Athens, GA is consistently voted as one of the best college towns in America, for reasons obvious to anyone who’s ever been there. I spent four unforgettable years there while attending the fine institution known as the University of Georgia. Given my college student budget, I didn’t get to experience the Athens food scene as much as I would have liked to – except of course when dining on my parents’ dollar during their annual visits. These days, I try to make it back at least once per year to enjoy a delicious meal and some Georgia football (Go Dawgs)!
In my most recent trip to Athens, I stumbled upon a new restaurant that I have officially added to my list of Athens favorites (we’ll get to those in a little bit)…
En route downtown, we passed (and immediately turned around to enter) a place called the Branded Butcher – a decision we would be very happy about throughout the next hour.
This place gave off a great vibe – slightly rustic with a touch of swank and what appeared to be a fun-looking bar scene. We collectively decided that the best way to tackle the eclectic, farm-to-table menu would be to try a sampling of the small plates and charcuterie. Almost everything we tried was spot on, the highlights of the meal included the:
- Raw oysters. Clean, fresh, and accompanied by a homemade cocktail sauce that was pleasantly heavy on the horseradish. The best part about the oysters was actually the house made saltines, which made the packaged kind slightly resemble cardboard.
- Grilled romaine. My favorite dish of the night was a dressed up twist on the classic Caesar salad. It was topped with a healthy serving of crispy fried oysters, which I reluctantly shared with the rest of the table. The wedge was grilled just enough to add a little char and soften the freshly shaved Grana Padano cheese.
- Pork chop. The only entrée we ordered was perfectly seasoned and thick enough to absorb plenty of the flavorful pork jus that engulfed it. It sat atop a medley of roasted white beans and arugula, and was finished with an apricot reduction that gave it just a hint of sweetness.
We also enjoyed the radish salad (a light and refreshing contrast to the heartiness of the grilled romaine), the cheese plate (I’ve already discussed my love of cheese plates, and this one certainly did not disappoint), and the chicken terrine (less memorable than the rest of the meal).
The only disappointment of the meal was the pork belly confit. In my opinion, the easiest way to ruin a dish is to overcook it – most likely a consequence of growing up with a mother who frequently “forgot” about items in the oven (sorry, Mom). The flavors of the pork belly were spot on, but it completely lacked the juiciness that made the pork chop so mouthwatering.
Given the caliper of the rest of the meal, I can certainly overlook one subpar dish among a long list of enjoyable others. I would eagerly recommend the Branded Butcher to anyone visiting Athens, along with these old favorites:
- Last Resort Grill: I’ve had too many great meals here to pin it down to one – anything and everything is fabulous.
- Marti’s at Midday: “The Mary Frances” aka the most delicious chicken salad sandwich you’ve ever eaten (and I don’t even like mayo).
- Clocked: The“Jumbo Deluxe Burger”, topped with cheddar, bacon, and a fried egg – enough said.