Athens, Georgia
Paul V. Hartman

1073 Milledge Avenue, in 5 Points (706) 546-7300
Continental-American; light and airy; casual; can be expensive.
This place is now well established as Athen's best fine dining venue. A creative kitchen is the reason, with fixed menus which change with the seasons and a variety of specials every day. The menu is eclectic and interesting, the food well prepared, arrives at the table in good order and at the temperature requested. The most interesting and extensive wine list in Athens is here, with multiple choices by the glass. Parking is impossible: very tiny lot. Attentive and well informed staff.
Lunch and dinner; 11:00am - 10:00pm. Reservations accepted.

Town Center: 2 South Main Street, Watkinsville (706) 310-1101
American; Moderate. Parking adjacent.
This place has improved significantly since my last appearance 2-3 years ago. If you like beer, you will find it in abundance at Chops and Hops. After all, it is half the name. Beer choices cover a number of varieties. The menu is limited but the choices are quite good. The beef appears to be of excellent quality (said to be locally provided) and is cooked to the proper temperature. The wine choices are quite good, and properly priced. The music used to be loud - it is now quiet. The servers perform well. Everything is better here. If you have not been here in a while, this restuarant is worth a new visit. Plenty of parking spaces close in. Somebody turned this place around.

Hours: Mon-Sat 11:30 am till 10:30 pm. Sunday: 11 till 9:30 pm. Reservations accepted.

232 West Hancock Avenue (Snow Tire building) (706) 549-3450
Spanish/Mediterranean. Parking nearby.
A group of six gourmands have tried this place three times, since our initial impression was negative. Very limited menu, odd combinations, tightly packed place. The six included two restaurant owners, two serious cooks (one with a published cook book), and yours truly the writer of this report. The verdict: Some items were quite good, others quite ordinary. Not as "good" as a place named Mia Madonna a block away, which folded some time ago.

At The National, the food is Mediterranean with a definite Iberian tilt. The name and concept are derived from the oldest Spanish restaurant in New York City, "La Nacional". Wines from Spain, Portugal, France and Italy, are available by the glass. The main courses are limited. Wait staff ready to hand and knowledgeable.

Lunch M-F, Dinner M-Sat, from 5:00pm. Reservations accepted.

323 E. Broad Street (706) 353-3911
Italian. Local chef/owner. Parking can be difficult.
An upstairs restaurant on busy Broad Street across from the campus. If you read my comments about the two Italian chains in Athens (both are very nice), then you know I like Italian food (and Greek, and French, if you read my Hilton Head reviews) and this is a local place with fine Italian food. You won't get burned by the bill, since the prices here are quite reasonable. The bottom line is that this place Pleases. The wide window views are nice, the atmosphere cordial, the wait staff competent. The wines are Italian and cover a nice range. I had the Bolognese over linguini - it was excellent, comparing well with my own 5 hour preparation of this sauce. I have a professor friend who is an expert on gnocchi ("nnYO-key") and I will bring him here as it is on the menu.
Lunch and Dinner Monday - Friday from 11:30am. Dinner Saturday from 5:30pm. Reservation recommended.

O L I V E   G A R D E N
Atlanta Highway at Bypass (adjacent to Barnes & Noble) (706) 227-2225
American-Italian. Moderate. Easy parking.
A 500 store chain, which Athenians have waited years to appear in this town. The question is, why do Americans crowd into Olive Garden even in cities where there are authentic Italian restaurants by the score? The answer must be: "Good enough Italian, at the Right Price." If I were to score this restaurant the way I do others (on the quality of the food) then I give it 2 and a half gems. But were I to score it on the basis of giving Americans what they think "good Italian" is, then I would have to give it 5 gems. Simply put, this place delivers what America wants. Example: the "signature salad" is only iceberg lettuce with croutons and some "Italian" dressing. It disappears. You can't run out of it as they will refill the bowl continuously. So too with the bread sticks, the flavor of which is sprayed or brushed on in a very thin layer. Some of the menu items are unknown in Italy. But enough of that - this place Pleases, and that is the bottom line. I prefer fine dining, but I have no problem coming here - in fact I enjoy it. Just like you. The desserts, by the way, are terrific.
Lunch and Dinner from 11:00am, 7 days a week. No reservations.

