I love The Bee’s Knees. Fun fact: my first First Friday in Augusta was the first First Friday The Bee’s Knees opened its doors 13 years ago. It was also the night I was celebrating my birthday, so off to the new tapas bar my friends and I went, where there wasn’t a single spot to stand or sit because it was heaving. The music was awesome, the bartenders were friendly and the drinks were phenomenal. It’s been a favorite of mine ever since.
All these years later and I know I’ve changed, and so has the funky little restaurant on 10th. Kinda.
The Bee’s Knees found its groove fairly early on under the careful eyes of owners Eric and Kristi Kinlaw. It’s always been a haven for folks who want a laid-back atmosphere but where there used to be a wall, there’s now another dining room. Sure, the brick façade is still there, as is the long bar, but the equipment and the space itself look well cared for, if only a little bit more worn. The art on the wall looks less hectic, perhaps more in line with the décor. It’s still inviting and casual.
The cozy little restaurant has always been one for the eclectic; it serves salads, small plate tapas and large plates of local, organic ingredients. The high-quality food is freshly prepared in the little kitchen by a group of cooks who not only look like they know what they’re doing, but thrive doing it. And the music playing in the background is always just that much better than your playlist will ever be. You might be a hipster, but The Bee’s Knees is hipper than you.
Take the menu, for instance. The recipes are clearly inspired by the Spanish style of sharing many small portions of food with your fellow diner, but because they use carefully selected and seasonally relevant ingredients, the menu changes accordingly. The seafood they use is sustainable and regional, and the Kinlaws insist on organic, Georgia-made tofu and humanely farmed chicken. Crazy as it may sound, The Bee’s Knees takes advantage of each ingredients’ actual natural flavors rather than lazily falling back on the common cheats of salt, fat and butter.
I’m not even going to beat around the bush here — their menu kicks ass.
I took two of my girls with me to eat on a Friday night. It just so happened to be one of those evenings the weather decided to be beautiful, sexy even. We were shown to a window seat facing 10th Street; the round wood table was flanked by a couple of chairs and a spacious wooden window bench with more than enough space for the three of us. Our server, Katie, was all smiles and after serving us water and handing us our menus, proceeded to educate us on the meaning of the word “tapas” (small, savory dishes) and left us to look at the menu.
There is so much to love about this place, but one thing that really struck me was how it caters to everyone. It doesn’t matter if you have $10 to spend or $100, or whether you are a relentless carnivore (*raises hand*), a vegetarian or a vegan — The Bee’s Knees has got you covered. The salads include fresh, bright notes such as cucumber, ginger and citrus. The tapas and large plates boast a wide array of dishes that again can match any palate — from the Spanish-inspired calamares fritos and quesadillas to the very American chicken and waffles. There’s even a kids menu for the “little bees,” and the prices start from $2 and go on up to $4.
The teenager and I chose the sesame seaweed salad, the goat cheese bruschetta, the blue crab and artichoke dip, and the avocado chop-chop. The youngest opted for a cheese and chicken quesadilla though she promised to try some of our food, too.
It took all I had to not ask for a carafe of their sangria, because that stuff’s bananas. It’s a must for anyone who loves a bit of fruit with their wine. They also serve a mulled wine that needs to be had at least once during the holiday season, or even after the holiday season. Or before… whatever. Drink the mulled wine.
By the way — The Bee’s Knees is serious about its wine, sake, beer and cocktails. It’s an expansive selection and one that forms the basis of an art form. Bartenders are well-versed in mixing drinks, pouring beers and pairing wines. All syrups and shrubs for their cocktails are made in-house and they support local distilleries that focus on taste, purity and quality. The Kinlaws have extended their knowledge of all things alcohol to their sister-bar, Hive Growler Bar, located next door but that doesn’t mean The Bee’s Knees has been neglected.
The food took no time to come out — less than 10 minutes had passed before all our dishes and some side plates were being placed in front of us — and it looked amazing. Presentation is yet another thing The Bee’s Knees does well. No frilly or wasteful garnish; absolutely everything is edible and beautifully plated. The food is the focus, as it should be.
Naturally, the kid loved her quesadilla with its massive chunks of fresh cubed chicken and melted cheese. The seaweed salad was tangy with a kick, thanks to its sweet and sour cucumbers and the underlying nutty sesame flavor. The toasted bruschetta was crispy but light, and topped with perfect portions of tapenade, herbed goat cheese, spinach and tomatoes — and it’s the tomatoes that provide the contrast to the creamy goat cheese and salty olives.
But I think when I died and went to heaven was somewhere between the crab and artichoke dip and the avocado chop-chop.
Neither the teen nor I normally find artichoke particularly appealing — it’s a tough vegetable that can leave your jaw feeling challenged if you don’t get it just right. That said, the dip is spot on. Just enough artichoke that it gives you something to bite into, but in no way overpowers the generous chunks of crabmeat. Large slices of toasted baguette provide the perfect “scoop,” and the entire dish is baked under a golden layer of parmesan. It’s divine and I know of at least one couple who order two of this plate so that they don’t have to share when they eat there.
And sharing is encouraged, but it was hard to share the avocado chop-chop. Stuffed with shrimp and topped with a Japanese aioli, this is a masterpiece that will make you do that moaning thing that sounds weird to other people. I believe the teenager inhaled her half, I’m not sure. The firmer texture of the avocado pairs so well with the aioli while the bundle of shrimp ties the two together. I think I would have devoured another had I not been with the short-attention-span-crew.
Throughout our meal, Katie made sure we had everything we needed and wanted. And just like the other servers and staff at The Bee’s Knees, she was polite and professional, but also relaxed and confident enough that I felt like we had been treated extremely well.
Obviously, I’ll return. I do wish they still served lunch, but The Bee’s Knees is open for dinner daily and brunch on Sunday, which means only a few hours until I can skip down there for some mimosas. Or a Frangelico and coffee. I just want to savor it all, make it last… after all 13 years have already flown by.
The Bee’s Knees is located at 211 10th Street. Reservations can be made online at beeskneestapas.com or by calling 706-828-3600. Hours are Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5-11 p.m.; Sunday brunch, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; and Sunday dinner, 5-10 p.m.