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Seeking Athens, GA expense account meals

Traveling solo to Athens, GA, on a recruiting trip next week. Will be having dinner at Five & 10 - loved it last year. But what to do about breakfast and lunch? In reviewing past posts, there are few recommendations, except for the barbeque and meat-and-three joints (we have plenty of those at home). I love sushi, and the best sushi place in Charlotte, NC, has closed, so I was thinking about Utage. (Saw a post that they closed, but I called and they are open.) Had lunch at Last Resort last year and only liked the desserts. Where would you go if the company is picking up the tab?

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  1. Recent posts have you covered, really. A search will turn them up, as I guess you found. But here I go anyway...

    Utage was sold to non-Japanese folks a while ago. Quality has slipped considerably as a result.

    Cali & Tito's on Lumpkin has good tamales and tostones. I like their burritos pretty good. Fun, funky atmosphere. That would be my choice for lunch. Avoid the fish tacos and empanadas...

    You can get a decent slice of pizza downtown at Transmetropolitan or Little Italy, the latter being the dingier of the two restaurants, but with slightly better pizza, IMO.

    I'm running out of options for you here. You pretty much nailed it on the head with your comment about Last Resort. Athens has a lot of locally-owned restaurants, but most of them are mediocre-to-decent at best.

    The Grit can be fun for lunch, but it will probably underwhelm you. It is an Athens landmark, though, and much-loved by many locals, for whatever reason. Their noodle bowls are pretty darn good sometimes.

    Maybe Five Star Day Cafe for breakfast? Not the best I've ever had, but if you get there at peak breakfast hours the food will be pretty good. Honest food, nice portions. Pretty good for lunch as well. Folks love their meatloaf, and they have daily specials. I've had some darn decent lunches there.

    Five & Ten is wonderful, though. I'd eat there every night if I were you, even if you're in ton for a week. The whole menu is usually top-notch . And they still do Sunday brunch, I believe.

    Dax might chime in with some good breakfast and lunch ideas.

    5 Replies
    1. re: uptown jimmy

      If you're coming from Charlotte, I'm not sure Athens is exactly going to be a culinary nirvana for you, particularly on the high end.

      Never been to Five and Ten, but hear great things about it. Considering I'm on a limited budget in between jobs, I doubt that will change soon (unless I see a prix fixe that jumps out at me).

      Resort and East West are over-rated by many, justly panned by others. They're not bad per se, but definitely not as good as their sometime long lines warrant.

      I'd like to try Farm 255; the concept is great so I'd want to see the execution. http://farm255.com/

      If you're hitting Five and Ten for dinner, maybe hit the downtown Harry Bissett's for lunch. I like the oyster sampler (bienville and rockefeller, 3 each) then maybe the steak - maybe ask for some of the marchand du vin on the side if you like wine sauces.

      For what exactly is Charlotte NOT known (aside from sushi)? Maybe we can steer you better with a few suggestions that way.

      1. re: Dax

        Farm ain't so good. Nice idea, not so great execution.

        Five & Ten is just awesome, Dax. The prix fixe is a great deal, if you like dessert. I would eat there every week if I could afford it...

        1. re: uptown jimmy

          Whoops! I replied farther down this thread and said pretty much what you did about Farm. I want them to be good, but they just aren't. They seem to have a pretty steady crowd, so I don't know if it'll get any better. Why fix it if it ain't broke, y'know?

          1. re: AmyWatts

            In my very humble opinion, Athens suffers from the fact that so many local folk just do not expect better. That's okay, I'm not a food cop. People should eat what they want, within reason. And I do think I see a swing to the better coming, as the country in general becomes more engaged with food choices across the board.

            But I do wish a lot of locals "townies" had just slightly higher standards. Sooooo many local restaurants are just not all that good, and the fact that many of them portray themselves as "upscale" is just sort of well, contemptible. Just my 2 cents. I really am not a snob, but after traveling a bit, and living in a big city for a while, I guess I permanently redjusted my palate. My recent visit to Charleston was revelatory; that place shames Athens when it comes to food, and for the life of me I can't figure out why that would be. Radically different places, to be sure, but still...

