What’ll You Have, What’ll You Have, What’ll You Have!

If you hear that when you walk in the door, you know you are at The Varsity, Atlanta’s iconic counter service restaurant, and you might know just what to do. Hurry, read the menu, line up, tell the person smiling and shouting at you what you’ll have, listen to your order being translated (Mary Brown Steak with Strings, anyone?), and hang on for a wild ride. If you haven’t been there, you need to go – but maybe watch and learn before you jump in to order. That’s what I did, but I still got nervous ordering my hot dog with chili and mustard (which is just a “hot dog” in Varsity lingo – who knew?).

Going somewhere new with a different service model can be, well, a little unnerving. We here at What’s Cookin’ Downtown use a “Quick Service” model in The Restaurant to help get our delicious food to you the hungry and discerning customer as efficiently as possible. We don’t want you to be nervous – life’s tough enough! Here’s how you do quick service so you can study up:

1. Check out the menu board on the wall behind the cashier or read one of our printed menus. Some customers study the website menu before coming in. (Overachievers are welcome here, too!)  

You can jump right in line if you are ready when you walk in the door, or you can stand by the beer-and-soda cooler, take your time, peruse the menu, think about what you are really hungry for, read the specials listed on the board, wait for your friends – then get in the cashier’s line when you are ready to order.

2. Order at the register. The cashier will smile at you and ask “What can we get for you today?” or maybe ask if you have any questions if you look new (yes, we can tell!). Once you place your order, the cashier will give you a number to take to your table, you will pay the cashier, and then you get your silverware and your beverage at the drink counter.

3. Then it’s off to find a table that you like! Maybe you will sit outside and watch downtown Aiken go by the window, or maybe you and your family will sit near the Kid’s Corner – easy access to toys, crayons, and the high chairs. Or you could sit so you can see a favorite painting or photo in the gallery spaces.

4. Then we bring you your food and condiments (we know where you are because you got that number at the register, remember?), and you can help yourself to beverage refills.

And when you are done, you’re done. We’ll come to bus the tables. You can go. No waiting for your check. Or you can also go to The Shop right next door and see if there are any desserts you might like to try, or perhaps a casserole to heat up in your oven for supper. You might get hungry later, you know.

So, that’s how it works. We are quick service, but we are not fast food. Good, fresh food cooked to order takes a little time, and we strive to get it to your table as fast as possible. Or should I say as “quick” as possible. Except that is grammatically incorrect. Oh, well.

We hope you enjoy your meal with us and come back for more!

And if you’re ever in Atlanta around lunch time, go tell them at The Varsity what you’ll have. That’s an experience everybody should "have."

It's No Secret

You don’t have to “shhhh” any more.... We have a “secret” breakfast menu that’s not so secret. Now, anyway. Here’s what in-the-know customers order. You won’t see these items on our menu or on the website, but we are ready to make these when you are hungry for them. Just order them by name when you get to the cashier.

The Terminator – Three eggs fried over medium and three sausage patties. If you want a different breakfast meat, you better speak up or you’ll get the sausage patties.

Half-Order of Biscuits and Gravy – Sometimes it’s just too much, the two fluffy biscuits made while you were sleeping, topped with our homemade sausage gravy served with a Breakfast Side. So just get one biscuit cut in half and topped with that savory gravy. It might be just enough. Especially with that side of grits, sliced tomatoes, tots, hash browns, Fresh Fruit, or Fruit Salad.  

Egg White Omelet – We whip up enough egg whites to make a big ol’ omelet with the fillings you like. You get a Breakfast Side and toast of your choice if you want it.

And while we are on the topic of omelets, yes, we have all kinds of omelets. We just don’t name them all. So get creative. Want a Western omelet? Order one with diced ham, green bell pepper, and onion – and no cheese if you are a purist. Or lots of cheddar if you are a cheese-lover. A Denver omelet? Oh, wait – you probably know that’s the same. A spinach and mushroom omelet? Yep. A vegetable omelet? Uh... yep, that too. Just order all the vegetables you want in yours.  A French omelet? Spell it o-m-e-l-e-t-t-e and there ya go!

