Grub Notes

Mexican-Style Seafood and a Venezuelan Cafe Out of Town

Costa Alegre Seafood and Grill

COSTA ALEGRE SEAFOOD AND GRILL (2131 Hog Mountain Road, Watkinsville, 706-705-6333): Once upon a time, there was a lovely Uruguayan bakery known as Panaderia Tacuari on Fritz Mar Lane off Newton Bridge Road. It then moved to Watkinsville, in front of the Publix, changed its name to Sabor Latino and opened a second location on Oglethorpe Avenue. That second location, still owned by the same folks, is now Flama, a Brazilian steakhouse recently reviewed here. The Watkinsville location changed owners and is now Costa Alegre, a Mexican marisqueria, or seafood restaurant. Named for the stretch of coastline near Puerto Vallarta, in western Mexico, the restaurant has a chill, happy vibe, with a cute logo of a nautilus shell. Brightly colored outdoor seating is out back. A margarita machine churns away under two TVs screening Jamie Oliver videos. 

The menu isn’t exclusively seafood. There are chicken fingers and salchipapas for the kids, plus a whole page of non-fishy options for those who want steak, chicken or vegetarian choices. When in Rome, though. You can order your tacos “American” (flour tortilla, pico de gallo, lettuce, cheese), Mexican (corn tortilla, cilantro, onions), torito (corn tortilla, Caribbean chili filled with cheese), Baja (battered seafood, slaw), gobernador (shrimp, bell pepper, bacon, red onion) and planchados (cheese crust, pico de gallo). The latter was intriguing, but it’s not such a great pairing with seafood. My bad. Seafood and cheese together can work, but it also sometimes doesn’t, and it’s the latter in an empanada filled with chunks of octopus, cheese and pico de gallo, which could really use some heat. That’s kind of the case throughout, as with the aguachile, a green version of the dish that tends to be a spicier version of ceviche, made with shrimp, leche de tigre (a sauce of cilantro, fish stock, lime juice, ginger, garlic and onion), serrano chiles, red onion, sliced avocado and thinly sliced cucumbers. There’s not a lot of competition with this dish locally, but the version at Lalo’s, also in Watkinsville, is significantly hotter and better for it. It’s still a pleasant thing to eat on a hot day. A tostada topped with cubed raw tuna dressed with lime juice, sesame oil and a mayo dressing has promise, but the latter ingredient dominates. It’s too smooth in the mouth, even if the tostada adds some nice crunch. The appetizer plate seems expensive at $24.95, but it’s big enough for a meal, with fried shrimp, fried calamari and lightly battered and fried chunks of fish and surimi, prioritizing imitation crab in a way that’s both odd and oddly appealing. 

The restaurant is pleasant enough, and it’s filling a gap, but it could use more: more acid, more heat, more daring. It’s open 11 a.m.–8 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday (closed Monday), 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

TOWN AND COUNTRY KAFE (9 Callaway Drive, Crawford, 706-743-6115): You might think from its name and location that this new restaurant on the far side of Crawford is a biscuit place or a meat and three, the kind of thing you’d usually find in Oglethorpe County, but you’d be wrong. Walk in the door and discover that, despite the brightly colored crocheted clothing for sale, what we have here is a lovely casual Venezuelan restaurant that also serves a variety of coffee drinks. Order at the counter and grab a seat on a huge, beautiful, brand-new deck, either in the shade or in the sun. Let your kids play in the field out back. The experience is supremely relaxing. 

The menu isn’t huge, but it features empanadas (made Venezuelan style, with a cornmeal-based dough surrounding the filling rather than the usual flaky pastry, then fried), arepas (fried split cornmeal cakes that contain meat or vegetables, plus queso fresco), sandwiches and “TCK Bowls” (rice, beans, protein or veggies, queso fresco). The arepas come out on top, freshly made and available in either a large “regular” size or as mini ones about 2 or 3 inches in diameter. The cornmeal is crisp, and the oil tastes fresh. The empanadas are charming, too. Both of these, plus everything else on the menu, comes with a side of either pink or green sauce, familiar to those who patronize Cali n Tito’s. The sandwiches have nice fillings (ham, egg and cheese!) but the bread is a bit squashy. The rice bowls sound boring, but the veggie version turns out to be lovely and appealing, with garbanzo beans and sweet potatoes in the mix. Coffee is fresh ground, a real step up from the Golden Pantry down the way, and there are homemade pastries in a case on the counter that feature fillings like guava and cheese, a fairly normal combo in the Latin American world but one that’s exotic for Crawford. Worth a trip? Definitely if you live close or can handle a 30-minute drive for lunch. 

The restaurant is open 7 a.m.–1 p.m. Monday, 7 a.m.–7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 7 a.m.–3 p.m. Saturday and closed Sunday. It also offers its space for rent for special events and does local delivery.