            But even when it comes to burritos, Athens doesn't get it right. Something as simple as a Mission burrito, and we can't get it right! Part of the problem is the available work force, I know, and the fact that a small town can't generate the volume that allows, say, a big city burrito joint to always have really fresh, hot-off-the-griddle meats, but there's just a lot of mediocrity around here. So I cook a lot! Yay!

        2. re: Dax

          I ate at East West Saturday because the wait at Bissett's was too long.

          Appetizer of calamari was reasonably well prepared, although with such huge crowds (there and at all of the semi-"nice" restaurants downtown), perhaps the fryer oil was a little over-used. Still, tasty, with decent marinara. I kind of prefer Rhode Island style calamari with the slices of banana peppers to add a little heat, but that's just a personal preference.

          I wasn't too hungry so I had the crab cakes special. Cakes had too much filler, not a ton of crab, in my humble opinion. Then again, I could eat a crab cake of 90% crab, 10% filler and be super happy. Plus there was a garbanzo bean in the filler and maybe slivers of pecan (to be fair, the nuts were advertised on the menu now that I recall). But still, garbanzo beans? WTF? The horseradish cream sauce (I think?) was excellent, the fruity salsa (3 drinks deep, but I seem to recall that being what it was) was good and loved the strip of candied orange rind to finish.

          Friend had salmon in rice paper with risotto. Risotto was a little on the bland side (friend agree) but he ate all of his salmon. Other friend got the sweet and sour pork with pasta, I think, I never tried it. Bill was decent with a few drinks - total was in the upper sixties I think.

          Server, Becca, was awesome.

      2. Five & Ten is the best in Athens arguably best in Georgia. If it's going on the company tab; hit the chef's tasting w/wine!!!!

        1 Reply
        1. re: Tomatokid

          Is the chef's tasting something I need to reserve in advance?

        2. Bluebird at the end of Clayton is pretty goo for breakfast. I love the German Pancakes.

          1. What about East West Bistro for lunch? The Chef posts on a local board and sounds knowledgable.

            http://hlamarthomas.net/ewb/

            I haven't been but I have heard that Farm 255 has improved recently.

            1. We ate at East West Bistro in late summer and were very impressed. Each and every item we ordered was beautifully plated, tasty, with appropriate temperature. Our service was the most impressive we have had in some time.

              1. Athens isn't that great for food compared to any larger city, that is true. But there are some nifty places for lunch and breakfast. I would strongly recommend Mama's Boy on oak st. near the east side. They have a wonderful salmon cakes benedict and their biscuit dishes are really good. Also, Big City Bread has a great lunch; i recommend their Gruyere-stuffed burger.

                2 Replies
                1. re: batdown

                  Alright, Batty, that's what I'm talking about. I'm gonna try mama's Boy tomorrow and report back. It better be good!

                  Or maybe Las Conchitas Caliente...

                  1. re: uptown jimmy

                    I went to Mama's Boy Saturday and it was pretty good. When I arrived around 3:30 I saw that they were closed from 2:30 to 4:00 so I returned a little after 4. I went with the sweet tea brined, fried chicken breast, with smoked bacon gravy, atop mashed potatoes and French green beans. Normally I'm not a fan of boneless breast chicken, but the batter was nicely herbed and I guess the tea brine imparted some flavor. While I didn't taste much of the "smoked bacon" in the gravy, it was pretty tasty nonetheless. Mashed potatoes were fine. The green beans were delicious - nice and garlicky. Solid comfort food. Total bill with a coke was like $15.

                    Caveat: It turns out that I know one of the co-owners from college, which I found out when I sat down to eat and she was there.

