Hidden Hometown Gems: Lake Lanier Communities
Written by Bre Humphries & Carl Danbury
Finding a good restaurant in the communities that surround Lake Lanier used to be as challenging as crossing the big water in a canoe. Finding one that could easily compete among the fi nest in metro Atlanta? Simply unheard of!
Today, Flowery Branch has the marvelous Antebellum, Lake Lanier Islands Resort now has three excellent chefs at Windows, and Buford boasts long-time favorite Sperata. On the northern reaches of the lake, Gainesville residents seem satisfied with chain restaurants. Therefore, Scott’s Downtown might be considered an oddity — yet refreshingly so.
After spending five-plus years at a different location, amiable restaurateurs Scott and Kay Dixon took a chance on a larger venue. Their new digs feature polished hardwoods, private nooks for intimate dining, tables for larger parties, The Loft for up to 500 banquet guests and The Lounge at Scott’s, which offers live music on select Saturdays.
Chef Jeremy Wilkson’s menu includes oysters Bordelaise and warm crab dip served with lavosh, Low Country shrimp and grits, delicate Chilean sea bass, swordfish and roasted chicken with a pomegranate cranberry jus. Scott’s also offers fine USDA prime beef tenderloin filets and ribeyes, herb-crusted rack of lamb, pork saltimbocca and amazing Parmesan risotto.
At lunch, diners may enjoy Po-Boys, burgers, chicken salad croissants and the like. This blend of Charleston-, New Orleans- and Buckhead-style dining is well worth the drive even if you aren’t weekending at the lake. 131 Bradford St. NW, Gainesville, 770-536-1111, scottsonthesquare.com.
Buford Farm Fresh Market
After long lamenting the lack of whole food sources in North Gwinnett, we were especially delighted with this discovery, a community-driven market offering local and organic alternatives to conventional, big-box shopping. Here you’ll find produce from nearby farms, freshly baked goods by local bakers, handmade arts and crafts from local artisans, and even eggs from owner Brenda Mauritz’s own chickens. (Ask about her chick adoption program!) The goal is to create a place where the community can work together to support one another, Mautritz said — “the way it used to be.” Originally located at the corner of Little Mill Road and Buford Dam, the shop doubled its space upon relocating to Downtown Buford last August, and the expansion allowed for the addition of a cooking school with chef-led classes like father/daughter and mother/son date nights. There’s also a nice selection of organic and gluten-free pantry items and a café area where you can enjoy house-churned ice cream in the summer months. 115 E. Main St., Buford, 770-945-9496.
Common Grounds Coffee Shoppe
If Andy Griffith had lived in Flowery Branch, this is where he would go for his morning cup of Joe. Since opening in 2002, Common Grounds has established itself as a small-town gathering spot, drawing a regular crowd for breakfast and lunch and providing a comfortable space for group meetings and Bible studies. Exposed brick walls are dotted with local artwork, including an exhibition wall for nearby Little Artist Studio, and a community-supported “Lending Library” shelf is stocked with books to borrow and return as you please. Yes, it’s a little like Mayberry — but with lattes. 5510 Main St., Flowery Branch, 770-967-4080.
Tannery Row Artist Colony
You can’t see it from the road; in fact, you’d probably never know it was there if you weren’t specifically looking, but venture down a vine-covered walkway to a discreet corner of Buford’s historic Tannery building and a whimsical world of art awaits at the Tannery Row Artist Colony. Comprised of 17 artists specializing in a variety of media, the colony offers an artistic experience that is unmatched in this area of metro Atlanta. Visitors can take a peek into the working studios of local artists like Sabrina Bland, who draws inspiration from nature and Central American travels in her watercolor and acrylics; Bree Sauers, whose work with acrylic, paper and “repurposed trash” is a sight to behold; and Donna Biggee, whose passion is plein air painting. There’s also a gallery with rotating exhibits — catch “h20” featuring various interpretations of water, from canvas marsh scenes to sculpted bath tubs, June 1 – July 20. Aspiring artists can interact at Thursday Things, free sessions that are open to the public to explore a different artistic topic each week. 554 W. Main St., Buford, 770-904-0572, tanneryrowartistcolony.com.
Fish Tales Lakeside Grille
Geographically, this gem is hidden in the most literal sense, tucked away in a cove next to Lake Lanier’s Hideaway Bay Marina, but a high-energy crowd in the warmer months makes it a hotspot for summertime fun. The initial appeal of Fish Tales is accessibility by boat, making it a popular dining destination after a day on the water, but its more than novelty that secures its spot on our list. Unlike some of the high-priced, tourist-driven competition, Fish Tales combines a fun atmosphere with the most important element of a great restaurant— great food, of course. Offerings like fish tacos, crab legs, conch fritters and the signature “Fish Tales” (fried grouper fingers) transport your taste buds straight to the coast. A sandy area out back is the perfect place for child’s play and the restaurant brings in live music seven nights a week in June and July. No boat? Take heart — Fish Tales is an easy 1-mile drive from downtown Flowery Branch by car. 6330 Mitchell St., Flowery Branch, 770-967-3775, fishtaleslakelanier.com.
Spout Springs Library
Whether it’s a favorite overstuffed chair, a softly buzzing coffee shop or a breezy spot on the beach, a good environment enhances a reading experience. The Spout Springs branch of the Hall County library system does just that. Open since 2008, the inviting facility raises the bar on book borrowing. At its entrance is Friends Café, a space rented by the privately owned fundraising and advocacy group Friends of the Library, and stepping inside was a major “ah-ha” moment for us. What better way to draw in avid readers than providing their caffeine fix and a quick bite on-site? Its menu of frappes, slushies and smoothies also creates a great incentive for bringing in younger readers, as does the library’s fabulously creative kids’ corner, which offers weekly activities for little ones throughout the summer. But perhaps the most unique element is a weekly farmers market that sets up shop in the library parking lot on Thursday afternoons throughout the summer and fall, featuring an average of 40 vendors peddling everything from fruits and vegetables to knitted hats and hair bows. 6488 Spout Springs Road, Flowery Branch, 770-532-3311, hallcountylibrary.org.
Sugar Hill Bakery & Café
Sugar Hill may be a mere dot on the map of metro Atlanta, but its little town center is budding with potential thanks to the presence of this quirky café. Opened less than a year, business has gained momentum since the completion of some area construction, and we can see why. The fanciful, country French décor makes this a particularly fun gathering spot for ladies, whether it’s a book club meeting in the comfortable sitting area or a few girlfriends grabbing a glass of wine at the bar or patio on a nice evening. The menu features café standards for breakfast, lunch and dinner — choose from salads and sandwiches along with daily specials (think chocolate chocolate chip pancakes at breakfast and roast or ribs for dinner), and a case filled with sweet treats encourages diners to save room for dessert. Visit the restaurant’s Facebook page for details about upcoming events, like a murder mystery dinner the first weekend in June. (Death by Chocolate, anyone?) 4969 W. Broad St., Sugar Hill, 678-765-8008.
Buford Summer Concert Series
This month, the Buford Summer Concert Series presents local up-and-coming country artists Andy Velo and Jordan Rager. Bring a blanket and the family to Buford Community Center’s Town Park Amphitheater to enjoy the entertainment along with concessions and a kids’ fun zone. bufordcommunitycenter.com