Fall is Prime Time to go to Blue Ridge



Guest Blog by Blake Guthrie as written for the AJC (Atlanta Journal & Constitution).

The Cabin

Photo Courtesy of Blake Guthrie

Cloud Nine. It’s the type of name one would expect for a mountain vacation rental home. It’s one of those places that if you try and follow GPS directions you’ll get lost. The rental agency sent a confirmation that stressed the importance of following the turn-by-turn directions provided in the email, including detail you wouldn’t get from a GPS such as “go right when you see a bunch of mailboxes.”

The Approach

Photo Courtesy of Blake Guthrie

What it didn’t mention was the very steep and winding one-lane road. After putting my Honda into its lowest gear for the first time ever and having to navigate past an approaching vehicle, I came to the crest of Sunrock Mountain four miles west of Blue Ridge. I saw that Cloud Nine was the type of place I might want to hole-up for a while, but, having never been to Blue Ridge or nearby Ellijay before, I came to do some exploring, to find the most beautiful scenery and the best outdoor spots to experience the autumnal ambiance.

The Train

Photo courtesy of @chusion

It turned out the back porch of the cabin was one of those places. In the morning I could see how the cabin got its name. It was literally in the clouds, the surrounding mountain peaks sticking up through a thick white blanket covering the valleys below. Still, I had to venture out. First on my itinerary was the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. The major attraction in town, the railway has been in operation as a sightseeing excursion train since 1998 along tracks that have a history going back as far as 1886. The tracks follow the route of the winding Toccoa River through the Chattahoochee National Forest to the twin towns of McCaysville and Copperhill, Tennessee. They’re essentially the same town with the state line running through the middle. Like a running joke, the line is demarcated by a blue stripe painted on sidewalks, roadways and running through the middle of businesses.

The train rolls at a leisurely pace and the open-air windows are large, making it a prime fall sightseeing adventure with a good dose of history thrown in. Along the way, you’ll see a Native American fish trap in the middle of the river that experts believe is 500 years old, and the old telegraph poles that used to be the fastest form of communication in a bygone era. The trip takes four hours, with two spent in McCaysville/Copperhill for exploring the towns.

McCaysville

If hunger strikes, Burra Burra on the River in McCaysville is near the train station and serves pub fare and local brews. Be sure to ask for outside seating, weather permitting. The real selling point here is the covered deck that overlooks the clear waters of the Toccoa River flowing past the state line where it becomes the Ocoee River after crossing into Tennessee.

Piano Bar

Photo Courtesy of The Black Sheep

Back in Blue Ridge, the largest patio bar in town can be found at Black Sheep Restaurant, where the seasonal menu leans heavily on seafood. Housed in a historic home shaded by a 200-year-old oak tree, the patio overlooks the center of town. It’s a popular place, so make reservations for dinner. Or just have a drink at the bar.

Breweries

The craft beer scene is surprisingly good in Blue Ridge for such a small town that was dry not too long ago. Two breweries — Fannin Brewing Company and Grumpy Old Men Brewing — both have large, inviting outdoor beer gardens where you can play cornhole, meet the locals and catch some live music. Wine drinkers have no shortage of options either, as wineries have been opening at a fast clip in this area over the last few years.

Photo Courtesy of Bear Claw Vineyards

Near Ellijay, Chateau Meichtry (pronounced “my-tree”) stands out not only for its wine but also its patio outside the barn tasting room where the rolling vineyards reveal a long-range view of the mountains to the north.At Bear Claw Vineyards visitors can spend the night in the Blue Ridge Treehouse, featured on the DIY Network show “The Treehouse Guys.” The treehouse overlooks the vineyards and contains all the amenities one would expect when staying in a hotel.

Apple Country

Photo Courtesy of Mercier Orchards

No trip to the North Georgia mountains during the fall harvest season would be complete without taking advantage of apple country. The pull of a roadside farm store backed by endless acres of fruit orchards is undeniable. Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge and R&A Orchards outside Ellijay both have roadside markets selling freshly picked apples and other fruits, fresh-baked goods, local foodstuffs and offer pick-your-own days as well as plenty of free samples.

Welcome to the Mountains!

Photo Courtesy of Blake Guthrie

Lake Blue Ridge is the centerpiece of a scenic drive worth exploring. Stop at the Blue Ridge Welcome Center to pick up a detailed map. Ringed by mountains, the lake has clear, emerald-hued water and a pristine, forested shoreline. The route also runs alongside the tumbling rapids of the Toccoa River, rolling farmland, historic houses, and has many side hikes to cascading waterfalls and other pastoral pleasures. Bring comfortable hiking shoes and make an afternoon of it if you plan to visit all the stops listed on the map. On my last morning at Cloud Nine, I got up early enough to see the sunrise over the Blue Ridge Mountains and stayed on the porch until checkout. Sometimes where you are is the best place to be.

