The sports world can hardly contain its excitement. We’re on the eve of the world’s biggest golf tournament, the Masters (April 5 to 8), and the PGA’s most important athlete, Tiger Woods, is playing his best in years. It’s a perfect medley of execution and anticipation that some are predicting will crescendo into the most exhilarating four rounds that hallowed Augusta National Golf Club has seen in some time.
Well, you’ll have to pardon chef Sean Wight if he isn’t overly eager about the career resurrection of a certain 14-time majors winner. Wight’s a little busy these days. Arguably the most celebrated chef in the city of Augusta (145 miles east of Atlanta), Wight owns four restaurants — Frog Hollow Tavern, Craft & Vine and two Farmhaus Burger locations — that do really well around Masters week or any other day, for that matter.
Not long ago, we were able to pull the popular chef away from the stove to talk about the big golf tournament, his ever-growing culinary empire and the things that make Augusta special — with or without Woods in town.
With the Masters so close, where are you right now on the anxiety scale?
Well, I’ve been at it a long time so I don’t get nervous or anxious about it. We’ve got a well-oiled machine, so we look forward to it. But we definitely don’t get too hyped up for it. It’s a long week. We know what to do, and we get it done.
What makes Augusta special to you?
It’s kind of centrally located between the coast and the mountains. The city itself is starting to have the big-city amenities as well as have a small-town feel. You get to know everybody. It’s kind of like one big giant family.
When you think of the city’s culinary scene, what comes to mind?
I’ve got four different restaurants, so a lot comes to mind. We’re just real fortunate where we live, with the proximity to some great farms and dairies.
We’re 20 minutes from the peach capital of the world, as far as production. We’re also a large asparagus-growing region. We get a lot of good stuff starting in the spring, all the way through the winter.
Augusta is one of the oldest cities in Georgia. It’s got a lot of history. We’re along the same [coastal] lines of Charleston and Savannah, but we’ve got a little bit of that Appalachian feel to it, too. Augusta was the farthest place up the [Savannah] River that you could get to by boat, so it was the hub of the region.
Do your restaurants do anything special during this big week?
With the Masters and the spring weather, that’s right around the time that our menus change. So, we know we’re going to use fresh, local strawberries and local asparagus. We may or may not have good local foraged mushrooms — it all depends on the weather. You never know 100 percent how the menu’s going to be until you see the weather. But you can generally count on those things.
For the person who’s coming to Augusta for the first time for the tournament, what are a few things you suggest checking out around town?
You’ll be doing a lot of eating and drinking during Masters, so it’s always good to walk it off. I suggest going down to Augusta Canal. It’s really pretty, especially in the springtime.
Take a walk down to Riverwalk Augusta. Downtown in general has a lot to offer now; it’s really blossomed in the last five to seven years. Take a morning or afternoon off, if you’re tired of the golf course, and walk around and see some of the local shops, restaurants and bars.
There’s a lot to do in Augusta, but it still feels like the city gets lost in the Charleston-Savannah shadows. What else does it need to get on travelers’ minds?
I think people are waking up about Augusta. We got three new hotels being built downtown. Our restaurants stay busy all of the time, and it’s not all local folks. With the Ironman [triathlon in September] bringing in a ton of people every year and, obviously, the Masters [we’re getting tourists].
We’ve got some great theater. We just had a 130-year-old [Miller] theater get renovated. We’ve got the new [Augusta GreenJackets] baseball stadium coming right across the river from downtown. It’s all happening.
When you’re able to step away from the restaurants, what do you like doing around town?
Well, I own a farm, so I spend a good bit of time on it. But I like biking the canal and just getting out and checking out what everybody else is doing. I like being downtown in general. I’ll go bar-hopping and hang out with old friends.
What are a few restaurants outside of your own where you like to dine?
Oh, I like to go to Sheehan’s Irish Pub on Central and Monte Sano. It’s got a good neighborhood feel to it.
We eat a lot of pho at Pho Bac, a new restaurant on the other side of town. There’s Beck’s, an oyster bar that opened up off Central. There’s a few things in Surrey Center: Bodega Ultima has a pretty good brunch and lunch.
I know your hands are already full with the four restaurants, but do you have any expansion plans for 2018?
We’ve got two new concepts that we’re working on right now. One should be opening in the late spring/early summer. That’ll be a roasted chicken market. It’ll be retail, wine and beer. It’ll be sit-down and a to-go concept.
And we’ve got Taco Cat, a taco-themed restaurant with homemade tortillas and all that good stuff.