                2. also, Clocked is a good place to get a cheap, casual, decent meal

                  1. There's not any real sushi in town. The new Italian place (La Dolce Vita) that just opened downtown (upstairs from Broad Street Bar & Grill) is very, very good, focused on carpaccio and panini. There are a lot of good taquerias and Latin restaurants, but those don't necessitate an expense account; my favorite new one is Las Conchitas Caliente, on Prince, in Normaltown. That burger at Big City is damn tasty.

                    15 Replies
                    1. re: hillarybrown

                      I liked the chicharonnes and empanadas I had at Las Conchitas last week. Not the best I've ever had of either, but much better than expected. The chicharonnes were a little more fatty than I'm used to and the cornmeal empanadas were a little bland (but this changed when I dipped them in the picante that came with the chicharonnes). Everyone is also incredibly nice there too. I want to get back to try the black bean soup. Cubano is just ok, the bread is a little too dry.

                      Tried to grab a bite at Mi Tierra yesterday but they were closed for remodeling. I might try and go by tonight to grab some tacos.

                      1. re: Dax

                        Dax, wasn't it you that hated the empanadas at Cali N Titos? They're greasy as heck, if I recall.

                        It's the same ownership as Las Conchitas, right?

                        1. re: uptown jimmy

                          Ooh. It's emphatically not. Both Peruvian, but not the same.

                          Greasy empanadas rule.

                          1. re: uptown jimmy

                            There are apparently many styles of empanadas (ie recipes vary by region, country, etc.). When it was Caliente cab out on Tallahassee, I thought their empanadas were excellent but they didn't taste the same to me (granted it's been years since I ate them at Caliente) at Cali and Tito's on Lumpkin.

                            The empanadas at Las Conchitas were better than those at C&T, just not as good as my favorite Chilean ones I've had (in Boston). But they're different, at a minimum the Peruvian ones tend to make more use of potatoes in the filling.

                            I don't mind grease in the right places.

                            As an aside, I stopped by Mi Tierra for an al pastor and a carnitas taco, along with a side of rice and beans. I should have left when I noticed I was the sole customer - the carnitas was bland and the al pastor had huge chunks of fat (and I love fat!). The tortillas were actually great, but the entire presentation and taste was just off. I need to get back to La Jalisco to see how their carnitas and al pastor compare. Chips were good and warm from the fryer, salsa was a little bland. All that said, my total was less than $7 with a soft drink, so I won't totally count them out for the future. I guess I had just hoped for more.

                            1. re: Dax

                              Give Mi Tierra another chance. Did you check out the salsa bar? Also, I highly recommend the pozole, but I think they only do it one day a week.

                              1. re: hillarybrown

                                No, I didn't notice the salsa bar until I was leaving and it was unfortunately not mentioned. Once I sat down in the nice, deep booth, I couldn't see much actually. When I asked the waitress for some picante or some such, she did bring back a nice bowl of thin, hot sauce, which contained plenty of peppers and some decent heat.

                                Will check on the pozole.

                                And I think the menu reads that the name is like Three Amigos or something like that, but the sign reads Mi Tierra.

                                Where is the place on Danielsville Rd you mentioned? Name?

                                1. re: Dax

                                  The place on Danielsville Road is Taqueria El Ranchito. It's next to a gas station/convenience store (a Stop & Go, I think) a bit after you pass the Gateway shopping center.

                                  1. re: Dax

                                    I was told the other day that Mi Tierra is under new ownership as of very recently; perhaps that is why the menu name was different. Maybe it's not as good under the new owners. Have you been in the last couple of weeks Hillary?

                          2. re: hillarybrown

                            Ooooof. My buddy Swen ate at La Dolce Vita last night on your reccomendation, Hillary. He said it was awful, every dish just not good at all. He's pretty food-savvy, FWIW. Not to be rude, but just wanted to warn other folks...

                              1. re: Dax

                                Ceasar salad and some sort of stuffed past shells. Not sure what his date had.

