Welcome to Restaurant Roundup, our new series that encapsulates a city’s food scene through a day’s itinerary of eating. This week, we’re guiding you around Athens, Ga., a classic college town that has garnered plenty of respect over the last few years for its culinary scene.
Athens has been an established Southern food stronghold for a while, but there’s always a new dish to discover in the Classic City. Local food and collaboration within the restaurant community are huge here, and those values show in the intersection of Athens food brands and menu pages. If you’re visiting on the right day, stop by one of Athens’ farmers markets, a major force in the local food community. Otherwise, visit our picks for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Breakfast: Ideal Bagel Co.
815 W Broad St
Photo: Sarra Sedghi
Get your most important meal of the day at Ideal Bagel, an independent eatery, established in 2013, which makes its own bagels and layers them high in an assortment of combinations. The dining area projects an industrial vibe and the space wafts with the scent of all things carbohydrates (Ideal rooms with Luna Bakery, whose bread you’ll find in restaurants all over the city.) Ideal serves sandwiches as well as bagel sandwiches, and lox lovers will be thrilled to learn that Ideal smokes all their fish in-house.
Try the Cadillac, a fried egg and cheddar spectacle, on a pumpernickel everything bagel smeared with herb cream cheese for a savory medium between breakfast and lunch. If you’re craving something less starchy, opt for the house fish on greens and make sure to order the smoked trout.
Lunch: White Tiger Gourmet
217 Hiawassee Ave
Photo: Elaine Elliott
Nestled in the picturesque Boulevard neighborhood, you’ll smell White Tiger before you see it. The restaurant’s weathered white exterior greets you along with a few picket fence planks that are painted folk-art style. White Tiger opened in 2007, but the building that houses it is 110 years old. Stepping inside is like visiting an eclectic Southern grandparent. Pops of color embellish windowsills, shelves and wooden furniture in an otherwise ivory space that’s dotted with scribbled art gifted by young patrons. The fans are always on, spreading the aroma of vinegary barbecue sauce, and you can hear something sizzling behind the order window.
The staff is particularly proud of White Tiger’s burgers, tacos and Barberella sandwich, while local vegetarians are enamored with the tofu sandwiches. Find fresh air at the shady outdoor area, where you can dine at picnic tables in a yard between neighborhood houses.
Athens Farmers Market: 271 W Hancock Ave and 705 Sunset Dr
West Broad Farmers Market: 1573 W Broad St
Photo: Bob Brussack
Local food is unquestionably the largest culinary movement in Athens, and no organization solidifies that like the Athens Farmers Market. They even have their own magazine. AFM’s Bishop Park market, the place to be on a Saturday morning, operates from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. If you’re not an early bird, visit the West Broad Farmers Market, which runs on Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. On Wednesdays from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., the Athens Farmers Market resurfaces at Creature Comforts Brewery, because shopping for produce and drinking beer pair surprisingly well.
Dinner: The Branded Butcher
225 N Lumpkin St.
Photo: The Branded Butcher
The Branded Butcher unjustly sits in the shadow of Athens’ upscale restaurants and aims to push comfort zones on all culinary levels. Akin to its philosophy, The Branded Butcher’s interior draws on a modern interpretation of an older space that’s decorated with paintings and empty wine bottles that invite natural light to shine through. Stained-wood molding and gray and jade tones don’t distract from the original brick walls or muted tile floors.
From the cocktail list to the entrees, The Branded Butcher blends old-world methods with contemporary and local ingredients. The house-made pork rinds and Gulf shrimp sausage add a Southern twist to the charcuterie section, while the scotch egg remains a bucket list item for adventurous eaters. Order a grilled romaine salad topped with fried oysters and either the seared filet or pork chop, The Branded Butcher’s staple items. If you want to return for brunch, we don’t blame you.
Sarra Sedghi is a freelancer based in Athens, Ga.