chains? We got some more: Cava on Alps Road, Andy’s Frozen Custard on Broad Street not far away, a McAlister’s once again (in the former Steak ‘n Shake), Taichi Bubble Tea downtown (doing ramen as well as tea), Sub Zero Nitrogen Ice Cream downtown, and both a Flying Biscuit on Prince Avenue and a Barberitos right next to it.
What’s coming in 2022? A whole bunch, in theory, if we don’t learn the rest of the Greek alphabet by then, and maybe even if we do. Slutty Vegan, Surcheros and a coffee place called Choco Pronto will open in a renovated shopping strip on Baxter Street across from the traffic hellhole that is Raising Cane’s. A branch of the franchise Ponko Chicken is coming down the street, closer to the UGA dorms, with yet more chicken tenders, Japanese snacks and more. Farm Burger on Prince Avenue, in the fancy new development, will have its grand opening Jan. 19. Sidecar, Mimi Maumus’ side project with snacks and cocktails, is opening next door to her home.made on Baxter Street. Others include: A second Cafe Racer, this one in Athens, on Broad Street near the former Kroger in the Hole; Puma Yu’s, from some local folks who run a well-regarded pop-up, off Chase Street; the reimagined Globe, with a new menu; and possibly a Korean corn dog place downtown (fingers crossed). In franchises, Pizza Factory on Alps Road, where Roll-It-Up was; the return of The Varsity, not in Athens; gusto! doing bowls and such on the site of the bulldozed Inoko; a Firehouse Subs near the Space Kroger on Highway 29; and a Marcos Pizza on Gaines School Road (by the Aldi). While Athens Bagel Co. has been closed indefinitely for renovations, the restaurant is promising to reopen this year.
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