These 3 Georgia restaurants are worth the drive

Fill up at eateries in Senoia, Athens and Adairsville

Metro Atlanta offers a panoply of delights, from lowbrow dives with unforgettable bites to high-end tasting menus serving seemingly endless courses. But no matter the dining riches around town, sometimes you want a change of scenery. These three newer restaurants beyond the metro sprawl make for a solid day trip, and are worth the drive.

Rice House in Adairsville

It’s not just diners who sometimes want a break from the bustle of the city and its humming burbs. Chefs need a break, too. That’s the case for Jason Starnes, who previously helmed the kitchen at South City Kitchen’s Buckhead location, and at the Sun Dial before that, crafting refined yet heartfelt takes on Southern classic fare. He took his career in a more rural direction recently to oversee the culinary team at Adairsville’s Barnsley Resort.

Though the bucolic retreat about an hour and a half northwest of the heart of Atlanta offers a number of culinary options, from a casual cafe to a more rustic tavern, it’s the newly renovated Rice House that’s the latest draw and that is open to the public, not just guests staying in Barnsley’s cottages or lodge.

The historic 19th-century house-turned-restaurant occupies a central location on the resort’s 3,000 acres, and Starnes and Rice House’s head chef Evan Babb take an approach they playfully call “yard-to-fork.” That’s not simply some clever turn of phrase, either. Diners seated in the elegant, sun-drenched dining room can glance out the paned windows to see the garden with the basil plants that grew the leaves sitting atop their deviled eggs, or the edible flowers accenting a platter laden with local trout.

The Rice House menu changes daily, depending not only on what Starnes and his team source from local farmers, but also how the Barnsley garden crops are yielding that day. The food skews traditionally Southern, although diners shouldn’t be surprised by a few global flourishes on the plate, especially since Rice House also runs a training program, hosting aspiring young chefs from around the globe to teach them about how best to treat local ingredients, and to translate North Georgia’s bounty to diners’ plates.

5:30-10 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays. 597 Barnsley Gardens Road NW, Adairsville. 770-773-7480,

The Expat in Athens

Jerry Slater closed up his beloved H. Harper Station in 2016. The Reynoldstown fixture, located in the former train depot now home to Muchacho and Golden Eagle, helped chart a course for Atlanta's current cocktail culture during its half-decade lifespan. It also gave Slater a venue to share his wealth of whiskey knowledge with the world — knowledge that has recently resurfaced in "The Southern Foodways Alliance Guide to Cocktails," the book he co-authored with Sara Camp Milam. 

In May, Slater and his wife, Krista, opened the Expat in Athens. Located in a quaint two-story cottage in Athens' Five Points neighborhood, the Expat combines the Slaters' beverage aplomb (Krista is a sommelier) with French-influenced fare courtesy of chef Savannah Sasser. Atlanta diners should be hip to her cooking from her time as executive chef at Inman Park's Hampton + Hudson and Decatur's Twain's Brewpub. As at those approachable spots, Sasser's cooking at the Expat bridges classical European cooking techniques — she makes her own charcuterie, for instance — with a love for local ingredients. The bistro's French-leaning menu sees Georgia fare take center stage: A smear of Sweet Grass Dairy cheese underpins a toast topped with local mushrooms, while clams in a fragrant saffron broth come straight from Sapelo Island.

The cozy, white-walled dining area has quickly become one of Athens’ more pleasant brunch locales. And while the expansive entry-level bar makes for a fine perch to down local brews like a Tropicalia IPA from the Creature Comforts brewery less than 2 miles away in downtown Athens, those in the know head to the lounge-like upstairs bar, where a tucked-away vibe and framed Prince records hanging on the wall set a more intimate scene for a cocktail or two.

5-10 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Sundays. 1680 S. Lumpkin St., Athens. 706-521-5041,

Bistro Hilary in Senoia

There are inevitably two things that come up when folks talk about Senoia. The first is the dispute over the how the town’s name should be pronounced. The second is its status as pilgrimage site for fans of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” Senoia, an hour to Atlanta’s southwest, doubled as the town of Woodbury for many zombie-filled episodes.

If there were a third thing that should come to mind, a case could be made for the cooking of chef Hilary White. While Atlanta diners may remember her time working under Pano Karatassos in the Buckhead Life family of restaurants, it's really over the past decade at the Serenbe restaurant The Hil that White began to shine. Her understated, Southern-influenced cooking drew many to the pastoral community, and though The Hil underwent a change in ownership in 2017, locals didn't have to travel far when White and husband Jim relocated their operations to Senoia.

The new Bistro Hilary does what White does best, which is to highlight local ingredients simply but effortlessly. A bistro not just in name alone, the restaurant’s French influence shows up on its menu, too. Lunch veers light and fresh, like a creamy shrimp Louie salad, while note-perfect renditions of timeless dishes like rich, slow-braised beef bourguignon and vibrant Cajun chicken round out the dinner menu. Sides like macaroni au gratin, though, make the argument for a Euro-influence mac and cheese. And with its broad, sunny patio, Bistro Hilary’s quickly become a go-to for an easygoing weekend brunch. Keeping with the theme, a wide wine selection is on hand, with the majority of the nearly three dozen choices coming from France and only a handful of wines sourced stateside.

11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturdays; 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays. 21 Barnes St., Senoia. 770-727-9485,


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