Ask anyone in Athens what kind of year 2022 was for restaurants, and their vibe will almost undoubtedly be that it was a really terrible one. But, here’s the thing: Apart from a few high-profile closings (yes, we’ll miss The Grit forever), it was actually kind of an amazing year for new restaurants in our town. That’s a hot take that even I have a hard time believing, but the evidence backs it up.
At the very end of 2021, ZZ & Simone’s opened in Five Points serving beauteous Italian food in a beachy, retro environment. Its owners, Shae and Ryan Sims, may have closed their other restaurant, Dinner Party, but at the end of 2022, they replaced it with Bar Bruno, an intimate wine and aperitivo-focused bar with a few bites to eat. Mimi Maumus opened Sidecar, a small space attached to her main gig, home.made, on Baxter Street with a great bar, a delightful menu of smart bar snacks, playing cards to facilitate interaction with your hang-out partners and a tremendous feeling of fun. Sidecar never seems like it’s trying too hard, and it gives Maumus a venue in which to experiment without annoying her regulars at the restaurant. It was one of the most fun restaurant experiences I had this year, and I’d absolutely go back on my own volition.
Equally as fun is Puma Yu’s, which opened in the Southern Mills complex on Oneta Street, off Chase Street with, again, a serious bar and a menu that pairs well with booze consisting of small plates geared toward sharing. Big flavors and a take-me-or-leave-me attitude show a restaurant-ish thing that is comfortable in its own skin. The Globe reopened, successfully walking the tightrope of just new enough but not so new that it ticks off the people who’ve been going there for decades. It’s clean and sweet. The tables don’t wobble. The menu is bar food without being greasy. Gyro Wrap sort of pulled off the same thing in a different vein, moving to a new location and doing its best to recreate the magic of a beloved franchise that fed many of us for years and years. Jerry and Krista Slater of The Expat opened the high-end Slaters Steakhouse in Five Points with caviar and fancy meats.
White Tiger Deluxe opened in Watkinsville, its interior an absolute explosion of pink and sparkles and joy, complete with the best dang bathrooms in Athens. Kikè’s Kitchen began serving wonderful birria and things topped with birria (ramen, pizza, etc.) out of a convenience store on Danielsville Road, and it rapidly found an audience. El Bajio capably filled the shoes of the departed La Estrella on Hawthorne Avenue with tasty siete mares soup. Poquitos, a project from the folks behind The Grit and Ted’s Most Best, opened in the former Go Bar on Prince Avenue with tacos and more.
See? A pretty good year, even if these places closed: The Alley, Butcher & Vine (both locations), Collective Harvest (a real bummer), Half-Shepherd (supposedly temporarily), Heirloom Cafe (another very sad loss of a longtime restaurant that worked hard to build a community), the Epps Bridge location of Kelly’s Jamaican (the Five Points one is still going strong), Lickin’ Chicken on Oak Street, the lovely Peruvian Mifflin House in Homewood Hills, Moe’s in the Alps shopping center, Nedza’s (which didn’t close so much as move to Monroe and make way for Joe Nedza’s Baddies Burgers), The Office sports bar downtown, Opa Robby’s market in front of Target, Scoville Hot Chicken downtown, Southern Culture Fish and Grits on Hawthorne (the pop-up Wing Kingh has moved to Commerce), Sub Zero Nitrogen Ice Cream downtown, Vampire Penguin in The Mark and Wok Star in Winterville.
What else opened? Baxter Street’s 700 complex was hopping, adding the Athens area’s second location of Newk’s, the burrito place Surcheros, a Slutty Vegan and Peter and Nick Dale’s Choco Pronto (with coffee and more). Downtown wasn’t exactly hopping, but it got Dooley’s Bar and Grill on Broad Street as well as the aforementioned Globe and Gyro Wrap. Down the hill in The Mark was Blenderz. In the other direction, down Prince Avenue, Farm Burger finally opened its Athens location, Tapped Athens opened a wine bar in the Bottleworks and Athens Cooks opened as a fancy cooking store with more to come. Hendershot’s served a wonderful East Asian inflected menu briefly early in the year, then went back to snacks only, and then had a new menu by the end of the year. The Jittery Joe’s Roaster Tasting Room moved from Barber Street to Fritz Mar Lane.
Baxter Street added Ponko Chicken and Roll It Up Ice Cream and Mushroom Head by the dorms. In the Beechwood area, Crumbl Cookies and gusto! opened, and Ru San’s moved to Watkinsville and will reopen as Sushi One & Bobalicious Cafe in the Market Center shopping center on Jan. 23. The Eastside added La Montaña Mexican grill in the former Fatz and Mochinut donuts and bubble tea by Publix. Watkinsville/Oconee County added the Chop House and Clean Eatz in the Epps Bridge area, a brick-and-mortar Java Joy at the Piedmont Oconee Health Campus and Sellers Eatery in downtown Watkinsville, as well as the Wire Park complex, which already has South Main Brewing and will soon add Mama’s Boy #3, Gekko Kitchen, the Original Hot Dog Factory, another Winghouse Grill, Lalo’s Tacos and Cantina, Apotheos Roastery and a location of Scoops ice cream shop and candy store.What else is coming in 2023? Coffeehouse @local and Paris Banh Mi, both downtown, plus maybe Athens Bagel Co. if the renovations wrap up; Cafe Racer’s Athens location on Broad near Alps, a location of the chain Another Broken Egg Cafe right nearby and San Angel Cocina & Cantina across the street; Bon de Paris, a franchise, on the Eastside; a Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in Five Points; a bunch more in the Boulevard/Newtown area, including Bain Mattox and Sam Frigard’s bar Hidden Gem, Jerry and Krista Slater’s bar Nighthawks Lounge and Vietnamese restaurant Pretty Boy (with Kenny Nguyen, executive chef of the Slaters’ Expat and one of the folks behind the Side Hustle pop-up); and the several times delayed Oak House Distillery, on 441 in Oconee County.
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