C A R R A B B A ' S
Atlanta Highway near the Honda Dealership (706) 546-9938
Italian. Moderate. Easy parking.
For a large national chain, the food here is pretty good. On a Friday night I counted 7 cooks working the open kitchen, 6 in black baseball caps, one in red - presumably the head cook. (We don't use the word "chef" for someone under a baseball cap.) The place is heavily staffed and the food appears promptly. My Italian friends love this place, just as they don't like Olive Garden. (Each has its individual charm.) My dining group had a variety of things and everyone was pleased. The Minestrone soup, a common staple in Italian restaurants, was especially good.
No Lunch. Open 7 days a week. Mon - Fri from 4:00pm, Sat & Sun from 3:00pm. Reservations taken.

S Q U A R E     O N E
414 N. Thomas St., one block from Classic Center (706) 353-8862
Seafood. Moderate.

A seafood restaurant serving a variety of well known swimmers, shellfish, and raw bar. They favor Florida catch. The ambiance reminded me of the smaller seafood places you see in ocean front towns. There is a large patio with umbrellas for outdoor dining.
Reviews of Square One by others have been mixed, and the experience of my group of four was likewise. There was nothing outstanding about the main courses. The raw bar and starters were more interesting. There were 13 seafood mains, and another as a special. I counted 11 wines by the glass and 20 more by the bottle. Wine prices are reasonable but many feel the main courses are overpriced.
There is a small parking lot adjacent, and a valet service, plus a parking deck catty-corner.
Open 7 days a week, 4 pm to 11 pm. Also brunch on Sunday. Reservations taken.

LE CLOS at Chateau Elan
Braselton, where Route 53 South crosses I-85 1-800-233-9463
French-Continental. Within Winery chateau.
The good news is that wines from local vines are now joined by those from other countries.
(There is even a ChateauNeuf-du-Pape on that list.)
The name means "fenced area" in French. This upscale white table cloth restaurant is closer than anything (in the French style) in Atlanta. The price is fixed at $78 per person, 5 courses, and the menu is limited to a few selections in each category. Wines not included. The first course is an appetizer - there are usually 3 choices. A main course (Plat Principal) follows (3-4 choices), then an Intermezzo (usually a sorbet), then the Salad course (trailing the Main course, as is the European custom) and finally the Dessert course - usually 4-5 choices. You order everything at the beginning to allow for special preparation. The food is well prepared and the presentation is very elegant. The menu changes with the seasons, that is to say, quarterly.
Note that they have a dress requirement (casual elegant; no jeans), do not permit cell calls at table, and forbid children under 12. If I had my own place, I would have the same rules.

Dinner only, Friday and Saturday, 6:00 - 9:30pm.

1430 Capital Ave. (off Hog Mtn. Road) 706-769-6255
Italian. Moderate. Easy parking.
This popular place serves pasta, chicken, veal, and seafood main courses. The menu announces a "standard plate" and a "half plate". The half plate is so large you will end up sharing some of it with others at the table, so don't jump at the full plate. This place is so Italian that they serve wine in kitchen glasses, not stemware. Can be noisy. Wait staff is competent and gets things out quickly.

Open 11:00am to 9:00pm, Sun - Thurs; till 10.00pm Fri and Sat. Reservations accepted.

2040 Oconee Connector (706) 353-0217
A "Scratch Kitchen". Large menu with enough variety to please most of your friends. Crowds out the door when it opened in 2016, possibly because of the large plates. Convenient parking.
Steaks, chicken, and fish. My 6 ounce Top Sirloin was cooked perfectly. Lots of food, nicely done, at a very reasonable price.
Lunch and Dinner from 11:00am to 11:00pm, 7 days a week. Reservations accepted.

24 Greensboro Highway, a block south of the Courthouse, Watkinsville. (706) 310-0410
Mexican/Italian. Moderate +. Easy parking.
Don't be put off by the low-level look of the building. Inside, it's country club dining. Pricey, but the food is grand. The chef is also willing to cook whatever you want, if the ingredients are present. Click on the blue "Menu" button below to see what you can get here.
Lunch Tuesday to Friday, 11 until 2. Dinner Tuesday to Saturday, 5 to 10. Reservations accepted.

Next: PAGE TWO of Athens restaurant reviews: