Pedal To The Mettle
A faithful reader has been after me for a long time about one of her favorite places, Dawsonville’s Blue Bicycle.
But as convincing as her praise about this intimate, French-style bistro sounded, I admit to a certain amount of jaded skepticism: I’ve been reviewing restaurants long enough that certain phrases sound like code words: “Near the mall” means fluorescent lights and sterile tile floors. “Inexpensive” means cheap, frozen cuts of meat, packaged bread, bag salads. “Neighborhood-style French” means a whole lot of Boursin cheese.
Behind the sprawling complex that is the North Georgia Premium Outlet Mall, the Blue Bicycle did not initially encourage. Yes, there was the old blue bicycle, outfitted in white lights, parked in a real, live herb garden – always encouraging outside of any restaurant. But the shopping center felt more like an office complex than home to a dining establishment. Inside, there was that dreaded antiseptic tile floor and the bright, work-style lighting. Woven shades shielded diners from the harsh setting sun, but the room finally mellowed a bit when night set in.
The menu at this family-run restaurant is an interesting combination of French favorites (mussels, duck liver mousse, steak au poivre, even frog legs) and Southern standbys (rainbow trout, Gulf shrimp on a scallion grits cake, blue cheese potato chips). Owners Guy Owen (the chef, with experience in country club kitchens) and wife Kati (who worked in the hospitality industry) work hard to make their guests feel at home. Our waitress was pleasant and attentive, but seemed very nervous that she might make a mistake. (She never did.)
But the most pleasant surprise of this short, well-focused menu was the additional long list of wines – including many Georgia wines, from vineyards just north of Dawsonville. Even better, many were offered in several prices, from whole bottles to glasses and by the half-glass. It’s a great way to try some hard-to-find local products like Three Sisters’ Fat Boy Red, Blackstock’s Georgia Chardonnay, Wolf Mountain’s Plenitude or Persimmon Creek’s Seyval Blanc, from $4.15-$5 for a 3-ounce pour.
Despite my churlish attitude about the atmosphere, the Blue Bicycle puts its pedal to the mettle with the food. My housemade duck-liver mousse was velvety rich, and served with peach preserves and grilled baguette slices. The mussels were small, but plump and tender, in a garlic white wine broth. Maybe the beet salad had a little too much going on – thin-sliced golden beets with goat cheese, scallion slivers and tender young greens, drizzled with truffle oil – but it was beautiful, earthy and a whole lot of fun in your mouth.
The main courses were equally good, especially the medium-rare slices of duck with brandied cherries, fingerling potatoes and crisp green beans. The comforting flavors in an evening’s special of pan-fried grouper and asparagus spears on scallion risotto were spot-on, even if the rice was just a tad undercooked. The price for these entrees is a very reasonable $17 and $20, respectively, with several others in the $12-$16 range, and the ingredients were fresh, high quality and often local.
For dessert, we had a bite or two of a frivolous, airy light chocolate mousse and some potent coffee. All in all, a wholly worthwhile enterprise – especially for anyone braving the shopping hordes. To accommodate that crowd, the Blue Bicycle has just added lunch hours, Tuesday-Fridays.
The Blue Bicycle
671 Lumpkin Campground Road, Dawsonville
Hours: Dinner only, Tuesdays-Saturdays.
Credit cards: All major.
Reservations: Encouraged on Fridays and Saturdays.
Dress code: Slightly dressy casual. (Nice jeans are fine.)