We’re in Athens, Georgia this week. Where today, the high will reach 90º. Must be a cooling trend though, after yesterday’s high of 92º.
Did no one send the memo that it’s early April? Isn’t it breaking some law somewhere, to be this hot before sometime in mid-May?
I become supremely grumpy when it’s this hot. Which is one reason there was a sense of relief when our move last August took us northward — I’m kind of over being grumpy from May through September. Yesterday, it was hotter here than it was on any day last summer in Indianapolis (if my memory serves me correctly). But that was probably a fluke; maybe this summer will bring a record-breaking heat wave that will summon the return of perpetual sweating, sauna-worthy humidity, and an irrational fear of being outdoors.
But while this town bakes, and is covered in a nice, thick layer of bright-yellow pollen, I am still enjoying myself. Seeing old friends, basking in the hospitality of our hostess, and methodically eating my way through all my favorite old haunts. Absence has only made my heart grown fonder — not necessarily for the city itself (did I mention the heat and the mind-and-nasal-cavity-blowing pollen count?), but for its still unfathomable concentration of really good restaurants. How can a town of 110k people serve this much good food?
We drove down on Sunday, since Tim’s conference started Monday. Pulled out of suburban Cincinnati at around 10am, stopped for gas and lunch, and hit Athens at about 6pm. We drove straight to The Grit, where we knew comforting food and beer would await. I have tried to honestly reflect on my earlier tweet, but do not think it’s an exaggeration: price-wise, it was truly the best meal out I’ve had since last July. The Grit serves unassuming, unfussy, “meaty” vegetarian food — I had the veggie plate, and for my three picks chose a veggie paella, a pinto chilequile, and an apple-jicama salad. As per usual with the veggie plate, it wasn’t necessarily three items that go wonderously together (the paella and chilequile didn’t quite complement each other) but they were all three spot-on right. I’d never had the chilequile, but I think I remember it being in their cookbook, and look forward to making it at home. The apple-jicama salad was dressed with a mild vinegar-mint dressing, and was a cooling, crisp contrast to the heavier, spicier dishes.
Our drink choice was the star of the night: Terrapin Beer Co.’s Hopsecutioner. I am a BIG fan of IPA beers. I love my hops, and can take them down year-round (as opposed to dark beers, which I have a hard time enjoying when the weather is warm). Previous favorites include Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head — but as of late I’m partial to Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale (this one kept me hopeful about our beer-drinking future after our move, when we had to leave our beloved Terrapin Brewery behind). The Hopsecutioner is Terrapin’s latest seasonal star, and I fell in love at first sip. Just to be sure, though, I had it on draught last night at Trappeze Pub. I convinced the women of my old Athens book club to meet me there for a drink; as usual, conversation did not disappoint, traveling a bizarre path that touched on everything from going gluten-free to Katie’s amazing New Year’s Resolution to the group-adopted hypothesis that most women’s book clubs are predisposed to include a conversation about Twilight at each meeting. I really miss those women — and it was fitting that my enjoyment of the evening was supported by a second-round positive experience with the initially-feared-cloying Hopsecutioner. That pint last night won me over. It is unabashedly hoppy, with an intense grapefruit overtone that made me wonder if I could drink it more than once. And I’m not sure if it’s the heat talking, but I found it again refreshing and enjoyable from first sip to last. There is sure to be a six-pack (or two) in our minivan come Friday when we head back to the midwest.
This morning I was disappointed to discover that The National is no longer serving breakfast pastries and espresso from their bar. That was one of our favorite meals in the days before we left Athens, and I had been looking forward to a repeat experience for weeks. We instead met friends at a bakery where I’d worked when we first moved to town 8 years ago — one that had changed hands a few times, and lost its reputation in the process. I heard a rumor that it had improved, and our meal this morning suggested that might be the case. While at one time we found the choices almost inedible, we thoroughly enjoyed this morning’s bacon, egg and provolone biscuit. My french toast was lovely (the bread was cut on the bias from an ultra-thin baguette, making for dramatic plating), but a bit too sweet. The coffee a bit weak (grrrr), but all-in-all an improvement, with an expanded dining room to boot. Definitely not on par with The National, but at least it was open.
Tonight we have homemade calzones at a friend’s house, and tomorrow is the culmination of the week: dinner at Five&Ten. I haven’t seen a menu, but I have been Pavlov-ized to commence with mouth-watering when I hear the name of the restaurant — so to say I’m looking forward to our first dinner there in over nine months is putting it somewhat mildly. I just hope Hugh got the memo that our entire trip is riding on this meal. No pressure or anything.