|When I think of Athens, Greece, I think:
the Parthenon. When I think of Athens, Ga., I think: tickets. The countless lottery
tickets that send B average-minimum students to college for free thanks to the HOPE
scholarship; the tickets to the football games that several of my friends asked me to get
for them as soon as they heard that one of my children was at the University of Georgia;
the tickets to the many concerts that have made Athens' reputation as a music town.
It is safe to assume that most of the
freshmen in the fall have never set foot in Athens prior to their quick tour of the campus
as prospective students. Folks who think nothing of driving from Atlanta to the outlet
mall in Commerce to hunt for towels and underwear are frequently unaware that, just over
their horizon, downtown Athens is chock-full of boutiques, cafés, restaurants and
galleries, and that the area encompassing several city blocks resembles a larger
Virginia-Highland with a pinch of Little Five Points.
Best known as the city of UGA and R.E.M.,
Athens is a classic college town: a cultural oasis in a land of hard scrabble; a
contrasting world of fine Southern mansions and milltown sprawl; a place whose peace is
disturbed at regular intervals by rabid football fans and partying students; a fertile
ground for such unlikely personalities as Herschel Walker, Vic Chesnutt, Walker Percy
(briefly) and Zell Miller, who will teach at UGA in the fall.
The University of Georgia and Athens have
grown up together, and the main campus adjoins a lively historic downtown, with the Arch
on Broad Street (a symbol of UGA) connecting both worlds. The handsome historic buildings
lining the quad include the Chapel, Old College, Terrell Hall and two debate societies,
Demosthenian and Phi Kappa halls, whose students are said to have hurled bricks at one
another. Also on North Campus, The Founders Memorial Garden, honoring the nation's first
garden club, is a charming, secluded spot.
One can walk the entire downtown area in
less than an hour, even with stops at the double-barreled cannon (a technological failure)
in front of City Hall and a picture-taking break at the famous 40 Watt Club on Washington
and the Georgia Theatre on North Lumpkin Street. Other neighborhoods, such as Five Points
and Normaltown (both featuring a desirable mix of renovated houses, cafés and
restaurants) and the area around the Tree That Owns Itself - an oak that stands on a small
plot of land willed to it by a generous and tree-loving resident - at the corner of Finley
and Dearing streets require the use of a car.
The bar and restaurant scene is super
active. On football weekends, everything is pretty much catch as catch can, and tailgating
is the norm. But if you are visiting a student or simply wanting to entertain yourself in
Athens, you will find many places to pique your gourmet interest. Using some favorite
Atlanta restaurants as a comparison, here's where to eat when you stop over in Athens for
a weekend or just a few hours.
Fall is the season when Atlantans
pop over to Athens. Here's where
to eat (and stuff to see) while
Athens Equivalents To Your
Favorite Atlanta Favorites
If you like Indigo Coastal Grill and
Dish, you'll enjoy
The Last Resort Grill (174 W. Clayton Street (706)
549-0810), Athens' most genuinely creative restaurant, located in a former nightclub in a
quiet corner of downtown. The mix of nouvelle Southern cuisine, fresh grilled seafood and
interesting vegetarian specialties (e.g., potato onion pancakes with goat cheese and
caramelized Vidalia onion) is irresistible. Add freshly baked breads and desserts, a great
wine list and a fun brunch on Sundays to the list of incentives!
If you like Harvest, join the locals in
the sophisticated digs of
The Basil Press (104 E. Washington St., (706)
227-8926), a newcomer with a Mediterranean/contemporary American flavor and unusually
refined preparations such as sautéed dusted oysters with Tabasco butter and mango
coleslaw, shrimp and scallops in basil crepe and a delicious lemon cream cake. If you like
Tortillas, go right to
Taco Stand (three locations, including 247 E.
Broad St., (706) 549-1446) for Athens' cheapest and best burritos, or to its main
competition, Mean Bean (1675 S. Lumpkin St., (706) 549-4868), which also
serves filling and inexpensive Mexican fare.
If you like The Flying Biscuit, you'll be
a happy camper at The Grit
(199 Prince Ave., (706) 543-6592), Athens'
cult health food restaurant, which has recently expanded and looks cuter than ever. The
fresh eclectic menu includes the best vegetable plate in the area, great ethnic specials,
fabulous homemade desserts and a perfect weekend brunch.
If you like McKinnon's Louisiane, the
old-fashioned dining rooms and exposed brick courtyard of
Harry Bissett's New
Orleans Café (279 E. Broad St., (706) 353-7065) (and the
NEW Iron Grill 1155 Mitchell Bridge Rd. (706) 552-1193) and its slightly tarnished charm
will be your refuge. According to the Townies (people who live in Athens but are neither
students nor locals), the steaks are superior to the Creole specialties.
If you like Majestic Food Shop, try some
eggs and bacon at the Mayflower
(171 E. Broad St., (706) 548-1692), which
has been open since 1948 - and looks it. If you like Alon's, the brand new
City Bread (393 N. Finley St., (706) 543-1187) bakes Athens' best baguettes and
has come up with ravishing sweets such as an almond French toast slice and little Belgian
chocolate tarts shaped like muffins. A delicious patio and lots of reading material from
gourmet magazines to The New York Times have le tout Athens dying to get in.
Atlanta's independent coffeehouses and
espresso bars like Aurora Café allow for relaxing moments in an otherwise hectic day.
You'll find the same refuge in Athens at
Jittery Joe's (several
locations, including: 1210 S. Milledge Ave. (706) 208-1979), and
Café (297 E.
Broad St., (706) 613-7449).
Dining That's Uniquely
Weaver D's Delicious Fine Foods,
1016 E. Broad St., (706) 353-7797. Ever since R.E.M. used his motto AUTOMATIC FOR THE
PEOPLE as a title for one of their albums, owner Dexter Weaver's soul food restaurant has
become an object of curiosity. Whatever the motive, go and sit at one of the indoor picnic
tables and enjoy down-home cooking the way it ought to be. Fish and chicken dinners, pork
chops and barbecue pork all come with classic Southern vegetables including the best
squash casserole in the state of Georgia.
Hodgson's Pharmacy, 1220
S. Milledge Ave., (706) 543-7386. When the price of ice cream went from .25 cents to .50
cents a scoop, Athens held its breath. Everyone still goes to this old-fashioned
drugstore, lining up for a cone or a cup and the best bargain in town.
Lumpkin Café, 1700 S.
Lumpkin St., (706) 543-3122. This little house in Five Points fixes delicious homemade
soups, fresh salads, rataouille or spinach souffle crepes, and a fine steak sandwich.