If You Go

Blue Ridge is 92 miles north of Atlanta.

What to see

Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. $35 and up. 241 Depot St., Blue Ridge. 877-413-8724, brscenic.com

R&A Orchards. 5505 Hwy. 52 East, Ellijay. 706-273-3821, www.randaorchards.com

Where to stay

Escape to Blue Ridge. Cabins $140-$1,800 per night. 866-618-2521, www.escapetoblueridge.com.

Blue Ridge Treehouse. $234 and up. 2555 Tennis Court Road, Blue Ridge. 706-223-3750, blueridgetreehouse.com.

Where to Eat

Burra Burra on the River. $11 and up. 100 Blue Ridge Drive, McCaysville. 706-400-6660, www.burraburraontheriver.com.

Black Sheep Restaurant. $20 and up. 480 W. Main St., Blue Ridge 706-946-3663, www.blacksheepblueridge.com.

Visitor Info

Blue Ridge Welcome Center. 152 Orvin Lance Drive. 800-899-6867, www.blueridgemountains.com.

Ellijay Welcome Center. 10 Broad St. 706-635-7400, www.gilmerchamber.com.

From Field to Fork



Over the last decade, the number of Farmers Markets in this country has grown four-fold. Today’s consumers want our food to be as fresh, tasty, GMO and pesticide free as possible. We use the expression “sustainable food” to give a modern term to our intentions. What we really mean is we are more interested in calculating our food miles, or how far it’s traveled before we put it on our table.  

But sustainable food isn’t only about proximity of the food. How the food is produced, how it’s distributed and how it’s consumed are all factors. Many of our local chefs take these factors into consideration when creating their menus. They’ve made a commitment to provide culinary fare from food grown, raised and delivered locally, and under the best possible sustainable conditions. With their Farm to Table menus, they celebrate the small local farmer, and honor the connection between the land and the patrons they serve. We would like to introduce you to a couple of the regions most committed chefs.

Harvest On Main

Don’t let the downtown location fool you. When you cross the threshold at Harvest on Main you enter a superbly appointed mountain lodge. Chef-owner Danny Mellman and his partner Michelle Moran bring over three decades of culinary mastery and magic to the Blue Ridge food scene. Chef Danny creates the menus and Michelle is responsible for sourcing the best products from local producers. Grass fed Brasstown beef, Springer Mountain chicken, and Bramlett  Farm Trout are the local suppliers for such house favorites like Painted Hills Beef & Veal Meatloaf topped with Cabernet-Veal Demi-glace.

Local produce is delivered daily and those who prefer a more vegetarian fare will not be disappointed with the menu options, such as Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie, layered with brown rice, beets, Portabella mushrooms, baba ganoush, red skinned garlic mashed potatoes and topped with Gouda cheese.

Mellman and Moran have other restaurants on the Blue Ridge scene, all focusing on locally grown and raised products. They even have their own farm where they’ve developed and produce their heritage rabbit, honey, and quail. If that wasn’t enough, these amazing humans also host a summer camp for children age 6-16 sharing their vision of sustainable living within the community.

Reviewers rave about the service and have more accolades for the ample number of locally brewed beers as well as Harvest on Main’s extensive wine list. The Chef describes his menu as internationally inspired with a southern twang. His patrons describe it as 5-star.

Harvest on Main (576 E. Main St., Blue Ridge) features both a lunch and dinner menu. Click here for hours and days of operation. For reservations (highly suggested) call 706-946-6164.

The Sawmill Place

The restaurants tagline says it all. “Farm Fresh, Harvest Driven, Locally Sourced”.  Local suppliers include a pretty impressive list including produce from 7M Farms and Freddie Collins Farm; grits and flours for their scrumptious breakfast fare from Logan Turnpike Mill; toppings for their (patron favorite) pancakes  from Tim Dyer’s Blueberry Patch, Michael Surles’ Honey and Hughes Sorghum Mill; and that coffee mug is filled endlessly with beans from roaster, JumpinGoat Coffee. 

Co-owners Shawn and Amy Kight serve breakfast and lunch six days a week in this delightful cabin located just a slight jog off the downtown Square in neighboring Blairsville GA.  Their giant homemade biscuits start popping out of the ovens by 6:30am. And if you don’t like to wait for a seat, you might want to get there that early. But bring a big appetite.

