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Linger Longer

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Linger Longer
Sunrise on Lake Oconee / Photos courtesy of Serenbe Farms and The Ritz-Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Plantation at Lake Oconee

TWO BUCOLIC COUNTRY ESCAPES ARE JUST A QUICK DRIVE FROM THE HUSTLE AND BUSTLE OF DOWNTOWN ATLANTA

The Inn at Serenbe

Chattahoochee Hills, GA | serenbeinn.com

Sure, there’s good fried chicken all over the South. But the fried chicken at The Inn at Serenbe’s Farmhouse restaurant is exceptional—juicy on the inside with a crispy, flaky, perfectly seasoned coating, served with seasonal vegetables fresh from a local organic garden and best washed down with a giant peach sangria loaded with peach slices and whole strawberries. Or maybe a mojito with muddled mint plucked from the thick mint beds out back. Well worth the forty-minute drive from Atlanta (and only twenty minutes from the international airport), this sublime fried chicken is just one element of the tremendously hospitable Serenbe experience. At The Farmhouse you feel as if you are dining in someone’s house. And you are.

Marie Nygren and her husband Steve bought this place on a lark about twenty years ago. After years renovating the house, cottage, and old barns, they started purchasing adjacent parcels of land to buffer their sweet retreat, turning their original sixty acres into nearly a thousand. Eventually they dedicated themselves full-time to Serenbe, turning it into a bed and breakfast. Concerned with the th­­­­­reat of encroaching urban sprawl, they then hatched an environmentally sensitive community plan for what is now Chattahoochee Hill Country—forty thousand acres of development loaded with green space and a community farm. You can get lost hiking or horseback riding on miles of trails. You can saunter up a hill, through a field of wild flowers, past an artsy bottle tree, and into a little hamlet where fresh coffee and pastries await you at the Blue Eyed Daisy Bakeshop, then pick wild blackberries on your way back. You can play croquet on a beautifully manicured lawn tucked in the forest beneath towering pines, relax on swings beneath wisteria arbors, or feed a baby lamb milk from a baby’s bottle.

Once a month, you can sign up for the culinary opportunity of a lifetime: to spend a weekend learning in The Farmhouse kitchen from some of the South’s top chefs. With Serenbe’s Southern Chef Series you can cook, chat, drink, and dine alongside culinary superstars in this little utopia.

In the food world, you hear a lot about perfect pairings. Indeed, on the menu at The Farmhouse you will find a goat cheese salad beautifully paired with sauvignon blanc, a flat iron steak complemented by Rioja. During my stay, I also learned a different lesson in pairings. I learned that geese like to hang out with horses. I learned that buzzards roost patiently alongside pigs (clever buzzards—they know that kitchen scraps from The Farmhouse go straight into slop). I also learned that pigs and Georgia red clay mud are a match made in hog heaven. I learned that if you separate donkeys into different fields, they will conduct long-distance braying conversations with one another, that some chickens refuse to give up their eggs, and that no one in his right mind hangs out with Gus, the ornery, territorial pot-belly pig.

At breakfast time, I learned that soft choral harmonies go nicely with coffee, perfectly scrambled eggs, bacon, and melt-in-your-mouth biscuits, all within sight of a sunlight-dappled flowering cherry tree. Perfect pairings indeed.

The Ritz-Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Plantation at Lake Oconee

Greensboro, GA | ritzcarlton.com

Here’s a tip: next time you find yourself motoring east of Atlanta along Interstate 20 toward Augusta, take the exit just after Lake Oconee. Head south, past cow pastures straight out of Flemish paintings, and follow signs to The Ritz-Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Plantation. Yes, there is a Ritz in the middle of rural Georgia.

Lake Oconee is a vast reservoir that winds and juts its way along 374 miles of piney Georgia shoreline. In summertime, it is a haven for fishermen and a magnet for water sports fanatics. Boaters come from all over to enjoy Sunday night concerts under the stars followed by fireworks on the great lawn, or to dine at the lakeside restaurant Gaby’s. “No Shirt, No Shoes, Our Pleasure” is not exactly the sign you would expect at a Ritz-Carlton property, yet that’s precisely what greets boaters stepping off the dock and entering Gaby’s.

The lodge is refreshingly unpretentious and inviting yet has all the amenities you would expect from a Ritz-Carlton property: manicured grounds with not a pine needle out of place, immaculate marble floors, attentive service at every turn, nightly bonfires with plentiful s’mores, hammocks strategically placed throughout the grounds. It’s “lakeside casual” meets “lap of luxury.”

Exemplary of the overall vibe is the “BBQ Butler” service available to those staying in the cottages. Guests select everything from the proteins (pork, beef, lobster, grouper, tuna, etc.) down to the wood chips. A chef brings it all to your door, sets it up on the grill, and prepares a meal for you. Or shows you how to do it yourself, if you prefer.

The most decadent and romantic culinary offering is their “Chiminea Dining” option, a four-course catered lakeside meal for two. Relax lakeside in Adirondack chairs, basking in the glow of your personal bonfire, and feast on the menu of your choosing. Needless to say, many marriage proposals have occurred in this setting, and Executive Chef Yann Chupin (who hails from the Loire region of France) is happy to report a 100 percent acceptance rate.

The attraction of this property for its many talented chefs is clear—what a dream to be surrounded by lush farmland, happy cattle, fresh fish, not to mention the sun, water, and pine breezes. That said, this area was dubbed “Linger Longer” by the Reynolds family for whom it was a retreat in the 1920s. Surely there is no name more fitting.