Tag Archives: North Georgia Restaurants

Helen, Georgia

Today, Helen is known for its kitschy Alpine/Bavrian appearance and for the numerous outdoor recreation opportunities at its doorstep. But the village didn’t start out this way. The area was long occupied by Native Americans and in the 19th century became a hub for gold mining. It was a transient community during this time.

It was incorporated in 1913, due to the presence of the large Byrd-Matthews sawmill and named for a daughter of one of the timer company’s partners. It was successful until the Great Depression but after its closure the town fell into decline.

In 1968, Pete Hodkison, a local business owner, approached renowned Clarkesville artist John Kollock about suggestions for improving the appearance of his business. Kollock had been stationed in Bavaria while in the military and had long fostered an idea of bringing the look of the region to Northeast Georgia. Work began January 1969, after other local business owners warmed to Kollock’s idea to reimagine the entire town as an Alpine village. The Orbit Manufacturing Company was the first to be transformed. At the outset, there were just nine businesses in Helen but today there are nearly 30. All of the ornamental trim and details were originally done by Ray L. Sims and J. S. Chastain, local builders.

Helen has fewer than 500 permanent residents but at any given time is filled with tourists. It’s among the most popular tourist destinations in Georgia with up to 1.5 million visitors annually. The river attracts thrill-seekers and ecotourists and the shops and restaurants are a popular draw. Some have called it a tourist trap, and while it may have that feel, many visitors soon realize that the appearance of the place is but a small part of its appeal. Perhaps it took the Alpine look to bring people to the area in the 1960s but Helen’s perfect location and natural beauty are as big a draw today as its aesthetic.  I prefer to think of it as a base of operations for great adventures to be found all around.

 

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Filed under --WHITE COUNTY GA--, Helen GA

H & H Restaurant, Macon

Inez Hill and Louise Hudson, affectionately known as Mama Hill and Mama Louise, opened their H & H Restaurant on the corner of Hayes and Third Street in 1959, moving to Cotton Avenue for a time before finally settling at the present Forsyth Avenue location. The establishment soon became a Macon favorite and would go on to acquire iconic status for its association with the Allman Brothers Band. In their struggling early days, the band members came into H &  H and were so broke they had to share plates. Mama Louise, sensing they were hungry, made them all their own plates, free of charge. The musicians never forgot her act of kindness and promised to make it up to her when they made it big. In 1972, they took her on tour.

For serious fans of the Allman Brothers Band, no trip to Macon would be complete without a visit to H & H. It was the hospitality of Mama Louise that helped put the place on the map and nearly fifty years later people still make their way here to feel a connection to rock history. The memorabilia-lined walls never fail to amaze. The Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willie, and countless others were H & H regulars in Macon’s musical heyday of the early 1970s. It was also an important meeting place for Macon’s civil rights leaders and activists.

Of course, people come for the history and legend but return for the excellent food. Known as Macon’s “fried chicken specialist”, H & H also offers items like country fried steak, fried fish, oxtails, and more. The meats are great, but the sides are even better. I’m not a fan of collards, but I like H & H’s. Their mashed potatoes are creamy (not runny) and the squash casserole is as good as you’ll find anywhere. They top it with cheese to make it perfect.

Mama Hill collapsed while working in the restaurant in 2007 and died the next day at the age of 92. H & H briefly closed in 2013 but reopened in early 2015. It’s been called Georgia’s most iconic restaurant and while it fits the bill, it’s not a pretentious place. You’ll feel right at home when you walk in the door, with locals and tourists alike. The staff are some of the best you’ll find anywhere and the food will not disappoint.

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Filed under --BIBB COUNTY GA--, Macon GA

Sprayberry’s Barbecue, 1926, Newnan

One of Georgia’s oldest barbecue restaurants, Sprayberry’s association with two famous Coweta County natives has made it known far beyond Newnan. Lewis Grizzard sang its praises in his books and country music superstar Alan Jackson waited tables here as a teenager. It all began with Houston Sprayberry, who owned a gas station and sold barbecue out of the back. By 1926, the barbecue became so popular he closed the gas station and made it a restaurant. Over 90  years later, it remains as popular as ever.

