As many of our readers know, Marie and I are fortunate and happy to make four or five trips to the Georgia coast each year to visit her mother and her father, who are very happy to have a grandson come and visit. Saint Simons Island is packed with very good restaurants. There are, disagreeably, a few chains on the place, but a couple of them are local chains, so we give those guys a little business.
After finishing that gigantic snack of a pork chop sandwich in Brunswick, I knew that it would be a while before I was ready to have some supper, so it was pretty late in the evening before we took Marie’s mother to dinner. They were in the mood for Chinese. I can safely say that I almost never am, and Fortune House isn’t the sort of place that generally inspires me that I’m mistaken. They have a dinner buffet here, which I’m sure would please our friend Randy to no end. He does like those all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets.
About a month earlier, we had visited an Indian restaurant in Decatur with a similar buffet, and learned that if you actually wanted a particular dish not on it, you would have to pay more money for it. That sort of went hand-in-hand with that restaurant’s incredibly lazy attitude, where bringing a check was perceived to be too much trouble. If you wanted them to cook something special, they were going to charge you extra for the burden. At Fortune House, however, more than half the menu was priced less than the buffet.
I did not have a bad meal at all. I selected the Singapore chow mei fun noodles, served with pork, chicken and shrimp, and it was quite tasty and spicy. I got the impression that somebody in the back knew what they were doing and found their job mostly very, very dull and boring. The menu proves it. It’s exactly the same menu as every American Chinese restaurant in the southeast that caters to people of European descent. Put another way, no traditions were broken by the daring inclusion of “phoenix and dragon” as one of this place’s house specialties. The number of Chinese restaurants in Georgia to claim this dish as a house specialty must stretch into the hundreds. The chow mei fun noodles were the only dish on the menu that I had not seen at every crummy restaurant in the state before I stopped bothering. I’m glad they were offered, and I’m glad they were as tasty as they were.
Time was spent admiring the baby, playing with the baby, soothing the baby and changing the baby about six times over the course of a half-hour. Grandchildren get to monopolize things that way. The following morning, Marie’s father took us to breakfast at Sandcastle Cafe & Grill, where I indulged in the buffet and did not eat nearly as many pancakes as I would have liked. Afterward, Marie and my daughter and I made a valiant effort to let the baby enjoy the ocean. He did not. At all.
For lunch, the three of us spent a little while being stumped about what to eat before deciding to take Locos Grill & Pub up on their coupon offer of a free appetizer. (Actually, that’s not entirely true. I knew exactly what I wanted to eat, but it was Marie’s turn to pick what we ate on the island and I didn’t want to start making obnoxious hints. It’ll be my pick next.) Locos is a place that we’ve known pretty well for many years. The first one opened in Athens in 1988 and they’ve been expanding and franchising for many years, with eighteen locations dotted around Georgia, one in Auburn and one, oddly, in Saint Charles, Missouri. When we loved them and when they were much better, they were scruffy and slapdash. They’ve become very disagreeably corporate, but they still put together a pretty good meal, and some locations have a few sparks of independent spirit still clicking.
The store on the island, for instance, apart from its regular lineup of small touring acts – mostly singer-songwriters, I think – has been given the absolute finest in music room decor. LP covers by favorites like Neko Case and Love line the walls, proving somebody’s got excellent taste in music. But the real eye-popper is in the bar room, where there is a really astonishing Beatles mural painted around the open “window” gaps in the wall. It’s a sweeping depiction of the group’s history, featuring caricatures of John, Paul, George and Ringo interacting at various points in their timeline with characters from their songs and the cast of the Yellow Submarine movie. Frankly, the food here could have been wretched and it would still be worth our time to swing by and look at this beautiful mural.
Just as well the food was pretty good, because it served as a nice bonus to the artwork. The burger that I always enjoyed the most – whatever it was called, it was drowned in barbecue sauce and melted cheese – does not appear to have survived the corporation’s latest menu upgrade. Old favorites like the Looney Bird and the Gobbler are still on the menu, but I fear that The Biggest Thing We’ve Got was abandoned years ago.
I decided to try their new chorizo burger and enjoyed it. It reminded me of the similar sausage and ground beef patties that we loved at the dearly missed Bob-O’s in Woodstock. Cooking the sausage means that the burger is a little more done than I would normally enjoy, but it’s still very tasty, topped with pico de gallo and thin smears of both a red pepper sauce and a spicy chipotle sauce. I miss the playful scruffiness of the Athens stores in the early 90s, but the business seems to be staying focused on the kitchen and making sure that the food weathers the tide of an expansion that wants to make everything dull and boring.
Some hours later, during which time I completely forgot to go track down some gazpacho that I had been thinking about, our friend Chris came up from Jacksonville to meet the baby. While my daughter went out to dinner with Marie’s dad, Chris bought us supper at CJ’s Italian Restaurant, one of our favorite places on the island. Actually, the pizza here was not a patch on their amazing pasta dishes. While still almost certainly the best pie on the island, it’s bettered by many choices in Atlanta. The red sauce and the sausages here are outstanding, and I found myself missing them.
For dessert, we walked over to one of the island’s newer treats, the really wonderful Moo Cow Ice Cream. Would I be guilty again of hyperbole of saying this place is really special, and definitely deserves checking out?
It looks as though Moo Cow picked up an idea or two from Atlanta’s Morrelli’s. They offer many of the same unusual flavors, like sweet corn and salted caramel and candied bacon. Like Morelli’s, they take the business of fun really seriously. They’re doing wonders in the back experimenting with cream flavors – how I missed the candied habanero, I have no idea, but I’m pretty unhappy that I did – and this is a place that we will definitely revisit. Marie’s mother and father probably need to see the baby again in the next day or two, right?