News & Opinion

Augusta’s fare scores well on either side of the ropes

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Whenever I'm asked to name my favorite restaurant, I have a simple answer: Yankee Stadium or Augusta National. For me, it's the setting as much as the cuisine. As Humphrey Bogart once said, "A hot dog at the ballpark is better than steak at the Ritz." To put a Masters spin on that, a pimento cheese sandwich wrapped in green plastic beats the caviar at The French Laundry.

One of the real treats at Augusta National is the 1950s prices of the concession items at the Masters. My tab for an egg salad sandwich ($1.50), pimento cheese sandwich ($1.50) and an Arnold Palmer ($2) set me back $5. You can't even buy a bucket of popcorn at the movies for that price anymore. The highest-priced items on the menu are the barbecue sandwich and grilled-chicken wrap that cost a whopping $3. It was chilly this year, but I always save room for the Georgia peach ice cream sandwich ($2). Is there any other sporting event where you can buy a domestic beer for $4? 

Augusta also has an underrated foodie scene, none better in my humble opinion than Abel Brown Southern Kitchen and Oyster Bar, a farm-to-table take on Southern fare located in the Surrey Center shopping plaza. Make a reservation in advance or you'll be lucky to grab a stool at the bar before 10 p.m. While you're in the neighborhood, the nearby Surrey Tavern on Highland Avenue is a popular watering hole, where the drinks are stiff enough to cream your spinach. Another seasonally-driven menu of American fare is Frog Hollow Tavern on Broad Street. The pork shoulder, lamb shank and steaks are among the specialties.

TBonz Steakhouse, a Washington Road institution that unabashedly claims on its placard to be the unofficial 19th hole of the Masters, is a place to see and be seen. The menu is perfect for a trencherman’s appetite and those with a disdain for cardiologists who preach moderation. But don't just take my word for it. There is a signed photo of a young Fred Couples, in which he wrote, "I always look forward to the Masters, but it's the steaks at TBonz that make it such a great week."

Couples isn't the only one to share that sentiment. Musician Darius Rucker and Masters contestant Lee Westwood had been in the night before I was there. Tables are frequently packed with players (Mark O'Meara is a frequent visitor) and the golden throats and crew from CBS Sports. Bill Grigsby, the longtime voice of the Kansas City Chiefs who died in 2011, used to be a regular every first week in April and described TBonz as "a blue-collar joint that just might resemble a pre-cursor of Hades in boom times." 

I stopped in for lunch during Tuesday's rain delay and, at the recommendation of an Augusta resident, ordered the wings double fried. The other "go-to" spot on Washington Road for wings is Hooters, where John Daly sets up shop for the week and is a popular draw. The line to purchase his merchandise and take a selfie with the two-time major winner snaked around the restaurant. During an interview with Sirius/XM's John Maginnes, Daly wouldn't say how much he rakes in for the week but described it as "top-10 money." 

The good news is that if you can't get a table at any of these hopping joints, you can always hit the concession stand at the Masters, where the price is right.

Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf World and The New York Times. He is the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: golfsdrivingforce@gmail.com; Twitter: @adamschupak