Kumquat Mae, Athens GA (CLOSED)

Kumquat Mae has one of the most curious histories of any restaurant that we’ve ever visited. It has closed and reopened several times in different towns, not from lack of business, but because Trae Stewart has always put family first, and has closed the restaurant and bakery to devote time to her children. The current location of the restaurant is at least the fourth since 1995, but it’s only been in business for maybe half of that time.

Previously, the restaurant had been located in nearby Watkinsville, and we intended to stop by for a meal on an occasion last year, but we found the place closed. They were in the process of moving to Mitchell Bridge Road in Athens at that time, to an odd blue and green building that completely defies every preconceived notion of a restaurant looking for a traditional location or space. Driving past, you wouldn’t think a restaurant was there at all, but rather fourteen different startup PR firms in closet-like offices. Happily, Stewart and her business partner Renee Hartley have built a large fan base over the years who have followed them to this curious location, which has been open for about one year.

Kumquat Mae completely fell off our radar after our trip to Watkinsville, in part because, as regular readers know, we did not visit the Athens area very often this year and had lots of other places that we wanted to try, and we just sort of forgot about them, despite the absolutely wonderful name. Is there a better name for a restaurant, anywhere? In fact, we were not actually planning to come here on this trip, either, but it was raining pretty hard throughout the day, preventing us from spending the hour and a half at the playground that we planned, and Marie’s friend we went there to visit was sick, and the barbecue place that we were going to visit (Porkhouse) had shut down, blaming landlord issues. We were going to have supper at 5.30, when a place we’ll catch next time opened its doors, but it was 3 pm and we were pretty much done for the day. So we browsed through Flagpole until this came up in the recent news. (Everybody in Athens already reads Grub Notes in that paper, I’m sure, but if out-of-towners want the scoop before visiting the Classic City, you should definitely bookmark it.)

Marie agreed that a hot sandwich would be nice on such a gloomy, rainy day, and ordered a ham and gouda, which comes with sliced apples and mustard on sourdough bread. This was a great little mix of flavors and she enjoyed it. The sandwiches come with tortilla chips, but we decided to order a basket of steak fries and holy moly, what a surprising treat these turned out to be! Only a few places do hand-cut steak fries, but if they can be as good as these, everybody should.

I had a grilled chicken sandwich with pesto – quite a lot of pesto, actually – and Provolone cheese, with a side of pasta salad. It was very tasty, and, as a last-minute replacement for something I had been looking forward to, it really satisfied me. I’m glad that we took a minute to find something new-to-us instead of just relying on an old Athens standard like the T-Stand or the Grill. As great as those are, we were really in the mood to have something we hadn’t had before. The service was very good, and we left before the quiet reggae music drove me too crazy. Marie drove home, and we were back before the sun went down.

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