Happy Hawg – Dine-In Addition, Hiawassee, Georgia, August 26, 2017

I originally intended to simply add this to the end of my previous Happy Hawg entry from a couple of weeks ago.  But…as I thought about it, I realized that this was a different experience and really deserved its own space.  For those that aren’t already familiar with our recent car issues and would like to read the back story, just click on the link above.

The car has been repaired and we’re the proud owners of a new used transmission.  OK, we’re the proud owners of new front brake rotors too.  The car needed them and since the garage had the front end taken apart to replace the transmission, it just made sense to go ahead and do the brakes too because there wouldn’t be any additional labor charge.

But I digress…

The next challenge to tackle was picking up the car from the garage and getting it back home.  Picking up a car from the garage we usually use isn’t much of a challenge.  We simply leave work a little early to get there before closing time of go by on Saturday morning.  When the garage is 150 miles away from home things aren’t so easy.  This was going to require taking a full day off or going to pick it up sometime over the weekend.  Still not too daunting but there were still other obstacles to contend with.  The upcoming weekend was move-in weekend for Jenna at Flagler College…in St. Augustine…400 miles in the opposite direction.  The car would not be ready until Friday afternoon and we needed to be home Friday evening to load up and get ready to hit the road Saturday morning.  We thought about simply driving up Monday morning but found out the garage would be closed Monday in anticipation of heavy traffic because the garage was located within the zone of totality of the total solar eclipse that was set to occur.  We finally worked out a plan to have our good friend and YHC Alumni Affairs Director, Dana Ensley, pick up the car for us on Friday, bring it back to YHC and park it.  We had planned to go up to YHC to see the eclipse ourselves but after driving 400 miles Saturday, spending most of Sunday getting Jenna moved in and situated then driving another 400 miles back home Sunday night, when we looked out at the car Monday morning and thought about the drive up to Young Harris which would take nearly three hours and the likelihood of a five to six-hour drive home due to eclipse traffic and simply said ‘nope’.

Fast forward to Saturday.  We finally had the opportunity to make the trek up to Young Harris to get the car.  We arrived on campus around noon, spent a few minutes in the bookstore and decided to grab some lunch before picking up the car and heading home.  It didn’t take us long to decide that we wanted to go to the Happy Hawg and give the dine-in option a try.

The Happy Hawg is a tiny place off Highway 76 between Young Harris and Hiawassee.  When I say tiny I mean that there are five tables inside.  Fortunately, there are another ten to twelve tables outside in the front of the building and on the deck overlooking Lake Chatuge.

We placed our orders at the counter, got our drinks and picked an indoor table.  ConnieLou ordered the pulled pork plate with cole slaw and Brunswick stew on the side.  I ordered the pulled pork plate with Brunswick stew and fried corn.

We sat down to wait on our food and I noticed that each table had three bottles of barbeque sauce on it.  ConnieLou had already made the same observation and picked up a spoon along with our other utensils and napkins because she knows that I’m a bit of a sauce nut and that I’d want to taste each of the sauces before deciding which to put on my pork.

She knows me well.

Their sauces include a tomato-based ‘House Sauce’ that’s thick, smoky and just a little sweet – think about a cross between a Georgia-style sauce and a K.C.-style sauce, a North Carolina vinegar-based sauce that’s tangy with a little bit of a pepper kick, and a South Carolina mustard-based sauce that’s a nice mix of sweet and tangy.  All three were quite good and all got a bit of use on my plate…not overlapping of course.

When our orders arrived, I was a bit surprised to find that the fried corn was fried on the cob rather than being cut off and then fried.  It wasn’t what I was expecting but was still quite good.  ConnieLou enjoyed her slaw and we both enjoyed the Brunswick stew which was a little chunky without being too chunky, if that makes any sense, and tasted quite good.  I ended up giving mine a small squirt of one of the sauces but that’s not unusual.  As for the pork…we had no complaints at all.  It was moist and smoky without being overwhelming and paired quite well with each of the sauces.

So how did the Happy Hawg (dine in edition) fare on the thumbs scale?  Four thumbs-up out of a possible four…easily.  Needless to say, the Happy Hawg has earned a spot in the list of restaurants that we tend to return to over and over when we’re in the area.

