Helen, Georgia, a tiny GA town with a local population of slightly over 500, is one very large tourist trap of a town aimed at locals of German extraction trying to reconnect to their ancestral roots, or anyone else in search of a little touch of a Bavaria in the midst of the Appalachian foothills. Not worth visiting unless you’re already in the area and looking German food.
Note: I took this trip BEFORE having set up my blog — although I had been intending to do it for months already, so I didn’t take anywhere as many pictures as I probably should have.
I had been staying at my friend’s place in Dalton GA for a few weeks, with the intention of staying a full two months (I remember her saying “I have no idea WHAT you’re going to do here for all that time” — suffice it to say I proved her wrong), and this was near the top of her list of side trips I should consider. The drive there from Dalton was very pretty (as directed by my new car’s GPS device — which I have grown to LOVE, never had one before), and took me there via state highways (think two lane roads) that I would never have otherwise had the guts to take.
For most of the trip I was pretty much alone on the roads, which is both restful and a tad terrifying — when you have no idea where you are. In retrospect (looking at a maps attached to my images) I know now that my GPS took me all along the Richard B Russell Scenic Highway (which is a National Forest Scenic Byway) up over some nearby foothills, through the Chattahoochee National Forest, and and into the valley where the town of Helen is located.
The trip took me about two hours and like I said, I was instinctively ‘lost’ but trusting my new GPS system to know where we were going for most of the way … According to the folks who drove up on their motorcycle (see above image) at this location we are still about 8 miles away from Helen GA.
From a business development perspective what makes Helen interesting is that once they realized that their local industry had failed, rather than kicking a dead horse, they opted for something completely different; taking advantage of their location adjacent to a National Forest they decided instead to become a tourist destination town. Per Wikipedia: “Formerly a logging town that was in decline, the city resurrected itself by becoming a replica of a Bavarianalpine town, in the Appalachians instead of the Alps. This design is mandated through zoning first adopted in 1969, so that the classic south-German style is present on every building, even on the small number of national franchisees present (such as Huddle House and Wendy’s).”
When I arrived I was hungry with a capitol H, having not eaten anything that morning other than a cup of coffee. So, my very first stop was at the first decent looking German restaurant I could find Hofbrauhaus Resturant in the picture at the top of this blog, which at the time also had decent YELP reviews… BLECH. I had one of my favorite childhood dishes, Weiner schnitzel!! As a kid I was one of those incredibly picky eaters who was 10 lb underweight and could drive my mom crazy by going for a full day on three french fries and a glass of chocolate milk. One summer we were in Austria following my dad around as he presented academic papers at conferences, and my mom had discovered I would actually eat Weiner schnitzel, so the first priority was checking if a restaurant served that, and THEN was there anything else on the menu for the rest of the family. So I know my Weiner schnitzel (which I am said to say I can no longer eat because my penchant for everything fried has resulted – I was diagnosed two months after this trip — in liver disease); and to be bluntly honest I was mightily unimpressed with how this restaurant prepared it … as in, “I drove TWO hours for THIS?”
That said, the place DOES have a good view of the river…
The next thing I did upon arriving was, using just my phone phone and the various apps I had on it, I tried to find a decent place to spend the night. There were NOT as many choices as I would have hoped (I have since gotten much more skilled at delving those depths from my iPhone), and at that time I had not yet installed the Airbnb.com app into my iPhone (I was still using a iPhone 4s then, which was already four years old, had VERY limited memory and was starting to slow down from old age), so I was forced to limit my search to national chains — I now know better. I ended up with a room at the Hampton Inn, and since the hotel was half empty I was able to convince the staff to upgrade me to a room with a balcony overlooking the Chattahoochee river for no extra fee.
After having checked in I went to walk around and discovered that this town closes down way early, and from the looks of it most stores don‘t open till noon. Only two stores still open at 5:30 were both owned by what I am guessing are a man and a woman who were both Indian (India) and I am betting are man and wife– work ethic anyone? The whole town looked like it could be part of the German exhibit at Disney-world’s Epcot, the next day when I walked around I discovered that most of the shops have at least one German style hat with a feather in it … only done on the cheap, so that it kind of reminded me of Old Town in Orlando, which I had just lived next door to for about four months, only sans the amusement park rides and haunted houses, etc.
Other than that there were a handful of interesting shops, like this one place that had it’s own hive to produce it’s own honey… but not much otherwise
Upon checking in, I had told the staff member there how unhappy I had been with the food at the Hofbrauhaus and could he make a better suggestion for my Dinner. He suggested The Bondesee, saying their were the only place in town with an actual chef from Germany, and that it was the place all the locals in town preferred.
And now, after having eaten there… Wow!!! I STRONGLY suggest Bondesee German Restaurant to anyone in the general vicinity of Helen GA.
Walking in the 12 cats who seem to believe that the front entrance of the restaurant is their home (so that the covered patio area which they seem to have taken over stinks of cat urine) would NOT normally have been a good sign, nor would my conversation with the grumpy owner when I swung by there at around 6pm … had it NOT been for the recommendation of a local those two things would have sent me scurrying elsewhere…
However, after having now eaten there, the chef is apparently a man after my own heart in that he seems to believe that there’s no such thing as too much garlic. Seriously, I don’t think The Stinking Rose (a San Francisco institution) serves less garlic… I was in garlic heaven. The butter for the bread was amazing enough to eat without the bread, and the mushroom appetizer came in a cream and garlic sauce that was divine (I had it as a side for my Weiner schnitzel because ALL the sides were carbs (I opted for the Spätzle) … and the portion sizes for me (a single) were more than enough for two people.
The German beer looked dark and a bit scary, but it was very smooth and went really well with the food. Oh, and the OH SO GAY — to the point where he was a caricature of gayness — waiter just CARDED me!!! Talk about how to make a 51 year old woman happy. He looked genuinely shocked to see we were the same age.