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Jun 10, 2009 04:44 PM

Athens, GA - updates, anybody?

Howdy! Just thought maybe it was time for a new general-purpose thread on "The Classic City" (never understood why that nickname was warranted, but hey! that's just me). We don't eat out much, but when we do we don't mind commenting on it. Chime in and share your latest experiences, won't you? There's a lot of restaurants in Athens, and new ones open and old ones close all the time, so let's get things current, shall we?

The National - We were given gift certificates to this restaurant by friends, and so we gave the place another shot after not being altogether impressed on our first visit back when they opened. Wow. Lovely experience, just really good food and spot-on service. We had a beef dish and a fish dish, an app and a dessert, forgot the details, but everything was superb. I'm not the only one in town who thinks they needed a little time to get the kinks worked out when they opened, which is typical, but this restaurant is now firing on all cylinders, from what we can tell. We went back for apps and wine at the bar recently, and again the experience was perfect. Really, really good food.

Just Pho - We got excited back when this place opened, as I fell in love with Vietnamese food back in my SF days and craved it for years after moving to Athens. Alas, we've had better food. The Pho we've had in Atlanta and Charleston is much better, and the Cha Gio we've had in SF is faaaar better, and the Banh Mi we recently tried for the first time at Hong's on Buford Hwy in Atlanta was divine, but Just Pho is just mediocre, as far as we can tell. And the service was sorta sad, too. Oh well.

Taqueria del Sol - We like the food here, don't love it, don't quite get what all the fuss is about. There are MUCH better tacos to be found elsewhere in Athens. Not a big fan of flour tortillas with my taco meat, either. A nice beer and liquor selection, but in a rather sterile atmosphere.

Jot 'Em Down - They've moved over to Old Macon Hwy, just off Milledge Ave., right at the loop. Really, really good Q. I'm a Carolina boy, and these folks make it just about as good as any of the Western NC-style places still in bidness up in my old NC home. Real smoke from real wood, good sides, etc. The new location has a lovely down-home feel to it, the staff is sweet-tempered and helpful, heck, what's not to like? The utter lack of anything green on the menu, I suppose, but who needs a salad when the Q is this good? Yea, baby.

Inoko Sushi Express - Tried this between shifts the other day. We used to work for Inoko and his partner Kizawa back when they owned Utage downtown. Utage was one of the better sushi joints we ever tried, lovely atmosphere, excellent sushi, etc. But Inoko sold the place a while back, and sushi in Athens has utterly failed to be better than decent ever since. I was excited to hear that Inoko was back in the sushi bidness, but I think perhaps Kizawa was the real sushi master at Utage back in the glory days, and he's long since moved on to other climes. Sigh. I miss Kizawa. He was a very talented sushi chef, and a perfectionist as well, and he was a sweety in a stiff old-school Japanese sort of way. He used to call me "Kooky JJ". Anyway, the fish at Express is pretty darned good, but the rice is consistently undercooked, under-seasoned, and pebbly. And after all, sushi is all about the rice, in the end. This will not be a regular haunt for us. Again, sigh.

That's all we have for now, except for the place I work at these days, where the food is very, very good, and where I eat every day for my shift meal, but which will go unmentioned and unloved here for the time being out of concern for my journalistic integrity and sense of objectivity.

BTW, there's some new fish house downtown. Anybody tried it? I'm a confirmed skeptic when it comes to a fish house so far from any large body of water, and these days, what with fish stocks plummeting around the world, well, hmph: I'll just leave it at that.

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  1. Last time we went to Athens we had lunch at the Sultans place in Bogart. Very good first impression, has the potential to become our favorite restaurant in the area. Middle Eastern food. It was a few months ago, but I think we had a combo appetizer and a combo platter or two. Solid A.

    1. is the new fish house called Square One? I have heard good things, and will try it when I get back down there.

      In athens resto news, Bill Hamby is getting torn a new one for his flagpole editorial:

      it's honestly pretty comical. I totally agree about the National and your sushi assessment, although I have had pretty good sushi at Shokitini. I like the atmosphere of the place and the sushi is the best in town (although, unfortunately, that is not saying much). It is pricey for athens but when I crave sushi it's the best place I think. I always order the chef's choice and they always surprise me with something original and tasty.

      8 Replies
      1. re: batdown

        And Hamby should be ripped. Thats the most ridiculous thing I've ever read.

