Hidden Gems: Cumming/Dawsonville

Written by Emily Anne Jackson
Hidden Gems

Around Back at Rocky’s Place
Dawsonville’s own home for folk art and all other forms of handmade finery may resemble a normal North Georgia residence from the front. But if you take a hint from its fitting name and walk around back, you’ll find a paradise of pottery, wood carvings and primary colors. This house-turned-gallery named for the owners’ lovable canine companion features pieces from nearly 300 different self-taught artists (including prominent folk painter John “Cornbread” Anderson) in every medium you can imagine. The eccentric yet distinctly Southern assemblage began as a personal project for two professional art pickers. It’s been growing steadily for nigh on 12 years and today it’s toured regularly by both serious collectors and curious passersby. 3631 Georgia 53, Dawsonville, 706-265-6030, aroundbackatrockysplace.com

Blue Bicycle Bistro
Guy Owen may have started out as an architectural draftsman, but one taste of the man’s perfectly crisped crab cakes will have you thinking otherwise. He began his transition to professional chef 25 years ago and … let’s just say the switch was a success. These days he’s the architect behind the menu at The Blue Bicycle, an unexpected little bistro behind the North Georgia Premium Outlets where he and his wife Kati are on a mission to bring back the three-course meal.

From afar, the building housing the Blue Bicycle looks like little more than a huge brick box. Pull into the parking lot, however, and you’ll find the front of the bistro swathed in bushes and cheerful blooms. Pass under the royal blue awning and into the unpretentious restaurant and you’ll find patrons as cheerful as the blooms outside, delighting in dishes like housemade pâté and pan-seared North Carolina trout. While the trout comes from North Carolina, many of the main ingredients are harvested in locales as close as Circle A hydroponic lettuce farm in Cumming.

The cuisine fashioned from these local ingredients is an eclectic amalgamation of cultural influences. The owners describe their menu-style as “continental with a Southern accent” yet they seem to underestimate the Asian and New American flavors at play in their selections. Buttery scallops on a bed of ginger-scented rice, for example, have a decidedly Thai twang. If you’re looking to indulge in a true Southern tradition, though, stop by this month to celebrate the Dawsonville Moonshine Festival with a signature moonshine cocktail. 671 Lumpkin Campground Road S, Dawsonville, 706-265-2153, bluebicycle.net

Poole’s Mill Park
While we admit that Forsyth is no Madison County when it comes to accommodating epic romances, we like to think it can hold its own against a make-believe love nest when it comes to historic bridge sites. Poole’s Mill Park is a park that was built around such a bridge. While the park wasn’t officially established until 1997, the modest structure traversing Settingdown Creek at Poole’s Mill has existed in some form since 1820. Even the covered bridge that stands there today is more than 100 years old. And, with its wooden trusses and time-weathered lattices, there is something sort of romantic about it. Its antique grandeur will make it a favorite spot for engagement photo shoots and afternoon strolls for many years to come. 7725 Poole’s Mill Road, Cumming, 770-781-2215, forsythco.com

Market 334
Just entering this artisan boutique is an instant mood lifter. With wares from more than 65 local artisans as well as larger brands like Natural Life, a quick glance around the homespun bohemian merchandise should leave you feeling the love. The market carries typical boutique items — jewelry, accessories, clothing and candles — but because so many are made by local hands, each piece has a unique look. If you want to see something truly atypical, nothing beats Market 334’s selection of folk art and home décor. In a separate gallery room, you can peruse original paintings, carvings, pottery and gorgeous wood furniture for sale. New stock arrives daily so repeat visits are encouraged. Besides, there’s no telling how much your psyche can benefit from all the good vibes this place puts out. And those are free. 334 Dahlonega St., Cumming, 678-367-1615 facebook.com/Market334

Even the most loyal lovers of local have their dirty little big box secrets. And can you really blame them? Out in the ‘burbs, it isn’t always practical to shop at locally-owned businesses. When a crafty local yearns for yarn, for example, you can usually find her at a certain lobby for hobbyists, sheepishly strolling through aisles of alpaca and wool. Well, we’ve got a fix for Cumming-based crafters’ big box treachery. Fleece, located off Highway 20 (look for the four-foot needles in the window), will have you feeling sheepish, but not out of guilt. To estimate the sheer amount of sheared sheep it must take to stock this independent yarn store boggles the mind and puts a familiar itch in any avid knitter’s wrists. Whether you’re in search of an inspiring project idea or a specialty skein for scarf season, we recommend you flock to Fleece. 1735 Buford Highway, Cumming, 770-886-KNIT, fleecegeorgia.com

Tam’s Backstage
One restaurant in Downtown Cumming is bringing new meaning to the phrase “dinner theater.” Tam’s Backstage, nestled beneath the Cumming Playhouse in the historic Cumming Public School structure, serves up plenty of dramatic dishes worthy of a standing ovation. It may be miles away from Broadway, but that doesn’t mean that Tam’s doesn’t know how to put on a show. Only instead of actors and costumes, Tam’s uses fresh flavors to stage its scenes. You can start your meal off with a “dramatizer” of calamari or crab bisque. For the main event, you might sample a headliner pasta dish or a little something off the grill. Lastly, a decadent dessert makes for an ideal closing number before your Off-Broadway banquet takes its final bow. 215 Ingram Ave., Cumming, 678-455-8310, tamsbackstage.com

Smith’s — Gift, Home, Gourmet
When we need a gift on the go, Smith’s is our go-to store. Smith’s motto is simple — live life comfortably and in style without breaking the bank. Since 2007, Smith’s has been helping customers entertain and live a casual yet stylish life with a wide range of home décor, servingware, kitchen tools, fashionable accessories and more. National brands include Lenny & Eva jewelry alongside offerings from local artisans, like Custom Coasters by Hazel, Habersham Home Fragrance and Linda Vachon Fine Art. The store’s free decorating workshop series is a great opportunity to get some home interior design tips; upcoming dates include a fall open house on Oct. 12 and a Christmas open house Nov. 14 – 17. In addition to the Cumming location, which recently moved to a larger space within The Collection at Forsyth behind Coldwater Creek, Smith’s also opened a second location in Downtown Duluth in August. The Collection at Forsyth, 410 Peachtree Pkwy., #230, 770-888-5505, facebook.com/smithsthestore

Sawnee Mountain Preserve
High on top of Sawnee Mountain, you’ll find a hidden gem within a hidden gem. Yes, the preserve itself is rather hidden down winding country roads lined with lush green pastures. Within the preserve though, up a well-shaded hiking trail, you’ll find a mountain climber’s dream come true — naturally-occurring, chairlike rock formations, perfect for taking in lofty views. These stony thrones, formally dubbed the Indian Seats, provide visitors with a 270-degree vista of the Woodland Indians’ former stomping grounds. On a clear day, you might just catch a glimpse of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the wind-swept seats. If you aren’t much for scaling boulders, Sawnee Mountain has plenty to offer cautious climbers including the Indian Seats observation deck, a tree house area and a canopy walk. 4075 Spot Road, Cumming, 770-781-2217, sawneemountain.org