ATHENS SEAFOOD MARKET (2362 W. Broad St., 706-287-2754): One of the great joys of doing this job is the surprises. I didn’t have very high expectations when I turned into the parking lot of Athens Seafood Market, which has a Broad Street address but is accessed from Camellia Drive in a small strip behind the Arby’s. Sometimes I’ll go check out a place just to see if it might be worth writing about. Athens hasn’t had a seafood market in a while, and I remember Rainbow Seafood, which had locations on Baxter and Vine streets, fondly as a good place to get a platter of steamed fish and shellfish.
The store isn’t fancy. A big TV streams soccer. There’s a refrigerated case with red snapper, mullet, flounder and several different kinds of shrimp, including some from Georgia. The guy who operates the place says he also has whole organic chickens from just down the road, and that he’ll have mullet with roe later in the fall. The real attraction, however, is an absolutely excellent low-country boil, available in pans that cost $13.50 and will easily feed three people, possibly four. It’s filled with big, head-on shrimp, corn, potatoes and the most wonderful sausage (a child I know said it was the best he’d ever had and described it as “fluffy,” an accurate assessment because it is both rich and light). And it is full of flavor. The texture of everything is perfect. The starches are important but not overrepresented in the way they often are, where they feel like padding. The broth is silky and full of halved lemons and whole cloves of garlic. It’s got spice, but not too much. If you’re lucky, the owner might even be offering a buy one, get one half off special, in which case you will end up with a ridiculous amount of food.
Athens Seafood is open Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m.–6 p.m., sort of. You might want to call ahead to make sure that it will, in fact, be open. It has no tables, and is strictly take-out.
LA MONTAÑA MEXICAN GRILL (4115 Lexington Road, 706-850-6765): Occupying the former Fatz in a huge space on Lexington Road, La Montaña doesn’t seem to have changed much of the interior arranged by the previous tenant. See, for example, the large black-and-white photos of Mark Richt framed on the wall, no doubt dating to his tenure as head coach of UGA football. It’s possible the new place brought those along, but not likely. On the whole, it doesn’t have a ton of personality, not even the sort of generic “Mexican” decor you find in most strip-mall restaurants.
The menu is an enormous laminated thing with lots of pages: many types of burritos, sections for chicken and pork, taco salads, kids combos and the like. It’s not a dive. It’s not a taqueria. It’s the kind of place where you’d go get margaritas and nachos on Friday after a long week, just as it was when Fatz was in the building. The tortas aren’t particularly good, skimpy on fillings, sans mayo and on a squashy bread that doesn’t really work. Ask for vegetarian tacos, and the staff will look at you with a mystified expression. But there are highlights, too. Seafood may be a strong spot, judging by the tostada topped with shrimp, octopus and ceviche that you can get as an add-on. It’s bright and fresh, and the flesh of the seafood is firm. There’s also a big section on the menu devoted to seafood, including scallops, whole fried fish, seafood burrito, caldo de mariscos and lots of shrimp options. Judging by the name of the place, you might also be wise to get grilled items, as with a dish called El Sabroson that is a kind of variety platter: a very thin pounded steak, well seasoned and nicely cooked, topped with a scattering of chorizo, and plated alongside grilled chicken (fine, not exciting, generally what grilled chicken is), beans, rice, a whole grilled pepper, a couple of fat whole grilled scallions and a thick slice of soft Oaxacan cheese. Mix and match inside flour or corn tortillas, and you should be reasonably happy. The drinks section includes a lot of Mexican beers, a wide variety of Jarritos, aguas frescas, micheladas and even a Shirley Temple.
La Montaña is open 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 12–9 p.m. on Sundays. It has oodles of parking.
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