Resort Fare With Flair

So it’s January, and a whole new year – complete with new pounds, new exercise resolutions and a serious new case of cabin fever. What to do? A weekend getaway to the northwest Georgia mountains might seem counterintuitive (somewhere … colder?), but if you haven’t been up to Barnsley Gardens recently, it’s worth a visit.

In fact, unlike many other resorts, you can dine at any of Barnsley’s restaurants (the Woodlands Grill, open daily, the informal Beer Garden, or the more ambitious Rice House, open Fridays and Saturdays only) whether or not you’re an overnight guest. It’s an ideal way to take the place for a spin without committing to the room rates (between $300-$500 for rooms, suites and one-bedroom cottages this month).

However, if you’re lucky enough to afford a post-holiday treat like this one, Barnsley offers plenty of winter pleasures: horseback riding, skeet shooting, bike riding, hiking, fishing, golf and plenty of spine-melting spa treatments. Some rooms and suites include wood-burning fireplaces. All are set on a beautiful landscape surrounding the historic Barnsley Gardens estate, the ruins of an antebellum mansion.

We’ve all had bad resort food – the kind that results when guests are viewed more as captive audiences than discerning diners. Fortunately, Barnsley Gardens offers choices that range from burgers to bison, satisfying both those who crave plain fare and those who want something more. While the lunch we sampled at the casual Woodlands Grill was just a little better than average (a very good Caesar salad, a perfunctory Cobb salad and bready, bland fried calamari), the Rice House offered refreshing takes on familiar American ingredients. Two-, three- and four-course dinners range from $48-$70 per person.

We dined in a small side room with creaking wood floors and a big, crackling fire. The soup trio – three little glasses on a plate – grew more interesting with each bite. Butternut squash soup deepened with “spice dust,” and the celery-root soup hid tiny bits of shrimp, bacon and truffle. The cold watercress soup came with a perfect bite of crisply fried goat cheese. Another appetizer trio was equally tantalizing, with lobster-stuffed shiitake mushrooms, a crisp spring roll-like “cigar” of shrimp with Asian slaw, and a potato blini with smoked salmon and crème fraiche.

My entrée might have been a holdover from a warmer season, but I loved it: beautifully seared diver scallops and monkfish in “avgolemono” sauce – a pool of eggy, lemony goodness based on the Greek soup – dotted with tender English peas and fava beans, over salmon potato hash. Despite its many ingredients, the dish had a strict focus, built on layers of rich, but gentle flavors. The grilled bison is a lean champ with a knockout punch, with a “pavé” of sliced turnip and carrots, its side of subtle pureed parsnips sharpening the bison’s meaty wallop.

Barnsley could use a few improvements – a better wine list; more knowledgeable servers; better signage and lighting in the occasionally eerie “village” of look-alike guest houses. But unlike some resort menus, the Rice House’s bill of fare is an attraction, not an afterthought.

Barnsley Gardens

597 Barnsley Gardens Road


770.773.7480 or 877.773.2447

Categories: Art of the Meal