                                He's not quite the foodie I am, but he knows good food. I've never known him to be blatantly confused about the merits of any given dish, but he might sometimes be a little tougher on a restaurant than I. He can have really strong reactions sometimes, I guess. But I do trust his taste in general...

                                1. re: uptown jimmy

                                  Yeah, but ordering pasta there could potentially be a mistake from the get-go, considering it's not at all the focus of the menu. The Caesar salad's really tasty, though. I've had that.

                              2. re: uptown jimmy

                                I liked my dinner last Sunday at Dolce Vita quite a lot. We got one of the cold carpaccio dishes and one of the warm ones. The cold one was much much better.

                                Larger versions of pictures at:
                                http://www.flickr.com/photos/amywatts...

                                And I'll second the rec of the caesar. They do something spicy to the croutons that's quite nice.

                                 
                                 
                                 
                                 
                                1. re: AmyWatts

                                  Wow. That looks amazing. I'm going to give it a shot. My buddy might have just gotten this one wrong!

                            1. I've only eaten at Utagi once, and I must say that I really liked it. It isn't the best sushi I've had (that honor goes to a place in Nob Hill in San Fran that was the size of a walk in closet), but I had squid and yellowtail nigiri and a spider roll. The yellowtail was a dissapointment but the spider roll and squid were very good. I'm also a sucker for their salty seaweed salad.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: batdown

                                San Fran has some fine, fine sushi. I love that town.

                                Utage used to be really, really good. Haven't heard anything very good about it in a long time. Sushi is one of those thngs that usually isn't trusted in the hands of non-Japanese ownership, and last I heard Utage was a Korean operation.

                                Having said that, Inoko and Kizawa trained quite a few Gaijin sushi chefs at Utage in the old days and they all made darn fine sushi. But the two owners had studied the art in Japan for decades. Kizawa was a funny fellow....the stories I could tell.....

                              2. speaking of Athens lunch, does anyone know what the deal is with Sons of Italy? I have really been missing my favorite pizza place in Chapel Hill, NC (www.alfredospizzanc.com), and have been on the hunt for the best pizza in the ATH. I have been jonesing to try Sons of Italy's Flaming George. But when I called to order, the number had been disconnected. What's the deal?

                                9 Replies
                                1. re: batdown

                                  Best New York Style Pizza in Athens is at Little Italy but it is such a dirty noisy dump. Same ownership and even better Pizza is Pappino's which is south of the Botanical gardens where Milledge Ave ends at Whitehall Road. That place is clean and nice and the pizza is like what I grew up with.

                                  Best Italian style Pizza is at Bischero on Prince from the wood burning brick oven. Thin crispy crust with a minimum of sauce and interesting quality toppings. I ususally share a pizza for an appetizer and also share their wonderfuly tender calamari and have a pasta or meat dish as an entree. For lunch try the ensalata di Mare.
                                  East West can be good but not great, Last Resort disappoints, but Harry Bisset's is great for grilled oysters and fish topped with crayfish. . I cannot afford to live in San Francisco, but I can eat very well in Athens and travel to the cities when I need to.

                                  1. re: gashrink

                                    yeah i've eaten at little italy many times. their pizza is the best ive found here but still leaves a lot to be desired. they have GREAT italian subs though. mmm

                                    1. re: batdown

                                      What do y'all think of Transmetropolitan? I like their pizza the best, but I can't always deal with the time it takes to get it. Little Italy's sauce is a little bitter, and the fact that they only serve Pepsi makes me a little crazy.

                                      1. re: hillarybrown

                                        Transmet has good but really inconsistent pizza. They don't do slices very well, just sorta haphazardly, no real love, a new sprinkling of cheese half-melted over a slice that is sometimes hours old. Their sandwiches are dry, bland, awful little things. But I've had some good pizza there.

                                        Inconsistency seems to be a real problem in Athens, unfortunately.

                                        Little italy has really good, if greasy, pizza. That place is a dump, though.

