Pine Mountain's Greatest Hit
Art of the Meal
No wonder the lowly cricket is the esteemed mascot of this humble, homestyle restaurant in lush Pine Mountain: At dusk, the little critters commence a cheerful, ringing chorale that reaches a late-night crescendo. Just an hour and a half from Atlanta, Pine Mountain is known for the landscaped beauty of nearby Callaway Gardens. Callaway has its own inn and cabins, as well as a restaurant or two, but lots of independent operators offer vacation accommodations in and around these parts, ranging from fancy lodges to simple screen-doored cabins.
Cricket's fits right into this country setting. You'll spot the place by the crickets, outlined in small white twinkly lights. With so few restaurants in this increasingly popular getaway spot, vacationers must be thrilled to have Cricket's, where careful ordering rewards you with a good dinner and a decent bottle of wine. A very pleasant deck ought to be prime just about this time of year.
However, Cricket's can be considered great only when compared to the few other dining options in this area. The atmosphere feels like the dining room of a sweet, rural aunt and uncle who retired a few years back -- pouffy, floral window treatments, dried silk flower arrangements in fuscia and teal. The wait staff is hard-working, genial and goes the extra mile to spoil you a little. You almost feel like an ungrateful whippersnapper for grousing that the food falls short of the gutsy Cajun fare you long for.
Still, despite 'Cricket's listing in the renowned Zagat restaurant guide, we found much of the food to be bland and underseasoned. The "light Creole" menu works well with such starters as shrimp remoulade, with dewy white shrimp and a fresh-tasting, mayonnaise-y remoulade with grainy pommery mustard; and tangy gumbo, with a bright, flavorful roux. Drab bread and salads (iceberg mix, with a tired house dressing of flat oil, green-cannister-style parmesan, and lemon juice; or a bottled blue cheese) are less successful. The wines are the familiar labels found in any good grocery store: Lindeman's, Kendall-Jackson, Columbia Crest, Turning Leaf. The better choice here might be beer, with the options of Pilsner Urquell and Dixie, the famed New Orleans brew.
The sampler platter includes a good crawfish etouffee, with lots of the little red-ringed crustaceans, along with a completely ordinary, tomato-heavy jambalaya, and red beans and rice that cry out for something " anything " to help set them apart from the many similarly blase varieties we've sampled. The sausage tastes more like your average supermarket smoked ring than a genuine, tart andouille; there's little in the way of seasoning or cooking skill to set this famed signature Cajun dish apart.
The Catfish Orleans, on the other hand, shows what the kitchen can do: A big, farm-raised catfish is dunked in cornmeal and fried to a lacy crust. The sauce is creamy and lightly sweet, with a touch of sherry in sauteed mushrooms, shallots and pimento. The side of cubed Brabant potatoes are twice-fried, perfectly dry and lightly browned.
Desserts helped make up for previous lapses: The chocolate pecan praline cake is a simple single-layer, dripping with a warm, buttery brown-sugar sauce studded with chopped nuts -- homey and good. The chocolate butter cream square is a rich brownie topped with butter cream, also served warm, with a little bouffant of whipped cream.
We'd certainly come back for catfish and gumbo and cake, so we could walk back to our vacation cabin, accompanied by a cricket serenade.
Highway 18 (at Highway 27) , 1 mile west of entrance to Callaway Gardens, Pine Mountain 706-663-8136
Hours: 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. daily.
Dinner entrees, $8-$19.
Credit cards: Visa, Master, American Express, Discover. Personal checks accepted.
Attire: Casual. (Shorts and warmup suits are fine.)
Krista Reese is Georgia Trend's restaurant critic. Contact her at email@example.com