Taste – Spring 2022
By Griffin Nelson | Photos By Evermore Photo Co.
One of the newest additions to the Watkinsville food scene has been welcomed with open arms! People waited over an hour on opening day to be one of the first to try Mama Ning’s Thai back in January 2021. Now, a year later, they continue to serve their community with dine-in, take-out and delivery through Cosmic Delivery. The thorough and popular menu was developed by Nalinee Kohnen — Mama Ning herself.
Born in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Ning originally studied social science and law in college rather than food and hospitality — being encouraged by her family to pursue a degree that would result in what they considered a more reliable job. Upon graduation, longing to go to the United States, she packed up and moved to Georgia, working as an au pair during the week and at a Thai restaurant on the weekend. Between the two jobs she learned English and the restaurant industry quickly, working her way up in various different settings, finally finding herself in the kitchen of the ever-popular Last Resort Grill where she would often create a daily special inspired by the food of her homeland.
When the pandemic hit and she found herself at home cleaning, she came across an old business plan she’d made, dreaming of owning her own Thai restaurant someday. With an outpouring of encouragement and support from her family and friends — and some revisions to that original plan based on years of learning and experience — she was finally ready to open her own place.
With a year of growth, Mama Ning’s Thai has certainly turned out to be an Athens favorite. Not only has she incorporated dishes like Khao Soi — a Chiang Mai recipe that she grew up with — but also plenty of popular traditional dishes like Pad Thai and Thai Street Style Gra Pro Gai. The menu covers everything from noodle and rice-based dishes, to Tom Yum Soup and Green Papaya Salad, among other things. Impressively, Mama Ning has opted to use a gluten free soy sauce so many dishes are already gluten free without making any substitutions. Plus, there are plenty of meatless options on the menu. For dessert try a fresh slice of cake from Sweetie Pie by Savie.
From start to finish, each visit to Mama Ning’s Thai is sure to be an experience that will fill you up and leave you ready to come back as soon as you can!
Local Athenian Clay Kirkland may be known for his experience working as the chief operating officer of a local medical group, but he has a secret passion and skill in the form of cocktail connoisseur, master mixologist and bitters artisan. Many of his concoctions can be found on his Instagram page — Wisecraft Mixology — complete with stunning photos! As someone with high standards and a strong work ethic, Kirkland’s drive shows through in what he refers to as an “advanced hobby.” This creative outlet results in hours researching cocktail ideas, combinations, perfecting his photography skills and creating his own bitters combinations to compliment his recipes. As someone who grew up going on “food vacations” with his parents, he feels he’s able to expose his six children to unique flavor combinations using mocktails. He shows them how much hard work goes into the food and drink people often take for granted, and at the same time sets a good example of what responsible drinking looks like. “Our kids have been introduced to alcohol in a very unique way based on what I do with this hobby. It’s an open conversation. My wife and I really do not drink that much. Our kids are learning about excellence and moderation,” says Kirkland. “The thing I really like about food and drink is that it’s an enhancer to the community that you’re building or that you have. Our philosophy in life is to take care of the people in our life [and] this is a way to enhance those experiences and celebrate those people.”
To learn more about Clay Kirkland’s cocktails and be a part of the community he’s created, follow along on Instagram at @wisecraft_mixology where you can find recipes, inspiration and more information on collaborations, along with his unique, homemade bitters and syrups.