Having out of town guests come to visit always triggers the decision making process of selecting just the right place to take them out to eat. Since this particular friend of mine was coming from a northern city renowned for its eclectic and innovative dining scene, I was stressing over which Middle Georgia eatery would make a good impression. I had recently heard about an article published entitled, Georgia’s Top 100 Plates Local’s Love, but after reading through the list nothing jumped out at me as the right choice for this dinner with a friend.
By the time my friend arrived in town I had no foodie inspired culinary adventure planned. By default our dinner destination was going to be that one restaurant in North Macon you can always count on for a fine dining experience in a lavish setting with great food. The only problem was I had already taken this particular friend to that same place (Yeah, the one Harrison Ford ate at) during his last visit a few years ago. Visiting the same restaurant in another city is like seeing the sequel to a really good movie. Kinda like that new Star Wars movie coming out soon, no matter how good it is, it will not be very original.
As we made our way up I-75 north I was still deflecting my friend’s questions about where we were going for dinner. As we neared the exit that would take us to the exact same place we had dined before, fate stepped in and changed the plan. The skies clouded over and one of those famous late afternoon Georgia thunderheads rose up out of nowhere. Within seconds we went from sunny skies to a torrential downpour of driving rain and serve gusts of wind. I was unable to even see my intended exit much less get through traffic into the exit lane. When the chance come up to make the next exit, again fate took control in the form of an 18 wheeler that had no intention of letting me over to exit.
I was now actually closer to Forsyth, Georgia then I was to my less than inspired intended dinner location. As if I needed another sign, the skies cleared up and the sun was shining as we continued north on I-75. Without ever letting on to my out of town dinner companion the decision was made to head to Grits Café in downtown Forsyth. I figured the unique setting directly across from the historic courthouse and the southern gourmet style cooking would be more than enough to impress my friend.
As we walked into Grits Café I could tell my dinner guest was already intrigued by this dining choice. The restaurant has a very welcoming interior that is well lite and tastefully decorated. There was no need to nail garage sales items on the walls in order to let you know this is a place for good ‘ole southern cooking with an upscale twist. We were immediately seated in a table in the front of the restaurant that afforded an excellent view of the beautifully restored county courthouse. Our waitperson was a pleasant young lady by the name of Savannah ( A nice touch of southern charm) who gave us a run down on the specials and tempted us with the evening drink specials from the well-appointed bar.
I love a restaurant with lots of appetizer choices and Grits Café has that requirement well covered. I was interested in the signature Grits martini, but when I saw they had Grits Fritters I jumped on that appetizer instead. Come on, when the word Grits is in your name, you got to think they are a safe bet to start the meal off. Savannah ran through an impressive list of chef specials for the evening and left us alone to drool over the menu. Another signature of a good restaurant is the side item parings selected for each entrée. My choice for the main course is always influenced by the side items. Grits Café does an excellent job of thinking through their entrée items to come up with the perfect sides to compliment the meal.
When I choose the Oven Roasted North Carolina Trout it was due in large part to the side of Southern Fried bacon. Yes, it is legal in the state of Georgia to take a thick slice of battered bacon and drop it into a deep fryer. Stuff that Trout was some blue crab meat and drown it liberally in lemon parsley hollandaise sauce and you transform an average piece of fish into a gourmet meal. My out of town guest was more than impressed with the Grits Fritters that oozed Asiago Cheese and came with a tangy tomato basil dipping cream. I was slightly surprised when he selected the Praline Chicken for his entrée, but I assume the mushrooms, spinach and goat cheese that it was paired with caught his attention. Not to mention all that praline sauce with freshly chopped pecans on the side.
When our entrée arrived seconds after we had demolished the Grits Fritters we were both ready to dig into this southern gourmet dinner. My stuffed Trout was excellent with the fish cooked perfectly and the crab meat subtle enough to not over power the meal. The Hollandaise sauce was a big surprise with its lemony flavor and perfect consistency. The Southern Fried bacon was out of this world good. I ordered it more as a novelty to impress my friend, but it turned out to be fried to perfection with a light batter and the bacon survived the fryer to remain tender and juicy. My companion could not resist asking for a bite of the fried bacon. I think it was because he just could not believe fried bacon could be as good as I was making it out to be. He shut up after one bite. His Praline Chicken was equally pleasing to look at with the sweet sauce and chopped pecans displayed front and center. The chicken was a little well done for my taste, but the mushrooms & spinach helped make it moist and of course the praline sauce was decadently delicious. The chef chose the perfect side item in the form of a potato croquette infused with goat cheese. I had to trade half of my side of Parmesan soft grits in order to get more of that potato croquette, it was a good trade.
Overall, Grits Café turned out to be the perfect choice for a special dinner even if it took some serendipity and a major Georgia thunder booming storm to make it my choice for impressing out of town guests. A side note, the prices at Grits Café are much closer to Atlanta than they are to Macon, but the experience is well worth it. Be sure to add this restaurant to your short list of places to properly introduce your out of town guests to southern gourmet dining here in the heart of Georgia.
17 West Johnston Street Forsyth, GA 31029