Head to Dahlonega for a Chocolate Crawl

Georgia Trend. Feb 2023.

If you are like me, you have by now forgotten your New Year’s healthy eating resolutions. If you want to throw caution to the wind, you can make an escape for the north Georgia mountains to satisfy your cravings while also getting some fresh air.

Dahlonega is especially fun to visit during its annual chocolate crawl festival, held March 6-12 this year. For a week, participating local candy makers, restaurants and cafes offer samples to everyone. Grown-ups and young ones are welcome, and many out-of-state visitors come to Dahlonega especially for the crawl.

One of the most iconic spots on the crawl is The Fudge Factory, which has been around since 1982 and pays homage to the town’s gold-rush history. Take a bite out of the Dahlonega Nugget — pecans covered in homemade caramel dipped in chocolate – or choose from 75 kinds of hand dipped chocolates. My personal favorite is the creamy milk-chocolate-covered crispy graham crackers – a smores-like biscuit that is perfect with a cup of tea.

If you enjoy watching the candy-making process, stop by Paul Thomas Chocolates, known for their custom souvenir gold bars with pecans and raisins that reminds you of a fruit and nut chocolate bar. The chocolate-covered Oreos are also a kid favorite.

At Crown and Bear, you may feel like you entered a traditional English confectionery. Here you can try Maltesers Malt Balls and Cadbury Crunch candy bar, as well as shop for British stationary, kitchenware, linens, umbrellas, teapots and biscuits, crisps, scones and sausages.

Continue your stroll to an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, Connie’s Ice Cream Parlor & SandwichShop for an indulgent banana split, then have a cup of “I’ll Have What She’s Having,” a dark iced hot chocolate and chocolate truffle black tea blend at My Vintage Gypsy Teas & Magickal Makings, paired with decadent cookies and cakes from The Picnic Café and Dessertery.

With so many treats all in one area, Dahlonega offers a perfect day trip for families to dine, shop, walk and be entertained. The 3rd annual Dahlonega Chocolate Crawl will take place from March 6-12, 2023. While it is fun to visit the shops in person, they also sell their candies online.

~ Written for and published by Georgia Trend Magazine. All rights reserved.

Ruchi: True To Its Name

Khabar Magazine. Feb 2022 print.

If you have driven down Peachtree Road near the Ashford Dunwoody Road intersection, you may have seen random neon signs for Indian or Bangladeshi restaurants. An old stand-alone building here has changed hands a number of times, introducing a few tried-and-failed South Asian restaurants. But Ruchi is the first that has managed to survive and thrive, making it through a global pandemic.Food_01_02_23.jpg

Bangladeshi immigrants from the northeastern city of Sylhet Shajon Miah, along with his son, Amit Shapta opened Ruchi Bangladeshi Restaurant in 2017. Miah has worked as a chef at Indian restaurants in London, California, and metro Atlanta. They knew the location had been termed “doomed” but they took a leap of faith seeing how the neighborhood of Chamblee- Brookhaven was growing and opened their first 45-seater fullservice restaurant.


Fun fact: eight out of ten Indian restaurants in the U.K. are said to be of Bangladeshi ownership. The national dish of Britain since 2001— chicken tikka masala—was invented by Sylhetis cooks who “converted the unadventurous British palates” notes historian Lizzie Collingham in her book, Curry: A Biography.

Inside Ruchi, it seems nothing has changed since the one-story building was first constructed. Large wall mirrors, bright television sets, and booths with black cushions make you feel like you are in a no-frills intown ’80s café. Even the background music is American lounge, and there are hardly any references to the restaurant’s ethnicity.


Except for the food that is—which lives up to its name: ruchi means taste in Bangla. The extensive menu boasts a large selection of flavors from the subcontinent. There is authentic Bangladeshi fare as well as Indo-Chinese and Indian dishes spelled out in Bangla. You can spend hours trying to decide what to order and the minimal descriptions may not be helpful for those who are not familiar with the cuisine.

Bangladeshi cuisine is largely influenced by Mughlai cuisine that boasts of rich and aromatic kormas, kebabs, biryanis, and stuffed breads. There are also influences from India, Armenia, and Central Asia.

As soon as I sit down, my friendly young Indian waiter brings out a basket of thin pappor, or papad as we know it, with spicy mint and tamarind chutneys. He is happy to make recommendations—tandoori dishes, lamb specials, and pakoras are a must. Also, anything can be customized to be vegan or vegetarian, he informs me.


The kopi (cauliflower) pakora appetizer that he suggested is actually quite good. Battered in corn starch and sautéed with ginger, garlic, and soy, the florets are sweet and spicy like an Indo-Chinese manchurian. The shrimp puri starter comes with a not-too-oily, large, and fluffy puri and a bowl of diced pieces of shrimp in a mild tomato, onion, and bell pepper gravy for dipping.


