My friends Connie and Cathleen and I sent a flurry of texts and e-mails back and forth that morning as we were arranging lunch at About Thyme Café in North Augusta.
“You have the best ideas!” wrote Cathleen. “See you at noon!”
“Is it the café in the shopping center across from the Thai restaurant?” asked Connie. “Is it on the right or the left?”
Even with my confidently texted directions, as I sped around the curve of Georgia Avenue, I overshot the café and had to turn around in the Circle K/Shell parking lot. Located in the former Movie Place location, and now painted a rustic sage green, About Thyme is set back from the road, with a few tables clustered on a small painted concrete patio on the front and side of the building.
There are two levels of parking, including behind the restaurant, and on this Wednesday, they needed it. I was worried that there would be a wait, but several tables inside and outside were still available.
First we had to order. As we stood at the gleaming wood counter, a refrigerated case filled with cakes distracted us for a moment (“They have caramel cake!” Cathleen pointed out, and I promised myself a slice then and there), but then we plotted out our entrees.
About Thyme’s menu is divided into three sections. You can Create Your Own Perfect Salad, with your choice of lettuces, fruits, cheeses, nuts, raisins and dressings, plus chicken, tofu or a scoop of their Southern Peach Chicken Salad or Albacore Tuna Salad.
Sandwiches & Such includes the aforementioned chicken or tuna salads, and some unique choices, including a pot roast sandwich, a pizza with an Indian flatbread base, and even a kid’s lunch offering a grilled Nutella sandwich – all served on your choice of bread with healthy side options like fruit, pasta salad or chips.
If you’re feeling a little hungrier, the café also offers several weekly casserole specials.
Both Cathleen and Connie went with casseroles, and promised I could taste their entrees. So I decided to go with the pork tenderloin sandwich topped with apricot chutney and a pasta salad. For my drink, I bypassed the usual tea, soda and coffee to try the mango lemonade, charmingly presented in a glass beverage server.
The October afternoon was pleasant, and I was glad to see there was still a table or two available outside on the shaded patio, each decorated with fresh flowers. As I sipped my mango lemonade (heavy on the mango, and not very sweet), we chatted away.
When our orders arrived, I was instantly jealous of Connie and Cathleen’s choices. The casseroles are presented in adorable mini casserole dishes, but are man-size servings. Cathleen’s shrimp-and-grits casserole came with a thick crust of melted cheese prettily flecked with chopped parsley. One bite had me swooning – the grits were soft and perfectly seasoned, the shrimp were so fresh they popped as you bit into them, and there were flavors of cheese and onion and just a hint of red bell pepper.
Connie’s chicken pot pie was rich with vegetables, chicken and gravy. In fact, it was very heavy on the vegetables, particularly deep orange carrots, which gave the pot pie a sweetness I wasn’t used to.
And while the crust was nicely browned, both of us agreed that we wished it had been a little flakier.
And my sandwich? The meat was sweet and tender – an upscale BBQ sandwich without the spice – served on a soft ciabatta bun. As I bit into it, sticky sweet juices from the meat and apricot chutney ran down my fingers. But the messiness didn’t deter me. My only wish? That I had ordered fruit as a side or an extra side salad instead of the pasta, which seemed heavy with the all-meat-and-bread sandwich.
Our server stopped by a few times to check on us, but other than a few hungry flies, we were great. And while I was too full for dessert, I definitely wanted a slice to go as an afternoon snack. “The owner’s father makes all our cakes,” confided the cashier with a smile.
I was momentarily crushed when I found out that someone had the presumption to buy the entire caramel cake, but rallied when I saw that red velvet was an option – and took home a fat slice in a recycled paper container. (I was able to hold off for a scant hour, full or not, before I had to take a bite. The cake had all the best traits of being homemade – light, yet moist, with the hint of cocoa that signals a good red velvet cake, and all the sweetness coming from the rich, rich cream cheese icing.)
With drinks, each of our lunches came to about $10 (my cake added $4) – a great deal for something quick and fresh just around the corner from each of our offices. And as we left, I noticed that the café was filled with groups just like us, friends laughing and talking, taking a break from work and catching up over a meal in a thoroughly charming location.
ON THE MENU
WHERE: About Thyme Cafe, 220 Georgia Ave., North Augusta
HOURS: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
SECOND HELPING: (803) 426-8306