Before I start my rave about how amazing Athens, Georgia is, please allow for full disclosure. I lived there most of the 90s (making the town second only to London for number of years lived in one place as an adult), I studied as an undergrad there at the University of Georgia, and I enjoyed the hell out of keeping this small open-minded oasis as an off-and-on base during my 20s. For nightlife, art, live music, food and fun, I’m pleased to report that a couple of decades later, the town still excels at showing folks a good time. And one up on when I used to live there, Athens has even better BBQ than it had back in my day.
My BBQ Bound itinerary had me hopping to two local joints: newbie Pulaski Heights BBQ and long time family eatery Hot Thomas just down the road in Watkinsville.
Pulaski Heights BBQ
The Leathers Building, 675 Pulaski Street, Suite 100, Athens, Georgia 30601
Owned by hands-on Chef Chuck Ramsay, Pulaski Heights adheres to old ways when it comes to slow-cooking meats to succulent perfection but tends to go about its veg with worldlier health-conscious methods. Unlike many BBQ joints, Chef Chuck Ramsey makes his side dishes to complement his ‘que rather than being another excuse for big smoky meaty flavour that merely manages to mirror the main course. Ramsey’s vinegar lime slaw, collard greens, squash casserole, smoked cauliflower, kimchi and more are all excellent accompaniments for a mega meaty chow down but equally would please as a veggie plate. I cherished every bite of everything I sampled – from the spiced pecans and boiled peanuts to the banana pudding with a whole lot of meat (the house bacon and smoked chicken were memorably gorgeous) and veg in between.
Check out Pulaski Heights BBQ online at pulaskiheightsbbq.com.
Hot Thomas BBQ
3753 Greensboro Highway, Watkinsville, Georgia 30677
Just outside of Athens, is blink-and-miss-it Watkinsville where owner Mark Thomas carries on the family legacy at Hot Thomas BBQ. Its name does not refer to the restaurant’s tantalisingly tangy sauces (among the very best tasted during my trip) but the fevers Mark’s father, “Hot” Thomas, suffered as a small child. Evolving out of the family-owned general store, Hot Thomas BBQ opened in 1984, the. The humble eatery’s focus is on smoked ham. But a selection of choice meats and sides is available.
For more information go to hotthomasbbq.com.
Beyond the Q
Springhill Marriott Suites Athens
3500 Daniells Bridge Road, Athens, Georgia 30606)
I stayed at the new Springhill Marriott Suites during my time in Athens. This was my second time to stay at a Springhill. Like my booking last year at the one in Lafayette, Louisiana, the Athens property was extremely clean with spacious and comfortable apartment-like suites. The location wasn’t ideal for exploring downtown Athens but but turned out to be ideally situated for heading to next (and final) destination, Atlanta. As I said last year after my visit to Lafayette, I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for other Springhill properties for future trips. More: springhillsuites.marriott.com.
Creature Comforts Brewery
271 W Hancock Avenue, Athens, Georgia 30601
There is so much great craft beer coming out of seemingly every corner of the States these days. God bless America! But some of the best I had in a long while was enjoyed while holding down a barstool at Creature Comforts Brewery in Downtown Athens. The Athena (a crisp Berliner weisse beer, 4.5% ABV) and the Reclaimed Rye (a rye amber aged in French oak, 5.5%) both rank among the tastiest brewskis had this year. The onsite brewery setting, buzzy atmosphere, and knowledgable and kindly staff might have swayed my opinion, but I’d be pleased to drink either of those Creature Comforts beers (or to sample others) anytime, anywhere. Details at creaturecomfortsbeer.com.
199 Prince Avenue, Athens, Georgia 30601
Athens’ mainstay vegetarian restaurant, The Grit, was my favourite place to eat during the 90s. It’s still there, it’s still awesome, and it’s still a really affordable place for a pleasant dinner (especially coming from London). The assortment of home-style veggies is as delicious as it is wholesome and the cornbread live up to its legendary status. How a look at thegrit.com.
Georgia Museum of Art
90 Carlton Street, Athens, Georgia 30602
The official art museum for the state, the Georgia Museum of Art has a permanent collection of more than 9,000 works and a dynamic sculpture garden and hosts a variety of travelling exhibitions. I loved browsing the collection’s range of folk, fine and otherwise piece, and was really blown away by a few of the temporary exhibitions: In Time We Shall Know Ourselves: Photographs by Raymond Smith, Before the March King: 19th-Century American Bands, and Georgia’s Girlhood Embroidery: “Crowned with Glory and Immortality”. All three are still on at the moment and run into 2016. Admission is free. Visit the museum online at georgiamuseum.org.
To learn more about Athens go to visitathensga.com, and for info about making the most of a visit to Georgia have a look at exploregeorgia.org. For loads of help planning your trip to anywhere in the States, go to VisitTheUSA.com. And please be sure to keep an eye out for more BBQ Bound posts to come!