The breakfast menu is quite extensive and features large portions of high quality food, exceptional service and truly inspired southern recipes at very reasonable prices. Take the “Nottely Scramble” as an example. Chef Shawn scrambles 3 large Lathem farm eggs into spicy collard greens, onions, bacon and cheddar cheese. He serves this with your choice of 2 strips of Applewood smoked bacon or 1 local sausage patty, along with grits or gravy, a buttermilk biscuit, coffee or tea all for around $10.

The lunch menu boasts burgers from Certified Angus Beef raised by Georgia Cattle Farmers. There are several salad choices and all include a delectable freshly baked morning glory muffins. The hydroponic -grown lettuce and other produce are delivered daily, 12 months a year from local 7M Farms.

As we already mentioned, this place is hopping from the time it opens till the time it turns the biscuit oven off, but don’t let the possibility of a wait for a seat at the table deter you. The Sawmill Place has a lovely front porch with lots of rockers to pass the time, as well as a new Market building adjacent to the restaurant where you can shop for all things local including produce harvested locally in Union County, flower bouquets grown on Blairsville’s Whimsy Flower Farm and other artisan goods from the Tri-State area.  Leave some room in your trunk to bring home honey, syrups, jams, soaps and beeswax products. They all make great souvenirs. 

The Sawmill Place (1159 Pat Haralson Dr., Blairsville) features both a breakfast and lunch menu. Click here for hours and days of operation or call 706- 745-1250 .

Pet Friendly Blue Ridge



As animal lovers ourselves, we understand that when you plan a vacation to Blue Ridge, Georgia that you want your four-legged family members to accompany you. Just as you love the fresh mountain air and seeing new places, so do pooches! There are so many new smells they’ve never sniffed, creeks to splash in, and they would much rather be with you than be kenneled!

Stay

Here at Escape to Blue Ridge we have over 100 cabins that are pet friendly! You can choose cabins by the lake or near a river. There are also pet friendly cabins in the middle of the woods with acres and acres for your puppers to run to their little heart’s content. Some properties are even fenced in like Black Dog of Blue Ridge.

Shop

Blue Ridge is a very pet friendly community. Whether you are bringing Fido with you or just want to bring home a souvenir for your best friend, Blue Ridge Cotton Company is both a pet and human friendly store! Here you will find great apparel, gifts, and of course doggie approved décor! The owner’s own pup, Watson Agee, can often be seen “working” at one of their two locations in Blue Ridge or Blairsville. Stop in, give him a pet on the head, and enjoy browsing all of their unique finds!

Watson Agee working at Blue Ridge Cotton Company

For the outdoorsy canines, head to Blue Ridge Adventure Gear for the hottest trends, most delicious treats, and all the outdoor gear you might possibly need. Keep Rufus safe out on Lake Blue Ridge with life jackets, play fetch at Morganton Point with glow in the dark balls, or keep them safe in your car with a dog hammock. Oh, did we mention the treats? Well, they have plenty along with their sister store, Blue Ridge Adventure Wear. Your pup is going to get pawsitively excited when you buy him some of their most scrumptious looking doggie donut treats!

Doggie Donuts at Blue Ridge Adventure Wear

Love Dogs and Cats Too is a holistic pet supply shop that has everything you could ever need for your favorite family member. They carry collars, leashes, food, toys, and treats. Here you’ll find natural flea and tick soaps, pet friendly cbd oils, and even puppy clothes! Stop on in if you Love Dogs, they’ll be happy to see you!

Dine

It’s true. We have some incredible restaurants here in Blue Ridge. The best part is some of them allow pets to join their owners for delicious meals. Right in the heart of downtown Blue Ridge, you can sit on the inviting patio of Treo and enjoy an outstanding meal. This fine dining establishment features southern cuisine in a casual atmosphere. Their steaks are to-die-for, but really you’ll enjoy anything Chef Patrick prepares!

Coolest Pooch at Treo

Why does happy need to be limited to an hour when you get to vacation with your best friend? Well, it doesn’t have to be at Brew Ridge Brewery! Their “yappy” hour lasts from 4pm to 7pm. You get good deals on custom crafted brews and your BFF gets a special puppy treat! While you’re here you can also enjoy a delicious burger, meatloaf sandwich, or some good ol fashioned chicken wings. They often have live music and of course ice-cold beer!

