S jokes that we are the youngest people in America. He has a point. As we are often staying in RV (aka: Recreational Vehicle) parks where the smart retirees hang out alongside their cats and dogs in their homes on wheels, wearing lots of leisurewear. Not that I mind too much. Older folks are generally quite a captive audience. They’re interested in your stories, ask lots of questions, and go to bed early. But: this was starting to feel somewhat passé, and we were happy to be off to Athens Georgia, where a large University campus keeps the town young.
The reason for us being in Athens – besides the lure of youth – was to eat at the Four Coursemen supperclub. It’s been going for four years or so. Started by two friends that liked to cook together, it has now become a larger group, mostly made up from chefs working in local restaurants. Operating out of a ‘shotgun‘ house in the Athens suburbs, it now also includes their sommelier Nancy, who by her own admission looks younger than her palate would suggest and lovely host Erin, who spent a lot of time hanging on the porch with me having sneaky ciggies. It seemed like a pretty slick operation, and Athens is not a huge town: just over 110,000 people with a fluid student population of 35,000 or so. I was curious to see how they pulled off such a professional set up with such a small pool of diners..
We arrived in time to head down to the downtown area and grab a quick drink before dinner, and we checked out The Trappese Pub, downtown. Besides the bartender telling us how the Frat boys couldn’t hold down the stronger Belgian beers when they first opened, it was a pleasant-ish place to grab a drink. With a variety of different beers available, a lot from the US which were interesting for us to try, but we also made the mistake of ordering a cheese plate which came refrigerator-cold, and with a handful of scroggin and strawberry jam which was all, well, just a bit random.
When we arrived at the Four Coursemen’s for pre-dinner drinks, we found the dinner already in full swing in a leafy part of town (later I was told that this is the ‘vegetarian’ part of town, nudge nudge). It was set up purely for dinner- at first I thought it housed a very tidy and minimal individual, but our hosts rent the space out exclusively for dinners.
This dinner felt more like a intimate dinner party than any of the others we have attended and probably because of the space it was held within. Small and without any corridors, each room spilled into the next, so often you were forced to squeeze past another to get where you wanted to go – encouraging friendly small talk and laughter.
Dinner was served from the kitchen next to the dining room, which was two long tables with large wooden block benches. We were joined by Ann and Joe, a lovely Southern couple who charmed us throughout dinner and by the end had invited us to their home for Prosecco the following afternoon. Between each course ‘the men’ would introduce the dish, followed by Nancy who shared her knowledge of the wines without pretence or show.
So…what did we have for dinner?
Pork Liver Mousse w/ Grappa Soaked Peaches, Cerignola Olives, Fresh Oregano. This was served with a toasted slice of baguette. This was deceptively rich and yet texturally light. The Grappa added a bite to the sweet peaches, and all round was a lovely starter. The Adami Prosecco had some residual sugar and worked well with this.
Up next was a local rocket salad served with roasted green grapes, fresh Lima beans, parmesan, pine nut vinaigrette. This was the Achilles heel of the meal for me. I found it over-dressed, the leaves limp in the liquid. S found this to be his favourite, so maybe it is personal preferences. The grapes did balance out the vinaigrette, but I had to ensure I portioned them out correctly, and this meant having to work at my dinner, which I prefer not to. We drank the Terradora Dipaolo Falanghina ’08 – of which I wrote no notes, but remember fondly.
A delicious fish dish of Alaskan Cod served with eggplant capponata, braised celery, tomatoes, and crisped bacon lardons followed. This was a real highlight for me: a large flaky fillet sitting on a bed of slutty goodness. The lardons gave a great crunch and worked with the tomatoes and celery which added some good earthy sweetness. A win-win dish. The Barbera D’Asti from Damilano ’08 had enough acidity to cut through the richness while the fruit didn’t dominate. Nice choice!
But the best was to follow: the show-stealer for all of us seated together was the Pork Bolognese with Guanciale, served with handmade Pappardelle. There were garlic blossoms in there too but I couldn’t detect them outright as they kind of taste like garlic, only milder. The bolognese was lovely and spicy: it was rich, but wasn’t beaten up by the tomatoes. The sauce hugged the pasta and the dish was gone in moments. The lady sitting next to me had lived in Italy for 30 years, and only recently returned to Athens, and this got her approval. It was served with Felsina Chianti Classico ’07 which held up nicely with the dish. I am glad that this came last because I was too full to ask for seconds, but if I’d have had some space…
Pudding came round too quickly, as it always does…the pastry chef confessed that he hates cake, but found inspiration in beer and served us chocolate stout chocolate cake. Instead of a desert wine we were served a Faretti Biscotti Liqueur which was great with the hazelnuts and also with the fennel glaze. I had a few mouthfuls, but couldn’t do it. I did manage a cheeky second glass of the liqueur which was herbal and complex.
After the finale, we sat around and chatted for some time…we met some of the guys who had been doing their thing in the kitchen, and enjoyed the camaraderie that they all obviously feel. They gave us a few tips for brunch the next day and it was clear that they’re all embedded in local food culture for this region. And committed to the connection between farms and restaurants that we’ve seen time and again on this trip.
We had heard that Of Montreal was playing a home-town gig that night, and some of the ladies were heading out. We joined them on the walk and they kindly made us their +1’s. And so concluded a lovely evening of fine wine, great food sprinkled by a little bit of Rock n’ Roll.