Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Tree That Owns Itself - Athens, GA

One of the things I wanted to do while I was in Athens, GA was to visit The Tree that Owns Itself. The tree was deeded to itself, along with the surrounding 8 feet of land, by Colonel William Henry Jackson. Jackson apparently had such fond childhood memories of the tree that he didn't want anything to happen to it.

The Tree That Owns Itself

According to an article in the Athens Weekly Banner of August 12, 1890 the deed read:
I, W. H. Jackson, of the county of Clarke, of the one part, and the oak tree… of the county of Clarke, of the other part: Witnesseth, That the said W. H. Jackson for and in consideration of the great affection which he bears said tree, and his great desire to see it protected has conveyed, and by these presents do convey unto the said oak tree entire possession of itself and of all land within eight feet of it on all sides.
(Wikipedia article)

I found out in my search for info on the tree that the current tree standing on the deeded land is The Son of the Tree that Owns Itself. The original tree succumbed to rot and fell in 1942. It was replaced by a tree grown from one of the original trees acorns.

The Tree that Owns Itself and surrounding land

A colorful folk tale about an eccentric man who loved a tree. From what little I know of the city, this seems to typify Athens. An interesting, eclectic city filled with talented people enjoying life. Definitely worth a visit.
Happy Travels!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Travel Loyalty Programs - Just say yes to free stuff

I've been doing some thinking about travel loyalty programs lately. For many years I traveled and didn't bother to take advantage of any of the loyalty programs available. Well no more. In the past few years I've signed up for, and actively use, several travel loyalty programs.

I have two frequent flyer accounts. Yes, only two. I try to keep my air travel to those airlines whenever I can. Because of this I've gotten enough miles for free RT tickets for vacations and visits to family and friends. Being loyal does pay off in some cases. Along with earning miles through straight travel I've also signed up for an airline affiliate credit card. This way I earn miles for everyday purchases. It adds up quickly. No program is perfect and there are some fees involved with the "free" travel awards but it's worth it to get signed up. If you're traveling anyway there's no reason not to take advantage of these programs.

Where I've seen the biggest return for brand loyalty has been with hotel reward programs. I've earned at least a week of free nights in the past year. Now that may not sound like a lot but at an average of $100 a night the rewards become significant. Of the many frequent traveler programs you can sign up for hotel reward programs should be at the top of your list. Besides the free nights you may get access to special deals for rooms and other freebies once you're at the property. 

The nice thing about a program like the one that Marriott sponsors is the various types of properties that it encompasses. Being a member of the Marriott reward program gives you a ton of flexibility. Their brands cover everything from their basic hotels to their higher end brands. Which means you can almost always find a property in your price range in any given city. 

Hyatt hotels also have a really good loyalty program, Hyatt Gold Passport. I like staying at the Hyatt. They have lots of great properties and always seem to have deals available. Being part of their loyalty program is just icing on the cake. One of their best programs is their Sunshine on Sale deal, stay three nights and get the fourth night free. (That was the deal, it may have changed now) We've taken advantage of that one several times. 

It pays to be a part of these programs. They offer real rewards that you can actually use. Being part of a hotel program can get you an upgraded room, free breakfast and discounted stays. And let's not forget the potential for upgrades on air travel. No matter your status within the airlines program, just being a member can get you upgrades to first class, priority boarding, free checked bags. All of these available for free or at greatly reduced prices.

If you haven't already, give these programs another look. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you find. Before you know it you could be flying and staying for free.

Happy travels!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The National - Athens, Georgia

While on a recent trip to Athens, GA we had the chance to have lunch at The National. The National is a lovely, intimate restaurant. The dining room is small but doesn't feel crowded and gives off an airy feel with it's cool blue and white color scheme.

We arrived a bit early for our lunch reservation so we had a few minutes to look around. There is a small bar opposite the dining room that seemed to be well stacked with bourbons and scotches. While we didn't take advantage of the nice selection on this trip it seems like a good spot to meet friends for a pre-dinner drink. And food is served in the bar throughout the day.

We were shown to a table along a wall filled with windows. The tables on this side  of the dining room share a long banquet and seat one to three people. The banquet was comfortable and the table, while a bit on the small side, was perfect for our party of two.

