Oktoberfest in Georgia’s ‘Little Germany’
Germans really are great cooks with a delicious cuisine! I never really knew this before my husband 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 over 100 degrees any day!
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. It was marvelous!
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!
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.
*NOTE: Since the original posting date of this blog post, the restaurant and inn have both sadly closed.
And then there was this most incredible candy and chocolate factory called “Hansel and Gretel” where 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.
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 check out the menu on the website and see if you can pronounce the German names! There you’ll find just a tease of the German specialty breads and pastries baked at Hofer’s. 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).