Heirloom Cafe and Fresh Market, Athens GA

Readers have been telling us for ages that we need to try Heirloom Cafe, a farm-to-table place on Chase Street in Athens. We finally made it over there on our trip to the Classic City before Christmas. I didn’t realize that the restaurant had moved into a long-closed Amoco gas station. They even kept the old “torch and oval” sign!

The restaurant opened in 2010, which is more than long enough for us to have paid a visit by now, but with seasonal variations in the menu and a fresh face in the kitchen – Joel Penn came on board as the executive chef about six months ago after spending time at The National and the recently-shuttered East-West Bistro – this is the sort of restaurant that is always changing. A story about this place written five years ago would be about as useful today as this will in the far-flung future of 2021. So call this a time capsule in the works, or just take our word for it: if you’d like a very nice place for a date night, we had a really nice evening here, even if our “date” had two kids along!

Earlier in the evening, the girlchild got her own meal at The Grill. We actually had to bribe her with a milkshake from there to convince her to spend any time with us boring old people in the first place. So while the boychild and I shopped and gossiped at Bizarro Wuxtry, Marie listened to our daughter complain about boys while she enjoyed a burger, fries, feta, and a big vanilla shake. Then we considered the reality that the four year-old was possibly not going to be the best company in the world at a nice place like Heirloom Cafe, so we just got him some fast food, promised ourselves that he’d eat better the next day, and that worked out just fine. We got a table right as Heirloom Cafe opened, and our daughter got out her phone to resume complaining about boys, and our son got Mommy’s phone to play PAW Patrol games, and Marie and I enjoyed some very nice food while we pretended they were at home. We started with some adorable, and wonderful, thinly-sliced pickled cucumbers.

We also shared an order of the black-eyed pea hummus, which comes with house-made “saltines.” Of the two, we both preferred the delicious marinated cucumbers, but we really enjoyed each of them.

I had a private wager with myself before we arrived. I figured, rightly, that Marie was going to be really intrigued by the sound of the lamb meatloaf and order that. I was all set on a bowl of their chicken mull. We both really enjoyed our entrees, and were pleasantly surprised by them, too.

The lamb was exactly what Marie thought that she wanted, although the seasonings and accompaniments were not what she was expecting from a loaf of any kind of meat. This is made with a playful wink toward what you might find at a Mediterranean restaurant, with stewed chickpeas and a lemon-accented yogurt. It was completely delicious, and since Marie keeps insisting that she doesn’t enjoy Greek or Mediterranean cooking, I was very pleased that she liked it so much.

Now, this mull… this is not like any mull that any restaurant that I have visited serves. It was wonderful, and I really liked the fun spin on the traditional recipe. Mull, typically, is white. It’s chicken, seasonings, and milk. This adds some “root vegetables” – I decided against asking – which completely changed the color and flavor of the dish. I strongly believe that anybody looking to do a barbecue tour of northeast Georgia and/or western South Carolina should visit a few places that serve mull (or “chicken stew” as some places in the Palmetto State call it) as one of their sides. Heirloom Cafe’s unique version is a standout on its own, and shouldn’t be missed.

So we had a nontraditional mull and a nontraditional meatloaf on our accompanied-by-kids nontraditional date. Perhaps one day, the two of us can return to Athens without any children in tow and do it properly and then go see a show or something. It could happen.

Other blog posts about Heirloom Cafe:

Lazy B Farm (Aug. 5 2011)
Cupcakes & Sunshine (Dec. 15 2014)
The Dish on Athens (Sep. 1 2015)

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