The food at The National takes its inspiration from the Mediterranean. Hummus, olives and stuffed dates are featured along with flat breads and salads. The lunch menu varies a bit from the dinner menu but in broad strokes the menus are very similar. If you can only make it for lunch, as we did, you'll miss a few items but still get a great variety to chose from.

Marinated Olives

Goat Cheese with Lavender Honey
 The menu at The National is divided into Firsts and Seconds. To start, from the Firsts menu we had the marinated olives and the goat cheese with lavender honey and toast. Both were quite good. Several different types of olives in a light dressing with a few capers thrown in. The goat cheese and honey couldn't be simpler. The lavender added a note that, to be honest, I'm still unsure of. I enjoyed it but the lavender seems an acquired taste.

After that we moved on to the seconds. We had the chicken salad with yogurt dressing, the tartine and Chucho's pizzette. All of the entrees were good but the chicken salad really stood out. The yogurt dressing was creamy and added a nice zip.

The pizzette was topped with chicken, fontina cheese, caramelized onions and pickled chilies. The onions were a nice sweet contract to the chicken and chilies.

The tartine was a toasted baguette served with triple cream cheese, beefsteak tomato, melted leeks, greens and a green olive vinaigrette. I love anything toasted so this was spot on for me. Creamy, crunchy and peppery.

We ordered coffee and tea and made our dessert selections. I had the Baklava Ice Cream with some type of blueberry compote and my lunch date had the Flour-less Chocolate Torte with cherries. While the ice cream was really good, the chocolate cake with cherries was divine. (I confess I stole more than a few bites.)

We had a very nice lunch at The National. Our server was wonderful, attentive without being intrusive and never made us feel rushed. Terrific service.

If you're in Athens, GA and looking for a lunch option that's a little bit different give The National a try. It's a great place to take a break in the middle of the day and the food and service are both top notch.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Five & Ten - Athens, Georgia

This weekend we visited Athens, GA, home to the University of Georgia and the Georgia Bulldogs. Athens is an eclectic college town and was home to indie bands such as Widespread Panic, the B52's and R.E.M.

Athens is also known for its bike culture and now, most certainly, its great dining. Which brings me to one of the primary reasons for our visit. Chef, restaurateur and author Hugh Acheson is involved with two well known Athens restaurants, The National and Five & Ten. We were in town to eat and boy did we.

In fairness we did do a bit more than just eat. We walked all over downtown, visited the Tree That Owns Itself and shopped. But yeah, mostly we ate. Future posts will cover The National and the town of Athens in general. But we'll start with Five & Ten.

I'm not sure there is anything I can say about Five & Ten that hasn't already been said. Hugh Acheson opened Five & Ten in 2000. The restaurant serves southern cuisine with French and Italian influences. The food is amazing. Truly. It was easily one of our best dining experiences this year. The service is friendly and attentive without being intrusive. We felt well taken care of.

Five & Ten is warm and inviting, like the best neighborhood restaurants that I've ever visited. Like the food, things like fried chicken, low country seafood stew, all the best they can be. Elevated to another level by the skilled kitchen. I could overload this review with superlatives but let me just say the food was great. Just that, great. Well sourced, well prepared, and served by caring and knowledgeable servers.

After going over that nights specials with us, our waiter took our drink orders and left us to decide what we would be eating. The menu is divided into three parts: Snackies, Apps and Mains. After looking at all of the menus (Five & Ten serves a Prix Fixe menu at early dinner. At the time we were there it was $45 for food and the wine pairings) We decided to have the following:

To start we had the Pimiento Cheese with Crostinis. There were small chunks of cheese in the spread and just the right amount of spice. The glass of Riesling I was having was perfect with this.

Next, for apps, we had the Woodland Gardens heirloom tomato salad and the Salad Lyonnaise

Woodland Gardens heirloom tomato salad

Salad Lyonnaise
 The Lyonnaise salad was topped by a perfectly poached egg and accompanied by pork belly lardons. I think they were lardons at least. Whatever you call them they were like bacon to the hundredth power.

