The trees lining the streets seem to wave you over to say hello. The porches on the bungalows invite you to sit and visit. And the burgeoning food scene in the southern college town of Athens, Georgia, will stoke your appetite and inspire you to stay awhile.
The food scene in Athens has been simmering for some time, and it’s just about ready to be plated and served.
Local Is Local
James Beard Award–winning chef (and “Top Chef” judge) Hugh Acheson has brought a lot of attention to Athens for his modern reinventions of Southern classics at 5&10 and The National, but he’s not the only one.
Other chefs to watch include Mimi Maumus, who grew up in New Orleans, where her family grew a variety of things in their garden that ended up on the table. She started as a caterer out of her own kitchen, offering homey Southern favorites like pickles, pimento cheese and deviled eggs alongside fried chicken and biscuits. When her restaurant home.made opened, it was voted Athens’ Favorite New Restaurant.
“Our New Orleans hot chicken gives a nod to my New Orleans roots by pairing traditional hot chicken with beignets instead of white bread — and we trade the dill-pickle chip for sliced pickled okra because … it’s Georgia y’all,” says Maumus.
Still, don’t overlook the local drinks scene. Bain Mattox, musician and owner of Normal Bar in the Normaltown neighborhood, has launched a new project: Buvez (French for “drink up!”), inspired not only by French wine bars, but by coffee shops and bakeries around the country. It features beer, wine and amaro to drink and snacks and baked goods to eat.
The weekly Athens Farmers Market in Bishop Park is the place for locally sourced ingredients, which include a lot more than just Georgia peaches. Local farmers and artisans bring their best to the twice-weekly market.
Sometimes Local Is Not Exactly Local
Athens is a college town; people arrive here from all over the country and the world. Global influences have naturally made their way into the restaurants around town.
Nick and Peter Dale grew up in Athens, but every summer they visited their mother’s home in Ecuador. As adults they opened Condor Chocolates, importing cocoa beans from Ecuador and processing them into the rich chocolates they sell in their shop in bar or truffle form. Don’t miss their vegan bourbon truffle featuring a Bulleit bourbon ganache. Yum.
Local winemaker Jean Arnold’s grapes are not exactly local. He scours small family vineyards in the western United States seeking grapes to blend for the wines named for his wife, Kate Arnold.
1000 Faces Coffee is focused on connecting the coffee consumer to the coffee producer. They source coffees directly from the growers in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Central and South America and share the producers’ stories with customers.
The Lil’ Ice Cream Dude, Beau Shell, started selling ice creams from a custom-made cart when he was 8 years old. Now a teenager, he may not make his own ice cream, but he has created an Athens institution, albeit a mobile one.
Sometimes Local Is Loco
Athens is a creative cauldron. Or more like a mud puddle where everyone just plays and jumps around and gets dirty and has fun.
Much like the Athens indie music scene — starting with the B-52s, moving through R.E.M. and birthing Neutral Milk Hotel and the Elephant 6 collective, and then evolving into the weird and wonderful Phosphorescent and Kishi Bashi — the Athens food scene feels like fun.
Seabear Oyster Bar was named one of the “greatest restaurants around the globe” by Conde Nast Traveler in 2016. That an oyster bar 200 miles from the ocean could win such accolades is a testament to its quality, though it humbly claims to be a neighborhood restaurant.
Whatever neighborhood you find yourself in, Athens will serve you up comfort, quality and, often, a good story to go with it.