Culinary Tour through North Georgia (with a side trip to Western North Carolina)

Culinary Tour through North Georgia ( with a side trip to Western North Carolina)
People travel for many reasons: to sight-see, relax or learn about a new culture.  Many travel to explore exotic marketplaces, try new wines, and discover hidden restaurants.  Call them foodies, bon vivants, gourmands or wine  enthusiasts; but as long as there are new regions to be explored and novel foods to be eaten, culinary travelers will be there, forks in hand.  Culinary adventurers are not seeking food and wine alone; they also try to connect with the people, places and stories behind the food and wine. They want to understand the farmer’s wisdom, the chef’s inspiration and the winemaker’s Mojo. The northeast Georgia Mountains are a Mecca to these travelers.
Many guests at Beechwood Inn are seeking local and fresh products and share wanderlust for food and wine, so we provide farm-to-table culinary and wine oriented itineraries through our region.  These culinary voyages are designed to help visitors experience local culture through our food and wine, and to learn about our regional friendships and businesses. Like a visit to the Smithsonian, it’s hard to do unless you allow several days. So let us lead you on a journey that we trust will entertain and delight you.
On day one, after a hearty Beechwood Inn bountiful breakfast, depart Clayton on Old Highway 441 heading south and make your first stop at Tiger Mountain Vineyards, where you will discover a large portfolio of award winning wines and a lovely place to stroll the vineyard.  If it’s available, try their 2007 Reserve Cabernet Franc, our current favorite. Don’t fail to take away with you some of their new rosé; it’s the perfect picnic wine. Then a short drive south will find you in historic Lakemont, a restored art village. Be sure to stop at Annie’s at Alley’s Grocery Store for provisions, maybe a chicken salad sandwich and a Moon Pie.  Annie is one of our favorite people. From Annie’s it’s a short drive to Minnehaha Falls for a picnic. Relax and experience the smell, beauty and sound of Rabun County’s most scenic water fall, cascading nearly 100
Then follow Bear Gap Road south to Glen Ella Springs Inn, one of our favorite fine dining restaurants in North Georgia.  While they are not open for lunch, stop by and peruse their seasonal dinner menu. Then take a leisurely stroll through the perennial gardens and you’ll see why they are famous for their beautiful weddings. Glen Ella owns a slew of Silver Spoon Dining Awards from Georgia Trend Magazine, and their Chef Patrick Hodge is wonderfully creative. They also offer culinary classes.
Further south is the town of Clarkesville.  We enjoy the eclectic menu at the Attic and creative Mexican food at Pueblos.  Pueblos’ house-made salsas and molé are the best in our region.   Head west on Highway 17 toward Helen but stop in Sautee as there are two more wineries that you should visit.  Sautee- Nacoochee Vineyards and Yonah Mountain Vineyards both produce wonderfully made artisan wines.  Look for our friend Joe Smith, winemaker at Yonah Mountain. He made Yonah’s Genesis 2 Red wine, which in a recent blind tasting dusted 2000 Ghost Horse Vineyards (Napa) about $500 per bottle and 2006 Jordan Vineyards (Alexander Valley, CA)  at $50 a bottle.  It is really great wine and well worth its $38.00 price tag.
Just across the street is the historic Old Sautee General Store. When it was built in 1872 it was a true general store. Local residents would come to purchase food, seed, or farm supplies. After nearly 135 years the store still retains the characteristics of the old days with its deep, rich golden brown hues of aged wood.  It continues to stock some wonderful cheese, old time candies and fresh baked goods.  Don’t fail to visit the garden shack out back with heirloom seeds, native plants, perennials and some whimsical garden ornaments.
In Sautee, detour north on highway 255 about 3 miles to visit historic Stovall Mill Covered Bridge. It was built in 1895, is 36.8 feet long with queen-post trusses and spans Chickamauga Creek, offering a lovely place to cool-off your feet. There is a shaded picnic area and historic marker.
Back on Highway 17, a short distance down the road is another one of our culinary favorites, Bernie’s Restaurant and Nacoochee Valley Guest House. One of Bernie’s daughters has taken over most of the chef duties, but Bernie will always be around to make sure your lunch or dinner experience is top notch. She is a delightful hostess and the food is of exceptional quality.