We had a hard time deciding on mains so we ordered three. (OK, that's not exactly true. I became so obsessed  with the fried chicken I ordered it after we finished the two mains we originally ordered. I know, I know, but it was SO worth it. The chicken was moist and the ratatouille and creamed celery that came with it were superb.) Now where were we? Oh yeah, mains. We ordered three, the Low Country Frogmore Stew (shrimp, potatoes, corn, andouille sausage, leeks in a tomato broth), the grilled Berkshire Chop with Hoppin John, seared okra, pickled Thomas Orchard peaches with mustard jus and the fried Darby Farms chicken with ratatouille and creamed celery.

Frogmore Stew

Grilled Berkshire Chop

Fried Chicken
 Finally we came to one of my favorites parts of any meal: dessert and coffee. Five & Ten makes a great cup of coffee, the french press decaf I had was flavorful and full bodied.

For dessert we had the Chocolate Nemesis with port poached figs, thyme streusel and cashew crunch ice cream. Oh my! My dinner companion ordered a nice rum to finish his meal and had a bit of the dessert we ordered.

Chocolate Nemesis - words can't do it justice

Well fed, well taken care of and delighted with the entire experience from beginning to end we reluctantly left Five & Ten promising ourselves we'd be back. And we will.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Red Eyed Mule - Marietta, Georgia

This weeks dining adventure once again finds us in Marietta, GA. This time for lunch at a little place called The Red Eyed Mule.

The Red Eyed Mule is a small restaurant that is only open for breakfast and lunch. Their hours are 6am-2pm Monday through Saturday.

We'd driven by this place a few times before finally stopping in. The name caught my eye (it sounded familiar) and I was intrigued enough to check it out.

During my research I found out that this place serves the favorite burger of a very well known local chef, Marietta native Alton Brown.

Curiosity piqued and my appetite right behind it, we headed over for lunch on Saturday. The Red Eyed Mule is a small place. As you walk in there is a counter to the left with about 6 or so stools pulled up to it and a few tables to the right opposite the counter. There is another room further on with a few booths, a larger table that can seat 6 and a few other smaller tables scattered around.

There are menus displayed on the counter for you to look over as you decide what you'll have. (My advice, try and decide before you get there. Menus are online.) You queue up at the register to place your order and pay. Find a table, grab your drinks from the self serve station and wait for your food.

There were the typical condiments on the table but one of them stood out, Matouk's Calypso Sauce. It's a mustard based sauce that gets its heat from scotch bonnet peppers. A nice surprise, flavor and heat.

Looking around you see an odd collection of items. Paintings, motorcycle parts and various signs make up the artwork in the space.

After a short wait our food was out. We each ordered the Jake's Sloppy Slaw Burger with fries. The burger is served on grilled Texas toast covered with cheese, sloppy Joe sauce and coleslaw. The burger was messy but had a great flavor. While the burger was cooked a bit more than I like, the mix of the coleslaw and sloppy Joe sauce was unique and really tasty. Definitely worth the trip and future return visits.

While we ate our burgers and fries, with some Calypso sauce thrown in for good measure, I couldn't stop thinking about their chicken salad sandwich. Their website makes a big claim about the chicken salad and I just had to try it. So, after eating a slaw burger and fries I ordered a chicken salad sandwich for dessert. Yep, you read that right, we had a chicken salad sandwich for dessert. And it was well worth it. While I really enjoyed the burger and would recommend it, I loved the chicken salad. Moist and meaty, crunch with pecans and sweet with sliced grapes. The whole thing served on warm, grilled Texas toast. Fabulous.

If you can make it in to the Red Eyed Mule during the week on Tuesday they put up a limited amount of plate lunches and Thursday and Friday the fire up the smoker for things like the "Redneck Reuben, Smoked Meatloaf Sandwich, Chipotle Wings, and a Chicken Club". While I wasn't able to try any of their breakfast offerings on this visit I will try them out next time I'm there. If I arrive at the right time I may be able to split the difference between breakfast and lunch.

If you're ever in Marietta, Georgia make your way to The Red Eyed Mule. Try Jake's Sloppy Slaw Burger, the chicken salad or any of their other creative options. Food this tasty and unique is worth the trip for sure.