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Dec 18, 2006 05:37 PM

Music-themed eating in Athens, GA

Hi all,

Headed to Athens this week. Interested in the music scene there. Can anyone recommend restaurants or eateries that have some kind of musical history behind them (e.g., Weaver D's)?

Would appreciate any and all recommendations.

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  1. There are few restaurants in Athens that qualify as Chowhound finds, no bones about it. You will probably have several folks chime in here raving about their various favorites, but Athens is not blessed with a great food scene, unfortunately.

    A few standouts:

    Five & Ten - in Five Points. Expensive, but bordering on world-class. Chef trained under Gary Danko. Never had a meal there that was less than outstanding. The fixed-price early-bird is a great value. The brunch is also a good value. The finest available ingredients prepared by folks who know good food.

    Cali-N-Tito's - Just down the street from Five & Ten, on Lumpkin. Pan-Latin offerings like fish tacos, burritos, tamales. Darn good. Cash only.

    Jot 'Em Down BBQ - East Side; not amazing, but easily as good as any of the pulled pork I've had at various famous western N.C. eateries. Get there at normal lunch hours and it should be fresh and hot. Not bad at all.

    Weaver D's is okay. Portions are tiny for the price, and we frequently make those menu items at home, with more love and better taste. That's just life in the South for many of us who still cook.

    The Grit is okay. Transmetropolitan has pretty good pizza, as does Little Italy. Farm is inconsistent and a tad misguided in concept. Clocked serves corn dogs and Tator Tots right out of the freezer. Last Resort is okay. I could go on.

    Honestly, there are many locally-owned restaurants around here. I don't begrudge any of them their success, but most of them are mediocre-to-decent, and all of them are inconsistent in execution, meaning that even a few of the better items at any given restaurant will sometimes not be up to snuff. A real crap-shoot, owing mostly to vagaries in hang-overs and attitude blips on the part of an almost entirely untrained local cook force.

    Athens is a college/townie kind of town, and most of the folks manning the kitchens do not count cooking as their first love, to put it politely. And the restaurants are mostly geared towards college kids in terms of fare and ambience. And that's okay, just don't expect too much when visiting, especially if you hail from a real food-loving town.

    As for the music theme, not so much. You might see a few no-longer-local rock luminaries at Five & Ten, but probably not. And the local music scene is in one of its troughs, I guess. No real advice there, anyway. I'm not an indie-rocker or a jam-band enthusiast. Look to the 'Flagpole' for good weekly-paper pointers on shows you might want to attend, as there are sometimes some good ones. The Flicker is a nice little local bar hangout at the foot of Washington.

    Anyway, someone might know of some new restaurant I haven't tried that is kicking some butt. Let us know, if so. I guess you can tell I miss San Francisco! :(

    1. I can't think of any restaurants with tie-ins to music other than Weaver D's. Unfortunately Allan's closed a few years back.
      I, and LOTS of my Athens alumni friends, absolutely love the GRIT. Of course, we are usually there after a night out on the town, slurping coffee and filling up on the breakfast burrito. There or Big City Cafe which is newer.
      Places that I think of as Athens landmarks: The Grill, Taco Stand (fondly referred to as T-stand) and Gyro Wrap. And this Gyro Wrap is not like the ones you find in the mall. This is more of a restaurant and I believe they cook their food their own way. But still mystery meat on a stick. The Mayflower - meat & 3. All of these are downtown, but I suggest T-Stand on Milledge @ Prince Ave.
      Once again, these don't have connections to Athens music, but old-time Athens institutions. And quite possibly some good people watching. Have fun! Get a bloody mary at Harry Bissetts if you get the chance.

      4 Replies
      1. re: weez

        Tried replying once before, gonna try again.