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Georgie’s Diner, St. Augustine, Florida, August 20, 2017

We were back in StA to move Jenna in for her second year at Flagler College. The cars were finally unloaded and her room was organized and mostly decorated, and it was supper time. We’d somehow managed to skip lunch and we were hungry. ConnieLou asked what we wanted to do for supper and my response was ‘any place that we don’t have to drive to’. It’s a shame that I was thinking it was Saturday instead of Sunday. Downtown St. Augustine wouldn’t be nearly as crowded as it usually is on Friday or Saturday night and it probably wouldn’t be too hard to find a place to park. Driving a little way would have opened up a lot of good dining options.

Nonetheless, there were still a few good options within easy walking distance of Jenna’s dorm. In fact, two of those options, Carmello’s and Georgie’s Diner, were directly across the street. Since we’ve been to Carmello’s a couple of times we decided to give Georgie’s a try. Georgie’s is a 1950s/1960s-style diner with all the chrome and neon that comes with the style but with a Greek twist.


Yeah, I know, I broke my no pictures rule again.

On the menu one can find typical American diner fare along with a good selection of Greek favorites. Once seated our server took our drink orders and gave us a few minutes to look over the menu. Jenna selected the Greek pizza, ConnieLou went with the BLT with fries and I ordered the gyro with fries. With our orders placed, we settled in to enjoy a few minutes with no task to complete.

When our orders arrived the first thing I noticed was the fries (imagine that)…fresh cut, not frozen. My gyro was piled high with sliced meat, onions and lettuce (but not too much lettuce) and Georgie’s ‘special sauce’. ConnieLou’s BLT had no shortage of B and T and was served on toasted bread. Jenna’s pizza came loaded with spinach, melted mozzarella and feta cheeses and tomato sauce.

And the table got quiet…

As we were finishing our entrées our server tempted us with dessert…and we caved. Jenna ordered a vanilla shake and ConnieLou and I both ordered rice pudding.  Looking back I really wish I had chosen the baklava.

So how did Georgie’s fare on the Thumbs Scale? We gave them a healthy 5 ¾ thumbs out of a possible 6. Here’s the low down… ConnieLou said the BLT was one of the best she’s ever had and the fries were quite good. Jenna initially said the Greek pizza was really good to begin with but ended up not being too thrilled with the sauce. It was a bit sweet for her taste. Me? I thought the gyro was fantastic and the fries were just icing on the cake. As for dessert, Jenna’s milkshake was quite good and it was huge. ConnieLou and I were a bit disappointed with the rice pudding. There was something there that just didn’t suit either of us. Neither of us deducted for the rice pudding. I had strongly considered it but then decided the fries made up for it. We’ll definitely be back and since Jenna lives just across the street, I suspect she might be back a little more often than me and ConnieLou.

Happy Hawg, Hiawassee, Georgia, August 10, 2017

How does one write a review of a restaurant that one has never actually been to?  Well, it can be done and, of course, there is a story behind it.  Here goes…

A few months back, Melanie Hale, one of our long-time friends from Young Harris mentioned the Happy Hawg to us and raved over their ‘Hickory Tater’, which is basically a baked potato topped with chopped pork barbeque.  We’d intended to go give it a try the past couple of times we were in town but with other events demanding our time, we just weren’t able to work it out.

This past Friday I had a morning meeting to attend at Young Harris College so I decided to head up Thursday afternoon with the intent of finally stopping in and giving the Happy Hawg a try.  Of course, as often happens, things didn’t go quite as planned.  I’d turned on to Highway 76, was on my way into Hiawassee, and about to head up the hill in front of Towns County High School.  I pressed the accelerator, the car engine revved up and…the car began slowing down.  Not good.  Time to make some phone calls.  Connie Lou, in turn, called Melanie to see if she could recommend a reputable mechanic (of course she could) and then began texting me numbers for our Allstate Motor Club account so I could arrange a tow.  In the mean time I managed to nurse the car into a nearby parking lot.

As it turned out, Melanie wasn’t far from where I was and offered to give me a lift over to the college.  By this time I wasn’t all that concerned about supper.  Well, Melanie being Melanie, was concerned for my well being and when she arrived to pick me up, had a piping hot Hickory Tater in the car waiting for me.  Yeah, she was worried about me not getting to give the Happy Hawg a try yet again.  That’s just how she rolls.

