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!
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.
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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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.)