While in Athens, GA this week attending a seminar presented by the GA Beef Board, I was lucky enough to dine at The National with my chef buddies - Stephen, Matt, and Guillermo - from Haven and Valenza . We pulled up to the bar around 4pm and ordered a round of suds. Ten minutes later we had made all our choices and the plates were on their way.
The National is a partnership between Peter Dale/Chef, Chris Luken/Bar and Hugh Acheson (chef of the Five & Ten). Their menu is solidly Mediterranean with a lean towards Spanish. Built in a historic feeling building that used to be the offices for a tire manufacturer, The National has a clean, calm decor in the dining room. Outside the restaurant, there is a nice grouping of tables running the length of the facade. On a day like we had (sunny and 70), they are probably the best tables in the house. Everything about this restaurant is well thought out and spot on for the concept, which is a casual neighborhood cafe. I strongly recommend that if you have the opportunity to visit Athens, you make The National your dining destination for the day. You will be glad you did.
So, the food was amazing. Rather than drone on, I'm going to let the pictures do the talking. All in all, the kitchen threw 12 plates at us that day. I snapped pictures of everything I could, but at some point it all became too overwhelming and I just put the camera down and ate. Many, many thanks to our chefs that day. You guys rock. Hard.
Not pictured: Hummus with sumac, pine nuts and warm flatbread - white bean soup with pancetta, chorizo, local greens, red potatoes, tomatoes, leeks, carrots and parsnips.
So, if you are asking where's the BBQ....well there wasn't any. Man can't survive on BBQ alone. As well, I had spent that entire day learning up close and personal about the cultivation and fabrication of beef. At that point in the day, I was ready for some beauty to offset the primal experience of learning where steaks come from.
I'm not typically one to gloat, but after we concluded this wonderful meal our group headed over to Five and Ten to meet our favorite Southern Foods purveyor, Baylor Keese, for another meal. Eight more incredible plates later (Oysters Rockerfeller, Chicken Liver Pate, Frisee salad, Skate, Frogmore stew, braised pork shoulder, sweetbreads, and asparagus salad) there was just no room left to eat anything else. The dinner company and conversation were unparalled. There's nothing like eating with a bunch of food industry junkies. As an added bonus, we spotted Mike Mills from REM dropping into the Five and Ten for a late night meal. Stumbing out into 5 points, we pointed the car westward and headed back to ATL ( with a minor, unintended detour up 29 North - thanks for saving our ass Baylor). In the end, it came to 20 plates from two of the absolute best restaurants in Athens - for me a personal best and a lifetime culinary high point. It was a stupendous, surreal, gluttonous day. I wouldn't trade it for anything. Ever.