Off the golf course, enjoy fine Southern dining in Augusta
During time away from the Masters at Augusta National, it's easy to get a good meal of soup and sandwich at Manuel's Bread Cafe in North Augusta, South Carolina. (Courtesy of Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau/MCT / March 15, 2012)
From true Southern cooking to true soul food to gourmet fare, Augusta reigns for its intriguing restaurants.
Augusta just about doubles its population during the Masters, so when you do manage to snag a restaurant table, you might possibly be sitting next to a Tiger, a Byrd, or an Angel. And since this Georgia, after all, perhaps even a Bubba or a Bo. (Get it, golf fans?)
Eventually you're going to tire of all those legendary pimento cheese-and-egg salad sandwiches at Augusta National, where the Masters is held, so where else do you find good chow?
Instead of trying to wade through the phonebook trying to decide where to dine in this great old Southern city, let me be a gracious Southern lady by offering a condensed guide of restaurants loaded with local flavor and character.
Before I get to the list, a word or two of caution is in order. Do not, under any circumstances, ask for "cheesy grits" at any restaurant. There's no such thing in the South. Unless you want to immediately be labeled a Yankee — or a presidential candidate — always ask "cheese grits," the proper term. It's just a Southern thing.
And worth mentioning is that I have and will be using the adjective "Southern" quite a bit here, so prepare yourselves, y'all, for a whole bunch of Southern-ness.
Augusta was founded in 1736, which makes it Georgia's second-oldest city — Savannah is older by only three years — so it still has oodles of antebellum architecture. Try dining in elegance at La Maison on Telfair, located in a beautifully restored 1853 mansion in Augusta's historic district. The stately old house first became a restaurant in the 1970s and has earned a reputation for Southern hospitality and culinary excellence. Among its signature dishes are Ostrich Filet, Dover Sole, and Wild Salmon en Croute de Pommes de Terre. Visit http://www.LaMaisonOnTelfair.com.
For a different type of pizzazz, try the Rooster's Beak, a trendy taqueria that specializes in tacos filled with all sorts of Southern-inspired ingredients like pulled pork, fried chicken or catfish nuggets, plus Itali-Mex entrees like Rooster Pizza and Mexican Lasagna. Offering special desserts of the day and original ever-changing and unusual ice cream flavors like Peppermint Chocolate Cake, Pumpkin Ginger Snap, Blueberry Bacon, and Fruity Pebbles, this is one sweet spot to eat. The restaurant, in the heart of historic downtown, is decked out with local art and photography and is just plain fun to visit. Visit http://www.FeedYourBeak.com.
The Bee's Knees, also in downtown, is popular not only for its amusing moniker, but also its international artistic take on food. Like Thai? Got it. Spanish? Yep. Cajun? Of course. And Mediterranean, Japanese and French cuisine, too. You practically need a passport to get in the door. Each plate encompasses an array of flavors and cultures, so a sampling of the menu reads purely global: Coconut Curry Panang, Goat Cheese Bruschetta, and Avocado Chop Chop. The brunch list is pretty impressive, too, with Garlicky Shrimp and Grits a favorite. This always-popular restaurant also offers vegan and vegetarian dishes as well. Visit http://www.BeesKneesTapas.com.
Frog Hollow Tavern is one of those great restaurants that has everything all mixed in to one. It's affordable yet stylish, has an eclectic bar and equally eclectic cocktails, and boasts a wine list with more than a hundred labels. The highlight of Frog Hollow is fresh, flavorful Georgia ingredients like Sapelo Island Clams, Georgia Wild Shrimp, Vidalia Onions, Georgia Mountain Apples and cheese from Flat Creek Lodge in nearby Swainsboro. Seasonal farm fresh vegetables and locally caught fish quickly made Frog Hollow a local favorite. Visit http://www.FrogHollowTavern.com.
The Boll Weevil Cafe and Sweetery was once an old cotton warehouse dating from the 1870s, when King Cotton ruled the South. The menu choices are as Southern as the cafe's name: Fried Green Tomatoes, Jambalaya, Hoppin' John and Bubba Nachos. The bread is homemade, and so are the cakes, pies and cheesecakes. The Boll Weevil's desserts — featured in Southern Living and Cooking with Paula Deen — consistently win the "best of" something or other, especially with Southern specialties like hummingbird and red velvet cake, blueberries and cream or turtle crunch cheesecake, and pecan and apple pie. Visit http://www.TheBollWeevil.com.
Manuel's Bread Cafe, named after its French owner Manuel Verney-Carron, is located in North Augusta, which just over the state line in South Carolina in the Hammond's Ferry neighborhood on the Savannah River. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner Manuel's, named for its France-born owner Manuel Verney-Carron, mixes up traditional French dishes with rich European-style desserts. Who can argue French cheese, wines, bread and desserts in a Southern setting? The produce is organic and is picked fresh from the restaurant's own Blue Clay Farms. Visit http://www.ManuelsBreadCafe.com.
You can't say food and Augusta in the same sentence without mentioning Sconyers Bar-B-Que. A Georgia institution since 1956, its cooking secrets have been handed down from generation to generation. The favorite is ribs, but everything else is good, too. People magazine once featured the restaurant as one the of the 10 best in America, and President Jimmy Carter had some of the old-fashioned pit barbecue and ribs flown to Washington for an event on the White House lawn. Visit http://www.SconyersBar-B-Que.com.
The P.I. Bar and Grill, located inside the Old South-style Partridge Inn — and where many well-known golfers are known to stay — is another Augusta favorite place to eat. Choose a seat on the balcony for views of city's Summerville historic district as you make a selection from fish tacos to hamburgers to prime rib. The bar is always buzzing, and the Sunday brunch, with offerings like shrimp and grits and a dessert table that guarantees sensory overload, has consistently been voted the best brunch in Augusta. Visit http://www.PartridgeInn.com.
No matter where you dine in Augusta, during the Masters or any other time of the year, you'll probably hear your server ask, "Sweet or unsweet?" Do not be intimidated. You're just being asked how you want your tea. Be forewarned: Sweet tea has a truckload of sugar in every pitcher and can be quite potent. We don't call it "the champagne of the South" for nothing, you know.
IF YOU GO:
Augusta is served by two major carriers, Delta Air Lines (www.delta.com or 1-800-221-1212), with flights to the Atlanta hub, and US Airways (www.usairways.com or 1-800-428-4322), with flights to the Charlotte hub.
For more information on accommodations, places of interest, things to do, or where to play golf, contact the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau, (800) 726-0243, or visit http://www.augustaga.org. Also visit the Masters at http://www.masters.org.