I’m easily one of the biggest fans of the Food Network in the state of South Carolina. If my television is on, it’s either cooking shows or Adult Swim cartoon reruns, nothing else. Needless to say, I have my favorite celebrity chefs just like a football fan might have really big opinions on say, Tom Brady or the Ohio Buckeyes. One of them, perhaps the top amongst them, is Chef Hugh Acheson. His food philosophy rooted in education, sustainability, and Southern classics is basically everything I find fascinating and worthwhile about good food.
All that said, I’ve been wanting to get my little butt to Athens, GA to dine at his flagship restaurant, The Five & Ten, for roughly a decade. Chef Acheson describes the 5 & 10 thus, “The menu has always been an open interpretation of Southern food, melding Georgia cookery with French and Italian influences I learned growing up. It’s been a very fun restaurant over the years.” — Honestly, he’s right. It’s fun and yet somehow fancy (without being stuffy!) and it’s the best of Southern hospitality and recipes with an outstanding (and well edited) wine list.
Athens, GA was – all told – 14+ hours out of our way when Mom & I drove to Orlando last month. I had no chill about this meal; in fact when I sat down I told our server – a fantastic professional named Etienne – how far we had driven and how long I had been waiting to dine there and that it was my birthday in two days. He took it all like the cool guy in your algebra class who’s so not interested but is very polite whenever you trip all over your words in front of him. Etienne was not the only highlight of the staff – every server, busser, & host seemed to be cross-trained and stepped in throughout the evening to make sure we were well taken care of. Many of them even stopped by our table (unobtrusively!) to wish me a happy birthday and praise my mother for being an awesome mom who brought me all the way to Athens, GA for dinner.
To start off, we knew we had to sample the wine list (I’m a wine-nerd, having worked at the award-winning Catalyst Restaurant in Cambridge, MA for many years). Mom is a sucker for a light sweet wine (though she enjoys reds, rosés, and whites by equal measure) and she tried the refreshing Spanish 2014 cava. I knew I’d be having a hearty dinner so I wanted my wine to match up and I was delighted by the 2014 French Cotes du Rhone Villages by Domaine Les Aphillanthes. I don’t naturally lean toward French wines – having learned originally in Italy and nearly always favoring funkier, bolder tastes from the likes of southwestern Australia – but I’m so glad I chose the way I did – it complimented my entire meal perfectly, from the deviled quail egg amuse-bouche straight to the airy mint and chocolate dessert. I had the seasonal Vittles – a 4+ course dinner menu of the best the local farms have to offer – and Mom had the steak (how do you not have the steak?!).
Mom’s steak was cooked just as she requested it and practically melted in your mouth (yes, I tried a bite, because of course). I am still in awe that I ate every single bite that was put in front of me. The lamb course, I have to say, was probably my favorite. Featuring Two Brothers Lamb that cooked perfectly and a bright, tangy blueberry sauce over earthy baby fennel, I would have licked the plate had I not been so very aware of our beautiful (and yet entirely welcoming and so-very-not-pretentious) surroundings. To top it all off, when I posted photos thanking the staff for a birthday dinner to remember, Chef Hugh Acheson as well as the restaurant account both ‘liked’ and 5 & 10 commented wishing me a happy birthday! The little things, that extra touch, truly meant the world to me.
I cannot thank everyone involved for what was truly a birthday to remember (especially my mother, who never once told me a 6+ hour road trip each way was a ridiculous idea for one meal and a few hours in a city in Georgia) and I have to admit that I even when compared to my fabulous Parisian vacation last summer, the Five and Ten was hands down the best meal I’ve had yet.
Next up – I’ll have to get back to Athens to try Acheson’s Mediterranean-inspired The National!