BLAIRSVILLE, Ga. — The town square is central to life in downtown Blairsville, which is setting itself up to become a dining destination with a distinct local flavor.
It's busy all day, but particularly at mealtime, when hungry townspeople, folks on motorbikes fresh off a day's ride and visitors wanting a quick getaway from the busyness of life back home converge on restaurants surrounding the square and beyond to indulge in a taste of this mountain town.
"The restaurant scene is still young," says Shawn Kight, whose restaurant, The Sawmill Place, is a popular breakfast-and-lunch eatery in town. "But the area is starting to come into its own. We're hoping to see more chef-driven restaurants come to town. If Blairsville is going to become a dining destination, that's where it's going to happen."
The mountains have called visitors for generations. Now, restaurateurs are setting the table for mouthwatering adventures.
Just four years ago, the corner of Town Square and Cleveland Street was home to grease monkeys and cars in need of repair. Today, it's a gleaming example of how an old building can be repurposed into a gathering spot for locals and tourists wanting a steaming cup of java to start their day. You'd never guess that the floor-to-ceiling windows in front were once where garage-bay doors were installed.
Fill your cup with the house signature No. 13 Tumbleweed, a highly caffeinated white coffee with caramel sauce and steamed milk topped with whipped cream, sea salt and more caramel. "It's like dessert in a cup," says store manager Stephanie Conner.
No. 13 is one of 13 single-origin coffees and 16 blends you'll find in the menu. You can fill your plate with fresh egg, cheese and bacon croissant or a tempting cinnamon roll the size of your face. During the lunch hour, it's the go-to place for a box lunch or a deli-style sandwich and cup of soup. The menu is simple, but good.
Cabin Coffee is the only game in town when it comes to freshly roasted coffee. Beans from almost a dozen countries are roasted on-site daily in a small room off the main dining area. The decor with light pine and exposed brick is sleek and clean. "It's part cabin, part cowboy," Conner says. High tables have saddles rather than seats in some places. The lone star of Texas is mounted on the walls. Conner describes the vibe as a "giddy-up feel."
Cabin Coffee, 44 Town Square, is open 7 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Burger lovers will be in burger heaven at Copeland's. They're not the only choice in this 3-year-old eatery. There are also salads; sandwiches; fish and chips; shrimp and grits; and hand-dipped milkshakes. But it's the gut-busting burgers that keep the crowds happy. If you count the smoked sausage Redneck with its beer cheese and fried pickles on a bun as a burger, you have 11 choices. The full pound of beef on each burger can be topped with all your favorite go-withs, including specialties such as grilled onions, sauteed mushrooms and melted smoked Gouda. If you dare, try the Habanero Hurricane Burger with ghost pepper cheese, jalapeno and habanero peppers, bacon and pineapple habanero sauce. You have been warned.
Read a story about a moonshine distillery just outside Blairsville, Georgia, here.
Copeland's anchors Merchants Walk, a small area off the main town square with a coffeehouse, bookstore and a few other retail establishments. It's one of only two restaurants in the city limits with a full bar.
Copeland's Burgers, 17 Merchants Walk, is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday.
Michaelee's Italian Life Caffe
You may not expect to have an upscale Italian dining experience in the heart of Georgia's Blue Ridge Mountains, but this is exactly what Michaelee's offers. Michael Collins, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, and his wife, Lisa, opened their restaurant 10 years ago in nearby Hiawassee, Georgia. There was no Italian blood in their DNA, but they both had a love for Italy and its cuisine, which set the path their menu would follow. They were wooed 16 miles south to Blairsville by a real-estate developer. Eventually, their son, Lenny, would join his dad in the kitchen. When Michael died in 2018, Lenny took over, and with his mother, serves up Italian favorites and some dishes that are not so familiar, such as sauteed shrimp encrusted with shaved white chocolate and served with imported chocolate balsamic. Michaelee's is known for its imported Italian vinegars, aged 25 years, making them thick and syrupy and delicious, so good you'll want to take a bottle home. That's OK. They're sold on-site and online.
The menu at Michaelee's is diverse, with a nice selection of pasta dishes, steak and seafood. On weekends, the house special is Trio di Crostacei, a plate crowned with a large, crab-stuffed lobster on a bed of smashed potatoes garnished with a half-dozen large, blackened shrimp. It's a masterpiece of presentation and flavor.
Brick-red walls, thick dark-wood beams across the ceiling and tables dressed in white linen create a warm ambiance. Classical music plays unobtrusively in the background.
Wine is not on the menu at Michaelee's, but is welcome at the table. Conveniently, there's a wine shop right next door.
Michaelee's, 6 Town Square, is open 4-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 4-9 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday.
Hole in the Wall
Townsfolk have been sitting down to breakfast at this no-frills diner for decades. It's the kind of place where flapjacks come stacked on plate after plate and an eggs Benedict breakfast is the answer to whatever ails you in the morning. The menu expands into lunch and dinner with po' boys, burgers, dogs, chili mac and cheese, liver and onions, fried catfish, meatloaf — the possibilities are endless when it comes to satisfying your hunger.
The restaurant, as a hand-painted sign above the door announces, opened in 1931. But what it doesn't tell you is the history behind this place. Pick up a copy of Loretta Pistole Durden's "The Legend of the Hole in the Wall." She wrote the book on this downtown eatery. Margie Henson, an independent woman whose husband ran off with another woman, opened the diner in an old house opposite the county courthouse. She lived upstairs and served patrons her fare down below. Today, the upstairs is open for seating; the downstairs isn't large enough to handle the crowds. In nice weather, dining al fresco with a view of the courthouse and mountains beyond is the best seat in the house.