Fill your omelet with what you like -- sausage, bacon, ham, grilled turkey, grilled mushrooms, grilled onions, grilled bell peppers, jalapenos, tomatoes, spinach, cheddar cheese, Swiss cheese, Velveeta, and sometimes we have other delectables to tuck into the fluffy eggs on your plate. Heck, you might get lucky and we can top your omelet with fresh avocado – just ask if we have any.

And customers, on occasion, order omelets with no cheese. Or no fillings. That makes it kind of like a generous serving of delicious, light, gently scrambled eggs folded neatly on your plate, but hey, whatever gets you out of bed in the morning. We don’t judge.


Looking for Dinner?

Did you miss it? Evening dinner on the weekends in The Restaurant? The lobster ravioli, Steak Diane, filet mignon, barbecued shrimp, beef stroganoff? Yes, it was all so lovely....

But never fear -- come by for breakfast and lunch in The Restaurant and check out all of our take-home specialties in The Shop. 

Keep up with What’s Cookin’ Downtown on Facebook for daily lunch specials and other updates.

Meet the Family

Perhaps you’ve noticed. I’ve fallen a little behind on this blog. Masters 2017? Really? School is in full swing, our fall dinner menus are ready, our smoker is smokin’ all week long, and the weather is taking a little breather between seasons. Well, it’s high time I got back on this.  

So – first things first. I think you should meet the family behind this “family-owned restaurant that is committed to helping you feed your family with fresh-cooked meals.” We are the Poplins, and we have been in this building serving food that we are proud of since 1993.

First, the vision, energy, and passion behind What’s Cookin’ Downtown is my husband, David Poplin. You probably won’t see him when you come in since so many of the things that must be done to run a restaurant happen in the back office. He has worked in the restaurant industry since the 1970s in all capacities – kitchen crew, bartender, manager, chef, owner – and here he gets to do all of them. Sometimes he even gets to do his favorite job: dishwasher. His ability to respond creatively to shifts in the market combined with his high energy, continual commitment to high standards, and hard work have allowed us to meet challenges and to continue growing.

Our son, Mac, is our general manager and is learning the ropes of this multi-faceted business. You could meet him on a catering delivery, or maybe when he is stocking casseroles in The Shop. He has a sharp eye for the bottom line, and we depend on his ability to make thoughtful decisions. Come in for dinner on the weekends and you will definitely get a chance to meet him since he runs the front of The Restaurant in the evenings. He’s the really tall one with the great smile.

You might meet our daughter, Grace, up front at the register in The Restaurant, but more likely she will be making your biscuits for breakfast or your Club Sandwich at lunch. She has a degree from USC in art history (with minors in psychology and studio art) and an eye for food, and she can run the line in the kitchen like a seasoned crew leader. If you ever try a lunch special that features slightly funky but familiar food, she probably came up with the idea and recipe.

And I’m Anne. You won’t see me very often since I only help out when my schedule allows (I’m a teacher). I type menus sometimes, I make copies, and occasionally I make donuts on Saturdays (soon, Ginny Southworth, soon!). I also try to keep up the webpage and the blog. Well.

None of this would have been possible without the support (every kind you can imagine) of my dad, Henry Summerall. We owe him a debt we can never repay. You might meet him and his lovely wife, Martha, when they stop by for a bite to eat.

So now you’ve met the family. Bring yours on by so we can meet you!

Masters Week 2017

If you are in Aiken for the Masters, or if you are just in Aiken anyway, come downtown and discover how we do dinner: relaxed atmosphere, quick service, and delicious food. During Masters Week 2017, in addition to our regular breakfast and lunch, we will serve dinner Monday through Saturday from 5 until about 9 pm. Here is our menu for the week:

All dinner specials are served with our Dinner Salad.  Sides for each dinner are our suggestion, but you may ask for substitutions. 

New York Strip   24.00       Grass-fed prime New York Strip (12-14 oz.) flat-grilled to order. Served with our Gourmet Grits (trust us) and Chef’s Vegetable.  

Lobster Ravioli       20.00      A generous serving of lobster ravioli, with Alfredo sauce and topped with parmesan, fresh parsley, and cracked pepper.  Served with Chef’s Vegetable and fresh, sliced tomatoes. 

