Blue Ridge, Ga.
City Sophistication, Small-Town Charm
Written by Bre Humphries
Photo courtesy of Fannin County Chamber of Commerce
Given the choice between a city and country setting, I typically opt for the latter, yet I certainly appreciate an urban environment for shopping, dining and the arts. It’s no wonder I’m so enamored with Blue Ridge, Ga. This little mountain town has it all – the sophistication and cultural variety of in-town neighborhoods like Virginia Highland set against a bucolic background, replete with sweeping scenery, small-town charm and plenty of fresh air.
I could imagine a life here — taking my coffee each morning at L&L Beanery Café, entertaining friends at the numerous shops and restaurants in town, and escaping to a cabin in the countryside at day’s end. For now, I’ll settle for a weekend getaway whenever I get the chance.
On a recent visit, we rolled into town just in time for lunch at Harvest on Main, which warrants the not-quite-two-hour drive in itself. Housed in a lodge-like structure in the center of town, the restaurant blends a relaxed, rustic vibe (complete with roaring fireplace, exposed wood rafters and trophy-sized mounts) with elements of fine dining. Manning the kitchen is Chef Danny Mellman, whose classical training and worldly travels translate into exquisite global cuisine with “Southern twang.” The menu changes seasonally and revolves around locally sourced ingredients, including products from The Cooks Farm, the restaurant’s own urban farm and learning center.
After a leisurely lunch of blackened salmon BLTs with house-smoked bacon and caper remoulade, we hit the streets for some serious shopping. By the end of the afternoon, we had plenty to show for our efforts – crocheted scarves from Posh on Main, specialty spice blends from Out of the Blue Gourmet, ceramic canisters from Wrapsody in Blue and old-fashioned soaps from Huck’s General Store. Gourmands will want to stash the shopping bags in the car to sample all the oil and vinegar pairings in Blue Ridge Olive Oil Company’s cucina-style shop, while anglers should carve out plenty of time to explore Oyster Bamboo Fly Rods, where you can watch owner Bill Oyster handcraft and engrave his casting masterpieces or learn to make your own in one of his classes, which often book up months in advance.
Our need for retail therapy duly satisfied, it was time for a little more R&R, so we settled in for a few late afternoon flights of wine on the deck at Tastings of Blue Ridge before dinner at Christy Lee’s Courtyard Grille, where fire pits keep al fresco diners nice and toasty on cool evenings. We declined when our server offered dessert, opting instead to stroll across the courtyard to The Sweet Shoppe, which won season six of Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” with flavors like French toast & bacon.
Wide Open Spaces
The next morning, we ventured out early for a healthy dose of fresh mountain air on horseback. Just 9 miles northwest of town, Adventure Trail Rides of Cashes Valley offers leisurely trails as well as more advanced terrain to accommodate riders of all skill levels, all with scenic views of the surrounding mountains. After a quick and comical introduction from guide Noey Vineyard, we saddled up for a moderate ride on the Cashes Trail. A writer himself, Vineyard’s commentary provided additional entertainment as we traversed the trail. We learned about his special Fairy Cross rides, which double as treasure hunts for staurolite crystals, a natural phenomenon found in this part of North Georgia, and the “Picture-Perfect” botanical rides, which take place only in the spring and include fantastic photo ops with the azalea trees, wild Cherokee roses, wild orchids and lady slippers growing along the trail.
After leading our horses back to the stable, we slipped into the Trailside General Store to peruse shelves stocked with old-fashioned food products and country kitsch. It was the perfect precursor to our next great shopping experience – a visit to Mercier Orchards. Though fall is the time for apple-picking in the orchard, Mercier’s store is a year-round shrine to the fruit – you’ll find it fresh in all varieties, covered in caramel and dipped in chocolate, baked into pies, bottled into syrups, ciders and jellies, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The store also peddles more fresh produce, including its own production of peaches, strawberries, blueberries and cherries, every flavor of pie (and fried pie) you can possibly imagine, fudge, hand-dipped ice cream, gourmet goodies, country-chic home décor, old-fashioned toys, and plenty of trinkets. If you time it right, you can even pick your own strawberries in Mercier’s U-pick fields this season.
Now in its 70th year of harvest, Mercier is celebrating the past while plowing ahead into the future with its new designation as a farm winery. With the opening of a tasting room last May, the orchard is now able to serve and sell wine products, so we settled at the bar for a few samples. Currently available are peach and blackberry wine, with plans for more products in the works.
With so much more to do in the area, it was hard to determine our next move. Numerous trails and streams lure hikers and fisherman back outside (visit Blue Ridge Mountain Outfitters for tips and all the requisite gear), while river adventures and canopy tours abound at Ocoee Rafting. In town, the Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association offers one of the largest art galleries in North Georgia in the historic Fannin County Courthouse, or you can climb aboard the vintage train for a ride into McCaysville on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. When hunger strikes, Toccoa Riverside provides waterfront dining in its recently reopened restaurant, and the Swan Drive-In Theater plays first-run movies in a nostalgic setting beginning Memorial Day weekend.
But a trip to the mountains isn’t complete without adequate time spent cozying up in a comfortable cabin, and our weekend home-away-from-home was awaiting our return. Aptly named River Whisper, our Mountaintop Cabin Rentals accommodation was more like a private lodge, perched high on a hill above the Toccoa River, with soaring cathedral ceilings, two master suites, a game room, a hot tub and a covered porch, where we spent the afternoon in front of the outdoor fireplace with chilled glasses of Mercier cider.
Rather than trekking back to town for dinner, we enlisted the services of private chef Douglas Olsen of Cabin Cuisine, who makes it possible to enjoy gourmet dinners in the comfort of your cabin. Olsen arrived one hour before our scheduled mealtime to prepare the food, and the tantalizing scents wafting from the kitchen had our mouths watering well before we sat down to a four-course meal of pan-fried crab cakes, fresh seasonal salads, pecan-encrusted local trout and a grand finale of bananas foster. The dessert course doubled as entertainment, as Olsen dimmed the lights to flambé the dish before our captive audience, then scrubbed the kitchen back to a sparkling clean as we practically licked our plates. His dinners are certainly a special treat, yet he swears his techniques are simple enough for the home cook, and even offers a book filled with recipes to try for yourself.
But something tells me they might not taste the same in any other setting. Perhaps I’ll pack up and move to Blue Ridge, after all.
For More Information
Fannin County Chamber of Commerce