        1. re: carolinadawg

          I agree. Most disturbing is his admission that he does not top off his server's wages if they dont make enough in tips to equal minimum wage. That's worker exploitation, no matter how you slice it - the commentators are right.

          1. re: batdown

            I've never seen anything quite like Hamby's rant, not in such a public place, anyway.

            As a former Athens restauranteur, I understand his frustrations and deeply, deeply sympathize with him on so many levels. There is a vast gulf between what typical Athens customers imagine the life of a local restauranteur to be vs what that life is really like. But to write and submit for publishing such a self-satisfied rant is just crazy. I don't know how this whole thing will affect his business, but lordy mercy that was an ill-advised lecture.

            Back on topic, I never was a fan of 5 Star Day. And the uniformly surly service is a major turn-off. I know from experience that the so-called "fast-casual" service model can work really well for everyone involved, but there's a negative feedback loop that sometimes get set up when a bunch of students and starving artists are serving a bunch of students and starving artists, and in Athens, well, sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same....

            1. re: uptown jimmy

              I'm not a big fan of five star's food or service, but they were the place to go for meatloaf. I just hope Hamby's ill-advised rant doesnt hurt the downtown location too much. They should live or die by their own volition.

              1. re: batdown

                Goof lord, how do you think Hamby's employees are taking all this? Oh, the drama!

                But it is, after all, a tempest in a teapot.

                1. re: uptown jimmy

                  Wow. Now the franchise president is apologizing in the Letters section of the Flagpole. Amazing.

          2. re: carolinadawg

            That editorial and the comments are pure awesomeness. But how is it legal to pay counter service employees less than minimum wage? And 20% tipping for counter service? My parents old restaurant in town was counter service meat and 3 and we never asked for nor received anything in the way of tips. Maybe I got a dollar once in 6+ years of working there.

            1. re: Dax

              That rant from Hamby is a true gem... how did he think that was a good idea?

              To address a couple points from above, I'd say this:

              1. Servers wages - Nationally there are separate minimum wages for tipped employees. Right here in Athens that is also the case. In some states, this is as low as $2.13!
              2. Oprah IS totally wrong. 10% is not acceptable.
              3. El Sol, at the Shell Station on Tallassee just outside the Loop is just over a year old but, is probably the best mexican in athens and never listed on these threads.
              4. Sushi... there is no good sushi in Athens. period. closest good sushi I know of is at a place called Bond St. in South Beach, FL.
              5. Love the National.
              6. Back to Hamby, Can you believe he is pushing the idea of selling Bottle water.!$&*%#! bottled water is such an evil.
              7. Buying local is great, and definitely has nothing to do with buying bottled water.

        2. Update: really superb fried catfish now served at Jot 'Em Down.

          1. Anybody else tried Fuel? On Prince? I was unimpressed with my burger at lunch. But I'm notoriously picky about my burgers.

            6 Replies
            1. re: AmyWatts

              Nice atmosphere. Food isn't impressive.

              1. re: AmyWatts

                The food was good, service was ok, but I couldn't stand the gasoline theme they wouldn't let go. Gas/fuel is not appetising. I think they'll be gone by christmas if they don't work on a rebranding campaign

                1. re: mbur5099

                  not yummy. totally drive right past.

                2. re: AmyWatts

                  It's closed. Don't miss it.

                  901 E Market St, Charlottesville, VA 22902

                    1. re: bbqdawg

                      Places links not necessarily working. They refer to the one in Athens on Prince which closed.

                3. On one's first visit to Athens, do you think The National is a better dinner choice than Five and Ten? I have reservations at Five and Ten, but now I'm wondering if we should try The National instead. Picking out a restaurant for an outing with the in-laws is just too much pressure!

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: buckeye.mary

                    I would stay with five and ten personally. Especially since everything is beautiful and in season as far as produce right now. Plus, they are doing the prix fix option all night now so that is fun if people are open to trying whatever. If you are in town for lunch also then the national has an amazing and affordable lunch.

                    1. re: jsa7405

                      Thanks! Good to know about prix fixe all night.

                      1. re: buckeye.mary

                        both are two of athens best but, I prefer the National.

                    2. re: buckeye.mary

                      I think 5 & 10 is world-class. The National is maybe a notch off that, so we almost always go to 5 & 10.

                      But The National is a wonderful little spot. They've definitely gotten their game tight.