There are lots of options for vegetarians and meat eaters. You can customize a variety of sauces— tikka moshola, korai, vindaloo, etc.—with a choice of protein: halal chicken, lamb, goat, tilapia, salmon, or shrimp.​

Piping hot grilled pieces of chicken breast in onions and bell peppers are served as chicken tikka jalfrezi. The sauce has a tangy and spicy flavor of vinegar, tomato, and green chili. Naga morich is an even spicier Bangladeshi curry made with pickled green chili known as naga. The restaurant grows its own naga chili peppers (they have plants in the back, seasonally), and boils them to make a paste. Ask for a side of naga sauce if you desire more heat.

If you like seafood, definitely order rupchanda, a whole bone-in silver pomfret fish pan-fried and topped with a homestyle curry of onion, cauliflower, and potatoes.


Shaak aloo, pieces of boiled potatoes with mashed spinach, roasted garlic, onion, and tomato sauce, is delicately spiced. There are no added creams or butter, so it is light and nourishing. The chaana begoon is also an interesting combination of two dishes—chickpeas and green peas cooked in a hot sauce of roasted mashed eggplant and tomatoes. All dishes are served with a side of rice topped with cilantro and carrots, but if you are expecting long grain Basmati (even though the menu may say otherwise), you will be disappointed. The rice variety that is cultivated in Bengal (known as Gobindo Bhog) is mainly short grain, aromatic, and sticky. The breads—thick, doughy naan and crisp, dry chapati—are not great carb options either.

For dessert, try the homemade payesh (also listed as rice pudding and similar to phirni), a thick coconut milk and rice pudding, flavored with rose water, that is not overly rich or sweet. There’s a small selection of wine and Indian beer to go along with your meal.​

If you are in the area during the day, Ruchi offers a thali special for lunch which includes a choice of any two dishes served with naan and a drink.

Overall, Ruchi offers uncompromising flavors and homestyle preparation with enough choices to satisfy every patron. There are many familiar dishes that you find on Indian menus, but they are cooked slightly differently. As long as you are not looking for an ambiance, you may enjoy venturing out of your comfort zone into a new flavor of the subcontinent.

~ Written for and published by Khabar Magazine. All rights reserved.

Edible Education in Chattahoochee Hills

Georgia Trend Magazine. Jan 2023.

Neat rows of Swiss chard and broccoli heads, towering bright yellow sunflowers and friendly chickens running around — that is not your typical school scene. But Chattahoochee Hills Charter School(CHCS), located in the city of Chattahoochee Hills in southern Fulton County, is an exception.

The K-8 charter school is on a mission to grow 70% of the food consumed on campus by 2025. CHCS has a unique focus on art appreciation, agriculture sustainability and environmental awareness. Students learn to grow, harvest, prepare, serve and eat healthy food as part of the daily routine. Every day, during school hours, they have hands-on experiences that connect their young minds to food, nature and each other. This is not only designed to nurture the body, but to systematically address the crises of climate change, public health and social inequality.

The farm-to-table school lunch idea was started by Alice Waters, one of America’s most celebrated chefs whose name is synonymous with the slow food movement, which uses fresh, organic and locally grown foods. A culinary activist and the owner of famous Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkley, California, Waters founded the Edible Schoolyard Project (ESP) in 1995 to use organic school gardens, kitchens and cafeterias to teach academic subjects and the values of nourishment, stewardship and community. ESP now supports a network of over 5,800 programs at schools worldwide, including the one at CHCS.

The community of Serenbe recently hosted a fundraising reception with Waters, featuring a six-course collaborative dinner created by some of Georgia’s stellar chefs (including Matthew and Tia Raiford of Strong Roots 9Anne Quatrano of Bacchanalia and Star Provisions, Claudia Martinez ofMiller Union, and Nicolas Bour of The Farmhouse at Serenbe).Parents and community partners have been heavily involved in supporting CHCS’s programs since the school opened in 2014.

Patrick Muhammad, the principal at CHCS who is also fondly known as the “principal farmer,” had been studying ESP for about five years and developed the school’s first gardens and farm. When he was introduced to Waters via Raiford, a mutual friend, his dream came true.

At the school, you can see a greenhouse that holds thousands of seedlings, tower gardens used for lettuce bases, a two-acre farm for row crops, 50 laying hens, an apiary with three bee hives, muscadine vines and smaller gardens located throughout the campus. There are also plans for workshops on sustainable agriculture for parents, shared kitchens and partnership with chefs to supply and feed the community.

Interested in taking a tour of the school, volunteering at the farm, partnering or donating? Visit chatthillscharter.org.

~ Written for and published by Georgia Trend Magazine. All rights reserved.

Spanish – Latin Vibes

Georgia Trend Magazine. Jan 2023 print.