Anyway, Melanie dropped me off and I settled into my overnight digs and finally dug into my tater…and I wasn’t disappointed!  The Hickory Tater was a large baking potato, split lengthwise and topped with a heaping helping of chopped pork barbeque and came with a couple of tubs of barbeque sauce and ranch on the side.  The pork was smoky and tender.  I really don’t have a preference over chopped or pulled but chopped works quite well here.  The sauce was a basic, slightly sweet tomato (ketchup?) –based sauce that worked quite nicely with the pork and baked potato.

So how did my Hickory Tater fare on the Thumbs Scale?  An easy 2 out of a possible 2.  I definitely need to stop in next time I’m up that way and see what else is on the menu but if everything else is as good as the Hickory Tater, it’s going to be tough to choose.

Oh, and maybe you’re wondering about the car?  Yep, transmission is toast and is going to have to be replaced.  Ouch.  Oh well, could be worse.  Fortunately cars can be fixed or replaced and we have good friends that are willing to help us out when circumstances go south.  Life is good, make the best of it.

Indian Pass Uptown, Port St. Joe, Florida, July 31, 2017

Anytime we head to the Cape San Blas/Port St. Joe/Mexico Beach area for vacation there is one restaurant that we absolutely, positively have to eat at some time during our trip, and that restaurant would be the Indian Pass Raw Bar and Grill in Indian Pass, Florida.  Connie and the girls have learned that there will be no debate about it; at some point during our trip we will be eating there.  Fortunately they like it just about as much as I do.

Prior to our trip down last week I visited their website to check their hours.  As I was scrolling through the results of a Google search to find their website I noticed a couple of restaurant reviews that mentioned a place called Indian Pass Uptown.

Wait, what?

Have they moved?

How could that be?  They’ve been in the old building forever!

As I read further I learned that the folks that own the original Indian Pass Raw Bar have opened a second location in Port St. Joe.  The phrase that really caught my attention was “No more two-hour wait!”.

You’re kidding me, right?  No more waiting on the front porch or in the parking lot?  No more mosquitoes?

Nope.

In fact, when we walked in we were seated right away.  How could this be?  Simple, the Port St. Joe location has four to five times the seating capacity as the original location.

By and large everything is pretty much the same as the original location (aside from the wait) with a couple of exceptions.  The Indian Pass location is open Sunday and closed Monday and the Port St. Joe location is closed Sunday and open Monday.  The other notable difference was the addition of ‘buffalo’ wings to the menu.

We arrived at Indian Pass Uptown promptly at 6:30 on Monday evening.  As I previously mentioned we walked in the door and were shown to our table right away.  We grabbed our drinks from the cooler and settled in with our menus…not that we really needed them.  As usual, I ordered steamed shrimp and a cup of gumbo.  ConnieLou decided to try the wings with steamed corn on the cob on the side and Ashley and Jenna both ordered the crab-stuffed shrimp, also with corn on the side.

The steamed shrimp, stuffed shrimp, gumbo and corn were just as expected.  If we didn’t already know that we were in a different location we wouldn’t have been able to tell it by those dishes.  They were exactly the same as we remembered from the original location.  The wings were different and dang good!  Unlike the typical buffalo wing that’s deep fried and tossed in a mixture of butter and hot sauce,  Indian Pass’s wings are coated in a dry rub and baked (I didn’t mention that nothing is fried at Indian Pass, did I?).

So how did Indian Pass Uptown fare on the Thumbs Scale?  Try an easy 8 out of a possible 8 and throw in a few toes for good measure.

Oh, I don’t know how true this is, but I understand that there may be a plan in the works for a location in Memphis, Tennessee.  Can you imagine it?  Shrimp, oysters, gumbo and a healthy dose of Memphis blues.  I think I may feel a trip to Memphis comin’ on.

Hot & Cold Chinese Buffet, East Ellijay, Georgia, July 8, 2017

Instead of going into detail about how we ended up at the Hot & Cold Chinese Buffet, I’m just going to cut to the chase…

How did the Hot & Cold Chinese Buffet rate on the Thumbs Scale?  Try -4 out of a possible 4.  Being able to eat to your heart’s content doesn’t make up for the food not actually tasting good.