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Filed under --COWETA COUNTY GA--, Newnan GA

Fresh Air Barbecue, Jackson

Dr. Joel Watkins began selling barbecue here in 1929, making it the oldest pit-cooked barbecue establishment in Georgia still in its original location. Upon Dr. Watkins’ death in 1945, the business was purchased by longtime manager, George W. “Toots” Caston, who is credited with making Fresh Air Barbecue into the institution it is today. Caston made improvements to the cooking process, the sauce, and the Brunswick stew recipe and expanded the business from a drive-in to a dine-in. Even the coming of I-75 couldn’t keep people away from Fresh Air, with many travelers taking the exit just to experience the legendary fare of the “Barbecue Place”. Still boasting one of the shortest menus in the business, there are no frills here, just barbecue, Brunswick stew, pickles and potato chips, and pecan, lemon or Reese’s pie for desert if you need something sweet for the road. And you can buy a whole ham if you’d like.  There’s a Macon location today that has a few additional items, but you really should go to the original first.

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Filed under --BUTTS COUNTY GA--, Jackson GA

Cook’s Lunchroom, 1945, Jackson

Pit barbecue and homemade chili, cheeseburgers and fries. And apparently doing it right for over 70 years. You immediately know from the signs that the place is a landmark and the building is really neat. Unfortunately, I was here a little too early for lunch.

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Filed under --BUTTS COUNTY GA--, Jackson GA

Hot Thomas Bar-B-Que, 1984, Oconee County

On my numerous trips to Athens, I always pass Hot Thomas Bar-B-Que and bemoan the fact that it’s not open. Numerous friends have told me I have to eat here, but I’m either here on Monday, when it’s closed, or pass through too late to sample their barbeque. They’re open from 10-2. Recently, I was determined to at least get a photograph of the place and while I was here shooting, owner Mark Thomas stopped by and graciously shared some of its history with me. He’s a really likeable guy and you can tell he puts a lot of himself into this business. He noted that the building was constructed about 1948 and first used as a general store. But the Thomas family has been on the property since at least the mid-1800s, when they opened a cotton gin here. They ginned cotton into the 1970s; the old Continental gin is an event space today. A farmhouse, tenant housing, barns, and other historic structures also remain on the property. They weren’t moved here to make the place look more authentic; they’ve always been here.

Mark’s late father, Carl Howard “Hot” Thomas (1935-2011), who started the business, was really a jack-of-all-trades, a farmer and entrepreneur who raised cattle, hogs, and turkeys, row-cropped, grew and ginned cotton. He also owned a large peach orchard until a hard freeze finished it off years ago. But he was best known for his barbeque restaurant, simply known as “Hot’s” to locals.

The day after meeting Mark I raced from a photo shoot in Jefferson back down to Watkinsville so I could finally see what all the fuss was about. I wasn’t disappointed. The place was packed with locals, from white collar bankers and lawyers to blue collar laborers in work clothes. That was the first good sign. And the interior walls are lined with shelves from the building’s days as a general store. Hot’s collection of old bottles and other treasures shares the walls with dozens of loaves of Sunbeam and Wonder bread. I guess some people have a preference. One of their most popular items is chicken mull, which I haven’t tried but is described as a sort of chicken pot pie in stew form. I opted for the barbeque plate with the vinegar sauce (a lot of people prefer the ketchup-based sauce and I’ll try it next time) and my prerequisite sides of Brunswick stew and slaw, complimented by some really good (and really sweet) tea.  It’s an indulgence reserved for road trips. And a good day trip if you’re nearby would include a mandatory visit to the nearby Elder Mill Bridge.

 

 

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Filed under --OCONEE COUNTY GA--

Mayflower Restaurant, 1948, Athens

These days, it’s’ hard to find any Athens landmark in its original location. Even the Varsity, in its second incarnation since the 1960s at the corner of Milledge and Broad, is about to pack up and move. And while purists and locals bemoan the proliferation of chains, especially downtown, the Mayflower is a standout. As its menus proudly proclaim, it’s been “Putting the South in Your Mouth” “Across from the Arch” since 1948. If you’re looking for healthy or trendy, forget about it, but if you crave a good old fashioned diner breakfast or lunch, stop by the Mayflower. The staff are friendly, even if you’re not a regular, and you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.

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Filed under --CLARKE COUNTY GA--, Athens GA