Photo Credit: Caroline Elliott
BABY BABY BABY: Sitting in Watkinsville’s Suncatcher Cafe (42 Greensboro Hwy., 706-424-8281), you may suddenly realize where English director Edgar Wright got part of the inspiration for his new movie, Baby Driver. Researching settings for the new film, which takes place in Atlanta, he no doubt experienced the type of hospitality that is the stock-in-trade of Suncatcher and many other little places like it, where the staff sprinkles words like “baby” or “sweetie” or “honey” (and occasionally “ma’am”) as liberally as possible.
This is a long way of saying “they’re nice,” and that being friendly is a goal of the restaurant, which serves breakfast Monday through Saturday from 5–11 a.m. out of a space adjoining a Citgo with a convenience store. Just across the street is a Golden Pantry convenience store, relatively famous for its own biscuits made fresh on-site for a grab-and-go infusion of grease and carbs.
So, how does Suncatcher distinguish itself from its competition? For one thing, it has more than biscuits, although they still make up a majority of the menu. For another, you can grab a seat in the dining room and have a more leisurely wake-up meal. Much like at Athens’ Bread Basket, in the Boulevard neighborhood, most things are already made, letting the counter staff assemble them in a hurry. This helps with speed but not with the quality of the fried eggs, in both cases.
The biscuits themselves are of the cathead variety, being big and flattish; fluffy, not flaky. If you pile on too many toppings, they will entropically transform into a ball of mush by the time you get to the end. Keep it simpler, with a slice of American cheese and a slice of tomato or a plump, split smoked-sausage link, and you can still eat one with your hands, even while driving. Add gravy, and you may have to use a fork.
I swore I’d never eat another cinnamon roll, but I did have to try the equivalent made with a biscuit that Suncatcher offers, flavored with cinnamon and topped with cream-cheese icing and chopped nuts. I’m not sure it works.
The grits are thin and under-salted, requiring significant doctoring to have a modicum of flavor, but the hash browns are excellent. Shaped into little ovals, they’re crisp but not over-fried, with herbs and spices integrated to where they resemble particularly good hush puppies.
Suncatcher also does pancakes to order (plain or with blueberries or chocolate chips), French toast that might be labeled as “Freedom toast” on the chalkboard menu, and omelets and “bowls” that combine various ingredients. It has cereal and milk, plus squeezable pouches of applesauce by the register, and offers free drinks for firefighters, EMS workers, police and the military. Prices are good, food comes out fast, and highchairs are available.
MY LAND: Drive north from Athens to the J&J Flea Market on weekends, and you’ll find the wonderful Taqueria Mi Tierra serving fantastic Mexican food, including a split, charcoal-grilled chicken that is one of the best things to eat in the area. Head west instead, down old 29 to the small town of Statham, and you’ll find a slightly different branch of the restaurant, at 2085 Atlanta Hwy. SE (770-725-8226), in the same strip mall that housed Savvy Cakes (recently covered in this column and just moved to 335 Jefferson St.).
The Statham Mi Tierra isn’t quite as good, top to bottom, as the one at J&J. For one thing, it doesn’t have that chicken. Still, there are not a ton of options in the area, especially ones that make their own gorditas. There are certainly burritos and fajitas on the menu, but also nice, Mexican-style tacos, made with two (possibly homemade) corn tortillas each, a generous shower of finely chopped onions and a few leaves of cilantro, plus a wedge of lime to add some acid. The al pastor is lovely (tender, salty), and the lengua equally so, but the carnitas are on the dry side, and the barbacoa, too. Plain old ground beef probably gets overlooked these days in favor of more exciting proteins, but when it’s nestled into a gordita, with queso fresco and crema, it asserts itself and its good mouthfeel and flavor nicely.
Tortas—at least the special Cubano one that includes hot dogs and eggs, as well as avocado, tomato, lettuce, mayo, cheese, jalapeños and ham—are briefly toasted and pressed on the griddle, which melts the mayo to the point where it coats and infuses everything (for another example of this magic trick, see the Happy Top burger at White Tiger Gourmet). The array of salsas is not as wide as at the other location, but the green sauce supplied is hot as heck and pleasantly bitter.
The Statham Mi Tierra has a full bar by the entrance, with the somewhat-open kitchen supplying mouthwatering smells, and a large selection of coin-operated machines that sell stickers and plastic toys. It’s open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, although often not right at 11 a.m.