As you approach Helen be sure to visit Habersham Winery, one of the oldest and largest in North Georgia.  They have an extensive array of wines made from Georgia grapes. Our favorites bear the Creekstone label and include an oaky Chardonnay, crisp Viognier and a rich Cabernet Sauvignon, but also excellent is the Habersham Chardonnay exhibiting much less oak. Right next door is the Nacoochee Grill, in a renovated 1900 Farmhouse.  Their trademark is a “live fire” grill where oak, hickory, and apple wood are used to spit cook hand-carved Angus steaks, fresh gulf seafood, ribs and chops. Whew, I’m tired, let’s head back to Beechwood Inn for a glass of wine.
Day 2: After another bountiful breakfast start your day heading West on 76. When you arrive in Young Harris turn north as your next stop is Crane Creek Vineyards.  Owner Winemaker Eric Seifarth built an American Brigadoon.  It is a very European wine operation with the happiest employees you will find anywhere. He also enjoys perhaps the most scenic location for a winery in our region.  We will often bring out of town visitors here and purchase a bottle of wine to take outside to sip while enjoying the view.  They offer some wonderful cheeses and fresh baked goods.  The patio provides layered views of ponds, vineyard, mountains and standing tall is Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest peak. Eric and resident Chef David Sanford have started Crane Creek Café which offers Prixe Fixe seasonal dinners on Fridays, and “stimulus package” Soup Kitchen Saturdays. Once a month David offers farmer’s Pasta Dinners.  Their dining room is an inviting patio under the sky adjacent to the vineyard with views of the pond and the mountains. This is Al Fresco dining at its best.
A short drive away to the North is Hayesville, NC and home to Copper Door Restaurant. Owned and operated by Chef Dennis Barber. It offers a plush experience with a warm intimate atmosphere. When we were there we enjoyed very polite attentive service. The Shrimp Kristine, large shrimp sautéed in butter with lots of garlic, was divine, as was seared sashimi tuna with arugula pesto. We also tried the Crawfish Tortellini with a spicy Tasso Cream sauce.  You will be very impressed with his wine vault just off the intimate cocktail lounge. The wine list will satisfy even the enthusiast with some great selections.  I asked Chef Barber his menu’s theme.  He said while it is eclectic he tends to favor classic French.  He uses real butter and all his sauces are made onsite.
From Hayesville connect with Highway 64 East and climb high up “Chunky Gal Mountain.”  This is one of the most scenic drives in western North Carolina and borders some very remote and rugged terrain. On the other side of the pass descend into Franklin.  For lunch or dinner we enjoy Café Rel.  Okay, it’s in a gas station, but remember “you can’t judge a book by its cover.”  Café Rel is one of the finest bistros in the mountains of western North Carolina. Inside you will find a nicely decorated restaurant with an extensive menu.  They don’t take reservations; so on busy nights expect a wait. Also, they do not accept credit cards, so bring cash – but you won’t need much as both wine and entrees are very reasonable. Owner/Chef Richard E. Long serves a variety of upscale dishes with complex sauces that you would normally expect to find only in a very high end restaurant.
If you have room for anything else, as you head south back towards Clayton on 441  just before you re-enter Georgia is Spring Ridge Creamery.  Their fresh churned ice cream has none of the emulsifiers and thickening agents used by commercial producers. You can view their cows happily grazing just across the Little Tennessee River. Beechwood Inn is proud to feature their farm butter and fresh made cheeses
Day 3, today our guests prefer to stay local in Clayton, but they still want a wonderful wine and food experience, what shall they do? That’s pretty easy, start your day with wine at Noble Wine Cellar on Main Street in Downtown Clayton.  The handsome tasting room offers  fresh local products plus tastings of some hand-wrought wines from all the Rabun County vineyards and other Georgia vineyards.
