Helen, Georgia is a tiny town nestled into the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia. Yet, this Bavarian-themed hamlet of less than 500 people attracts almost 2 million visitors each year to its incredible natural tranquility, wide number of outdoor recreational possibilities, Native American and Georgia state history sites, Appalachian crafts, quaint shops, Oktoberfest, holiday activities and decorations and the amazing range of restaurants in Helen, GA.
In 1969, Helen was virtually invisible to drivers passing through. However, the civic leaders decided to take some drastic steps to entice visitors to stop and stay awhile. Outstanding food is one of the key reasons for their success.
Driving from Atlanta, Birmingham or Chattanooga, you will wind through curvy roads that appear to parallel the Chattahoochee River until you suddenly find yourself in a scene that will make you feel as though you’ve been transported to the Alps of Old World Germany. The buildings feature gabled roofs, decorative trim, balconies, and weatherboarding painted in bright colors.
What began with designing the façade of Bavaria, now has the authenticity of many German people actually living here and cooking in the local kitchens and restaurants in Helen, GA. Then, the success of those entrepreneurs encouraged others with expanded palates to participate. What you now have is the 3rd most visited spot in the state of Georgia, right behind Atlanta and Savannah.
5 Must-Try Helen, Georgia Restaurants
64 Munich Street // (706) 878-1026
Chef Aurel Prodan and his wife Doina began their married life in Romania working as a chef and server in a local restaurant until they moved to Bavaria, Germany in 1981. That is where he perfected his skills preparing German food, and they both learned the European style of unhurried hospitality. Chef Aurel became a highly-respected Master Chef, and they brought their talents and personalities to Helen, Georgia 25 years ago. During their early years in Helen, Doina visited area restaurants, observed and “stayed undercover,” deciding how to make their own eatery both unique and authentic. She insists, “We are not turning tables. We are serving people. If they stay for 4 hours, it’s okay for me.” She trains her servers to refrain from removing any dishes until the last diner at the table has put down his/her utensils. Then, they take all the plates from the table at once.
They have now been in business for seven years and have a large, loyal customer base. Doina states matter-of-factly, that she “is double married – to the restaurant and to my husband.” It is obvious that they are both devoting many hours to making Bodensee a success. Bodensee is a family affair with the Prodan’s daughter doing a lot of the baking and working in the front, while their son-in-law helps in the kitchen. The name, by the way, comes from one of their favorite spots in Bavaria, Lake Constance on the Rhine River. Bodensee is the German word for Constance.
Chef Prodan makes everything in house with spices that arrive from Germany once or twice a month. The sauerbraten has to marinate for 4 or 5 days, for example, and Doina grows many of the herbs herself. She readily shares her words of wisdom — “Drink the sauerkraut juice. You’ll never have another cold!” and says that the only dress code at Bodensee is: “Don’t be naked. Put shoes on your feet and a hat on your head!”
She’s a delightful hostess for all of her guests, and the food is amazing. I can personally vouch for the smoked pork chop, the spaetzle, and German potato salad. Be sure to save room for a warm apple strudel.
7277 South Main Street // (706) 878-1020
Mully weaves his way among the tables at the restaurant he opened when he was 60 years old, obviously enjoying mingling with long-time friends as well as first-time guests. His real name is Greg Ash, but his golf game and frequent habit of asking for a mulligan led to his nickname. He knows Helen, Georgia, having served on its town council and as its mayor in recent years. He wants his diners to have a great dinner or weekend brunch in a cordial atmosphere.
Chef Fern Frechette, originally from Wales, prepares many of the dishes using a wood fire grill, but others receive special preparation. I ordered grilled trout with collard greens and cheese grits. I then learned that the trout for Mully’s come from North Carolina, and the grits are ground nearby at Nora Mills Granary. Chef Frechette makes the grits even tastier with the addition of white cheddar cheese, chicken stock, and cream.
Trout is Mully’s best-selling menu item followed closely by baby back ribs and shrimp and grits. Cheesecake, fried Oreos and bread pudding are swoon-worthy desserts. The blackberry bread pudding I sampled was worth every calorie.
The building housing Mully’s Nacoochee Grill is a rural farmhouse built in the early 1900s, dismantled, brought in from the neighboring Leaf Community and then reassembled. The authentic vintage characteristics of that house add to the welcoming homey feeling for guests.
The food and the setting are reason enough to plan a meal at Mully’s, but the live music puts it over the top. Kurt Johnson, who spent 10 years playing for Bon Jovi, performs crowd favorites Wednesday through Sunday evenings and gospel and jazz numbers on Sunday mornings. I can guarantee he’ll be happy to play “your song” when you visit.
Mully insists that though he might be the “face” of the restaurant, Chef Fern and Kurt Johnson are the “soul.”
2220 Highway 17, Sautee-Nacoochee, GA // (706) 878-3830
Bernie Yates, who has accumulated 49 years of experience in the hospitality business, is the congenial owner and hostess for both the Guest House and her namesake restaurant. The Guest House features two rooms with king-size beds, private baths, and gorgeous natural scenery. Guests fortunate enough to book those rooms will be only 5 miles away from downtown Helen and in the middle of the attractions in White County. Others book the entire house for parties, reunions, small weddings, etc. because of the wonderful setting and outstanding catering available on-site.
