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…

St. Simons Sweets, St. Simons Island, Georgia, March 12, 2017

Sunday morning…ice cream was on the agenda.
Not grocery store ice cream…good ice cream.
Fresh made ice cream.
And maybe something a little different.

Ashley and Austin wanted to go to St. Simons Sweets for ice cream one more time before leaving St. Simons. Who were we to argue? We all piled into the car and headed into town.

St. Simons Sweets is a small sweet shop located in the St. Simons Pier that specializes in fresh made sweets and…fresh made ice cream. Good ice cream…not grocery store ice cream. Even better than Baskin Robbins.

Our selections included red velvet, tirmisu, samoa (like the Girl Scout cookie) and bourbon butter pecan.

How did St. Simons Sweets rank on the Thumbs Scale? How about a perfect 10 out of 10…with several toes thrown in as well. Yeah, it was that good. Give ‘em a try but leave some for us.

Meat ‘N Greet, Newnan, Georgia, March 5, 2017

ConnieLou and I needed to get out and run a few errands and decided to grab lunch while we were out. Of course we had the usual debate over where to go to eat but somehow we managed to narrow it down to two choices fairly quickly. Once all was said and done we decided to go to Meat ‘N Greet on Jefferson Street, off the square in Newnan.

Meat ‘N Greet is described as a ‘craft burger’ restaurant and is our local alternative to Red Robin and similar ‘gourmet’ burger chains. Their menu consists mainly of burgers dressed in a dozen or so different ways, sandwiches, hot dogs, salads, sides and desserts. For those that like a craft beer to accompany their craft burger, there is usually a good selection of local brews on tap and in bottles. OK, you can get big brewery swill too…but why bother?

Being it was nearly 2:30 when we walked in the door we had missed most of the after-church rush and were seated right away. Our server came by to take our drink orders and gave us a few minutes to check out the menu. ConnieLou ordered the Slider Platter, choosing the pulled pork slider with mojo slaw and barbeque sauce, the pimento cheese slider topped with bacon and the smoked chicken salad slider with lettuce and tomato…and a side of fries. Me? I ordered the Not So PC burger, a burger topped with pimento cheese, bacon jam, lettuce, tomato and onion…and a side of fries.

Our orders came out fairly quickly and the first thing I noticed was the fries…fresh cut, not frozen and seasoned with some sort of seasoned salt that was noticeable but not overpowering. Yes, things were going well!

My burger was cooked to a perfect light pink inside medium and was quite tasty after I ditched the lettuce, tomato and onion…not that there was anything wrong with the lettuce, tomato or onion…I just don’t like ‘em on a hamburger. ConnieLou enjoyed her sliders and said of the three, she liked the pulled pork and pimento cheese the best. She gave me a bite of the pulled pork and it was quite tasty and the slaw added a nice crunch to the mix. Maybe I need to take a better look at North Carolina-style barbeque sammiches.

So how did Meat ‘N Greet rank on the Thumbs Scale? We gave it a solid 4 out of a possible 4. We’ll definitely be back.