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I love Food. Cooking it. Eating it. Experiencing it. As a result, that's what this blog has evolved into: A journal of my gastronomical journeys abroad, as well as my culinary creativity at home. I hope you enjoy what I have to say, and I'd love to hear your comments... Cheers!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Paper Menus & Chalk Boards, Part II: Athens, GA

If Atlanta is a bastion of the New South Food, Athens is its fiercely independent, free-spirited younger cousin.  I am an adopted fan of the area, seeing as how my wife and many of her relatives wear their Bulldog colors so proudly (Goooo Dawgs!).  It is a text book (pardon the pun) college town, which is to say, good music and good food abound. As part of our month (-plus) long Georgia travels, we spent some quality time with family in the area that's just a short drive down 78 from Snellville...

Dinner here was a homecoming of sorts for my wife, Jill, as well as our partners in crime, Sylvan and John, all of whom have beloved ties to downtown Athens.  Lots of nostalgia, picture-taking, and reminiscing at our table, for sure.  This place used to be a famous music haunt in the '60s before it closed its doors, and ultimately re-opened as a bistro.  But all of that feel-good vibe would be quickly extinguished if the meal was a downer.  Not knowing what to expect food-wise, I was very pleasantly surprised, first, with the digs, and second, with the food. 
This was decidedly not a "college joint."  It was college-cool inside, but with a certain, palpable sense of maturity, as well.  The brick-exposed walls featuring local artists' works lend a certain bohemian feel, but the crowd was more young professional than coed.  The cuisine matches that balance, and I'm convinced it's no coincidence, once I experienced what's being plated in the small, exposed kitchen.   
First out was a communal Potato Onion Pancake (thanks for sharing, John Boy!).  Shredded and griddled julienned potatoes with a five onion salad, topped with a garlic aoli and crispy fried leeks.  Not greasy at all.  Really light for a dish that could easily be the opposite.  Amazing.                                             
I started with a Spinach & Gorgonzola Salad, with spicy candied pecans, red grapes, and a creamy gorgonzola dressing.  Really tasty and rich.  Fresh ingredients with a fair amount of sweetness for good measure.
My main dish was a revelation on a number of levels.  The Adobo Salmon was devoid of any of the typical "fishiness" that plagues it in other preparations.  It was much ado about the chipotle and adobo seasonings it was marinated in, which gave it a nice crispy crust once it was given over to the grill.  Even more impressive was the crispy, sauteed mustard greens underneath.  They held up bite after bite, a more than capable compliment to the protein it supported.  Real Southern ingredients, imagined in a way that is uniquely... Last Resort.

I've since come to learn about the local legend of Melissa Clegg, whose sterling reputation in the region influences not only this spot (as co-owner), but a host of others in the region, as well.  She and Jaamy Zanegar are upholding their high standards of quality food and unwavering support of the Athens area, and it flows through Last Resort in every meal they serve.  Of particular note, our dessert was an outstanding slice of Strawberry Cake, chosen in part because my brother-in-law and soon-to-be sister-in-law tapped the same one for their wedding cake!   Over 700k slices of Cecelia Villaveces'cakes have been sold since 1992... now I know why.  She's one of a number of local Athens businesses who partner with Last Resort to make it a memorable stop in the funky food city known as Athens...

The next morning, before touring the UGA campus with the kiddies, we stopped in an enclave known as Normaltown, on the road into Athens.  It is here that Ike & Jane's bakery thrives on the same indie spirit and tremendous quality as its brethren down the road.
The donuts and pastries are fresh and eclectic (kids cereal topping et al), and a sweet tooth's haven, but I was gunning for the savory side of things.  I ordered a biscuit sandwich, with eggs, cheddar, slab bacon, and jalapenos (!).  Suffice to say, my stuffy nose was miraculously cleared in an instant after my first bite.  I may as well have inhaled those peppers!  The biscuit was delicate, buttery, and flaky, and the bacon was thick cut and peppery.  So much flavor on one little "bi'cuit!"
Since it was a late breakfast for us, I felt obliged to order... something else.  That something was a no-brainer when I saw the hand-written sign on the back wall behind the register:  King of Pops SOLD HERE!
These guys are building a paletas empire in the Food Triangle of Atlanta, Asheville, and Charleston, with pop-up spots @ all points in between.  I chose the Banana Pudding pop, with a hug chunk of fresh frozen banana smack dab in the middle of... well, frozen pudding!  It was a creamcicle of the highest, freshest order, and especially satisfying on a sweltering July day.  

What a refreshing, and delicious, way to start a day...


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