I’ve read reviews that were a bit less critical and some that were practically glowing…my recommendation…go next door to Wendy’s.

Keba, Athens, Georgia, June 27, 2017

Once again I need to invoke the local chains exception to my no chains rule.

Yesterday I made my monthly work trip to visit a client at Lake Oconee and it happened that I needed to make a side trip up to Athens afterward to check on a couple of things at our oldest daughter Ashley’s apartment. She knew I was heading that way and knows that I’m always looking for someplace good to eat so she suggested that I give Keba, a gyro place near their apartment a try. So I did.

OK, let’s back up a minute…

What is Keba? According to their website, Keba is a sandwich shop specializing in kebap, “a Turkish cousin to the Greek gyro”. At Keba, the customer chooses their ‘style’ (sandwich, wrap or bowl), then their ‘protein’ (chicken, beef, pork, lamb or a meat substitute including falafel or feta), then a sauce and finally their toppings.

Back to the present…

I ordered the beef wrap combo which included the wrap, fries and a drink. For my wrap I selected beef as my protein, the Original Keba Sauce (similar to tzatziki sauce) as my sauce and kept things simple with just lettuce for my topping.

I had to wait a few minutes on my order but since it was prime-time during lunch hour I wasn’t surprised. Since I wasn’t in any particular hurry I was content to just go with the flow, sip on my Coke and people watch for a few minutes. Once my order was ready I sat down with it at my table and came to a sort of surprising realization…the fries were fresh cut, not frozen…so Keba scored big points with me before I even tasted my food.

So how was my wrap? In a word…tasty! It tasted a little different than your typical gyro and the sauce was a little different from tzatziki sauce…but in a good way. And the fries…let’s just say they didn’t disappoint.

How did Keba fare on the Thumbs Scale? I gave them 2 thumbs-up out of a possible 2. Let me temper that a tiny bit. Keba got 2 thumbs-up and my meal was quite good but I can’t say there was a big WOW factor. At the same time, there was nothing at all that I could come up with that would cause me to make a deduction. Would I visit Keba again? Sure I would!

Oh, almost forgot…I mentioned Keba is a local chain. Currently there are five locations, two in Athens, one in Watkinsville, one in Bethlehem (Georgia, not Israel just in case some is wondering) and one in Atlanta.

Brian’s Restaurant & Sports Bar, Newnan, Georgia, May 31, 2017

Things have been a little crazy around the house this week and neither ConnieLou nor I remembered to take anything out of the freezer for supper.  Jenna was off with a friend and we had a couple of errands to run so we decided to grab something while we were out.  We went through our usual back-and-forth restaurant selection process before deciding on a destination.  One of these days I think I’m going to make one of these to speed the process along.

We finally settled on Brian’s Restaurant and Sports Bar.  We’ve been there once before and were fairly happy with it so we decided to give it another try.  As we pulled in we noticed that it was Trivia Night and we wondered if we’d be able to hear ourselves think much less have a conversation.  Fortunately there are two separate dining areas and we were in the quieter of the two.

I’ll have to admit that the sports bar concept is a bit lost on me.  I don’t watch a lot of sports on TV beyond the occasional Braves, Falcons or UGA football game and care absolutely nothing about hearing a bunch of talking heads drone on and on and on on the recap shows on ESPN and the like.  That said I wasn’t too interested on whatever was on the 16 or 18 flat screen TVs that graced the upper half of the dining room walls with one notable exception.  Two of the TVs were set on a music videos channel (not to be confused with MTV which formerly played music videos) and couple of B-52s videos from their very early days in Athens, Georgia came on and kept my attention for a few minutes.

But I digress…

Our server came by and took our drink order and after several minutes of careful contemplation and deliberation we placed our food orders.  ConnieLou went for the Steak Wrap and fries and I selected the meatball sub aka The Baller…don’t ya just love cute entrée names? and fried onion petals (think Bloomin’ Onion from Outback).

