Grub Notes

Southern Fare With Flair: New High-End Comfort Food Restaurants

Preacher Green's

PREACHER GREEN’S (1995 Barnett Shoals Road, 706-215-9079): If you’re nostalgic for Five Star Day Cafe, which closed in 2013 but before that spent a good 15 years serving Southern food with a casual hipster gloss, Preacher Green’s is your new favorite restaurant. If you got here within the last 10 years and don’t know what we’re reminiscing about, you might like it just as well. 

Opened by Athens natives and Cedar Shoals graduates Ted Lahey and Paul Allen in the former Turtles (and most recently Pizza Hut) in the corner of the Green Acres shopping center, it manages to hit its marks pretty well: a little cheffy but not too much, healthy in some ways but not in all, polished, on top of details, fast and well priced. Some people freaked out a little over the lengthwise sliced fried okra when it opened, but just because something is recognizable as a vegetable doesn’t make it not Southern food. There’s an appreciation for the classics here, but a recognition that a lovely beet salad with sunflower seeds and a sherry vinaigrette can sit alongside them. The space is narrow, rather like the downtown Five Star was, and you have to navigate through it to find the register where you order, tucked around the corner. Grab a laminated menu, figure out what you want, chat with the folks behind the counter, then get a seat and your food will be out speedily. 

Lunch tends more to sandwiches, dinner to meat-and-three fare, but there’s some overlap. Some things are more spartan than expected, especially given Lahey’s fine-dining background, but they’re well executed. The meatloaf sandwich is nothing more than a slice of meatloaf on a buttered bun with a brown sugar ketchup dressing, but it’s a NICE slice of meatloaf: not too cold, not too hot, not too sweet, not boring, not challenging, with a beautiful texture. The smashburger (two patties, grilled onions, pickles, American cheese) is unexpectedly excellent, one of the best in town. It’s appropriately sized, the flavors do a nice little dance together, and the crispy bits around the edges are maximized. It’s also only $9 sans sides. A spinach salad with balsamic, strawberries, blue cheese and candied pecans is almost hip in its ‘90s ambience by this point, but it, too, is well balanced, made with good ingredients and tasty. A salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, onion and basil appreciates its components. You’re getting the picture. The menu isn’t particularly innovative, but maybe what it is is deliberately simple, focused on doing things well. 

At dinner, the fried trout, ever so lightly breaded in cornmeal, is a delicate thing where it could have been fried into submission. The collards come with a housemade pepper sauce that sings. I still don’t really approve of a non-baked mac and cheese, but Preacher Green’s tops its with some real nice breadcrumbs. Some things you can get better elsewhere (like the squash casserole and country-fried steak), but nothing is bad. The owners keep the staff paying attention to details, and the atmosphere is reasonably lively, with a decidedly non-hipster crowd so far. Beer and wine are available, and a four-veggie plate will run you $20. Not bad! 

The restaurant is open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m.–3 p.m. and dinner Tuesday through Saturday 5–9 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.–3 p.m.

SOUTHERN PROSPECT (1725 Electric Ave., 678-310-1096): This new place in Watkinsville’s Wire Park is shooting for a similar market to Preacher Green’s, only at higher prices and with a swankier atmosphere. For example, both restaurants have chicken tenders on their menus, but Preacher Green’s puts them in the children’s section, where they belong. 

There’s a place for fun with Southern food, but unfortunately this mostly isn’t it because the food just isn’t that good. I’ve seen fried deviled eggs on at least two menus now, and I’d like to tell y’all to stop it. It’s not an improvement. I’ll compliment the crab cakes, which are light and crabby and not overdressed. The bar is having some fun making cute drinks that taste good, like the Porch Swing, which uses Severo Plata tequila, Cocchi Americano Rosa, Luxardo Amaro Abano, lime juice and strawberry rhubarb syrup. But the Creamy Dijon Clucker, an absolute slab of breaded chicken breast topped with ham, Swiss and mustard sauce and served with mashed potatoes and sweet corn succotash, is not only far too big for its plate, but reminds one strongly of Cracker Barrel. There’s nothing wrong with Cracker Barrel. I’ve eaten there plenty of times. Its brand is “unchallenging,” and sometimes that’s what you want. But its entrees are at a lower price point. It’s less of a date night kind of place, whereas Southern Prospect’s staff wear fancy aprons. It’s very easy to drop $150 and leave feeling a little annoyed about it, given how heavy and starchy and creamy most everything is. The fish and chips is pretty good; the rib-eye not worth the premium; the garden salad astonishingly basic. 

Southern Prospect is open Monday through Wednesday 4–9 p.m., Thursday through Saturday 11 a.m.–10 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.–9 p.m.