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Athens, GA: Heresy!

Okay, I'm going to say it. I know that some of you will call down a curse upon me, my children, and my children's children, but I think the Five and Ten is thoroughly overrated and overpriced. I think it's the naked emperor of Athens, Georgia.

I've eaten there twice. Granted, not an impressive sampling, but I don't really want to take out a second mortgage to further confirm my opinion. The first time I ate there was about a year and a half ago, and I couldn't even tell you now what I ate. I had a delicious Chimay ale and I could detail the dinner conversation, but the food was thoroughly unmemorable, and probably cost about $25-$30.

I went again a few months ago. I ordered risotto. Again, I know, I should have known this wouldn't be a showpiece. But someone else was picking up the tab and I was getting hints that the budget had a ceiling, so I opted for a cheaper dish. It was totally bland, underseasoned, and cost as much as a lavish dinner for two at a local Latino place.

My husband thinks I should cut them some slack because I ordered something kind of lame. But in my opinion, if a place changes up their menu to reflect what they can do well, and when they have a fairly small selection, with every entree costing two days worth of groceries, ANYTHING you order should kick ass. And it just didn't. Someone else there ordered a lamb dish and I noticed she didn't finish it--generally there was little ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the table. (One exception: someone ordered a sardine appetizer that was very, very simple and also quite tasty.)

Both times I ate there I left reflecting on the fact that I could have gotten a meal at Sabor Latino or a similar place in town that would have cost the amount of my tip at the 5 & 10 but would have had way more flavor and nuance.

So, okay, I'm bracing myself! Let me have it!

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  1. Don't think I will commit hari kari over that review.
    Sorry you didn't get blown away. We never have claimed other than to be a good neighborhood spot. Hopefully you just caught in a underseasoned moment.

    Lauding comes from others, not the marketing department or PR firm, that we don't have.
    As for pricing, I would agree that Latin restaurants possess fantastic value. I would recommend L'Estrella.

    Cheers,
    hugh

    1 Reply
    1. re: hacheson

      Your modesty becomes you, Hugh. But lord have mercy I love your food.

      La Estrella is excellent. They have a green-sauced enchilada that is divine. And lovely folk serving you as well.

    2. If I could figure out a way of eating at 5 & 10 at least once a month I would. But as I live in Asheville a 4 hr drive for dinner just isn't so practical. Nevertheless, it will stay at the top of my list. We have eaten there 3 times and have been so impressed by the service, creativity and taste.

      3 Replies
      1. re: leahinsc

        I am planning on coming to Asheville this weekend, any suggestions

          1. re: trying

            you should probably repost and ask this question so we don't hijack this topic. LOTS and LOTS of posts on Asheville restaurants

        1. First, thanks, Hugh for being so gracious. As you know, you have enough admirers without courting my favor.

          Charlotte, I agree that the service was fantastic and I know that everyone will henceforth disregard my opinion about everything. But for the record I didn't want Latin food when I went there, I was just making the comparison afterward.

          So here's a question, nicer, maybe, than my original post. What are the great meals? My own intuitions are not paying off there, and I'm sure I'll go again sometime soon, so what are you ordering that knocks your socks off?

          4 Replies
          1. re: nyom_nyom_nyom_de_plume

            i think they change things quite a bit, so I wonder if someone can give you an answer on this. I know I had a gnocchi dish that rivaled anything I ever had in Italy and my husband as had some fish dishes that he still talks about.

            1. re: nyom_nyom_nyom_de_plume

              The frogmore stew seems to be a permanent fixture and one of my favorites.

              When in doubt, go with whatever the special is.

              1. re: nyom_nyom_nyom_de_plume

                always order from the special board... all the greatest meals have been from there

                1. re: nyom_nyom_nyom_de_plume

                  As much as I disagree with you I have to say that for a while my wife felt the same way about 5&10. A big part of that is that she is a vegetarian and she always ordered the pasta w/ mozz and shaved jalapeno. Which, she thought was good, but it didn't blow her away. Whereas I was almost always blown away by what I was eating across the table.

                  She finally ventured away from that during our visit last week for our 2nd anniversary and I'm happy to say that she was finally blown away, by the caprese-ish salad and the gnocchi with the pecan pesto. She ate the gnocchi as slowly as possible to lengthen the experience. Seriously, it probably took her 30 minutes to eat it.

                  I know the common advice is to not order the "safe" items.(This phrase drives me crazy and I would hope everything coming out of the kitchen is safe for consumption) Being in a town as small as Athens, I think that 5&10 has to not only be inviting to the adventurous eater, or fine dining veteran, but also to the frat boy trying to impress a date or the freshman out with his parents. And I think they do this very well.

                  Honestly, I usually order the specials, but the caesar salad and the frogmore stew are two of my favorite dishes that I've ever eaten. And in the case of the caesar salad, there is a lot of competition.

                  I guess my point is don't waste time trying "to get" 5&10. I think the restaurant tries really hard to avoid any type of pretense, and unfortunately a lot of the people who love the restaurant seem to enjoy giving the restaurant pretense.

                  Just order what sounds good, and if you don't like it then you don't like it. But rest assured, it's not because you don't get it.

                2. We rank 5 & 10 amongst the best restaurants we've ever visited, and that's saying something.

                  I do think that Hugh's menu has a certain logic to it, with some of the perennial entrants being "safer" than others, and therefore more boring to my taste. And there are just certain items I've never ordered, and never would, like the Frogmore Stew, or the spinach salad.

