Okay, so we’re driving up Georgia 400 to the wonderful little town of Dahlonega, and a few miles past that first, always-surprising, traffic light a few miles into Forsyth County, there’s a billboard for the Smith House that encourages traveling diners: “Now, more than ever, rediscover the tradition.”
Roll that around on your tongue for a minute. What the heck is that supposed to mean? I get that, thanks to WSB radio, “now, more than ever” has become a de facto motto for the sleep-challenged suburbans in this region who’ve spent the last decade in fear of the next attack by terrorists or Muslims or Martians or whatever, as used in “now, more than ever, you need to listen to our talk show hosts indulge your paranoid fantasies of impending doom.” So it’s likely that, trading on a slogan with proven potency, the Smith House is just piggybacking. I can imagine carloads of people just accepting it without realizing what an incredibly ridiculous sentence it is. That’s one of my favorite pastimes, making fun of goofy advertising that we see on the side of the road. I’m not sure what the goofiest thing in this region is: that billboard, or the gigantic Pink Panther and Inspector out front of that jukebox store near Dawsonville.
Suffice it to say that I saw the billboard the last time I drove to the Smith House, but the words nevertheless failed to register. This marks the first occasion that a restaurant gets a second entry here on our blog, because the last time I went, I left unsatisfied with the quality of the vegetables, and was certain that coming back in the summer would result in a better meal. The other problem was that my son, who came here on a school trip two years previously, had pitched a fit that his sister and I were going to eat here without him. This would be the same son who was living in Louisville, Kentucky, at the time. Sometimes, the only way to quell the insane competition between this boy and his sister is to act like they’re both much younger, like Barney & Friends-young, and make sure that everybody gets to share. Of course, this does mean that I got to enjoy two very good meals instead of just one, yet once again I left a little unsatisfied.
This time around, the disappointment was entirely my fault. I spent the whole hour’s drive from downtown Atlanta salivating at the thought of more of that pot roast, and it didn’t even occur to me that they might not serve that every day. That was a real letdown, being told that I would just have to make do with some of that good fried chicken and country fried steak. I’ve learned my lesson, and the next time I come eat here, and I will, I’m going to phone ahead. I will come one day in the summer, when the veggies are at their best, and pot roast is on the menu, and I will have a superb and amazing meal and will not claim disappointment. I’m sure of it.
At any rate, the Smith House serves up an astonishing pile of food. As my son and I were the first diners and no others immediately behind us, they used smaller serving bowls than they do for larger groups, but they still laid out far more food than any two people could eat. Actually, I did have another disappointment: I let myself down. I saw the menu upstairs, and I guess my thoughts about the pot roast overpowered my common sense, because I saw collard greens listed. Neither my son nor I will eat them, and yet it didn’t occur to me to ask the server not to bring them. We may not like them, but there’s no sense in wasting them, either.
The food was mostly excellent, really. The meats were pretty good, but the creamed corn, okra and green beans were just amazing. I also really liked the cole slaw and lima beans. My son ate almost two full bowls of the sweet potatoes, along with whatever creamed corn I couldn’t finish. Sadly, I am allergic to yams and had to pass, but I figure if a kid eats that much of them, he’s probably not lying. In fact, he had two drumsticks and a breast and so many veggies that, reminded that he had not sampled the steak and gravy, he just moaned a little, helped himself to a single bite, rolled it around and quietly said, “Boy, that’s good,” before retiring. I was pretty impressed. If somebody had told me seven years ago that the secret to getting kids to eat their veggies was just bringing them to the Smith House, I’d never have tried all those failed experiments with radishes and carrot and raisin salad. You’ve never seen a child prolong the agony until you’ve seen them try to eat a serving of carrot and raisin salad one sliver at a time.
So Marie was not with us this time. This is the second trip I’ve made here without her; she wasn’t going to be able to come anyway because we’d planned this trip while she was at work, but a death in her family has taken her out of the country for a week. I had been briefly amused by making another trip without her, because I’m mean that way, but then they brought out this blueberry cobbler for dessert and I was really saddened that she couldn’t be here for this. She loves good cobbler and this knocked me on my butt. I don’t know that I’ve ever had better, and I know that she’d love it.
My son briefly dug in to the dessert, whined “it’s not fair… I’m too full…” and passed his bowl over to me after about three bites. I gladly finished his, briefly entertained the server’s offer of another helping, reconsidered just how much green beans and corn I’d already put away and sadly declined. The servers, incidentally, wear shirts that proclaim Southern cooking makes you good looking. They don’t say anything about making you slim, although they do, cruelly, stick a steep staircase between you and your car. I reckon they get their kicks watching overweight clowns like me dragging themselves up it after eating too damn much food. We somehow made it to the parking lot and got on the road to Athens. My son was asleep inside sixty seconds. He doesn’t do anything by halves, especially not food comas.