Our orders came surprisingly quick and we dug in.  The meatball sub was tasty.  Not the best I’ve ever had but far from the worst and I had no complaints about the onion petals.  ConnieLou wasn’t quite so happy with her Steak Wrap which she said came with too much lettuce (filler) and way too salty.  She decided she didn’t want to finish it and gave me the last couple of bites to try.  I was quite surprised about how salty it was.  It was salty to the point that if I were asked to describe the flavor of the meat I’d simply say ‘salt’.  There was no steak flavor to speak of.  On the flip side…the fries were quite good and appeared to be fresh cut which is a plus in my book.

So how did Brian’s rank on the Thumbs Scale?  We each gave them a thumb and a half.  My meal was solid but there was nothing to wow me enough to give it two thumbs.  ConnieLou said that she could have given hers two thumbs (bet it was because of the fries) if the meat hadn’t been so salty and if roll up had a bit less lettuce.  Maybe not the best overall impression but not problematic enough to prevent us from coming back down the road and trying their other offerings.

Maria’s Cantina, Greensboro, Georgia, April 26, 2017

I’ve said before that I don’t do reviews of national chain restaurants, but what about international chains? Maria’s Cantina, as it turns out, is an international chain but instead of having multiple locations worldwide, there are only two locations, one near Greensboro, Georgia and one in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

I’ve noticed Maria’s on my way to and from a jobsite near Lake Oconee several times over the past couple of years. Unfortunately, I’ve never had a chance to stop and give it a try because I was always finishing up and heading back to Atlanta before they opened for the day. However, recently we pushed the timing of my site visit back an hour or so which meant I’d still be in the area around lunchtime.

Last week I was leaving my jobsite and trying to decide what to do when I noticed the sign for Maria’s once again. It was almost 11:00 so I decided to stop and see if they were open. The OPEN sign wasn’t on when I pulled into the lot so I decided to check the front door to see what their hours are. The sign on the door said they opened at 11:00 and I was a couple of minutes early. As I started to turn and walk back to the car to wait a few minutes the door swung open and the manager said, in a sweet middle Georgia accent, “Come on in, we’re open”. I have to admit that I was stereotyping a little bit when I was caught a bit off guard when it wasn’t a Hispanic accent. I wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or not but I decided to take my chances.

The manager, who also happened to be the hostess, server, bartender and busboy(girl) at the moment (the rest of the wait staff wasn’t in just yet) told me that I could grab any table and promptly came by to take my drink order and to drop off a menu, a basket of chips and a bowl of salsa.

I noticed quickly that the salsa wasn’t the typical red tomato-based salsa that one finds at nearly every Mexican restaurant across the country. This was more of a clearish-brown flecked with bits of what appeared to be roasted peppers and other veggies. How did it taste? Let’s just say the standard red salsa may be good but this was much better. There were flavors beyond the typical tomato, cilantro, garlic, onion and lime. We’re talking deep, rich flavors.

I’m pretty sure that I could have made a meal off of the chips and salsa but I went ahead and ordered one of the lunch specials, MC#5 which consisted of a taco, a burrito, refried beans and rice. After the chips and salsa I had high expectations for my lunch and I wasn’t disappointed. Again, nothing had quite the same flavors that one typically finds at their favorite Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurant; they were better, bolder.

When the manager/hostess/server/bartender/busboy(girl) came back by to check on me, we got to talking and she told me that the biggest difference was that they did everything in-house. They roast their peppers and vegetables and make their own spice mixtures which, she said, are a little different than most.

So how did Maria’s Cantina fare on the Thumb’s Scale? Easily two thumbs up out of a possible two and I’ll throw in a few fingers and toes. Maria’s Cantina has just become one of my regular Greensboro lunch stops when I’m in the area. Now I just need to find an excuse to head to St. Croix to try their other location.

Bennie’s Red Barn, St. Simons Island, Georgia, March 11, 2017

March 11, 2017 marked one year since ConnieLou’s surgery and one year for her being cancer free so we wanted to do something to celebrate.  It happened to work out that Ashley’s and Jenna’s spring break weeks overlapped the weekend of March 11-12 which gave ConnieLou and I both an excuse to get away from home for a long weekend and the opportunity to celebrate with both of the girls at the same time, a bit of a rare feat during the school year these days.