        Many long-time Athenians avoid places like Taco Stand, The Grill, and Gyro Wrap as being a bit too unsanitary for general use. It's one thing to brave places with below-average health code ratings for the sake of a delectable morsel (say, some Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall in San Fran), but Taco Stand et al are not going to satisfy most Chowhounds. They're borderline awful, honestly. I find it hard to stomach the recommendation of a place (Gyro Wrap) that serves frozen french fries and mystery meat as main menu items. It just doesn't seem appropriate for

        Big City is pretty darn good, for Athens. Forgot about them. They make some tasty baked goods and sandwiches, and the patio dining is wonderful ambience in nice weather. Or sit near the brasier fires in cold weather. Fun. And they have a great Christmas-time market with lots of cool gift possibilities.

        1. re: uptown jimmy

          Taco Stand is not exactly a chowhound find, I agree.

          Nothing wrong with gyro wrap - I've eaten gyros in a number of cities and towns across the US and I'd rank Gyro Wraps lamb gyros up there with at least the middle half. If you're worried about "mystery meat" then you would never enjoy a good bahn mi. Fries are lame, I admit. The jalapeno mustard sauce is good as a side.

          Cali and Tito's does fairly good Mexican-style tacos but their fish tacos are terrible. They used to be good when it was Caliente Cab out on Tallahassee, but the last time I went to the Lumpkin C&T, they served the "fish taco" on a flour tortilla with tons of lettuce and bagged cheese. Gross, and no where near a traditonal fish taco. The "cubanos" are pretty good sandwiches, even if they're no where near a traditional cubano.

          Siri Thai in the bottle works is better than the other Thai places in town (downtown, Westside only, haven't tried many east side restaurants yet). We're not talking excellent but pretty good and they will up the spice level to your choice.

          Harry Bissett's is pretty damn good too, especially the oysters and steaks. Some of the other cajun-inspired dishes are decent, but aren't as good most NOLA places. It won't be getting a Beard award any time soon, but it's dependable and never has disappointed me. FYI gashrink, the original bissett's is still downtown too, I was there last night (and at the MB location today for the oyster sampler).

          Still need to get to five and ten.

          I also heard East-West had bettered their menu, but I wasn't impressed the last time I ate there 3+ years ago. Same with Last Resort.

          After moving back here following 8 years in Boston, I have to tell myself that Athens has a decent offering of restaurants for such a small town. However, when over 1/2 of the residents are students basically only seeking cheap eats, it's hard to expect haute cuisine.

          1. re: uptown jimmy

            I've had decent pizza at Amici's and Depalma's, but honestly haven't sought out tons of it. Whole pies from Little Italy can be pretty tasty; haven't tried Transmet but heard it was good.

            Growing up in Athens, Boston was a great culinary treat. Not up to par with some of the larger metro area food scenes I guess, but you can still find lots of excellent food there.

            I thought the empanadas at Cali n Titos were also weak.

            My search for non-Americanized "Chinese" seems almost fruitless. While not one of the largest, I lived a 5 minute walk from Boston's Chinatown where there were many restaurants I loved. Good tip on the peking duck below. I'll be heading to Atlanta to get my regional fixes. Does anyone do dim sum in Athens (and I realize it won't compare to SF dim sum by any means)?

            1. re: Dax

              Ho ho ho. No dim sum in Athens. But I heartily recommend Little Szechuan in Atlanta. As with most Chinese restaurants, the menu is bigger (sometimes) than their collective skills, but their shrimp egg foo young, ma po tofu, steamed or potstickered dumplings, pea shoots, long beans, etc. are pretty darned good. (King) Kong is an exacting, if harried and somewhat America-naive, restauranteur, and he studied Szechuan cuisine briefly in the province itself, FWIW. He's a buddy.

              Honestly, their shrimp egg foo young is some of the best food I've ever had. Just perfect.

              Nothing wrong with whole pizza pies from Little Italy. Honest Italian-American grub, from what I can tell. Dingy place, but good pizza.

