I had not realized quite how much attention that I have been paying to Urbanspoon until I looked up Jim Stalvey’s Restaurant, noted the surprisingly low user ranking (44%, if I recall, the morning that we visited), and asked myself why on earth we were going to head out that way. The answer, of course, was that the venerable steakhouse is one of those with a glowing review at Roadfood.com and we intend to hit (almost) all of the ones in Georgia, and so we just had to brave that 44% and hope for the best. It worked out just fine. 56% of the people who voted for that restaurant were quite spectacularly wrong. If you’re looking for a good steak, you need to head out to Newton County and then log on to Urbanspoon and give that ranking a boost.
The building is a very old one, sort of classic suburban family restaurant design, and easy to overlook among the sprawl of US 278. I asked about it, wondering whether it might have once been a Ponderosa or something like that. It was apparently built in the early 1960s as the home of a restaurant called Bock & Kid. Jim Stalvey, a restaurateur from the north Georgia town of Rome, had already moved to Covington and opened a place in town with the horrible name of The Crest. In 1980, he moved into this site with a business called The Prado. In time, the Prado evolved into Stalvey’s Restaurant and Lounge.
Stalvey has continued to open and operate restaurants along this leg of I-20, though the last few years have not been kind to them. At the end of 2005, one of his websites – not updated since then – boasted that he and his company ran seven. Presently, I count just four: Stalvey’s, a fast food place called Quik Chick, and two Butcher’s Block delis. Perhaps one day, we might visit the others. If they are as good as the main restaurant, they’re worth the trip.
The four of us drove out to Covington with Neal some three Saturdays back. Covington has always been one of those towns that we pass through without stopping; I’ve been curious what else might be out here.
The must-try items at Stalvey’s are said to include the onion rings and the fried cauliflower. I had the former and thought they were completely delicious. Happily, they were available as a side for my steak and not just as a more expensive appetizer. The steak was really wonderful. I had a small six-ounce sirloin, priced right at just $8.99. It was not as good as Marie’s own grilling at her best, but better than many, many steaks that I have ordered in restaurants in the past.
Marie also had a steak – the filet was available as a special, also for $8.99 – and was very pleased with it. Neal had the chicken livers and really enjoyed them. He said they were not quite as good as the ones at Doug’s Place in Emerson – those are the gold standard – but still very good. I’m glad that we came by for lunch and were able to enjoy them. Apparently, if I understand it correctly, the restaurant offers both steaks and a traditional southern meat-and-two menu, on a white board, during lunch hours, but in the evenings, it’s all about either steak or ribs. The smokehouse is in front of the restaurant, but barbecue is only offered in the evenings.
Everything that we had tasted incredibly fresh and wonderful; the only slightly bum note came with the French dressing that Marie had with her salad and did not enjoy. Happily, the salad was made with such incredibly fresh veggies – these cucumbers are just to die for – that it did not need dressing at all.
Now, admittedly, Urbanspoon is a very poor judge of traditional restaurants like this. Its more prolific users seem to be more interested in the hot new joints in town, eating where everybody else eats, and often enjoying food that, as Calvin Trillin terms it, is always served on a bed of something else. The very low positive rating for Stalvey’s probably indicates a period of inconsistency for this restaurant. What surprises me more, however, is that only 26 people had rated it at all. This is a restaurant that more people should talk about. If you can get a better steak for this price, with sides and vegetables this good, anywhere for forty miles, I’ll be stunned.