Chicken Béarnaise   14.75       A boneless chicken breast grilled then topped with poached asparagus, Westphalian ham, and house-made béarnaise sauce.  Served with Chef’s Choice Side.

Fish and Chips Basket    10.75      Hand-battered cod fried golden, with our version of “chips” and malt vinegar. Served with coleslaw and hushpuppies.

Soup: Gumbo Bowl        Sm 4.50        Lg 7.50      A lot of scratch-made traditional gumbo with a little bit of rice. Crunchy bread, too.

Regular Menu Items Available for Dinner

Chicken Cobb Salad        8.75     Crispy lettuces including iceberg and spring mix, topped with grilled chicken, fresh corn, bleu cheese crumbles, veggies, and hand-cut fruit. 

Reuben         7.95       The best. Period. Served with chips and a pickle, and your choice of side.

Chicken-Fried Steak Sandwich       8.95    You get a hefty portion of cubed steak hand-breaded and fried like they do it in Texas, served on a soft bun with lettuce, tomato, and a chipotle mayo we make special for this sandwich. Served with chips, a pickle, and choice of side.

Burger       7.95            We hand-press then pat out two 4-oz. patties to grill for you. Get whatever you’d like on it to make your dream burger.  Served on a toasted bun with your choice of side and a pickle.

Sides: French fries, Fruit Salad, Fresh Fruit, Pasta Salad, Coleslaw, Sliced Tomatoes


Thirsty for a Cold One?

A few months ago, we decided to start offering a few good beers in cans and a couple of good-enough wines by the glass. Now our customers who might enjoy a cold one or a little vino can relax here with us, under the umbrellas out front or in front of the TV in the back room.

We committed to cans for our beers, not just from an environmental perspective (I mean, we use plastic forks and Styrofoam to-gos, so you do what you can do, right?) but mostly because they get so cold, they stack so neatly, and ... well, mostly because that's how David likes his beer.

Here's what we have in our cooler: Pabst Blue Ribbon, Budweiser, Michelob Ultra, Tecate, Sam Adams Boston Lager, Fat Tire Amber Ale, SweetWater IPA, Palmetto Pilsner, Palmetto Espresso Porter, Hootie’s Home Grown Ale, and Modelo.

Our good-enough wines are innocuous and consistent -- just fine with a great steak or my favorite burger (with Swiss, a fried egg, lettuce, tomato, onions, and lots of pickles): Woodbridge Merlot, White Zinfandel, and Chardonnay; and Barefoot Pinot Noir. We might have a Resiling on hand, too -- just depends, so feel free to ask.

We also have natural cane sugar sodas in bottles (Coke products and Jarritos -- you gotta try the mango!), fresh -brewed iced tea, lemonade, bottled waters, and other sodas.  And we got milk -- milk from a local dairy if you are hankering for something to wash down that best-ever PBandJ, those big cookies you saw in the display case, or big bite of Chocolate Cake. 

So, if you are thirsty for a cold one, there are lots of ways to quench it here.

Hope we see you soon!


Something New

If you haven't heard yet, it's true. We have started serving dinner Thursday through Saturday!

In addition to our regular lunch items and our new beer and wine list, each weekend we will have several specials. During our first weekend our customers enjoyed Steak Diane, Tournedos Jackson Square, Crab Cakes with Mango Chutney with sides of fresh collards and our Gourmet Grits, and a Fried Seafood Platter piled high with shrimp, oysters, scallops, fish, hush puppies, and fries with some coleslaw on the side.

If you know David, you will see his restaurant "genealogy," if you will, in this first supper. The Low Country coast where he grew up, Donn Duteau’s Le Cafe Naturel in the early '80s Augusta scene, Rae's Coastal Cafe where he helped Walter Clay with a crazy idea (a Jamaican restaurant where?!), an anniversary dinner we will never forget at The Old Post Office on Edisto Island, long hours at CQ’s on Hilton Head, the energy and spirit of Up Your Alley -- all of these have influenced and continue to inspire David in this next expansion.

And that’s just what showed up on the plates that weekend. Maybe it’s true that you are what you eat. Here’s to many more meals from a legacy of good eating and great cooking!