I used to work as a server at a lovely little restaurant in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was called Lula — it was started by the same people that created Tomato Head (a must-eat if ever in the city of the Sun Sphere), and could best be described as upscale, sometimes-authentic Mexican food with a vegetarian side (i.e., they served tofu in addition to chorizo and chicken). I loved Lula. It had its restaurant issues, but bad food was never one of them (well, until that day they decided to replace all the dill in the dishes with mint — I could in no way support that desperate money-saving measure). I still cook dishes that are as close as I can come to copies of Lula entrées (since I never worked in the kitchen, I never had access to the actual recipes, but between good guesses and talkative cooks, I gleaned some priceless ingredient information).
But I digress — today’s post is about tequila. The owners of Lula were very into tequila. It was serving there that the words “100 percent blue agave” first left my lips. I’ll admit that I never really got into shooting tequila — blue agave or not. But one thing I came to appreciate was the margarita. A “traditional” one (I don’t really know what this means — I have no knowledge of margarita history). It was the simplest of ingredients: good tequila (no Cuervo there), lime juice, triple sec, rocks, (no green slurpies) salted rim (upon request). It was the first time I really liked the margarita. None of that syrupy sweetness or saccharin aftertaste that you can get with mixes. Just yum — and on a summer evening, the perfect drink, right up there with the gin and tonic. Refreshing, citrusy, and of course, relaxing.
I haven’t been one to order a margarita much, since the days of Lula (I regret to say the eatery is no more — they closed the doors several years ago, and I’ve mourned the loss on many an occasion since then). But my friend Kristin and I wanted margaritas, and after feigned attempts to really think of all the options, we agreed that, really, the best option for a good margarita was 5 & 10 (ok, I can’t speak for Kristin, but my attempts at least were somewhat self-manipulative). So we met at the bar there, and can I just say that I love even the bar at 5 & 10? In my somewhat limited experience, the bartenders have always been friendly, attentive, and good at making mixed drinks. And really, just sitting there is a pleasure. The restaurant’s eclectic decor and warm atmosphere are an aesthetic treat. And, I am happy to inform that the margarita itself was in no way a disappointment. They actually have a “summer drinks” portion of their bar menu, and list a classic margarita. They have a special one, too, with the additions of orange juice and Campari, but we both ordered the classic (Kristin added a shot of Grand Marnier). Patron tequila, lime and lemon juices, triple sec, rocks, and a coarse-salted rim. It was perfect, most exactly what my heart desired.
Now, you should know that if you’re going to drink the best margarita in town (ok, I know, I know — I haven’t had very many other Athens margaritas to compare, but I’m just guessing here) you’re gonna be $9 less rich. Before tipping the helpful bartender who gives you a taste of Campari so that you can make an educated decision. But if your experience is like mine, you will have so thoroughly enjoyed it down to the last lime-hinted shaving of ice, that it will have been well worth the double-digit price tag.