                                        1. re: hillarybrown

                                          Heard good things about Transmet but haven't made it there yet. I've had some good pies from Amici, formerly Rocky's, but they're inconsistent.

                                          I probably get a slice from Little Italy at least twice a week.

                                          1. re: Dax

                                            Yeah, I always forget about Amici. Kinda greasy, but pretty tasty. I should go there more often than I do. And I love Mellow Mushroom's floury crust.

                                            1. re: Dax

                                              I've only had the Amici pizza experience in Madison, but it was terrible. A soggy, nasty, canned pamesan mess. They overcook their wings, too.

                                              1. re: uptown jimmy

                                                Their wings were disgusting the one time I had them

                                              2. re: Dax

                                                ate today at transmet. I got two slices, one a plain cheese and one with barbecue chicken and fresh basil. The cheese slice was blah but the barbecue chicken topping was sooo good. I recommend it.

                                      2. Sons closed a while back. It's supposed to reopen as some sort of "trattoria."

                                          1. re: batdown

                                            Actually, I think Sons is moving to Milledge, near the bypass. Cellini's is what's going into the old location. Not sure if it's open yet or when it will be.

                                          2. EAT AT BIG CITY BREAD FOR BREAKFAST. It's in the ghetto-ish area, but EXCELLENT! Especially on the weekends when there's a mini-farmer's market. For a unique dinner experience, eat at Speakeasy. It's tapas style and can be kind of dark inside, but definitely worth trying. It's actually not that far from Harry Bissets and 5-star day.

                                            1. Ya know; as a Southerner, a Georgian, a foodie, and a chef, I am proud of Athens.
                                              A goodsized SEC town on the river. Folks are as adamant about their food as their music.
                                              I ask this question; How can you say ya ain't a food town when these many folks can speak so passionately about likes and dislikes in really just one big neighborhood with a Varsity?.See y'all from Savannah..

                                              1. Thanks to everyone who posted their opinions about where to eat (and where I should definitely not eat). I had a lovely 24 hours in Athens.

                                                Before even checking into the hotel I stopped at Mama's Boy - thanks batdown! - for a delicious lunch. It's sunny and bright, modern but warm. I devoured the Buttermilk Fried Chicken Breast that had a crunchy crust and just enough creamy bacon gravy. I loved the garlicky French green beans - still crunchy, with a little pan char on them. But the best part of the meal was the bread pudding-like apple cobbler a la mode. I wanted to skip the apples just to make sure I could eat all of the cinnamon dusted bready crust. It's a nice touch to proffer a Peppermint Patty with the check.

                                                Dinner at Five & Ten was highly anticipated. Granted it was a Tuesday night, but I expected more diners at 7:30pm. There were a number of open tables - I hope they are doing okay?...Our table started with oysters Casino (fine, perhaps a little pedestrian, but I had to compromise with my guests), sweetbreads (delicious - I could have had this as an entree; served atop a grits custard), a special of roasted beets (again, delicious), and butternut squash soup (I loved the chive foam on top, but the bowl was too rich to finish). Our entrees were the skate special served atop creamy grits (buttery deliciousness), the Berkshire pork porterhouse (a good choice for one of my guests who wasn't an adventurous eater, and there were enough leftovers for two large sandwiches), and roasted wild striped bass (my friend didn't share enough for me to make an opinion, but he loved it). The portions, for such an elegant restaurant, are surprisingly generous. We were too sated for dessert, but I was raring to go by the time breakfast rolled around. In case you're curious, the meal + one bottle of wine + 3 glasses of wine = $300+. The expense account was stretched to its limit.