      2. I agree with Uptown Jimmy about most of his points but I dont think "Athens is not blessed with a great food scene, unfortunately."
        Not only is 5&10 a great restaurant but Bischero's on Prince and Harry Bissett's (now on Mitchel Bridge Road) are both excellent. When you can find it open the Hoyt house has had some great dihes but it has become inconistant of late.
        Le Masion Bleu has some fine dishes and Girasoles (both in Watkinsville) is a favorite as much for the personality of the chef owner Jose as for his cooking.
        For Musical history (but only good enough food) pick the last Resort. REM hung outat JB's Ribs and Barbeque back in the day and the ribs are still something special there. I have seen musicians at hte Grill and the grit but I also avoid the Taco Stands and Gyro wrap. I have often seen Michael at Big City Bread in the Summer on Saturday morning when the Organic Farmer's Market is going.
        Add in the Indian, Mexican, Latin and Thai places and you can get some excelent chow here. Outside of Atlanta and perhaps Savannah, Athens has the best food scene in Georgia. That may not be saying a whole lot but it is the truth

        1 Reply
        1. re: gashrink

          Haven't tried Girasoles, have been meaning to. But this ain't about Watkinsville. :)

          I have always found Bischero's to be spotty, sometimes good, sometimes underwhelming.

          Bissett's never wowed me. Couldn't detect any real expertise coming out of that kitchen. Certainly not "excellent", unless they've seriously upgraded the menu and execution thereof since moving.

          Honestly, I think you can get truly tasty Asian grub in Atlanta, but it is not possible to do so in Athens. I wish wish wish there were. Having lived in San Fran for a number of years, I had a giant dose of truly excellent Asian food, and it just isn't the same here in Athens, not by a very long shot. Don't think I take any pleasure in that fact. Little Szechuan on Buford Hwy in Atlanta is my personal "local" favorite, almost worth the drive (shudder).

        2. Siri Thai is my favorite, thre are no great Chinese here but Chef Mings is i think the best of a bad lot and you can get halfway good sushi at a couple of spots. Try Barbeque Corner at Asia Square next time you are on Buford Hwy for a change. I think the service and food at the Mitchael Bridge Bissetts is better than down town and the grilled oysters are great.
          Athens will never be on the par with any big city for cuisine (or anything else you can buy) but it is surely well above most small towns of its size. My wife does the (shudder) drive to ATL every day to work. It's better than when I lived on Long Island and tried to drive into Manhattan.

          9 Replies
          1. re: gashrink

            Good point about Athens being so much better than most small towns. But though I'm not an arrogant fellow, I do shudder at the use of words like "excellent" and "great" to describe RELATIVELY good restaurants. I'm just a stickler for verbal accuracy, and all the old superlatives have been terribly watered down over the years by cavalier use. Frankly, this board was originally about excellence in food, not the best that any given locale has to offer.

            But anyway, we'll give the new Bissett's a try to honor your word. Also will try BBQ corner, but would love to know their style? And where is Chef Mings?

            I'll be honest: I really, really miss the old Utage sushi bar downtown. It was the best sushi in GA for my money, but it sadly went down the tubes years ago. I don't think there was any money in really good sushi in a small inland college town. Too many long, slow summers. We eat at Inoko's sometimes, as they are owned by the original Utage owner and employ one of the better Utage chefs (old buddies of ours), but eating sushi at a "Japanese steak house" with all the banging and juggling and manic birthday singing is not much fun. Plus they make you sit in odd, uncomfortable stools in the bar area. And honestly, my buddy Tetsu is often too busy stocking up the trolleys for the hibache chefs to make sushi the way he knows how to, never mind the fact that they only go through so much fish, given the business model, so it's spotty at best....

            Oh well. I've become a very good amateur home cook because I live in a small town, so it's not so bad! And we have some darned good groceries around here. I love Fook's Foods, where I get much of our food, Asian or not.

              1. re: Dax

                Baxter Street, forget the name of the cross street. One long block down Baxter from Milledge, caddy-corner from the baseball diamond.
                Great tofu, and you can order Peking Ducks, half or whole, every other week. Yum!

                1. re: uptown jimmy

                  Ahh, next to that wing place I think. I need to check it out as I was afraid I wouldn't find any good Asian markets here.