Yappy Hour at Blue Ridge Brewery

Drink

How can you not love a business that broadcasts “Dogs are welcome, and people are tolerated!” Grumpy Old Men Brewing is a laid back, fun microbrewery is open Tuesday through Saturday and offers 18 beers on tap. They often have live music and they stand by their motto: If we don’t like it, we don’t drink it. If we don’t drink it, we don’t sell it. So, come out and feel like a local, have fun, and drink good beer!

Chilling at Grumpy Old Men Brewing

Best Friend Wanted

If you don’t already have a best friend or are looking to grow your furfamily, stop by the Humane Society of Blue Ridge. This no kill shelter often partners with local businesses to encourage pet adoptions and to support their non-profit work of supporting sick, injured, or abandoned animals. They run a Thrift Store to help offset operational costs, and they even have a dog park that’s open 24/7 that all are welcome to use!

Adopt a best friend at the Humane Society of Blue Ridge

Doggy Daycare

A lot of times our guests will make day trips from the cabin and not all towns are as pet friendly as Blue Ridge. If your planning an adventure and you can’t take Benji with you, make an appointment at Violet’s Doggy Daycare. Here your pup will be able to make friends, run around, and be safe and secure until you come retrieve them. While there you can even get your pooch a peticure or a full grooming session. Violet’s also offers homemade pet treats and jerky treats.  

Puppy Play Date at Violet’s Doggy Daycare

Emergency Services

While you are on vacation, sometimes things can happen. Maybe Rufus counter surfed and gobbled down some grapes and now he feels under the weather or maybe while he was out exploring in the yard, he tried to eat some berries that he shouldn’t have. We don’t like to think about these things happening and when you are away from home you don’t know who to use or where to go to when emergency services are needed. Fortunately, right here in Blue Ridge we have a highly rated and extremely respected emergency veterinary service that is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year! Mountain Emergency Animal Center provides comprehensive emergency and urgent care and work closely with your primary veterinarian to provide the most complete care possible for your family pet. We hope that you won’t need to utilize their services, but in the event that you need to, know that you are in great hands!

Salsa or Sushi?



Even though a trip to the mountains hints at a hankering for sausage gravy slathered over big fluffy biscuits, with a side of smoked baby backs and a dish of collards with ham hocks, you will find lots of exceptional cuisines that aren’t best washed down with sweet tea and a to-go container of banana pudding.

Here are some of the restaurants that are within a 35 mile drive of Blue Ridge that will more than satisfy your craving for either salsa or sushi:

The Rum Cake Lady Cuban Café

Photo Courtesy of the Rum Cake Lady

Yes, Miss Elizabeth is best known for her four different varieties of Rum Cakes which she ships all across the globe from her mountain bakery. But those who are fortunate enough to have eaten at one of her two café establishments know that it’s just as much about the true Cuban cuisine, not just the cakes. With two locations to serve you, the downtown Blue Ridge Café is similar to a Cuban walk-up window, or “La Ventanita”. When after a morning of hiking or tubing, you are hungry and you don’t want to shower before a hearty lunch – this is the ideal place to visit. They offer fresh, authentic Cuban sandwiches, tamales, empanadas, plantains, rice, and beans.

Their Copperhill location includes indoor seating, dinner hours, the same great menu plus a Cuban grocery. Both locations boast the best Cuban coffee in the mountains. A guava and cheese pastelitos or a caramel flan with a café con leche is not a problem on your diet. After all,  you are on vacation. Oh, and grab a couple of rum cakes for those you left back at home. Located at: 205 First St. Blue Ridge GA & 111 Ocoee St. Copperhill TN.

Asiano

Images courtesy of Asiano

When the urge for Asian cuisine hits, there always seems to be an issue with which style will you treat yourself tonight. Will it be sushi or Thai? Japanese Steakhouse or Chinese? And rarely will two people agree, much less a family of four. This is when to head straight up the 515 corridor to the beautiful lakeside town of Hiawassee.

For the past two decades, Koo and his family have been serving great food and even entertainment, as the personable hibachi chefs show off their superior knife skills around the large griddles of the Japanese Steakhouse side of the restaurant. The menu for each style of Asian fare is quite extensive, with all food fresh and sauces made in house. Whether it’s their traditional sweet and sour soup or their untraditional Philly cheesesteak eggroll, you won’t be disappointed with the number of options to satisfy that Asian craving.  Located at 1382 Hwy 76 (515) Hiawassee, GA.

Las 2 Hustecas

Photo Courtesy of Las 2 Hustecas

You won’t need your passport, but this Mexican food is so authentic, you’ll have wondered if you crossed the border and stumbled into a small village cantina. There are often two sure signs that a Mexican restaurant serves top-notch authentic cuisine. Yes to both at Las 2 Hustecas. A good percentage of the clientele is Hispanic and the best chefs in the region are often seen eating here on their nights off.