On a Friday night, downtown Alpharetta is bustling with families celebrating, groups of friends grabbing drinks and romantic couples having a date night by candlelight. In the past few months, this suburban enclave has become a hotspot with the opening of new, innovative restaurants, such as the Spanish-Latin restaurant Fogón and Lions by Chef Julio Delgado (formerly at New Realm Brewing and JP Atlanta).

A lively and large 30-seat-bar that opens to the interior of the restaurant on one side and an outdoor patio on the other is the focal point. Traditional Spanish-colonial design elements such as stone walls, tile floors and pops of yellow hint at the chef’s origins in Puerto Rico. A 14-foot-long wood-burning fogón (hearth) makes a dramatic backdrop for the open kitchen. Diners can see an orchestra of chefs grilling skirt steaks, roasting octopus and sautéing in paella pans.

A black-and-white picture of Delgado’s grandfather, who was a butcher in Ponce, Puerto Rico, hangs in the entryway and adorns the cover of the menus. The symbol of a crouching lion pays homage to Delgado’s hometown. Ponce is also called “La Ciudad de los Leones” (city of lions) and was named after the grandson of explorer Ponce de Leon.

The extensive menu draws inspiration from culinary traditions in Spain and its colonies in the Caribbean, Central and South America and The Philippines. The tapas section includes cured meats and cheeses, ceviche, tacos, roasted vegetables and traditional appetizers – so you can explore the world through your palate.

Start with cornmeal sorullos, a popular street food from Puerto Rico that is akin to a Southern-style fried-corn hush puppy, served with lusciously spiced buttermilk syrup. Creamy chicken croquetas are lightly breaded, deep-fried and simply melt in your mouth. Barbequed shrimp taquitos marry sweet barbeque sauce to the fiery poblano cream, on a bed of a refreshing mango salad. For a simple yet flavorful vegetarian dish, have the Catalan-style wood-roasted eggplant escalivada, drizzled with earthy olive oil, fresh rosemary and honey.

Entrées are generously portioned and sharable to round out a meal. One of the restaurant’s signature fire-treated dishes, such as the adobo wood-roasted chicken, is a must. Simmered in a brine of citrus, cumin and peppers, the bone-in chicken is moist and smoky. It is served with cilantro rice, black beans and a chimichurri of roasted-jalapeño cilantro-garlic olive oil on the side.

The chicken and seafood paella is made to order from scratch, so allow 45 minutes to prepare. This version of the classic Valencia dish uses both chicken and seafood (shrimp, mussels and clams), in a juicy bed of roasted onions, pepper and saffron sofrito, cooked and served in a large shallow paella pan.

Rum-glazed plantains have an odd combination of rum, sugar and garlic luster that somehow works. The sweetness makes them taste more like a dessert, but they are traditionally eaten with the mains.

For dessert, Basque burnt cheesecake is creamy in the center and extremely soft, so it crumbles with a fork. Sweet and pucker guava sauce on top transports you to the tropics. Staying true to the theme, the restaurant offers a traditional crema Catalana, the Spanish version of crème brûlée that incorporates cinnamon and orange zest for a delectable ending.

The beverage offerings are as elaborate as the former Spanish empire itself. These include a long list of Spanish and South American wines, imported and local beer, as well as “mis tres amores” (my three loves), some of Delgado’s favorite rum, tequila and whiskey. Cocktails are designed to replicate the happy hours in Latin America, where diners linger with their favorite spirits – choose a balloon glass filled with gin tonica (Spanish-style G&T) or something fruitier like a house-macerated sangria. Also, try the naturally sweetened bright-green signature avocado margarita with a rim of spicy tajin, or in Fogón grand fashion, Delgado’s take on an Old Fashioned made with Don Q rum.

Fogón and Lions offers a casual and relaxed interpretation of some of the Spanish culinary influences found around the world, with the common denominator being enjoyment with food and friends

~ Written for and published by Georgia Trend Magazine. All rights reserved.

Cooking with compassion

Georgia Trend. December 2022.

The first thing that you think about during the holidays? Food. Parties, family gathering and baking together are integral to the festive season. A new book shows us how to approach our food with kindness, respect and dignity. If you are inclined to eat well and give back not only this month, but throughout the year, incorporate these tips in your kitchen.

Published in October 2022, “The Humane Table – Cooking With Compassion” is a cookbook that acts as a guide to sourcing and cooking with high quality products that nourish our bodies as well as the planet. The book includes delicious recipes using dairy, meat, poultry, seafood and egg ingredients sourced from producers and chefs. A sampling includes delicate ricotta sweet potato beignets, beef satay with peanut butter dip, Fire Island blueberry duck with port wine, crisp zucchini corn fritters and refreshing key lime pie.