Hole in the Wall, 12 Town Square, is open 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sunday.
The View Grill
There couldn't be a better name for this restaurant overlooking Butternut Creek Golf Course in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Picture windows allow the view to come inside, but the best place to capture the panoramic scene lying before you is on the second-story deck outside. The restaurant is owned, as is the golf course, by Union County and is located on the top floor of the Blairsville Community Center.
The menu is best described as "North meets South," says food and beverage director Matt Leonard, a Georgia native, of his working relationship with executive chef Ray Villegas, who hails from Rhode Island. One such example? Maryland Crab Cakes with fried green tomatoes.
When the golf course first opened, the grill offered little more than hot dogs, burgers and beer. With Leonard and Villegas on board, View Grill is meeting the demand of clientele who expect something more, such as the interesting combination found in the Strawberry Ahi Tuna Salad with sesame, soy reduction and sliced berries; portabella bruschetta; or a pick from the "Sand-wedge" menu, like the Triple Bogey Sub. Oh, but you can still get those dogs — beer brats or all-beef — any way you like 'em.
There's not a lot of seating in the grill, but plans are in the works for expansion within the next two years. Reservations are recommended, particularly on busy weekend nights.
The View Grill, 129 Union County Recreation Road, is open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.
The Flying Trout
Though Michelle King bought Copperhead Resort 10 years ago, it wasn't until Vincent Taylor came on board as executive chef two years ago that the food began taking center stage. The resort was once a getaway for bikers only, and the food was primarily cold beer and hot dogs. "Pretty much bar food only," King says.
Now, the restaurant, King notes, has become "a dining destination" serving a menu of Southern favorites — with a twist. Here, fried okra isn't a side dish; it's an appetizer topped with bacon and pimento cheese sauce drizzled with chipotle herb dressing. Biscuit meets sandwich with the Southern Comfort Biscuit, made with fried chicken, pimento cheese, bacon and egg drizzled with a syrup of Southern Comfort. The catfish plate comes with Brussels slaw and cheese grits; and a plate of cornbread served with maple honey butter is meant to be shared.
The spin Taylor puts on Southern fare is impressive, but it's not until you taste the day's trout, procured from a farm across the border in North Carolina, that will convince you. Every few days, the trout offering changes. A recent crowded Tuesday night featured trout stuffed with creamed spinach and artichokes encrusted with a crunchy panko breading and served with a lemon-caper butter sauce.
Desserts are homemade and delicious, like the bourbon bread pudding, a house favorite served throughout the year. Seasonally, you might find blueberry cobbler served with a big scoop of vanilla bean ice cream or made-from-scratch strawberry panna cotta.
Flying Trout has a full bar, but due to Union County liquor laws, cannot serve alcohol on Sunday. The resort remains a favorite for bikers, but is also a favorite place for non-bikers with a saltwater pool, hiking trails and a lovely mountain view. Cabins and lodge rooms are available.
Flying Trout, 171 Copperhead Parkway, is open 4-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday (bar open until 11 p.m.).
The Sawmill Place
There are plenty of restaurants offering Southern fare in this area, but if you were to pick one that screams "Southern" from design through dessert, it's Sawmill. There's a huge front porch complete with rocking chairs where you can wait for your table. Just be patient. It's worth the wait, and it might be a long one if you get there at the height of the lunch rush. Check the license plates outside — plenty of cars from Georgia counties; carloads from North Carolina, Florida and Tennessee, too. That says something.
The interior is country through and through with pastoral scenes on the walls and perhaps a hand-crafted strawberry-rhubarb soda on the tables. Servers are as sweet as the carafes of tea they're carrying around for refills. "Sweet or unsweet?" I'm asked. Really? We're in the South. "Sweet please."
The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch only. Plates are overflowing, another Southern tradition. Start your day with Mamaw's Special, a breakfast platter of eggs, bacon or sausage, grits and a buttermilk biscuit. The lunch hour gives way to a plethora of home-grown goodness. Sawmill is dedicated to sourcing as much as possible from local farmers and other vendors.
"We try to pull as much Georgia product as possible," Kight remarks. "Having daily specials, we have the luxury of offering specials that use whatever's in season. The menu is very harvest-driven."
A market adjacent to the restaurant allows customers to buy many of the items on the menu, including grits from Logan Turnpike and honey from a local beekeeper, as well as the eatery's popular chicken salad, pimento cheese, fresh butterbeans and pink-eyed peas.
A business relationship with the Union County Farmers Market allows Kight to email his weekly order in so that farmers can set aside enough produce to fill the walk-in cooler every Tuesday. "We're able to hit a lot of farmers that way," Kight says.
It's a relationship that will carry over into a new restaurant the Kights will open in a newly constructed building on the Town Square in the summer of 2020. Reunion Southern Grille will offer a menu with a different slant from Sawmill. Kight describes it as "elevated Southern" with a menu that may feature short ribs over grits with fried collard greens.
Sawmill, 1150 Pat Haralson Drive, is open 6:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday, 6:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Saturday.
In keeping with the restaurant's mission to bring the freshest local ingredients to the tables at Sawmill, these grilled corn cakes are best made with corn fresh and herbs from the farm, Kight says.
The Sawmill's Grilled Corn Cakes
1 1/2 cups corn fresh kernels, locally sourced
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons, butter melted
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
1 tablespoon chopped chives
Cut corn off the cob. In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs, then whisk in milk and melted butter. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper.
Combine dry and wet ingredients. Add corn kernels, cheese and chives. Form mixture into patties, and grill evenly on both sides on flattop or in a skillet using olive oil or butter. Cakes should not be mushy but similar to pancake consistency. Makes 10 servings.
Email Anne Braly at email@example.com.