By: Kate Parham Kordsmeier
With nearly 200 bars and restaurants throughout the city, Athens’ is a food lover’s paradise. You can walk to most places, bar hop to your heart’s content and find everything from soul food to sushi. And despite the city’s small-town feel, there’s some culinary heavyweight names to be found, like Hugh Acheson of 5&10, the poster child for elevated Southern cuisine, responsible for putting Athens on the culinary map.
Perhaps the best way to explore the culinary mecca is on the Athens Food Tour, a delicious journey through Athens’ best establishments that allows guests to not only try the food, but meet the chefs and restaurateurs behind the plates. If you’d rather explore on your own—follow this weekend itinerary for the perfect foodie weekend in Athens.
Breakfast at Independent Baking Co.: Athens and European towns have many things in common (see above for proof!), but this teeny bakery in Five Points seals the deal. Made from scratch on premises and baked fresh daily, the counter service bakery offers up dozens of bread varieties (hearth-baked rolls, fruit-studded ryes and yeast-leavened breads) and pastries (I’m partial to the apple and cheese Danish), alongside espresso drinks. Word to the wise: Independent’s closed Sundays and Mondays.
Lunch at Heirloom Café & Fresh Market: There’s perhaps no other restaurant in town more dedicated to local sourcing and sustainable agriculture than Heirloom, a family-run, seemingly open all-day café serving up homestyle plates of Southern classics. Though the menu changes frequently, the mustard-heavy deviled ham and the carrot cake pancakes are must-tries if they’re listed.
Happy Hour at Seabear Oyster Bar: Chef Patrick Stubbers’ outstanding seafood-centric spot, the brainchild of the folks behind the National, excels in so many ways, from the impressive variety of sustainably-grown oysters to the often Asian-influenced small plates (don’t leave without trying the chicken tonkatsu steamed bun), the perfectly paired wine list and an addictive negroni slushy.
Dinner at The National: Though this decidedly casual neighborhood hotspot sources from local farmers and takes up residence in a restored 1950s Plymouth car dealership in downtown Athens, The National feels more like the kind of café you’d find in Spain. At once intimate and bustling, the restaurant, which is run by chef Peter Dale and bar master Chris Luken (Hugh Acheson is also a co-owner), shines with Mediterranean-inspired plates, like boquerones, where sharp anchovies comingle with pickled chiles and tangy caperberries atop tomato-garlic-rubbed toast, offering the perfect crunch.
Normaltown Bar Crawl: Downtown Athens is often filled with partying college kids—so when you’re looking for a proper cocktail, head to the nearby neighborhood of Normaltown, a one-block radius home to three of Athens’ best watering holes: Hi-Lo Lounge (where simple cocktails are simply done well), Normal Bar (don’t miss the outdoor patio) and The Old Pal (their namesake cocktail is not to be missed).
Breakfast at the Athens Farmer’s Market: When the sun is shining, there’s no better place to spend the morning than this warm and welcoming farmer’s market—expect a festive mix of growers offering up in-season produce (all of which is either Certified Organic or Certified Naturally Grown) alongside unique prepared foods, local artisans, live music, coffee from local roaster 1000 Faces and the Farm Cart food truck (don’t miss their buttermilk biscuits).
Beer Tasting & Tour at Creature Comforts: Terrapin has long had a stronghold on Athens’ beer scene, but there’s a new kid in town, and they’ve already taken Classic City by storm. Creature Comforts has four year-round beers (their fruit-forward American IPA, Tropicalia, has already won a slew of prestigious beer awards), plus a handful of seasonal and limited release brews. And their gorgeous downtown brewery (it’s in the former Snow Tire shop) is open for tours and tastings, often alongside events like the Farmer’s Market (Wednesdays) and flea markets.
Dinner at The Branded Butcher: Made-from-scratch cooking principles, a commitment to sustainable sourcing and deliciously playful twists on comfort food classics (think hotdog mac-and-cheese, made-in-house charcuterie and scotch-eggs wrapped in housemade sausage) make The Branded Butcher one of the most exciting dining experiences in town. Chef Trey Rayburn’s food can also be found next door, on the rooftop patio over Georgia Theater.
Late Night at The World Famous: Being a college town, there’s no shortage of late night eats in Athens, but for something chef-driven and much more delicious than those stale hot dog stands, head to The World Famous, where a globally-inspired menu is made up exclusively of dishes meant to be eaten with your hands. Be sure to try the spicy fried chicken club sandwich (it’s served on a waffle bun!) and the flavor-packed steamed pork buns. Live music is the cherry on top.
Book a Room at Hotel Indigo: Despite a plethora of brand name hotel rooms located right downtown, there’s no better spot to stay in Athens than this boutique property. It’s centrally located, adorned with unique art, stocked with local coffee from Jittery Joe’s, pet-friendly and one of only 15 hotels awarded LEED Gold Certification by USGBC.