The author, Robin Ganzert, is the president and CEO of American Humane, the country’s first national humane organization founded in 1877. Its iconic programs include Humane Hollywood (you may recognize the “No Animals Were Harmed®” end credit on the movies you watch), Pups4Patriots™ (which trains dogs to be lifesaving service dogs for veterans with PTSD or brain injuries), American Humane Certification in agriculture, as well as global conservation for animals in zoos and aquariums.

Proceeds from Ganzert’s book benefit the nonprofit organization to further its work to protect animals around the world, including saving, sheltering and improving the lives of some 1 million animals in 2020-2021.

Georgia-based Springer Mountain Farms, located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Baldwin, was the first major poultry producer in the country to become American Humane-certified. The family-run farm offers well-treated and better-tasting chickens that are guaranteed to elevate your Southern fried chicken. Just ask chef Robert Butts of Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Poursrestaurant in Atlanta – or better yet, try his recipe for fried chicken with Thai chili cilantro glaze, one of the humane recipes he developed for Springer Mountain that’s included in Ganzert’s cookbook. Butts builds relationships with local producers to deliver the highest quality farm-to-table ingredients on his menu and also hosted the book launch event. “The food tastes more clean and delicious. When cooking with beef, you can see the natural red color and marbling and the chicken doesn’t taste tough,” says Butts.

Or check out nearly 100-year-old Rose Acre Farms in Canon which uses an efficient and sustainable egg production model, The Good Egg Coop, to produce humane and high-quality eggs, perfect for a hearty country picnic potato salad.

Get humane for the holidays by consuming healthier, happier and drug-free animal products. And, if you are looking to set up a humane table year-round, get to know where your food comes from. Butts advises shopping for ingredients from farmers markets, local butchers (like Midtown Butcher Shoppe on Monroe Drive) and accessible organic grocery stores (Sprouts, Whole Foods). Avoid freezing meats as they lose nutrition and can get freezer burn.

Glossary of producers can be found in the back of the book.

~ Written for and published by Georgia Trend Magazine. All rights reserved.

Wine Tips For The Holidays

Georgia Trend. Nov 2022.

How many times have you wandered the wine aisle at the grocery store and been overwhelmed with the selection of countless bottles? When you are scrambling to make your Thanksgiving dinner or to buy Christmas presents, the last thing you want to do is read every label and figure out which wine your guests would prefer to drink.

Thankfully, educational stores like Vino Venue in Dunwoody make it easier. Co-founded by Lelia Bryan and her late husband, Michael (who started the Atlanta Wine School in early 2000s), Vino Venue is a wine shop, tasting room, restaurant and school – all in one place. The couple wanted to create a space for those who wanted to learn about wines and taste them before committing to buying. Over the past 10 years, they expanded to offering wine and cooking classes, a wine club, and wine-themed trips to places like Piedmont, Bordeaux and California.

What makes this neighborhood wine shop different from big-box sellers is the unique collection of wines and personalized recommendations. Each week, beverage director and partner Rob Van Leer tastes more than 100 types of wines from all over the world to carefully select what goes on the shelves and in the wine club. He gets to know customers’ profiles by asking them a series of questions. An informal wine-shopping interview can last between 10 seconds to a half hour, depending on the interest of the buyer.

For this holiday season, first think about what are you cooking, who you are hosting and what is your budget, Leer advises. He says you can get quality wines at every price point, and can follow certain pairing guidelines. For example, dry, tart or sweet lambrusco from Emilia Romagna goes well with a charcuterie board. Easy-drinking sauvignon blanc, gamay and delicate pinot noir are also good with hors d’oeuvres. Champagne, Beaujolais, Burgundy and many Tuscan and Oregon wines pair with practically everything and are good to keep on hand.

A German gewürztraminer, French gamay and merlot, or Oregon pinot noir will also fare well at a turkey dinner. If you are serving a brunch of, say, cornmeal-crusted oysters, frittata, fruit and biscuits, serve something that’s cold, sparkling and has low alcohol content, like a fruity pear cider from Normandy.

Wines can also star at your cocktail party. Add a sprig of rosemary and a sliver of fresh orange to Chandon Garden Spritz. Top vibrant and sweet cognac-like Pineau des Charentes with inexpensive apple cider and cinnamon stick. Serve red or white vermouth on the rocks, with a splash of OJ or soda water, or make a classic negroni.

As the meal progresses, you can go bolder and richer, pairing French pinot noir with lamb and steak, Spanish Rioja with salmon, and fruit-forward California wine with burgers. Get a dessert wine to round off the meal or serve a glass of grande cuvée to reset everyone’s taste buds. Plan for an average of a bottle per person for a dinner party, and remember you can always drink what’s left next day!

To taste before you buy, check out Vino Venue’s 32 wines “on tap,” or attend its high- end wine tasting class on Dec 4th.

~ Written for and published by Georgia Trend. All rights reserved.

