In-the-know Atlantans have headed to Athens for fresh takes on food and drink since Hugh Acheson of Five & Ten was named Food & Wine’s Best New Chef in 2002. Acheson has gone on to win two James Beard awards, appear on Bravo and Food Network shows, and open restaurants in Atlanta. But Athens is where it all began, and a whole cadre of chefs, craft brewers, and mixologists have been inspired by Athens’ creative energy to create a happening food scene full of discoveries.
It will take more than one Athens getaway to sample all of the delectable food and drink options, but there’s no better time to get started.
Athens is known for its live music and late-night scene, which means there must be plenty of good breakfast spots to help you perk up in the morning. Athenians take their coffee seriously, and you can head to the source by visiting Jittery Joe’s Coffee Roaster on Barber Street or its several coffee shops around town. 1000 Faces Coffee in downtown Athens also roasts its own beans on-site and supplies many of Athens’ top restaurants. For those who like hearty fare to start the day, Athens delivers. Super-sized biscuits at Mama’s Boy and omelet specials at the Grit are local favorites. Prefer a continental breakfast? Stop by Independent Baking Company in Five Points for hearth-baked breads and pastries baked from scratch daily, or Ike & Jane in Normaltown for crazy-good donuts.
Athens insiders know to venture off the beaten path and into historic neighborhoods for lunch. Pulaski Heights BBQ smokes meats daily and prepares inventive sides from scratch including squash casserole, smoked cauliflower, and kimchi. Chef-owner Chuck Ramsey provides plenty of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options throughout the menu. Pulaski Heights BBQ is part of the regional Brews ‘n Qs Trail, as are several Athens breweries, so grab a brochure on the way in and start collecting passport stamps as you make your way around town. White Tiger Gourmet makes its home in a 100-plus-year-old former grocery store and serves fresh selections made from local and organic products. Specialties include vegetarian ciabatta sandwiches, pecan-wood-smoked pulled pork barbecue sandwiches, and smoked chicken sandwiches. Another favorite lunch spot is Heirloom Cafe; housed in a former Amoco gas station, its mission is to create community, celebrate local farmers, and tell stories through food. Each of these spots is also open for dinner and has lovely patio seating.
Athens’ reputation for craft beer continues to grow. Stop by the tasting rooms at Creature Comforts Brewing Co., Southern Brewing Co., and Terrapin Beer Co. to learn how award-winning beers are made and to sample favorites plus new releases. Your new favorite beer awaits! Athens’ brewers are passionate about their craft, so ask them for recommendations and a behind-the-scenes tour. Akademia Brewing Company is the most recent addition, opening its culinary brew pub in October 2017. Keep an eye out for the opening of Creature Comforts’ second Athens location, coming in 2018.
At Five & Ten, chef-owner Hugh Acheson and chef de cuisine Telly Mazzio continue to serve new interpretations of Southern cuisine melded with French and Italian influences. Fans of Acheson will also want to dine with the chefs—including the aforementioned Chuck Ramsey—who came up through the Five & Ten kitchen: Peter Dale has gone on to great success with the National, which celebrates southern Mediterranean cuisine through a southern U.S. lens. Dale has also opened Seabear Oyster Bar, which offers a casual vibe and a menu of delectable oysters—plus surprising weekly specials such as Ramen Monday and Tiki Taco Tuesdays. Shae and Ryan Sims fell in love while working at Five & Ten and have gone on to open Donna Chang’s, also in Five Points. Donna Chang’s is a small neighborhood restaurant offering a casual-yet-refined take on Chinese-American fare. Mimi Maumus at home.made looks to her roots in New Orleans as well as her decades in Georgia for inspiration in dishes such as tomato pie, shrimp and grits, and New Orleans hot chicken. Plan an early dinner (5 to 6 p.m.) to join in on Maumus’ special Supper Club, just $15 for two courses from a special menu.
The night’s still young! Head to Athens’ Normaltown neighborhood to the Old Pal for some of the best craft cocktails in town, or up on the rooftop of the Georgia Theatre for good views, good drinks and good vibes atop the world-famous live music venue. If you had a tough time deciding between restaurants for dinner, you can hit up the National, Five & Ten, or Seabear Oyster Bar for after-dinner drinks, as they all have attractive bars and fine seasonal cocktail menus.
Athens is truly a place to recapture your youth while savoring the finest in food and drink. Hopefully you’ve developed a thirst and appetite for Athens, so make plans now for your culinary getaway by heading to VisitAthensGA.com.