Actually, this restaurant is located in downtown Watkinsville, in the new Town Center development. But Athens and Watkinsville are sort of a package deal, so....
Wow. These guys make really good food. The pasta is made fresh on the premises, using a really cool multi-tasking pasta machine located front and center in the open kitchen. The owner/head chef is on-site and doing heroic things with multiple sauce pans and a small kitchen staff.
We had sausage ravioli with a wild mushroom cream sauce, which was very rich but amazing and worth the inevitable heaviness, and an absolutely divine pappardelle with bolognese sauce. Really good food, and reasonably priced. The ceasar was pretty good, though I'm no expert on that particular salad, and the wine selection is darned fine, from what we could tell. We drove home with a warm happy feeling after eating these pasta dishes.
On the other hand, the bread was pretty bad, which made the white bean hummous and bread basket they give you (gratis) less than enjoyable. The real insult is the fact that they use the same bread for the bruschetta, which was not so good as a result. Perhaps it was a bad bread night, but I would strongly urge them to call Luna bakery in Athens and outsource their bread baking immediately; bread is best left to the experts, IMO. No restaurant can afford a bad bread night, especially when some of your defining dishes depend upon the bread being perfect.
Another concern is the service metodology. You order at the counter and seat yourself, but that means, at least for now, that you wait in line for a bit, with the front door open as the line snakes outside. We'll see how that plays out as the months grow colder. The wait-staff covers the entire floor as a team, with different waiters asking you if you've had bread yet, etc. It's like a lunch deli, but with multiple dinner courses, and it seemed just a tad chaotic on a Saturday night, with confusion about orders between the kitchen and wait-staff obvious to all. It's a small space, and the restaurant is tremendously popular, so I understand some confusion here and there, but I would think they would be better served with a more traditional setup, ie a waitstaff with assigned tables and clearly defined duties. It's an odd way to handle service at a very good restaurant, I think. That order counter alone takes up enough space for a few tables, or more bar seating....
All in all, the pasta dishes are just a notch shy of awesome, and reason enough to go back again and again. The flaws are obvious, but like La Dolce Vita in downtown Athens, the good stuff is more than enough to bring us back again and again. That homemade pasta is so tender, and yet firm to the bite. There's some real love in that kitchen; too bad the place is flawed, as the pasta alone is enough to put Mirko in the list of top restaurants in the state.
Highly recommended, at least for pasta, and that seems to be their passion.
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