Art Of The Meal: Mountain Eatery
3909 Steve Tate Road, Marble Hill
Hours: Dinner, Tuesdays-Sundays.
Credit cards: All major.
Parking: Available in attached lot.
Dress code: Upscale rustic: North Face fleece vests, Dockers, pearls.
For all the cool splendor of a North Georgia fall, it’s always better to know that a good meal awaits after your tour of beauty – the pot of golden fries at the end of the rainbow-hued trees. Yet the search for a good meal along those back roads can be as elusive as a green-clad elf.
Enter the Appalachia Grill, a hidden-in-plain sight gem near Big Canoe’s gates. This little yellow house under a thick canopy of trees will fill to bursting on weekend evenings, the parking lot crammed with late-model luxury cars of that development’s affluent, golf-loving residents. But inside, the restaurant has the warm, family-friendly feel of a well-loved, affordable mountain lodge. Kids crowd at tables along with grown-ups, but severely outnumbered, they seem to behave. Adults relax in sneakers, nursing cocktails and greeting each other by name. Despite the monied crowd, prices are reasonable – mid-teens for most entrees and a good selection of sandwiches in single digits (including fries or slaw). A narrow, lively bar by the entrance accommodates those who want just a snack, libation and human interaction.
It’s almost enough just to sit in this airy, pleasantly decorated room with the cheerful waitstaff minding your needs. Fortunately, however, the Appalachia Grill’s kitchen follows through with the deftness of a club pro. Appetizers, especially, show a light touch: The crisp, browned pork spring rolls with Asian vegetables; lightly house-smoked Georgia trout dip with fried pita; or the five tiny lobster bites, fried in a light tempura-style batter and served lollipop-style with a pool of sweet horseradish mustard — all are great counterpoints to a chilled martini or glass of wine. (However, the list of wines by the glass could certainly be stronger – a server’s recommendation turned out to be a bland Sebastiani merlot.)
Despite a complicated-sounding construction, the spinach salad with strawberries, honey pecans and goat cheese with balsamic vinaigrette is a pleasantly woven strand of clear flavors, each complementing the others. It arrived neatly divided onto two small plates after we told our server we would share.
Entrees are also strong, especially the centerpieces: My kobe beef meatloaf and cream gravy was as warm and soul-nourishing as a chenille bathrobe, along with crisp-tender green beans. Sauteed grouper with a goat cheese and red pepper sauce was also highly flavorful, but oddly, side dishes – mashed potatoes with the meat loaf; boiled new potatoes and broccoli with the grouper – were boring and under-seasoned. A big slab of tiramisu was pleasant, but similarly unremarkable.
The menu changes seasonally according to what’s available, but standards like the $7 burger, trout with truffle butter, jumbo lump crab cakes, blackened salmon sandwich and pulled pork barbecue are likely to remain. With a fault no worse than inoffensiveness, the Appalachia Grill is a North Georgia diner’s magically granted wish.