By Hollyn Scott
The Pine Food and Drink’s website describes itself as a “new south eatery” that specializes in “progressive southern fare” and “chic comfort recipes,” a promise my experience proved to confirm. Located next to Waffle House and across from Athens Running Company in the Five Points area of Athens, Georgia, the laid-back restaurant serves unique and constantly changing brunch, lunch and dinner options.
When I arrived at 6:00 p.m. on a Wednesday night, the front parking lot was full, but a sign next to the restaurant labeled “parking for The Pine” directed me to plenty of spaces behind the building.
The restaurant’s interior revealed a contrasting design of rustic, multi-colored woods and sleek, modern silvers, visually tying into the contemporary South creative direction. Paintings by local artists are hung throughout the building, with one picture of a goat going for $350.
Even on an ordinary night in the middle of the week, The Pine was not dead. There were several people sitting toward the back and one large party at the table in front of the bar. The place is small but pleasant and provides a refreshing alternative to the obnoxiously noisy atmosphere present at most tinier eateries.
My friends and I were greeted by a smiling face at the door and told we could have a seat wherever, so we chose a table by the front windows with a view of people walking dogs and jogging on the sidewalks. The front patio would have been our first choice, but the weather was too cold for us to enjoy it. We were given the dinner menu, which consisted of starters and salads, flatbreads, mains, vegetables and deserts supplied by their “friends at KiKi’s Bake Shop.” The mains were a bit costly (the nightly pasta special is $17, and it’s the cheapest option), but the other sections had appealing choices at reasonable prices.
We ordered the deviled egg trio as a starter so we could experience the “progressive southern fare” mentioned on the restaurant’s website. It arrived in what seemed like seconds later. The toppings vary depending on when you visit, so our server explained what was in each egg as soon as she placed the appetizer on the table. The dish was adorably presented in a three-compartment tray in which a blue cheese and cinnamon egg, a caramelized peanut egg and a marinara sauce egg were each perched on a bed of basil leaves.
I chose the egg topped with caramelized peanuts because it was charmingly different from the original deviled egg format. The crunchy sweetness of the caramelized peanuts overpowered the yolk and hardboiled egg, making the entire egg taste like it was coated in caramel. It was sweet enough to be on the desert menu, so no complaints here.
After devouring our eggs, we went for a “chic comfort recipe,” ordering the house-made meatballs and mozzarella flatbread, which we could watch being cooked by the wood-fired oven in the back corner of the restaurant. The flatbread came served on a wooden slab and appeared messily thrown together in the most appetizing way possible. The size was perfect for splitting three ways and could easily be split four. My mouth waters just reminiscing about the blending of marinara sauce with the perfectly cooked meatballs, tangy red onions, slick chunks of mozzarella and hint of basil that acted as a cherry on top of an all-star cast of flavors.
Lastly, I ordered the quinoa salad with pecan vinaigrette to complete my dining experience by sampling a healthier option. The salad came quick but not too quick and wasn’t served any differently than a salad you might get at Chili’s, but I wasn’t expecting anything special, because how many ways can you present a salad? The feta cheese was the most noticeable component, appearing as if snow was scattered on top of the vibrant colors of red cherry tomatoes, purple beets, orange carrot slices and green lettuce. The first bite took a second for my taste buds to fully comprehend all that was present, but with each chew I fell more and more in love with the freshness of well-blended flavors saturated in the subtle yet evident pecan vinaigrette. My only beef with the salad is that it’s called the “quinoa salad,” yet the quinoa went unnoticed to the point where I forgot there was any quinoa in it. Overall, however, this was not a huge deal for me because I enjoyed the richness of the dish despite its low quinoa supply.
The Pine’s menu consists of so many exclusive and ever-changing choices, the best way to get the full experience is to bring a few friends and split a variety of “progressive southern” and “chic comfort” inspired dishes. The atmosphere is calm but not boring, the staff is friendly but not overwhelming and the food is unique but not too crazy. The modern-rustic style restaurant is the perfect spot to escape the craziness of life or relax in a calmer ambiance and, for achieving its goal of being a “new south eatery” dedicated to providing its customers with comfort, The Pine receives a score of 4.5 out of 5 forks.