                                                I intended to visit Bluebird the next morning and try the German pancakes, but they were still closed at 7:30am. I remembered that Mama's Boy served breakfast so I went and had the restaurant pretty much to myself. I had quite a hangover from the night before so the Tofu Scramble seemed the wisest choice to soak up the alcohol. It was served with just-enough-cheese-to-taste-it grits and I asked for a biscuit (the size of a hockey puck, the density of a rich cake) a la carte. It was just what I needed to kick start the day and my drive back to Charlotte. I can't wait for my next visit.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: QueenCityHound

                                                  Cool. Thanks for the follow-up. I gotta get over to Mama's Boy.

                                                  I didn't much care for the oysters Casino, either, one of my very few less-than-stellar experiences at 5&10. It's just too rich for me, and almost no oyster taste under all that stuff. That skate wing is almost always on the menu, and it is really, really good.

                                                2. just wanted to add something to this thread since we are talking about athens restos - I went to speakeasy with my sweetheart on valentines day, and it was great. I love tapas style eating, especially with my significant other, and the atmosphere, while crowded, was still romantic. the service was great and the food was very tasty. nothing mind-blowing, but everything very skillfully cooked and presented, and everything tasted great. just thought i'd share a recommendation

                                                  1. hey, from FL - we LOVE athens! and savannah, and charleston etc et.

                                                    every region has its unique flavors and styles - gawd forbid if our sleepy southern cities started churning out NYC or LA wannabee dining spots en masse.

                                                    someone can still be a chowhound while enjoying less pretense. simple dishes and presentations are very worthy of foodies, imho.

                                                    in fact, i'd say if you're lucky enough to get to visit different regions of the US and sample all the different and unique offerings in a new area, count your blessings and quitcherbit+in ;)

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: hitachino

                                                      Just wanted to share my foodie experiences with ya'll.

                                                      Farm 255: Loved it. I am passionate about eating locally grown food so I loved their concept. Everything is grown nearby and they give props to the farmers. The lettuce we had in our farm salad was grown by full moon farms and after tasting the young, tender leaves i would buy anything from them! The vibe is fun and the music they were playing set the mood for a light hearted meal. Only complaints: the service was a little off, we waited a bit too long b/ w courses, and it was a little noisy. I would return, preferable on a tues or thurs when they have live music during dinner.

                                                      East West Bistro: Warm Mista Salad was excellent, the rest of my food was blah. It tasted good, but nothing blew me away. My beau on the other hand was amazed by the Mackeral special and they did have a great beer and wine selection. The atmosphere was upbeat and very packed, the service was excellent. I would save this place for drinks and apps or light fare.

                                                      The Grit: Down home vegetarian. I am a vegetarian and since we have been traveling through the south, I was very psyched to not have to eat "sides" for dinner. The food is a little heavy but still very tasty. We both had the noodle bowl of the day and couldn't finish it. The coffee was amazing. A non- meat eater could surely get their dinner on here and be nice and full. Good value, slow service, but overall a good experience.

                                                      Big City Bakery: Went for lunch - amazing soup: tomato/scallion/goat cheese. 4 cheese quiche was delish and peach iced tea very refreshing and flavorful. The little slab of bread that came with the soup was so yummy, i cherished every bite. My beau however got a corner piece which was too hard and he didn't love his chicken salad sandwich. We both said if we lived here it would be on our "once a week" list for fast, wholesome lunches.

                                                      Hope this helps some!

                                                      Lavendula

                                                      1. re: lavendula

                                                        I ate at 5 &10 last night and they had a special of dayboat scallops with puree of edename beans some raw veggies and I believe a sherry reduction which was one of the best I have ever eaten anywhere. The Gravlax (I'm not sure of the spelling) was a close second and the boiled peanuts with star anise and balsamic was a hoot....gourmet take on southern roadside classic. My haddock wrapped in panceta was also fine but the scallops were to die for. Nice to see some new takes on an ever changing menu

                                                        1. re: lavendula

                                                          I've always liked the concept of Farm 255 better than the execution. I've eaten there several times now and have yet to be wowed. One major criticism is that they seem to forget seasoning on a lot of their dishes. I'm all for simple food, but sometimes you do have to season things to bring out the flavor.