Connie and Art Crawley

Urban Food Explorers

My wife, Connie and I, call ourselves Urban Food Explorers, and we stay on the hunt for family-owned and operated eateries, American or international. We have often discovered these hidden treasures in older strip malls, or in refurbished stand-alone buildings. Upon our first visit, when we sit down, we say a little prayer for friendly service, fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, and home-made preparation. Ideally, the main courses are large enough that the two of us can share, or bag up for leftovers.

A long-time favorite that meets all these conditions is the Taste of India, recently re-located from downtown to the east side in Ansonborough of Athens strip center. The food is the kind that the owners, the Chhabra family, grew up preparing in the Punjab region in the north of India. They use a tandoor, the traditional Indian clay cylindrical oven, to cook and bake their meats and vegetables.  One of my favorites is tender boneless breast of chicken marinated in yogurt and freshly ground spices, cooked on skewers. Connie likes their Tandoori jumbo shrimp marinated in delicately spiced yogurt.

They use homemade sauces and exotic seasonings in their authentic masala and vindaloo dishes, and their fragrant soups and biryanis are mouth-watering and full of flavor – I particularly enjoy the rich and creamy mulligatawny. Entrees are served with vegetable pakora, a fritter battered in chickpea flour and lightly floured, basmati rice and naan, a traditional Indian flatbread. Vegetarian options are plentiful.

My OLLI Shared Interest Group called R.O.M.E.O. (Retired Old Men Eating Out) recently enjoyed a great lunch there with an abundant supply of naan and raita, chutney and spiced pickles.

Upon our first visit, when we sit down, we say a little prayer for friendly service, fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, and home-made preparation.

Another out-of-the way treasure is Bella Noche Italian/Latin restaurant in Watkinsville, located in the Bell’s Shopping Center on Hog Mountain Road. Long time Athenians probably remember that this location was previously occupied by the popular Piccolo’s restaurant.

Now in its third successful year of operation, Bella Noche has won praise for its creative Italian cuisine with a Latin flair, food that’scomplex without being too fussy. Freshly prepared salads and vegetarian options are plentiful!They even have a wood fire grill for cooked-to-order steaks and salmon!We enjoy feasting on their varied seafood and pasta dishes – Connie particularly delights in their ravioli filled with butternut squash and topped with pink vodka sauce.

Watch for their chalkboard daily dinner specials which may seem a bit pricey but are well worth the extra expense! And their new lunch menu features a mix-and-match system that allows the customer to tailor a selection of traditional Italian sauces and pastas starting at a ridiculously low price of $6.99! The chef/owner and servers are exceptionally friendly and welcoming too!

Both restaurants are open daily for lunch and dinner, serve wine and beer and offer free parking and easy access for those with special needs. Both have good acoustics! At a certain age, good conversation becomes just as important as good food. We don’t want to have to scream or turn down our hearing aid to mute the din.

Next time: The return of Baxter Avenue as a dining destination.doodad 

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