Oktoberfest in Georgia’s ‘Little Germany’

German Schnitzel
Delicious, Authentic German Schnitzel!

Germans really are great cooks with a delicious cuisine!  I never really knew this before hubby and I visited the little German mountain village in Georgia, named “Helen“.  There are just too few German restaurants to allow us to experience the delicious way in which their dishes are prepared.

Since October is the official month for celebrating the German Oktoberfest, I thought I’d take you to the closest similarity to Germany that I could.  About four hours away from us in the northeastern corner of Georgia is this little German town (well it is really quite a fake German town actually) that engaged in a marketing campaign to increase tourism to this mountain town.  To achieve this goal, every building exterior was converted to resemble old-style German architecture.

The strategy worked and Helen is a tourist trap extraordinaire.

But my husband and I visited  during the week and not on the weekend when the crowds arrive.  This made a huge difference in the experience satisfaction scale.  An annual month-long Oktoberfest takes place and hotels fill up very early in advance.

So you my be asking, why would two people like ourselves, who try to enjoy the quiet, pastoral life on an acreage, venture off to a Blue Ridge Mountain town filled with bumper-to-bumper traffic and hundreds of beer-drinking, motor cycle riding tourists?

Well, for one thing, we went there in the high heat of August when the temperature in the mountains is quite literally 10 degrees cooler than in South Carolina.

And in August, I’ll take 90 degrees any day over 100 degrees!

We found an inexpensive lodge tucked far away from the noise that had a freezing air conditioner unit and an equally freezing outdoor pool for me to swim in daily.

Just what the Southern heat doctor ordered!

So we thought, ‘what the heck, we’ve never been there, so let’s go check it out’.  And truly the key to enjoying Helen, is to get the heck out of Dodge and stay on the outskirts of town.

From our lodge, we ventured in only a few times to ‘get our fill’ of what the town had to offer and were really quite pleasantly surprised.  It truly was hotter than “h—-“, so we spent as little time as possible outdoors on concrete sidewalks (other than in the swimming pool and sitting by the mountain stream rushing by our room).

So here’s my little pictorial tour of our experience of Germany in Georgia for Oktoberfest!

Willkommen means ‘welcome’ in German (I’m sure that you knew that though) and this greeting was scrolled over the entrance to a marvelous, wonderful, delicious, quaint little 10-table German eatery called “The Vines”.  This is where I tasted my very first bite of authentically prepared German food.  My husband is part German, but his family never prepared German fare.  As a result he had absolutely no idea what he was about to put in his mouth.  All he was familiar with was German Apple Strudel; but there was much more to be had in this little restaurant . . . oh so much more that my tummy expanded 3 sizes in one sitting!

The Vines restaurant is on the first level of the Edelweiss Country Inn (about 6 rooms are upstairs) located in Sautee, Georgia, just a few miles drive south of Helen.  Check out the web-site to see some lovely photos!  This little establishment embraces the philosophy and sensibility of using locally grown, seasonal and sustainably harvested ingredients in their simple farm-fresh-to-table agrarian cuisine.  Only brunch and dinner are served, including a “Tyrolean Farmers’ Breakfast” with potato pancakes, sausages, fried potatoes, “Schnitzel ala Holstein”, and other Alpine dishes from Germany for those guests who lodge upstairs and come down with large appetites!

NOTE:  Since the original posting date of this delicious blog post, the restaurant has chosen to feature an “International” menu, rather than an “All German Specialties” menu as when we patronized the restaurant.  So you won’t find all of the German specialty items on the menu that we did at the time of this post.  I’d recommend looking at their web-site or calling ahead to see about their German offerings if that is what you’re seeking.”  (post date:  8/2013)

We chose to go to The Vines for dinner because it truly is their major attraction.  For appetizers, we began with “Smoked Salmon Potato Pancakes with Creme Fraiche”.  For our entrees, each of us chose a traditional ‘Schnitzel’ with potato dumplings.  Schnitzels are truly Germany’s most famous food specialty, which are flattened slices of veal that are breaded and fried.  For dessert we shared a decadent apple strudel creation that left us waddling out the door.  We highly recommend this restaurant, although the menu has become decidedly more French and Italian and very minimally German.  When we spoke to the owner/manager, he told us that he was going to make this change due to consumer preferences and therefore, you won’t find the “Schnitzel” on the menu any longer.  That is truly sad, because what we tasted in the town of Helen was extremely poor in comparison.

Wine is becoming a major player in the Georgia mountains and the vineyards are beginning to receive national recognition.  Here is a map and list of the growing number of vineyards to visit, sample and purchase local wine and a link to Georgia’s Wine Country, a tiny version of Napa Valley.  German wine offers some of the best varietals for pairing with Thanksgiving turkey, such as Gewurztraminer, a white wine with subtle fruit flavors.  Along with Rieslings, you can’t go wrong with a delicious German wine at this time of year for a fall picnic of artisanal bread and cheese!
Just a few snapshots of the quaint German and Alpine (faux) architecture in town.
Since I’m a gardening fanatic, I had to take photos of the lush landscaping
that was meticulously taken care of.
The buildings had a lot of three-dimensional adornment depicting German life.
I thought they were darling and made the town more quaint.
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The shops are filled with imported German products and crafts,  such as meticulously carved cuckoo clocks.
The store windows are filled with enticing items to tempt you inside.