I put out a request for restaurant recommendations a couple of weeks before and one place on the island kept coming up…Bennie’s Red Barn.  I checked out the menu and one phrase in the menu caught my eye “the steaks are still cut fresh and cooked over an old-fashioned wood fire”.  Now that’s something you don’t hear much these days.  I sent a link on to ConnieLou and we agreed that it would likely be our celebration destination.

I also invited a few friends to join us.  Unfortunately most couldn’t make it but our friends Mike and Michelle made the trek down from Savannah (OK, Mike and Michelle actually live in Rincon, Georgia but since more people know where Savannah is, we’re gonna use Savannah here).  They arrived early and the folks at the restaurant went ahead and seated them before we arrived.  Was quite nice arriving at a popular restaurant at 7:00 on Saturday night and not having to wait for a table.

Our server brought us a tray of rolls and took our drink orders while we checked out the menu.  Without going into a lot of detail about who ordered what, I’ll say that our orders consisted mostly of steaks and baked potatoes along with a surf & turf (steak and shrimp kebobs) and an order of grilled salmon and all entrees came with a house salad.

With our orders placed we had a little time to relax and catch up before our food arrived.  However our table got quiet once our plates arrived.  All in all everyone seemed to be mostly pleased with their meal.  A notable lack of flavor in the steaks was mentioned by some but everyone’s potato seemed to be quite good.  There were also a couple of grumbles about sour cream not arriving with the potatoes (it should have) and then it not being brought until we were nearly through with our meal.

So how did Bennie’s rank on the Thumb’s Scale?  They got a 10 ½ out of a possible 14 with most individual scores being a thumb and a half.  All in all, not perfect but could have been a lot worse.  Would I visit Bennie’s Red Barn again?  Definitely.

Willie’s Wee-Nee Wagon, Brunswick, Georgia, March 13, 2017

We Relish Your Buns!

OK, that’s their slogan anyway…

It’s good to have friends who live or have lived near your vacation destination. Not only do you get a chance to visit and catch up but more often than not you have a reliable source for restaurant recommendations. Fellow YHC alum Jeff Doke and his family live in Brunswick, Georgia, just a long rock-throw from St. Simons Island and Austin, Ashley’s boyfriend, and his family used to live on St. Simons. When I asked both Jeff and Austin for restaurant suggestions, there were a couple both recommended, one of which was Willie’s Wee-Nee Wagon in Brunswick.

According to the menu Willie’s has been around since 1975. Although it’s in a free-standing building you can’t help but think of it as ‘one of those little hole-in-the-wall joints’ that you hear about. Saying its unassuming is a major understatement. In fact, if it weren’t for the building being painted bright yellow and red, one might miss it altogether when driving by. You place your order at a window on the side of the building and you can eat either inside in a small dining area or at one of half a dozen big red picnic tables outside the building. Since we had Jenna’s pup Lyla with us, we opted to eat outside…even though it was breezy and freakin’ chilly!

We had to clear out of the cottage we’d rented for the weekend by 11:00 and Willie’s was more or less on our route home so we decided to stop in on our way out of town.

As one might guess, the menu consists mostly of hot dogs, in many wonderful variations, a Polish sausage, burgers, a fish sandwich and a highly touted fried pork chop sandwich. Jeff recommended the Polish sausage and I have a hard time passing up a chili dog…so I tried both. ConnieLou went with a chili dog and Jenna tried the fish sandwich. We all split a couple of orders of fries.

ConnieLou picked up our order at the window, brought it to our table and we all dug in. Were the recommendations on the mark? Oh yeah. The polish sausage and chili dogs were quite good and Jenna was pretty happy with her fish sandwich. Even Lyla enjoyed a fry or two when no one was looking. My only complaint…yep, you guessed it. The fries…frozen, not fresh cut. If that’s the only flaw we can find they’re not doing too bad.

So how did Willie’s Wee-Nee Wagon rate on the Thumbs Scale? We gave them a solid 5 ½ thumbs out of a possible six with the half thumb deduct being my standard deduction for frozen fries instead of fresh cut. Otherwise Willie’s would have had an easy 6 out of 6. Willie’s will definitely be on our return list when we’re back in the Brunswick/St. Simons Island area…