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Taste – July/August

SIP

By Griffin Nelson | Photos By Sara Wise

Everybody can appreciate a local “watering hole”a place to hang out with friends, meet co-workers, and relax after work or on the weekends, a place where people congregate because it feels like home without the pressures of home. But not everyone understands how much work goes into creating that space by the folks behind the scenes who create that comfortable and fun environment.

Athens’ newest spot, Oglethorpe Garage, is more than just a bar. It’s the product of big dreams and lots of hard work from three Athenians who are well versed in the food and beverage industry. Aaron Wallace, Ryan Olivera and Matt Downes recognized the need on the Forest Heights side of town for a place for people to come together, and the space at 1560 Oglethorpe Avenue, which had been standing vacant for a few years, seemed like the perfect fit. They wanted to retain the aesthetic of the 1960s building and kept the design of the interior in line with the exterior. Between Downes’ ability to dream up amazing spaces, Olivera’s metalworking abilities, Wallace’s direction and management background, and a lot of hard work and man hours, Oglethorpe Garage was born. “What you have to do is have a good spot where people want to come hang out and have a good time,” Wallace says. “I want there to be something for everybody ... whether you drink or not.”

In addition to everything else you’d expect at a bar, there are 16 taps with a wide selection, including craft beer and non-alcoholic drinks like Figment Kombucha. There’s a stunning espresso machine as well plus fancy craft sodas. All sorts of breweries, from Terrapin and Creature Comforts to good, old-fashioned Budweiser and PBR, are represented. If you’re more of a wine or cocktail fan, they’ve got you covered in that department as well. “If you don’t see something on the menu that you like, talk to me about it. We’ll figure it out,” Wallace says.

In addition to the beautiful interior, with a perfect balance of midcentury modern furniture and vintage motorcycles, the exterior of the original Phillips 66 Garage building has been converted to provide plenty of outdoor seating for those beautiful summer evenings. Grab an Old Forester Heights cocktail, a Topo Chico mineral water, a beer by Southern Brewing Co., or whatever your drink is, pair it with a DIY s’mores kit and hang out by one of the outdoor fire pits with your friends or family for a guaranteed good time at Athens’ newest neighborhood bar.

EAT

The country of Argentina sometimes seems like this exotic, exciting and faraway land, a country that climbs up my list of places to visit with each new friend I make from there and each new bite of food inspired by it’s culinary traditions. It may be a while before I’m able to hike the mountains of the southernmost tip of South America, but stepping into Viva! Argentine Cuisine is the next best thing! Owners Gaby and Jesse Lindsey have created the warmest, most inviting home away from home and a menu with everything from traditional Argentine dishes to Athenian twists, vegan and vegetarian options, and a rotating selection of creative specials.

The family-friendly restaurant, located in the Bottleworks, was inspired by Gaby’s mother Elena, a native Argentinian and proud Southerner who raised her daughter with the skills to feed a crowd with home-cooked food using quality ingredients, a whole lot of culture and love. Gaby moved to Athens with her family as a child and eventually married Athenian, Jesse.. Together, they decided to chase their dream and opened Viva! Argentine Cuisine in April 2011.

Nine years later, they are going strong, with an expanded menu from the original list of traditional options (though dishes like classic ground beef empanadas are still local favorites!) to include dishes like the customizable Lomo con Papa Fritas, a layered, bowl-style dish with beans, potatoes or grains topped with veggies and/or protein in every combination imaginable. Personally, I recommend one of Jesse’s beautifully cooked steaks with chimibutter. Or try an empanada with any number of different and yummy fillings. The Lindseys ability to retain an authentic Argentine approach to even the most creative dishes is impressive, with something on the menu for everyone from the pickiest eater to the most adventurous.

Of course, we can’t leave out Gaby’s Atomic Cupcakes – like much of the restaurant inspired by Gaby’s mother, who made amazing cakes and clearly passed along those skills as well. Each unique cupcake is topped with delectable icing, and many have fillings, creating all sorts of amazing seasonal combinations. Try an Alfajores cupcake inspired by the national cookie of Argentina with a dulce de leche filling and topped with rich icing and a bit of toasted coconut, or call ahead and place a custom order for a whole party or event!

ARTISAN

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The idea of a CSA (community supported-agriculture) program can often seem inaccessible to the average person. Many may not even know that there’s another option besides the produce section at their local grocery store­ – an option that’s just as easy, provides more variety, and supports their own local economy and small farms. But Athens’ own CSA, Collective Harvest, is here to spread the word that quality, seasonal, local produce is available, affordable and easy!

There’s a positive trend working its way through the small farming industry today: the idea of community over competition, that they are stronger together and can support each other in a profession that requires a lot of hard but rewarding work. The first three farms to come together – Front Field Farm, Full Moon Farm and Diamond Hill Farm – came to know each other through the Athens Farmers Market. Together, they were able to provide wholesale produce to notable restaurants in the area and start a system that allowed community members to order their own produce.

After a few years of streamlining their process, they received some essential grants that allowed them to create their website, rent office space and hire a second full-time employee – Lisa Minerva – in 2018. This allowed the farmers to focus on what they’re best at – farming – without having to find time to balance administrative duties. Today, Collective Harvest has grown to include Hickory Hill Farm, Fry Farm, Lazy Willow Farm, Sundance Farm and Cedar Grove Farm.

With the addition of these farms, Collective Harvest has been able to provide for even more Athenians through the use of Harvie, a web-based platform that allows customers to fully customize their weekly shares of fruit and vegetables based on seasonal availability so that they’re only getting what they need each week, raising the quality of produce in kitchens throughout the county while cutting down on food waste. There are even programs like the “Fresh Food Fund” that include scholarships for students and others who qualify, making organic, sustainable produce accessible to everyone! The newest addition to the program this year is a drop-off option for added convenience. With an easy, online system for customizing your produce each week and multiple pickup locations, Collective Harvest makes it easy to eat the highest quality, organic fruits and vegetables and support local farms in the process!

LAGNIAPPE

Collective Harvest also keeps an inventory of additional products by Athens artisans, including kombucha from Figment Fermentation, Banner Butter, Montane Sparkling Spring Water, farm-fresh eggs, bread from Independent Baking Co., Ally Bee’s Honey, milk from Rock House Creamery and more. Any of these can be added to your weekly share of produce to further stock your pantry and help support local businesses!