And then there was this most incredible candy and chocolate factory called “Hansel and Gretelwhere the most silky-smooth, melt-in-your-mouth, richly decadent slab fudge is made fresh daily.  The fudge is prepared in loaves that are cut into half pound chunks.  Together hubby and I easily put down a pound while there.  As I said, plan on gaining some weight in this little town.  This chocolate shop also has mail order available to take care of your your cocoa cravings.

and what would a visit (although not authentic) to Germany be without a few beers?
. . . even if it’s with a few painted pals on a mural!
There’s my wonderful husband on the right (below).
Can’t you just see the “German” in him?  (He’s mostly Scottish though!)
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One other restaurant that I wanted to point out and highlight which also receives high praise is “Hofer’s Bakery and Cafe.   This place is located in the hustle and bustle of downtown Helen, so expect traffic on the weekends when the bikers and other tourists swarm in.  There is also a new ‘biergarten’ (Bavarian beer garden) on site.
If you are like us, and go to Hofer’s for breakfast, expect to stand in line BEFORE the cafe opens; it is that popular.  This little place has been voted the #1 best bakery in Atlanta and NE Georgia combined.  Wow!  When you enter the door, you are teased by the bakery’s German pastry showcase that you can’t pass up!  There are also numerous German grocery items that are already canned or packaged to take a little bit of Germany home with you from your visit.
(photo above is from Hofer’s web-site and not my own)
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Once seated, a German menu like no other that I’ve ever seen is presented.  Listed are dishes such as “schwarzwald”, “jagershnitzel”, “apfelkkuechle”, Belgian waffles, goulash, more “schnitzels”, German pancakes, European pastries, Black Forest and German Chocolate cakes, apple strudels and other Bavarian delights!  Just read this menu and see if you can pronounce the German names!  Here is just a tease of the German specialty breads baked at Hofer’s (click on link).  Can you say “wendelsteiner landbrot, schinkenbrot, sauerteigbrot and sonnenblumenbrot” three times without getting tongue tied?  This is truly German food!  One last comment about Hofer’s:  where in the U.S. can you sit down and read German magazines mailed directly to the States . . . but they are all written in German, so if you don’t know the language, you just have to look at the pictures!

On our last evening in Helen, my German husband was in the mood for just a simple pizza.  We had some fabulous pizza at a place called Bigg Daddy’s Tavern and Music Club that has its own vegetable and herb garden outside.  The fresh-from-the garden Margherita Neapolitan pizza with fresh basil and tomatoes was out of this world.  The beer selection, as you can imagine, is huge and extensive.  Anthony Bourdin of “No Reservations” food show has also patronized this pub.  On any day besides Friday and Saturday when the bikers take over the place, we give this little place a high thumb’s up.

In addition to the food and wine of Helen, there is a community theatre, an original and still operating grist mill where you can purchase wonderful stone-ground grits and flours, some antique stores, hiking trails, white water rafting outfitters, a folk-art pottery museum and more.

If you’re still in need of more German spaetzle, red cabbage, sauerkraut or strudels to take home with you from Helen, plan to stop at the famous Betty’s Country Store full of gourmet specialties that will make your foodie heart sing like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music!  (They also have mail-order services for hard-to-find German delicacies).

Happy Oktoberfest!  Auf Wiedersehen!
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Comments

  1. says

    I saw your blog mentioned on Boonie’s site, read Little Germany and knew I had to visit. We love Germany and especially the Christmas markets so I was delighted to read your post. Nice to meet you, I’ve enjoyed my visit.

  2. says

    Wow, you captured Helen beautifully. We don’t live very far from there, so we’ll definitely have to go sometime soon.

    Our last name is Hoffer (and extra F) and we’ll be sure have to eat at the Hofer bakery cafe.
    Sam

  3. says

    Roz – Thanks for sharing your visit with us. I can see why the town of Helen is so well-loved by tourists (or anyone for that matter). The German and Alpine architecture is so charming. It looks like one of those places where you can forget about everything else and fall in love with your surroundings. Glad you all had a great time!

  4. says

    There’s nothing like capturing the beauty of wonderful lands around the world some of us will never have to the pleasure to visit, this was an awesome post, I will probably never get to Germany, the closest I have been to is Epcot in Orlando lol….this is beautiful!

  5. says

    I love the tour! It looks like you had a great time, thanks for sharing. It is fun to see other little “German towns” in America, and yes I too am German.

  6. says

    Bella Roz, your photos are stellar and really show the beauty of such a place. How lucky to have visited! I think you really captured the spirit enough to tell us this story. Wonderful!

  7. says

    I really liked the Bavarian decor building. Then again, that’s where my true German roots come from. You’ve gotta love a good schnitzel. Potato dumplings…mmmmm. My husbands has fallen in-love with my German recipes, though he’s from the Midwest. What a charming area you went to visit! I wish we had something like that where I live.

  8. says

    the Hubz and I have gone to Helen for years. We found renting a cabin through blue Ridge cabin rentals was the best fit for us. Most are away from town and very quiet. We also loved visiting Lake Burton and Lake Burton Gallery there. They have the most beautiful hard to find,, red pottery. Great pictures.

    Carol-the gardener

  9. says

    Such wonderful, colorful, lively photos! I love Oktoberfest, and felt like I was traveling right along with you! (By the way, Edelweiss was playing in my head the whole time!)

  10. says

    What gorgeous photos! It looks like such an amazing place to visit and play and especially eat!
    I’m so thrilled that I came across your blog! I have “Bella Vita” scrolled on the wall in my foyer.
    look forward to reading more of your posts!

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