Downtown Athens Eating

The steak and cheese calzone.The Tavern at the Arch
by Matt

I entered the Tavern at the Arch wondering what I would find. Upon returning from Christmas break, I discovered that the Mellow Mushrooms on Broad Street and at Five Points had been transformed. The holiday had buried the familiar visage of the two mushroom-men and replaced them with the heraldic logo of “The Tavern.”
          Mark Bushey, owner of the Broad Street Mellow Mushroom franchise for the past fifteen years, explained the situation. He broke with the national chain over the issue of the dough. Mellow Mushroom demanded its franchisees use frozen dough and he wasn’t going to tolerate this decline in quality.
          “I make my dough fresh—on-site fresh,” he said. He also wanted create a “more balanced menu” with “fried food, burgers and hot dogs.” A quick perusal of the new offerings revealed four types of burgers and two kinds of all-beef hot dogs, the conventional “Big Dawg” ($4.95) and the “Journey Dawg” ($4.95), made “any way you want it, that’s the way you need it.” Also new to the menu were chicken tenders ($5.95), antipasto ($9.95) and wings ($5.95 for ten). Chili dogs made with homemade chili, Reuben sandwiches and French Dips are all “coming soon.” Bushey also explained that he planned on brewing his own beer, with the restaurant’s mascot, a black Labrador retriever named Dave, adorning the label.
          I began my culinary exploration fairly cautiously, ordering my staple of the earlier dispensation, the steak-and-cheese calzone ($8.95). Not only did the calzone survive the transition intact, it was better than before. When I visited the Five Points Mellow Mushroom late last semester, they burned the underside of my calzone and the charcoal taste contaminated everything. Cooked to the right consistency and dashed with a little parmesan, the steak, cheese and crust blended together in a large hunk of Italian heaven.
          Next came the somewhat more adventurous choice of the new bacon cheddar burger ($6.95). The curly fries, spiced with seasoning salt, were quite good but the big bland burger with an even bigger bun did not exactly enchant. It’s better than what one can get at Clocked, but does not compare to Outback Steakhouse. There the king of all bacon cheeseburgers reigns, made out of sirloin that the Outbackers grind themselves. The upside of the Tavern buying its ground beef from the market is that it’s a fair bit cheaper than Outback.
          I moved on to the Big Dawg, which came served on a sesame-seed baguette with sauerkraut and spicy mustard on the side. The bread-to-meat ratio was a little high, but the meat quality was good. I also ordered a slice of cheese pizza ($1.50). The pizza tasted different from Mellow Mushroom pizza in a way that I could not quite place, probably the result of Bushey’s spirited defense of made-fresh dough. It’s about as good as the pizza from Little Italy, and if one orders it plain, a little cheaper too. That’s something the college student in us all can appreciate.
          Finally came the chicken fingers. The meat was tender and juicy and the honey mustard dipping sauce was great, but the individual tenders were too small and crunchy. The Tavern would benefit by including more tenders in the basket and using somewhat less batter when frying them.
          The area where the Tavern really shines is its service. All these meals were served by an attentive, solicitous staff. Rarely does one have to wait long to be seated or to be served. The restaurant’s classic-rock ambience also helps make dining there enjoyable—thanks to XM Satellite Radio Channel 46, the diner has all the Bob Dylan, Jethro Tull or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young one can munch along to.
          The Tavern combines excellent service and the best of Mellow Mushroom. Add the innovations of Mr. Bushey and give it time to work the bugs out and it will join The Grill and the Porterhouse Grille in the pantheon of good downtown Athens eating.

The Tavern at the Arch
259 East Broad Street
Athens, GA 30601
(706) 613-0892

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