Last week, I voyaged to Georgia for some job-hunting and some reliving of my college years (note to self: you are NOT 20 anymore). Since I’ll be moving to Atlanta in about three months, I was excited to start living and learning the culinary scene in and around the city. Here’s the report:
In Atlanta proper, I didn’t get a chance to do TOO much exploring (since I was staying with my parents in Lawrenceville). However, I did confirm that the best burger in the city is still at The Vortex. When I was a teenager, going to the Vortex was a rare treat usually reserved for pre-concert fun (I distinctly meeting a bunch of fellow Sarah McLachlan fans at the midtown location prior to Lilith Fair one year–don’t you dare judge me). The atmosphere has sort of a kitschy-with-an-attitude kind of vibe, and the food is awesome. I had a bison burger with swiss and mushrooms, cooked medium rare, and I absolutely inhaled it. I was tempted to go for the tots, but I remembered that the Vortex was famous for its creamy, bacony potato salad–and I was glad I opted for that particular side item. So much deliciousness on one plate! The kicker, though, was that I was able to order a Sweetwater 420 (quite possibly my favorite beer ever) on draft. Heaven. Some tourists saw my deliriously happy post-feasting face and said, “You look like you know what’s good here!” Tee.
In Lawrenceville, it’s easy for a food fiend to be discouraged by the sea of chain restaurants on nearly every corner. There are some real gems, though, if you have the patience to look for them. One of my favorites is the Kirin House, a little hole-in-the-wall Japanese place near my parents’ house. They have some hibachi tables, but I have no idea if their cooked food is any good–I always get sidetracked by the sushi bar. It’s teeny tiny, with only about 8 seats and one sushi chef, but the fish is incredibly fresh and the “special” rolls are all really tasty, creative, and beautifully presented. It’s always a highlight of a trip home (along with Chick-fil-a, which is a sacred and yummy Southern tradition)!
In Athens, I’m never sure whether my affinity for certain places has to do more with truly good food or just college nostalgia. Either way, I ate pretty well while I was visiting my alma mater. At the Five Star Day Cafe, I had a great breakfast of a “scramble” (eggs with cheese, veggies, and ham), a potato cake with sour cream and corn relish, a chocolate chip muffin, and coffee–all for less than $10. I enjoyed another great breakfast (and a killer chocolate milkshake) at the Grill, which is a campus landmark. The only disappointment was Uncle Otto’s, which used to be called Achim’s, where I got a chicken “k-bob” and fries. It was passable, but it was nowhere near as good as I remembered it–the chicken was dry, the sandwich was oversauced, and the fries didn’t taste delicious and fresh-cut like they once did. Two out of three ain’t bad, I guess.
I also visited Athens’ culinary pride and joy, 5 & 10. However, due to the buzz surrounding that particular establishment, it probably deserves its own post. Look for that sometime within the next couple of days.
All in all, though I’m excited about moving back home, I’m torn in my feelings about the food. I don’t doubt that there are great places to eat in Atlanta, but after living in DC for three years, I have to admit that I’m pretty spoiled. Hopefully, with enough persistence, I’ll be able to find the folks who are devoted to making the Atlanta culinary scene as diverse and dynamic as the city itself.