Bernie’s daughter, Monda Dodge, is the chef. She received her training at the Culinary Institute of America in New York and has 30 years of knowledge in food preparation. Monda’s “right arm” is Lindsey Bryant, who also brings impeccable skill and experience to Bernie’s.
The building was formerly known as the Crumley Residence built in 1920. It has been in Bernie’s capable hands since 1989. A special plus is its view of the Nacoochee Valley and Sal Mountain.
The staff sets the tables every day with linens, sterling silver, fresh flowers, and whimsical salt and pepper shakers. The kitchen philosophy is: “Start with fresh ingredients and let the food speak for itself.” Lunch features a daily quiche, homemade soups, fresh-baked bread, sandwiches, salads and chef creations.
My meal started with an appetizer of baked brie and roasted vegetables. It was followed by a slice of ham and white cheddar quiche and probably the best creamy tomato basil soup I will ever eat. My tablemates and I shared portions of homemade lemon and chocolate cakes for dessert. Moist and chocked with layers of flavor.
The dinner menu adds roast duckling, steaks, seafood, chicken or veal piccata and chicken or veal marsala.
The dining room is small but elegant and intimate. Great for a relaxing and truly delicious meal.
8758 North Main Street // (706) 878-8200
Hofer’s of Helen is both a bakery and a café. Hofer’s serves American and German dishes created by Ralph Hofer and his dedicated staff. Hofer’s bakes their bread daily in a stone hearth oven, lending authenticity to the Old World taste and charm.
Customers walk in to see a brimming display case full of tortes, strawberry, blueberry and apple Kream Kuchen, cannolis, and fresh strudel, among many other temptations.
Surrounding shelves are lined with products brought in from Germany. These finds are highly-prized by the German transplants who now live in the Helen area. A former bank building houses Hofer’s, and the bank’s safe now serves as a fun gift shop.
Hofer’s is especially popular for breakfast. In addition to menu choices easily recognized by American visitors, you’ll find Kassler Rippchen (smoked pork chop), Leberkase (beef and pork loaf), Bratwurst Gravy and Apfelkuchle (apple slices, dipped in batter, fried and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar). THAT was what I chose. So good.
After breakfast until Hofer’s closes in the late afternoon, they offer over a dozen sandwiches, goulash (a traditional Hungarian dish), and a daily soup special.
807 Edelweissstrasse // +1 706-878-2739
5 East Jarrard Street, Cleveland, GA // (706) 607-8707
Owner Ward Gann calls his restaurant “a dream that came true that I wasn’t expecting.” He saw a need for some great food in downtown Cleveland, after working for Farm Bureau for 24 years. Open now for 9 months, Gann reports that the community support has been excellent. He appears to have a hit on his hands.
Gann’s English setter inspired the eatery’s name and décor, and Gann claims one-third of the recipes as his very own. The building itself began life as a dime store in 1948, and the brick walls and wood floors remain. Wood tables, metal chairs with padding and hunting-themed wall art set the scene inside. A smoker “outback” is used to prepare many of the menu offerings. The smoked meats are definitely the stars of the show. Nonetheless, the five-alarm wedge salad, the deviled eggs served over slaw, the avocado fries with remoulade sauce and the exceptional homemade pecan pie combine to create an uncommonly delicious meal.
The drink menu also carries out the dog theme with “Tie Me to the Porch Puppy Punch” and a selection of Pup Tini’s and Dog-Arita’s.
Four versions of mac and cheese, burgers, sandwiches, salads, and quesadillas round out the lunch menu. Various seafood dishes and steaks are added for dinner. The Sunday brunch offerings include a variety of Eggs Benedict, sweet potato pancakes, stuffed French toast and chicken and waffles.
Currently, Clyde’s has seating for 40 diners inside and another 30 on the deck outside. There are already plans underway for expanding the deck. Clyde’s is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. That means the aroma from the smoker is always drawing in hungry customers to give this new place a try.
Other notable restaurants in Helen, GA:
Other places to eat in Helen, GA worth noting are Cimmi’s Café, and Café International. For locally-inspired snacks, head out to Fred’s Famous Peanuts and taste some great cider or a peach or muscadine slushie. Or, sample some homemade fudge at Hansel and Gretel’s Candy Kitchen downtown.
Helen is a mecca for outdoor adventure enthusiasts who love hiking, tubing, fly-fishing and mountain biking. So, rest assured that there will be plenty of opportunities to burn off the calories you are likely to consume when you visit this attractive little town brimming with a small population of people fulfilling big dreams.
Which of these restaurants in Helen, GA do you most want to try? Let me know in the comments section below!
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Connie Pearson retired from past careers as a public school music teacher and as a missionary. She is currently a freelance travel and food writer and blogger based in Hartselle, Alabama. She has over 200 published articles in 24 different print and online publications, and her blog is There Goes Connie. Connie enjoys sampling regional cuisine wherever she goes and is a certified judge for the World Food Championships.