                  Also, I would never personally order risotto as my main course, anywhere, under any circumstances. That's like ordering a plate of very fancy mashed potatoes for dinner, IMO.

                  But the majority of the apps, soups, and fish and meat entrees are a sure bet, as are the specials. I've just never been to a restaurant that was more consistently excellent, not to mention moan-inducing. The elegance, subtlety, and sheer precision of flavor and texture matchings is always superb.

                  Having said all that, there is a huge elephant in the room, so to speak. There are a LOT of people who are simply not going to, well, "get it" with a place like 5 & 10, but that's not an attempt to go anywhere near a debate on the subject of taste. It is what it is, and perhaps the place just isn't the place for you. But if you go again, do consult with your server on what's best that day, as they have perhaps one of the best waitstaffs in the country, again IMO, very knowledgeable and helpful. They always steer us right.

                  One more thing: the wifely and I long ago abandoned the Western-style approach to dining out. We always order several dishes, anywhere we go: maybe a couple apps, a soup, and an entree, and we sit side-by-side and share everything, sorta Chinese-style. That whole "this is my entree and I'll consume it alone" thing seems sorta barbaric and silly to us now. My point being, go with someone you feel comfortable sharing food with and do a sampling of the menu. It can be a real education for the taste buds.

                  Anyway, to each his/her own. There's no question that 5 & 10 is a world-class operation with some of the best food to be had anywhere, but that sort of higher-end approach to ingredient-sourcing and preparation isn't everybody's cup of tea. No biggie.

                  What restaurants in Athens do you enjoy?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: uptown jimmy

                    Let me try this again, since someone was apparently offended by my earlier post. I didn't ask to be snarky and I apologize if someone thought that I was, but I'm genuinely curious - what is it about this place that would elicit the comment about "getting it"? That's just not a phrase I'm used to hearing in relation to restaurants, unless it's some type of unique cuisine or preparation/serving method, and I don't get the impression that 5 & 10 falls into that category. As I said earlier, I've never been there, so it's a curiosity question.

                    1. re: Suzy Q

                      I agree, Suzy. It's absolutely true that some restaurants speak to some people's tastes more than others, but it is strange to phrase it as "getting it," as if someone is stupid for not *understanding* what's delicious about the food.

                      This is actually at the heart of my perhaps feeble criticism of 5&10's reputation - and why I compared it to the emperor with no clothes. I sometimes get the impression that there's an in-grouping thing going on. "Oh, you don't appreciate the smartness/subtleties of the restaurant? Well, *I* do." The restaurant may not be promoting that attitude, and it's clear many, many diners just really like the food. But often the praise I hear about the restaurant leans more toward stoking the diner's pride in his own good taste. (As is evident from some posts here implying that anyone who isn't crazy about the restaurant just doesn't appreciate subtlety or the finer things in life.)

                  2. My wife and I LOVE 5&10. Unfortunately it didn't come to town until we were about to leave. We've been 5-7 times in the last 4-5 years and we've been thrilled each time. I second the opinion voiced earlier about asking you waiter/waitress about what's good/bad popular/unpopular. I do this nearly every time I eat and especially at a place with such good service. We frequently get the specials. Brunch on Sunday is also a special treat. I'm sorry for your bad experience, hope your next time is like mine!

                    1. Really? More nuance? I love Sabor Latino, but it's not the subtlest restaurant in Athens.

                      Order things that sound interesting, as though the kitchen's goofing around with them, or that contain ingredients you wouldn't expect (redneck risotto, watemelon and feta sandwich, the anchovy snackie). Soup tends to be marvelous, as does fish and anything porky or innardy. As with pretty much all restaurants, appetizers tend to be more reliably interesting than entrees, as you don't have to base them around a hunk of protein (no matter how delicious that hunk is).

                      This advice holds true for ordering in _any_ nice restaurant.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: hillarybrown

                        Thanks for the tips about 5&10.

                        I have to defend Sabor Latino--they really do have some wonderfully nuanced dishes. Try the Colombian and Peruvian tamales side by side - lots of nuanced differences between them. I think tamales are usually boring--the risotto of the Latin world--but SL has shown me they can have a beauty to them. Also, a lot of their less cliche dishes, like the various baked chicken entrees with different kinds of sauces, are both very flavorful and complex.

                        I think there may be something else going on with Sabor Latino--we have expectations about Latin food in the US as being spicy and cheap, so we don't tend to come to the Latin table with the same kinds of expectations that we bring to, say, continental food. But I think if you put one of several Sabor Latino entrees on the 5&10 menu, slapped a $25 price tag on it, and dressed up with the 5&10 ambiance, folks on Chowhound would be raving about the nuances they might ignore in SL's hole-in-the-wall setting.

                        1. re: nyom_nyom_nyom_de_plume

                          I'm not saying I don't think their food is flavorful and complex. That fried Twinkie knocked my freaking socks off. I think it's an absolutely delicious and authentic restaurant. But the flavors might go a couple of places, not like five, or more. If you keep chewing, do you get a new flavor? Not so much.

                          I haven't been to Pura Vida in Atlanta, but my guess is that it bears the same kind of relationship to a place like Sabor Latino that Five and Ten does to traditional southern restaurants. It takes that simple, delicious food and, without losing what makes it special, does something unexpected with it.

                      2. I said it before, but my post was removed. You don't get nominated for James Beard two times in a row for nothing.