Both my sister, Nancy, and I are huge fans of “Top Chef” and “Top Chef Masters” on Bravo. Watching these creative chefs gets us excited about food and its endless possibilities. We both became big fans of Hugh Acheson, executive chef of several restaurants in Athens, including the 5&10. So, when my niece, Alexandra, was graduating from the University of Georgia, my sister immediately got on the phone to make a reservation at the 5&10 for her graduation dinner.
We were all very excited to go to the 5&10 to see what Hugh Acheson’s creations are like up close and personal. The outside is a simple white building in the five points area of Athens. Big utensils adorn the walls outside of the building that used to be literally a five and dime store. Inside are two dining rooms with lots of tables near each other. There is a southern theme with a big quilt hanging on the wall, black and white paintings, folk art under the pass, a bookshelf full of Hugh’s latest cookbook, “A Turn of the South,” (which I highly recommend getting. I have a copy that my sister gave me for my birthday). The ceiling has small squares of cork on the tiles to try to absorb the sound, but it was not doing a very good job as it was quite loud and hard to hear everyone at our table. We loved the whimsical mobiles with stars and moons and swirly pieces of metal on them though. Exposed duct work give the building a little bit of a warehouse feel.
Hugh Acheson grew up in Canada, but has been in Georgia for many years. He likes to reflect the region he lives in by creating dishes that represent that region. His website says, “My mantra when it comes to provisioning is this: local first, sustainable second, organic third.” This vision was very apparent in the great meal we had.
Our waiter, Bob, was really friendly and helpful, especially helping us decide what to try. We had fun kidding with him.
We started our dinner with an appetizer from the specials board, which were wild ramps. The ramps were grilled with lemon and olive oil and very thinly sliced pieces of Parmesan cheese on top. The ramps were smoky and tender. I was so excited to try these because I have heard Hugh Acheson talk about them and how much he loves ramps. Now I can see why!
My husband ordered one of the specials which was a risotto with octopus, grilled scallops, arugula and topped with a saffron crema. The octopus was tender, scallops were grilled to perfection and the risotto was nice and creamy.
My niece and sister had the catfish that was salt cured and had lemon and was smoked over night in a slow cooking smoker and was served with hominy grits. The grits were real buttery and creamy and the fish was light and flaky. Wow, it was really incredible.
I had the trout, which was wrapped in bacon and stuffed with fennel and lemon. It was served over some hoppin’ john and topped with shaved celery and a hot pepper emulsion. It was exploding in flavor. The trout was crispy on the outside and flaky and nice white chunks of meat on the inside.
My brother-in-law had the New Orleans barbecue shrimp with lemon and a buttered crostini. I didn’t get to try his dish, but they looked really great. My other niece had the asparagus salad with shaved celery, arugula, parmesan cheese, and a tarragon vinaigrette. She is vegetarian, so had asked for the prosciutto to be excluded from the dish. The asparagus were very tender and the vinaigrette was tart and a good compliment to the dish.
For dessert, we tried the chocolate nemesis with bruleed bananas, candied peanuts and salty caramel ice cream. It was a very rich, indulgent dish, the chocolate married well with the salty caramel ice cream. It was the best of the three desserts we tried in my opinion.
My sister had the strawberry tart with black pepper, candied marcona almonds and honey and was topped with a couple of pansies. It was really pretty and the strawberries were very fresh and yummy.
I tried the cream, which was a buttermilk panna cotta with poached rhubarb, maple and streusel. It was pretty, especially the little blue flowers on top, but it was a bit on the bland side. I am a huge fan of rhubarb. In fact, I used to get on my tricycle when I was three and bike down the street to my neighbor’s house just to get a slice of rhubarb pie. So, I was disappointed that the tart flavor of the rhubarb was cooked out of this dish. While the cream was nice and thick and creamy, it has no kick to it. But that was the only real complaint I had for the whole meal. I was so happy to see first hand what Hugh’s vision for food it like in person. The only thing better would have been if he had been there himself.