Taste – Summer 2019

ARTISAN

Having recently made my first attempt at making my own cheese, I can attest to the fact that it’s complicated, time consuming, and labor-intensive. I have so much more respect now for the time that cheese makers put into their product and the knowledge that cheese mongers must have to sell it. There are so many different kinds of cheese – soft and hard, aged and fresh; different kinds of milks and processes are used. Each one is unique and special.

Fritz Gibson, owner of Half Shepherd Market and Cheese Shop, has been buying and selling cheeses for over a decade. After living all over the country, going to culinary school, helping to start restaurants and shops, and accumulating a wealth of knowledge and experience, he decided to come back home to Athens and open his own place. Last December, Half Shepherd opened its doors and has since been selling American artisan cheeses and teaching classes to help educate others on how to appreciate the flavors of this unique food.

Every one of the bi-monthly cheese tasting classes that they have held so far has sold out (so be sure to get tickets early); however, they also can do private parties. The cheeses are paired with wine and participants have the opportunity to learn about the processes and the flavor profiles for each one. In addition to cheese, there is an extensive selection of charcuterie and locally sourced dry goods and accoutrements. Located in Normaltown, it’s a convenient stop for a bottle of wine for a hostess gift or even an easy dinner. While I was there they helped me pick out a balanced variety with soft and hard cheeses, some with a mild flavor, some with a bit of tang. The selection is frequently rotating and features cheeses like the Sophia, an Ashe-ripened goat cheese; Dante, a Manchego-inspired sheep milk cheese (my favorite), and Sky Pilot, made by the Hobo Cheese Company in nearby Oxford, Ga.

If you need a place to grab lunch Half Shepherd has you covered there too. They serve lunch from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. with hearty grilled cheese and tomato soup; chicken, farro, and egg salads, and an array of sandwiches that include vegetarian and vegan options. There’s a whole world of options at this new market between the cheeses, charcuterie, local and artisan selections plus their lunch menu and tastings that has me wanting to move in next door and eat there every day.

SIP

I can never pass up the opportunity to try a new coffee shop or cafe, and Franklin House Cafe was everything I hoped it’d be. Located in a beautiful building, the interior had a bohemian vibe with exposed brick and seating arranged for solo or group outings. WiFi makes it an easy place to study and street-facing counters make it a fun place to meet a friend to catch up and watch the world go by. Their motto is “Everything here is engineered to make you feel at home” – and it’s true. The staff is friendly, the environment is welcoming, and the food and coffee are everything they should be.

Arslan and Zeeshan Khan are from Lawrenceville, Ga. but have traveled all over the world, coming back to Ga. and bringing their inspiration home with them. They were so passionate about good coffee that they decided to open their own cafe in downtown Athens, where so many of their friends lived and they were already spending so much of their time. Of course you can get a standard drip coffee but they have French press and iced options, decaf versions of most of their drinks, and espresso-based drinks. The lattes are particularly popular but there is also the cappuccino, Americano, cortado, and mocha. If you need something a little more filling there are several smoothie options to which espresso can be added.

The cafe menu goes even further with food options inspired by the brothers’ travels. There are sandwiches and salads plus toast and waffles loaded up with sweet or savory toppings. The avocado toast is a jazzed-up version with the addition of tomatoes and feta, and the ZK Special is inspired by a trip to Spain, with fresh strawberries, honey, sunflower seeds, goat cheese, and cilantro. Together Arslan and Zeeshan have tried coffee in more than 250 places around the world, from small towns in France to the streets of London, and are bringing their expertise to Athens in the form of a cultural menu in a comfortable environment that feels like home.

EAT

LRG Provisions is like the adult child of Last Resort Grill, a staple in Athens for more than 28 years. Melissa Clegg, who started Last Resort all those years ago, Jeanene McGuire, who managed it for several years, and Jaamy Zarnegar partnered to create a second, but distinct, restaurant with a unique menu that catered to the Five Points neighborhood where it is located. The restaurant features the best of all worlds with a cozy but elevated feel, perfect for date night or family dinner, and has a menu that borrows inspiration from the South, both the North and South American continents, and beyond.

When they opened, their number-one priority was (and still is) to be neighborhood friendly. This meant providing people with super friendly, knowledgeable staff, making sure that the prices were affordable, having an approachable environment that takes reservations for those that need it, and generally having a slower pace. The location was simply used for pop-up dinners, catering, a supper club, and special events. It didn’t take long for those inside and outside the Five Points area to fall in love and want more. So LRG Provisions went to full-time about a year and a half ago. They didn’t want to change too much of their original concept, just offer more of it to the neighborhood and the city of Athens.

The menu rotates seasonally and even weekly, based on what the best, and ideally local and regional meat and produce are available. They’ve partnered with Williams Farm and the Athens Land Trust to get the freshest fruit and veggies they can. There are always vegetarian and vegan options on the menu, but if you’re ordering a cut of beef, chicken, or pork you can be guaranteed it has been chosen with care, responsibly raised, and is the highest quality. Brian, the head chef, is constantly coming up with creative and delicious entrees. There’s even a kid’s menu! All of the desserts are baked in house, including the spring-infused strawberry and rhubarb pie. And Rob Savage, lead bartender, is frequently devises inspired combinations like the Athena Fresca, which uses Creature Comforts Athena, tequila, and a little bit of magic to create the ultimate summer drink. Whether you’re walking around the corner to get there or driving across town, LRG Provisions is worth the stop, as they continue to stick to their original values:  “Providing friendly service and good food.”

LAGNIAPPE

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Creature Comforts Athena is one of the most versatile beers I’ve ever seen. Named after both this wonderful city and the Greek goodness of wisdom and curiosity, this beer is light but complex. And it tastes wonderful both by itself, as a version of a traditional Berliner Weisse or mixed with juice, simple syrups, or, as at LRG Provisions, spirits like tequila, chartreuse, honey, and lemon to create singular cocktails. This specific cocktail, called the Athena Fresca, is topped with beautiful, dried, edible flowers, making it as pretty to look at as it is refreshing to drink.