Small town charm meets upscale dining, shopping in Madison

Atlanta Journal Constitution. Nov 2022.

Oak-lined streets dotted with historic homes, charming shops filled with locally made art, a park packed with families. The small Southern town of Madison is a destination preserved in history and amended with time.

Established in 1809, Madison was named for Founding Father and fourth president of the United States, James Madison. It flourished as a stagecoach stop and the commercial hub for agrarian families. Today, the city is home to nearly 5,000 people, many of them farmers, artists and small-business owners who enjoy a slower pace of life.

Recently, Madison has undergone a transformation with the opening of new retail establishments and restaurants. Located 60 miles east of Atlanta, Madison makes for a perfect day trip or a quick weekend getaway, offering a little bit of everything from one of Georgia’s largest historic districts and unique shopping opportunities, to holistic wellness treatments and exceptional outdoor activities.

Family-friendly events, festive decorations and small-town charm make Madison especially appealing to visit during the holiday season.

Town Park is lit up for the holiday season.
(Courtesy of Madison Morgan CVB)


Decked out for Christmas

Madison’s town center is never livelier than during the holidays. Streets decorated with wreaths and mistletoe, homes dressed with Christmas lights and bustling holiday markets create a scene reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Festivities have already begun. Holiday Market at the Madison Artists Guild (MAGallery) is open now through Dec. 24, selling unique handcrafted items made by local artisans through. And every Saturday in November during Shop, Sip & Stroll, local retailers provide free drinks and nibbles for visitors to enjoy while they shop and listen to live Christmas music in the streets.

The Holiday Tour of Homes returns Dec. 2-3 for the first time since the pandemic. Choose from a daylight or candlelight tour to stroll inside six private historic homes decked out in holiday finery in the Madison Historic District. Proceeds from the ticket sales benefit the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center, venue for the annual Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Holiday Concert on Dec. 22.

While you’re in town, cut down your own tree at Jack’s Creek Christmas Tree Farm, a 50-acre family-run farm that has been growing award-winning Christmas trees for more than 30 years. It also hosts a Grandma’s Christmas Shoppe and appearances from Santa Nov. 26-Dec. 21.

On Dec. 17-18, Hard Labor Creek State Park hosts Holiday Hayrides ($3 admission, $5 parking) complete with hot cocoa and marshmallow toasting around a campfire.

One of the highlights of Madison’s Christmas festivities is the Holiday Parade and Caroling by Candlelight on Dec. 10. Festive floats, dancers, horses, dogs, marching bands, vintage cars, choral groups and Santa Claus himself all come together at Town Park for a merry afternoon and evening celebration.

Built Circa 1809, the Rogers House has been located in downtown Madison for more than 200 years.
(Courtesy of Madison Morgan CVB)

Credit: Handout

History and Architecture

Even when it isn’t Christmas, there’s still plenty to do in Madison. With more than 350 historic structures, the Madison Historic District is one of the largest National Register Historic Districts of 19th century architecture in Georgia. Among the highlights are many grand, antebellum mansions that survived Gen. Sherman’s March to the Sea because of a “gentleman’s agreement” to spare the town.

Madison boasts three house museums open for tours, including Heritage Hall, an opulent Greek Revival-style home built in 1811 and relocated to Main Street; the more modest Piedmont Plain-style Rogers House, circa 1809; and Rose Cottage, once home to former slave Adeline Rose.

To learn more about the the town’s architecture, visit the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center, which features the “Columns and Cottages: Madison’s Architectural Treasures” exhibition. For more about the history of Madison’s enslaved people, visit the Morgan County African-American Museum, located in the Folk Victorian-style home of John Wesley Moore, an African-American man born in the last years of slavery.

For a map of the Madison Historic District, stop by the Welcome Center on Main Street.

New shops and restaurants have recently opened in downtown Madison.
(Courtesy of Madison Morgan CVB)


Hob Nob on Main Street

Pedestrian-friendly Main Street spans 1.5 miles through the heart of Madison. It’s bookended by Town Park on one end, and the prominent courthouse on the other, and in between the street is lined with plenty of independent shops and restaurants.

After touring some of the town’s historic homes, be inspired to decorate your own place with one-of-a-kind pieces available for purchase at Madison Markets. The 20,000-square-foot renovated cotton warehouse is now a unique indoor shopping venue selling new and vintage furniture, linens, jewelry and collectibles from more than 75 dealers under one roof. Independent dealers like Keith Fortson and Katie Hyatt, who travel to Europe to source original canvas paintings, furniture and accessories, specialize in one-of-a-kind goods.

Many of Madison’s old buildings have been retrofitted for new and trendy dining establishments. What was once Simmons Funeral Home is now Hart and Crown Tavern, a cozy British pub with original brick walls and imported art and furnishings. It’s an ideal spot to sample varieties of whiskey and Scotch, along with deep fried Scotch eggs wrapped in spicy ground pork and hearty Irish bangers and mash.