                  The new seafood retail/wholesale operation just down the road had some good looking fish (tuna, mahi) the other week.

              2. re: uptown jimmy

                Fook's is pretty cool and the woman who was working there was really nice. She told me about the Peking Duck for like $13, which you have to order no later than Thursday for Friday pick-up. I'll definitely try that soon, as they also have the pancakes, the plum sauce, and the other fixins. I also picked up two packages of the Wei-Chuan dumplings, some chili garlic, and a few other odd items. Any other suggestions for this place?

                Also stopped by Earth Fare, which was almost identical to Whole Foods from my prospective. Picked up some olives, grape leaves, a few other things.

                1. re: Dax

                  Karen is a great gal, just mildly attitudinal in a way that I love, very knowledgeable and with a good heart.

                  Fook's is just a great little Asian grocery, with a very large Asian clientele.I love the tofus she carries. Better than anywhere else in town. And she carries the better condiments and sauce ingredients. I buy a lot of our groceries there. Little things like garlic, when very fresh, can make a world of difference. The Wei Chuan dumplings are pretty good, though I pot-sticker them as opposed to boiling, but that's a dish I make from scratch several times a year, using a lot of Fook's ingredients of course. Thos Peking ducks are really, really good. If you cook Asian, get the ingredients there. Rice, noodles, soy, vinegars, etc are all better there in general. Great kim-chee. Fermented blcak beans for ma-po tofu, that sort of thing. And sometimes she has the pea shoots, my favorite veggie ever. She always has a supply of grade-A tuna in the freezer, in one pound packages! Yes!

                  There's also a little Indian grocery just a block further down Baxter. I'm ordering an Indian cookbook soon, and will return to this grocery. It's well-stocked, and doing well, though I recommend avoiding the little pastries in the case at the front of the store. They are not fresh, and there ain't nothing worse than fried food that's been sitting for a while. But they have frozen Nan in the freezer, etc. Cool folks, very mom and pop, very friendly.

                  Earth Fare is a hippy version of Whole Foods. Their prepared deli foods are to be avoided, but their meat and fish selections are nice. I can't afford to shop 100% organic, but we buy coffee, yogurt, meats, chocolate, etc there. Nice to have it in town, for sure.

                  Athens ain't so bad for the semi-accomplished home cook. Not bad at all.

                  1. re: uptown jimmy

                    great tip on the naan. Speaking of which, are either of the two Indian restaurats downtown any good? Or any others?

                    1. re: Dax

                      I'm not up to date. The older one (still there) ws edible. Not great, but edible. Haven't tried the new one.

                      There's also a new Japanese/Korean joint downtown, I think?

                      I avoid downtown anymore. Had my fill. They really need to get the trash problem under control. Those bags full of beer bottles just make it smell so rancid in hot weather....oh Athens, I used to love you so. And then I grew into full adulthood. :)

              3. re: gashrink

                Also, I ate at Siri around the time it first opened, and wasn't at all impressed. Maybe they have picked up the ball since? Love me some good Thai food. That Thai place on Broad is awful, the Pad Thai is died a weird pink color, simply frightening to look at.

              4. Oh I didnt know Utage had closed. I rarely eat downtown. I agree about eating at the steak houses. Had the worst restaurant sushi I ever had at Inoko. usually I go to RuSan if I want to eat sushi in Athens now.
                My vegatarian friends like the choices at the Broad Street Thai of Athens but their food is usualy ugly to look at, I agree.
                Siri has prettier food. I expect to go there for lunch today.
                Yes some of the best food here is in our homes even if I have to go to Atlanta some times to shop for it. I will have 2 professional chefs at my home on Christmas (they both work in Atlanta) and I hope they may pitch in for dinner but I've not had complains about my wife's or my cooking so it will be good either way.
                You have a Merry Christmas yourself.

                1 Reply
                1. re: gashrink

                  utagi is not closed, i ate there last week