Rated nearly five stars on every online review service, the reviewers consistently mention that they were served the BEST guacamole, the biggest burritos, the smallest seating (so expect to wait or opt for takeout) and the highest quality fresh food, all at ridiculously low prices (there’s a breakfast menu, too). In fact, the main complaint from out of town visitors is they don’t have Mexican food this good when they go back home. Located in a little strip center, no frills 4114 E. Main St.  Blue Ridge, GA.

Kizuna Sushi & Noodle

Photo Courtesy of Kizuna Sushi & Noodle

The newest restaurant to join the Blue Ridge culinary scene has opened to rave reviews. An authentic Japanese and Sushi House, Kizuna is an elegant restaurant that serves what one reviewer called “Japanese street food”. The sushi is raw and skillfully crafted. No California rolls here. This is true sashimi. Then they turn your idea of ramen noodles upside down with so many options to choose from for your Japanese bowls. The tempura is light with a variety of vegetables and seafood to tempt you to order fried. The pork dumplings have also won critical reviews.

Check out their menu before deciding to order take-out. The freshest items like sushi and Udon noodles will only be served in-house. Kizuna serves beer, wine and a nice selection of sake. Located at 140 Progress Cr. Suite 3 Blue Ridge GA

The Tastes of Europe In Blue Ridge



For Americans visiting Europe, an integral part of the adventure is partaking of the local cuisine and libations. When Europeans immigrate to our country they too enjoy our regional cuisine, at least for a little while. Eventually, they begin to miss a fine Irish whiskey or a delicately seasoned Polish sausage. Fortunately for Blue Ridge, some of these traditional European fares have established themselves here in the mountains. On your next stay with us, consider visiting one of these fine establishments.

The Black Bear Bier Garten

📷 @ancole78

Over 4,500 miles separate the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Bavarian Alps, but only a few miles come between our cabins and the genuine vibes of a German beer garden. If you are looking to have a non-American food experience, then try a sampling of sausages with choices that include Boar, Venison, Buffalo, Pheasant, and Elk. If you want to experience something on draft besides Miller Lite, then cozy up to the bar and start asking about their outstanding hops selections. And if you don’t want to take your husband shopping with you, the sign on the door at the Black Bear acknowledges that they have free husband daycare! Meet him later for a brew and a large German soft pretzel. You won’t be disappointed.

The Boro Inn Irish Pub

📷 The Boro Inn Irish Pub

The curb impression is very deceiving as you drive up to the Boro Inn. From the outside, there is nothing authentic about it. As you open the door, you enter a pub in the County Wexford, with Father Brendan Doyle (retired) officiating behind the bar. With 177 different handcrafted libations including whiskeys and brews whose recipes span 1,300 years, there is nothing that isn’t authentic at the Boro. Part pub, part museum, you will be as captivated by historical artifacts as you will be by the bartender’s brogue. The music, the stories, the potations and the grub will land you smack in the middle of The Emerald Isle while you vacation in the North Georgia Mountains.

Cucina Rustica

📷 Cucina Rustica

Chef Danny Mellman takes Italian fare to a new level at this fine-dining ristorante located in Morganton, GA, just a few miles east of Blue Ridge. This is the perfect place to spend an evening with friends. Start out with a plate of Frito Misto- flash fried calamari and fish with artichokes and lemon and charred tomato-lemon aioli. The salads are shareable in size. The Treviso is a patron favorite – with bacon, balsamic, fresh pear, walnuts, and Gorgonzola. A myriad of pasta, risottos, and polentas, with fresh roasted vegetables, compliment delectable fresh sauces, meat entrees, and the finest of seafood. This is Old World Italian cuisine served mountainside. Reservations are recommended.

Margo’s Gourmet Polish Kitchen

📷 Margo’s Gourmet Polish Kitchen

Do you often crave your Babciu’s pierogi? Maybe you always preferred her meat pies even though everyone else fought over the potato and cheese filled pockets. Has it been years since you dove into a dish of your grandmother’s cabbage rolls? Margo wants to satisfy those memories. She is in her kitchen preparing all of her menu by hand daily to assure the best quality taste. When the weather cooperates, you can enjoy amazing Polish sausages, krauts, goulash, soups, and baked goods served on the kawiarnia na dworze (outdoor patio). Whether seated indoors or out, having a chair in Margo’s kitchen means a visit from Margo, too. You will love the food, the experience, and the chef.