Located in a former gas station, The Sinclair is an upscale café offering all-day dining, cocktails and specialty coffee drinks. Pick up homemade muffins and pastries with your morning latte, or linger on the patio with a prosciutto and brie panini and a limoncello mule cocktail in the afternoon. Near Heritage Hall, Town 220 Restaurant serves upscale French and Southern cuisine in a bright, airy dining room with warm wood furnishings. Executive chef-owner Francisco De La Torre sources local and organic ingredients and is renowned for his herb-crusted rack of lamb dressed in mint sauce.

Farmview Market is a popular local spot for hearty Southern-style breakfast and lunch, and there’s a storefront selling a wide selection of local and organic produce, jams, spreads, honey, pickles and handmade crafts. On Saturday mornings May-September, vendors from around Georgia bring their seasonal fruits, vegetables, free-range eggs, plants, baked goods and artisan crafts to sell at the adjacent open-air Farmers Market. 

Delight in Downtime

If you want to unwind during your vacation, spend an afternoon at ZEN Relaxing Wellness Center. A wide selection of alternative and natural care providers from around Madison come together at ZEN to offer yoga, meditation, massage and holistic treatments — all under one roof. Float in a sensory deprivation tank, get pain relief with cryotherapy, detox through ionic foot therapy or simply breathe in the salt halotherapy room and clean out your lungs.

To connect with nature, book a horseback ride at Southern Cross Guest Ranch, a family-owned and operated dude ranch located about 15 minutes from downtown Madison. The ranch’s all-inclusive riding plans include comfortable accommodations, buffet-style meals, bike rentals and up to four hours in the saddle each day. The ranch’s six miles of open pastures are warm in the winter sun and the wooded trails offer shade during summer afternoons, so outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy horseback riding any time of the year.

For golfing, fishing, swimming and hiking in a wooded setting, head over to Hard Labor Creek State Park. There are fully equipped cottages and campgrounds to spend a night or two. Other accommodations in Madison include luxurious James Madison Inn located within walking distance to most attractions. Local art and Southern culture are reflected in the inn’s bright lobby and 17 distinctively themed rooms and two grand suites.

Madison’s vintage charm and modern amenities make it an ideal close-to-home destination where you can take a romantic getaway or a memorable winter vacation.


Madison is 60 miles east of Atlanta via I-20.

Things to do

Holiday Tour of Homes. 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Dec. 2-3. $30-$40. 434 S. Main St. 706-342-4743. https://www.mmcc-arts.org

Holiday Parade and Caroling by Candlelight. Dec. 10. Parade 4 p.m. Caroling 5-7 p.m. Free. Along College Drive, N. Main Street and W. Jefferson Street. 706-341-1261, Ext. 1208. www.madisonga.com/353/Holiday-Events

MAG Holiday Market. Through Dec. 24. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. 125 W. Jefferson Street. 706-342-9360. https://themadisonartistsguild.org/events

Zen Relaxing Wellness Center. $35 and up. 271 W. Washington St. 706-350-5999. www.zenrw.com.

Madison Markets. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday. 144 Academy St. 706-342-8795. https://madisonmarkets.com

Where to Eat

Town 220. Southern inspired French cuisine in a casual setting. Entrees $18-31. 220 W. Washington St. 706-752-1445. https://town220.com

Hart & Crown Tavern. Cozy British-inspired pub and locally sourced chef-driven restaurant. Entrees $14 and up. 142 E. Washington St. 706-438-8050. https://mad-hospitality.com/hart-and-crown-tavern

The Sinclair. Upscale coffee shop and bar serving light bites. $4 and up. 298 Hancock St. 706-438-1101. https://mad-hospitality.com/the-sinclair-1

Farmview Market Café. Casual deli serving smoothies, breakfast, salads and sandwiches. $6.99 and above. 2610 Eatonton Road. 678-729-1458. www.farmviewmarket.com

Where to Stay

James Madison Inn. Luxury boutique hotel downtown. $225 per night. 260 W. Washington Street, Madison. 06-342-7040, www.jamesmadisoninn.com

Hard Labor Creek State Park. Newly renovated pet-friendly cabins with full kitchens. $165-200 per night. 5 Hard Labor Creek Road, Rutledge. 1-800-864-7275, https://gastateparks.org/HardLaborCreek

Southern Cross Guest Ranch. $115-300 per person, per night, depending on boarding and activities. 1670 Bethany Church Road. 706-342-8027, www.southcross.com

Tourist info

Madison Morgan County Welcome Center. 115 E. Jefferson St., Madison. 706-342-4454, https://visitmadisonga.com/madison-welcome-center/

~ Written for and published by Atlanta Journal Constitution. All rights reserved.