Need some sustenance after your wine tasting? You are in the right place at the right time.  Downtown Clayton offers some of the best places to dine anywhere.  Want something organic and healthy, then Grapes and Beans is a great spot.  Recently taken over by new owners you can dine under a Kudzu arbor on vegetarian cuisine. There are also menu items for the carnivore and a wide selection of wonderful wines and beer from around the world, and, of course, great coffee.
Another visitor favorite choice for lunch in Clayton is Fromage.  Chef Jenny Wilson’s creations will satisfy your taste buds with her fearless taste combinations.  Her favorite ingredient is heavy cream; her favorite tool is the cheese knife. Okay, maybe lunch at Fromage is not the best thing for one’s cholesterol level, but what about that French paradox – just add wine and it better be some copious quantities. The friendly staff assure a most pleasant lunch experience.  And at Fromage we always get one of those hugs too (Jenny, please be careful, Mr. Wilson is looking).
For dinner in Clayton we can commend to our guests several nice places on Main Street including Rumor Hazit, which characterizes itself as a Key West themed restaurant. The moment you step through the door, jazzy music, colorful murals, and southern style hospitality await. Nearby is our unapologetic sports bar, Clark’s on Main, owned by Erin & Burt Clark. This beautifully re-designed restaurant has 27 flat screen TV’s with outdoor dining and if you are lucky enough to be around on a Tuesday you have to ask about Taco Tuesdays.
Just across the street is a Farm to Table meal extravaganza.  Fortify & the newly opened Fortify Pi is a fresh foods person’s utopia.  Chef Jamie Alred & Jack Nolan, owners of both, make your dining experience one to remember.  You can come dressed casually but you will get a fine dining experience your taste buds will beg for with repeat visits.
And for the best low country cuisine up here in the high country, visit the Lake Rabun Hotel.  If you just want comfort food go to Mama G’s, and for the best Mexican food in town Manrique’s Mexican Store, both nearby on 441. But on the last weekend of every month we will also mention that Fromage offers a Chef’s Table dinner, which is not to be missed.
Day 4, we may send guests to Highlands. On the way up to Highlands be sure to stop first at Lick Log Mill.  This eclectic shop has some really fine handmade Americana treasures.  We have a number of pieces displayed around Beechwood Inn.  Take a minute to walk over to the old mill site.  It’s largely in ruins but you can see the old millwheel.  Also on the way into Highlands stop at the following galleries: Peak Experience, the Summer House and Tin Roof Gallery. Each has wonderful and nicely unique items.
In season Highlands boasts several truly wonderful restaurants – a culinarians destination. Probably our favorite is Cyprus, operated by Chef Nicolas Figel. The menu changes daily under Chef Figel and new a region of the world will be featured. On a more casual note our favorite lunch restaurant is Wild Thyme Gourmet, and you will have one.  It features American food with an Asian influence. The outdoor patio dining is perfect for a warm spring day.
Upon your descent from Highlands you will arrive in the quaint town of Dillard, which is filled with antique stores and galleries.  You cannot leave the North Georgia Mountains without visiting the Dillard House, an icon of Southern Cooking.  Family owned since 1917, your visit will be a true southern culinary event. Servings include generous portions of dishes from Dillard family recipes – all served family style.
If you are looking for a more ala carte dinner visit Charlene Johnson’s Cupboard Café, another icon of southern-style dining. The Cupboard Café has been a culinary presence in Dillard since 1990 and it’s still going strong. Charlene says, “The freshest food available is what we serve. Greens for the salad bar are harvested right in the valley – fresh meat is processed locally – and fresh desserts and biscuits are made from scratch daily.”
And we saved the best for last. Every Saturday Beechwood Inn offers Chef’s Table Dinners featuring the best of fresh and local farm products.We believe that making shopping decisions that favor sustainable and local food sources, especially organic sources, benefits health, improves the local economy and is ecologically sound.  We are proud of our local farmers and ranchers; their names dot our menus paying homage to those who have done the work to get such delicious ingredients through the kitchen door. Once through that door, respect and care for the ingredients play as important a role as the preparation of them. The goal of our chefs is to make as much of what is used from scratch as possible – we think that is what makes cuisine authentic. We trust you will appreciate our care and devotion to freshness. The inn also offers a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence selection of wines from around the world, as well as four Beechwood Inn wines made from Georgia grapes.
