Grub Notes

What in the Whataburger and More Food News


WHATABURGER (3201 Atlanta Highway, 706-534-9160; 3321 Lexington Road, 706-534-9161; and eventually 700 U.S. Highway 29, 706-534-9162): When Athens got its first Whataburger, the lines of cars down Atlanta Highway were so long that people were waiting 30 or 40 minutes for a fast-food burger, which reflects FOMO more than anything else. The wait time has since chilled out as we’ve adapted to the existence of this Texas chain. A second location opened recently on Lexington Road, in front of Lowe’s, and a third is set to start doing business on Highway 29, by the Space Kroger. Is the demand really that high? No. There’s reportedly something in the franchise agreement that requires owners to open multiple iterations, and you can see that the phone numbers of Athens’ three are sequential. I’m not a big fan of queuing up for an unreliable experience, so I waited. 

If you want the tl;dr, it’s a pretty decent drive-through burger, a cut above the sad discs of cardboard many a chain serves these days, perhaps more akin to Hardee’s (RIP), which always had a fairly tasty one. At the same time, you can of course do better in many a sit-down restaurant. Whataburger being from Texas, its thing is “big,” and the size of the standard meal would shock Ray Kroc. A “medium” beverage, which is what you get with a meal, is 32 oz, big enough to strain my car’s cup holder. A standard-size burger is more reasonable, but a special like the patty melt, served with two patties on Texas toast, Monterey Jack cheese, grilled onions and the restaurant’s signature creamy pepper sauce, is truly hefty, barely within my appetite. You can opt for apple slices and an unsweet tea with your meal if you’re trying to watch your calories, but will it make all that much of a difference? No one is eating here to make health-driven choices. 

Whataburger’s other claim to fame is that it’s open 24 hours (supersized hours, and something that there’s a market for in Athens) and serves breakfast from 11 p.m.–11 a.m. every day. The hash brown sticks, which come alongside the breakfast burger and should be inserted into it per the menu photo, are well executed. The breakfast taquitos (soft, not fried, and the size of a burrito from most other fast food chains, with eggs, cheese and meat or potatoes) likewise can encase said hashbrowns and will lay down a solid base in your stomach. 

Service is relatively speedy at both open Athens locations, although it’s a little confusing to find the drive-through entrance at the Lexington one. Should you eat here? Under certain circumstances, sure. Having recently eaten at Portland, OR’s small regional chain Burgerville—which uses local produce, is 100-percent wind powered, is unionized, and even gives you organic zucchini seeds as the prize in your kids meal while being no less delicious in the same ballpark—would I rather have that? No question. But we live in reality, and Whataburger is beating many of its local fast food competitors, albeit at a slightly higher price point.

IRON WORKS COFFEE (295 E. Dougherty St., 706-549-7020): I went here expecting to find Poindexter, the coffee shop of the Graduate Hotel, and wandered into the early phases of a rebranding that had me feeling a bit through the looking glass. Graduate is now Abacus, although very little else has changed; apparently it has something to do with the direction the hotel room doors open and the obsessive, granular branding standards of hotel chains. 

Poindexter is Iron Works and no longer does lunch, although it does still serve breakfast. Tucked into the lobby of the hotel, in The Foundry building that also holds the live music venue, it provides better than average hotel breakfast offerings and coffee. You don’t have to be staying there to grab a pretty good breakfast burrito, made to order, with chorizo or black beans, potato, eggs, green chiles and pepper jack. Breakfast sandwiches come with egg, cheddar and your choice of bacon, sausage or spinach, a nod to vegetarianism that’s equative rather than subtractive. Are you in the market for an $11 breakfast sandwich or burrito? Eh… maybe not. For context, that’s a bit more expensive than Farm Cart, which no doubt uses better ingredients and provides a much wider range of options. 

The atmosphere is quiet and pleasant, with free Wi-Fi, cushy seating and plenty of exposed brick and old wood, plus a maximalist approach to wall decoration, but I’d be surprised if it attracted a lot of folks other than those staying on property. Iron Works is open from 7 a.m.–1 p.m. daily.