The Hart & Crown Tavern: British-style Southern

Georgia Trend. Nov 2022 print.

Portraits of King Richard and a young David Bowie are featured on exposed brick walls. Original hardwood flooring and a wide wooden bar complement a dark interior with low ceilings. The ambiance reminds you of a traditional pub you might find in England. But this one is located at the historic square in the Southern town of Madison, in what was once Simmons Funeral Home.

Hart & Crown Tavern opened in early 2022 as the latest offering from MAD Hospitality. The company, headed by CEO Preston Snyder, is on a mission to restore Madison’s old buildings to create a series of new cafes, restaurants and shops in a part of downtown that’s lacked attention. Snyder won a Preservation Excellence Award for returning the L.M. Thompson Building to its 1902 Wagon Works appearance, which is now home to Hart & Crown Tavern and Mad Taco.

On a weekend evening, Hart & Crown Tavern is full of locals and tourists who have flocked to this cozy neighborhood bar and restaurant. Some snuggle on the comfortable antique leather couch by the wood-burning fireplace, with a gin and tonic in hand. Others are seated at one of the booths or in chairs shipped from a pub in England. They gaze at artwork depicting London parks. The background of cocktail shakers, chattering people and ringing telephone adds to the watering-hole sound bites.

The menu created by Atlanta-born Culinary Director and Executive Chef Ryan Caldwell (previously at Michelin-starred Picholine, New York City, and Malibu Beach Inn, Malibu), promises a fresh take on traditional Southern and English offerings in a casual pub-like setting.

For snacks, try the classic Scotch egg, halved soft-boiled eggs wrapped in spicy ground pork, coated with breadcrumbs and deep fried to a crisp. With pickled cucumber relish and tangy mustard, it is a hearty starter, especially with a glass of whiskey.

The plates section of the menu offers many English and Southern classics. Liberty Farms lamb-shoulder cuts simmer with turnips, carrots and parsley to make a brothy lamb stew. Beer-battered Atlantic cod, seasoned with onion, garlic and curry powder for color, is fried crispy golden-brown and served with homemade tartar sauce and mashed green peas, as fish and chips. Bangers and smash offer hearty Irish sausages, spiced with mace, nutmeg, onion and garlic, on a bed of caramelized fingerling potatoes topped with a delicate parsley sauce.

A straightforward Springer Mountain chicken pot pie with seasonal vegetables and puff pastry crust was a bit disappointing. The velouté is runny, lacking the rich thick texture that holds up the pie.

In the South, you can hardly go wrong with shrimp and grits and this one is perhaps the best dish on the menu. The Atlantic shrimp are buttery on top of white-cheddar cheese grits and tangy charred tomato-and-creole cream sauce.

If you plan to drink and nibble, order a bunch of the sides – each one is filling. The mac and cheese comes with orecchiette pasta scooping up smoky and creamy gouda cheese sauce with a hint of salt and garlic. Topped with cream and bread crumbs, the side is quite rich and makes for a meal in itself. The truffle English-style chips (no, they’re not the same as fries) offer hints of truffle oil and parmesan. Large pieces of triple-blanched and fried potatoes are more starchy than crisp. Farm vegetables of the day include lightly grilled and heavily seasoned, locally sourced summer squash and kale.

If you are not already full from the substantial plates, try the sticky toffee pudding for dessert. The decadent moist sponge cake has lots of rum, chopped dates, toffee caramel sauce and whipped cream. A lighter option is lemon posset – silky lemon custard with fresh blueberries (available seasonally).

The bar is a focal point at Hart & Crown Tavern, and there are plenty of cocktails and spirits to appeal to everyone. Ponder over the extensive whiskey collection, a dedicated Scotch list and a long list of gins, as well as beers on tap.

This country pub is not just a place to eat – it is a place to relax, mingle and experience British culture in Madison.

~ As seen in the Nov 2022 printed issue of Georgia Trend. All rights reserved.

All About Pumpkins

Georgia Trend. Oct 2022.

Changing foliage, dropping temperatures, the aroma of cinnamon, and all of a sudden, pumpkins are everywhere — at grocery stores, on porches and on restaurant menus. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 80% of the U.S. pumpkin crop is available in October. Whether you like to carve them into jack-o’-lanterns or bake them in a pie, here are a few helpful insights into America’s favorite fall fruit.

Wait, pumpkin is a fruit?

Well, technically – if you ask a botanist. But the rest of us generally lump them in with the veggies. Pumpkins belong to the squash family, and not all pumpkins are round and orange. There are lots of varieties, in red, yellow and green colors, as well as long and oblong shapes. Though all pumpkins are edible, the bigger carving varieties have lower sugar content, thin walls and are stringy, whereas the smaller ones are sweeter and have less moisture.

So which variety is best? 