As innkeepers, we attempt to serve as a conduit for residents and visitors alike in pursuit of authentic dining and wine tasting experiences that will enhance your understanding of the culture of the North Georgia Mountains.  We hope these itineraries entertain and delight you; but remember, they barely tap into our region’s culinary and wine offerings.  While you may come as a visitor we trust that you will leave as a friend.
By David and Gayle Darugh. Chef David Darugh is Executive Chef at Beechwood
Inn, Clayton Georgia.  Chef Gayle Darugh is the Pastry Chef at Beechwood Inn.
Both are wine lovers and travel the world together in search of new wines,
recipes and stories.  Contact Us At
Tiger Mountain Vineyards, 2592 Old Hwy 441, Tiger, GA 30576, (706) 782-4777
Annie’s at Allie’s Grocery Store, 8476 Old Highway 441 S., (706) 212-0207
Glen Ella Springs, 1789 Bear Gap Road, Clarkesville, GA 30523, (706) 754-7295
Pueblos, 1362 Washington Street, Clarkesville, GA 30523-5601, (706)
The Attic, 1344 Washington Street, Clarkesville, GA 30523, (706) 839-1811
Sautee Nacoochee Vineyards, 98 Nacoochee Way, Sautee Nacoochee, GA
30571-3038, (706) 878-1056
Yonah Mountain Vineyards, 2454-B Georgia 17, Sautee Nacoochee, GA 30571 (706)
878-5522 ‎
Old Sautee General Store, 2315 Georgia 17, Sautee Nacoochee, GA 30571 (706)
878-2281 ‎
Bernie’s Restaurant and Nacoochee Valley Guest House, 2220 HWY 17, Sautee
Nacoochee, GA, 706-878-3830
Habersham Winery, 7025 South Main Street, Helen, GA 30545-3615 (706)
Nacoochee Grill, 7277 S Main St, Helen, GA 30545, (706) 878-8020,
Crane Creek Vineyards, 916 Crane Creek Road,Young Harris, GA
30582-2006, (706)
Michalee’s Chocolate Café, 142 N. Main Street, Hiawassee, GA 30546 (706)
896-2752 ‎
The Copper Door, 2 Sullivan Street, Hayesville, NC 28904, phone
Café Rel, 457 East Main Street, Franklin, NC 28734-2697 (828) 369-9446
Persimmon Creek Vineyards, 28 East Savannah Street, Clayton, GA 30525 (706)
212-7380 ‎
Crescent Moon Bakery, 32 East Savannah Street, Clayton, GA 30525 (706)
212-0688 ‎
Grapes and Beans, 42 East Savannah Street, Clayton, GA 30525 (706) 212-0020 ‎
Fromage and Other Fine foods, 31 Earl Street, Clayton, GA 30525
Rumor Hazit, 175 South Main Street, Clayton, GA 30525 (706) 782-1111 ‎
Zeppelins Pasta House, 88 North Main Street, Clayton, GA 30525 (706) 212-0101
Bistro on South Main, 60 South Main Street, Clayton, GA 30525-5477 (706)
782-0160 ‎
Stockton House, 787 Warwoman Rd, Clayton, Georgia 30525 (706) 782-1065 ‎
Mama G’s, 777 Highway 441 South, Clayton, GA 30525 (706) 782-9565 ‎ www.
Manrique’s Mexican Store, 611 Hwy 441, Clayton 30525 706-782-5815
Lick Log Mill and Store, 4321 Dillard Road, Highlands, NC 28741-6687 (828)
526-3934 ‎
Cyprus Restaurant, 470 Dillard Road, Highlands, NC 28741 (828) 526-4429 ‎
Dillard House, 768 Franklin Street, Dillard, GA (706) 746-5348 ‎
Cupboard Café, 7388 Highway 441 North, Dillard, GA 30537 (706) 746-5700 ‎
Spring Ridge Creamery, 11856 Georgia Road, Otto, NC 28763-8306 (828)
369-2958 ‎