ATHENS, GEORGIA: CHICKEN FRIED STEAK AND FRUITY BEER by RJ Furth
Anthony and I have reached Athens, Georgia, our penultimate stop. Tomorrow is Macon and we fly home Saturday, Anthony to London, me to Denver. Our final long drive was Jasper, Alabama, to Athens. Jasper is a lovely small town with an impressive Civil War memorial (there was a Confederate battle flag made from fresh flowers) and a small synagogue, Temple Emmanuel. I told Anthony at the start of the trip that we should keep count of all the churches, of which there are everywhere in impressive numbers, mostly Southern Baptist. Since I was driving and needed to pay attention, I told him to keep track while I kept a tally of synagogues and mosques. Synagogues 2, mosques 0. We stopped for lunch in a small town (most southern towns are small) and ate at the only restaurant which featured Southern food like fried chicken and fried catfish and collard greens. Anthony ordered a steak sandwich. When it arrived his jaw dropped. He waited until the waitress had left before asking, “What is this, man?” It was chicken friend steak, unique to the South. Thin, inexpensive steak is dreaded in batter and deep fried like the chicken. Anthony ate half.
Athens is dramatically different from the rest of the Deep South that we’ve seen. While they surely have a Dollar General or two (every town in the Deep South has a Dollar General or two), Athens is a college town. It has the beautiful, green campus of the University of Georgia (Go you dawgs!) and a downtown right across the street that has four long streets of restaurants and shops and bars with lives music. Most towns we’ve visited the past ten days featured a couple of restaurants that were not chains. The people are mostly young and pretty and smiling and you just feel good strolling it’s wide sidewalks. My only complaint is with the craft beer. Perhaps it has to do with the hot, semitropical climate. Maybe it’s because the South has a notorious sweet tooth: moon pie, pecan pie, peaches and peach pie. Anthony and I tasted a few cold ones last night and we failed to finish two because of their fruitiness. The descriptions had warned us (apricot tones, like a shandy, fresh and fruity!) but I tried one anyway because I wished to be open minded and because the waitress was really cute and said she liked it. My error. They don’t seem to brew dark beers, though one place had a bottle and canned list that ran to over fifty beers. Right, forget about my fruit beer whine.
We’ve had a great time, heard some good music, eaten a few outstanding meals and met some of the nicest people I’ve ever encountered on the road. As always, Anthony has been a terrific travel companion. I’ve enjoyed his observations and look forward to future trips.