It depends! From lattes to ice creams, curries to pastas, pumpkin is a versatile ingredient that can be incorporated into sweet and savory dishes. Steven Satterfield, award-winning chef, author and founder of the restaurant Miller Union in Atlanta, likes to experiment with a variety of pumpkins and squash. He uses blue Hubbard squash (a winter squash that tastes like pumpkin) for his pasta fillings and Seminole pumpkins for roasting. The cylindrical shaped, yellow-and-green striped delicata is also ideal for roasting once cut into bite-sized pieces. Satterfield advises scooping the seeds out and coating cubes or slices of the pulp in seaweed crunch and roasting them for a delightful side. Sugar pumpkins (also called pie or sweet pumpkins), which are small and round, can be grated and added raw to recipes for pancakes. Vegetable Revelations-Inspiration for Produce-Forward Cooking, Satterfield’s new cookbook coming in April 2023, will include his recipes.

In the meantime, you can enjoy his confit duck leg with roasted fall squash, plum, mushroom, pumpkin puree sauce and pumpkin-walnut granola at Miller Union. He also makes spaghetti squash with clams, chorizo and spicy paprika sauce, and pumpkin custard souffle with ginger.

Satterfield says that if you don’t want to spend all day cutting, seeding and cooking down a fresh pumpkin, it is perfectly acceptable to use canned puree. For home chefs, fresh pumpkins may cause unpredictable results in baking because of variable starch and water content.

What are some common pumpkin pitfalls?

According to Satterfield, the biggest mistake people make is when cutting a pumpkin. He advises laying it on its flattest side, using a large sharp knife, and slowly cutting into quarters and then peeling off each section.

Also, instead of throwing away the 500 edible and iron-rich seeds found inside each pumpkin, you can roast them to use as salad toppings, soup thickeners, in granola mixes and to make dukka (African spice blend). Pumpkin flowers can also be used like squash blossoms in salads, stuffed with cheese and deep fried, or baked into a frittata or quiche.

So step out and pick up different kinds of pumpkins (and squash!) this fall. Buy them from farmers markets, visit a pumpkin patch in Georgia and support local farmers.

~ Written for and published by Georgia Trend. All rights reserved.

Take a German Food Tour

Georgia Trend. Sept 2022.

Helen is located only an hour and a half northeast of Atlanta, but this alpine town transports you across the Atlantic without a passport or an airline ticket. It boasts one of the longest-running Oktoberfests lasting seven weeks, from September 8 to October 30, with plenty of German polkas, waltzes, parades, live music, food and drinks.

If you are not familiar with Helen’s dining scene, get acquainted by taking a food tour with Helen & Back. After vacationing in Helen for over 20 years, founder Heather Pisano, a native of Smyrna, was so enchanted that she decided to relocate there permanently. She taught herself everything about Helen’s history and its quirky ties to German culture before opening her food tour company.

The four-hour-long tour, offered year-round, starts at Bodensee Restaurant where the group (up to 10 people) gather and get to know each other over flights of beer and family-style shared plates. Run by Romanian-German owners, Master Chef Aurel Prodan and his wife, Doina, Bondensee offers a casual old-world pub-like atmosphere with generous portions of bratwurst, spaetzle, sauerkraut, smoked pork chops, red cabbage and German potato salad.

During summer, you can watch people tube down the Chattahoochee River from the deck of Café International, while gnawing thick juicy slices of corned beef – it’s home of the best Reuben sandwich (which was invented in the U.S., not in Germany).

Potato Pancakes Pic By Sucheta Rawal

At Hofbrauhaus, taste peach beer along with Kartoffelpuffer (pancakes made from shredded potatoes) topped with applesauce and sour cream. The bar and restaurant has an outdoor patio overlooking the water where you can drink, eat and watch live music performances.

King Ludwig Biergarten at White Horse Square is a popular gathering spot on Helen’s main road Georgia 75 for beer pints and soft salt pretzels with creamy beer cheese dip (a Kentucky creation). With a backdrop of colorful Bavarian architecture, the plaza feels straight out of a holiday movie. Czech-owned Muller’s Café is a cozy place to end the tour with apple strudel and Vienna coffee.

Note that restaurant locations on the tour are subject to change.

Besides providing plentiful tastings, Pisano shares extensive details about the history of the area. Helen was named after a lumber official’s daughter. In 1969, the fading town resurrected itself by creating a replica of a Bavarian town based entirely on sketches of Army veteran and artist John Kollock. Everyone pitched in the beautification program by hanging cascading flowers outside their new stores and beer gardens, importing antiques from Europe, learning the polka and dressing in traditional dirndl. Now, Helen is renowned for its leaf peeping, holiday decorations and Oktoberfest.

The food and frolic in Helen are definitely worth a visit – just remember to set your expectations to flavors of the Appalachians, not the Alps.

~ Written for and published by Georgia Trend Magazine. All rights reserved.