Visitors come to Helen, Georgia from miles around to soak up the natural beauty of the north Georgia mountains, enjoy the influence of Bavaria and take advantage of exceptional outdoor recreational opportunities. But, while they are in town, the culinary choices add an unforgettable element to their trip and perhaps become the highlight. From the authentic German cuisine offered at Hofer’s Bakery and Cafe, Cafe International and Bodensee Restaurant, the smoked meats at Clyde’s Table and Tavern, and the grilled trout at Mully’s to the downhome Southern goodness of Bernie’s, Fred’s, Cimmi’s and Bigg Daddy’s, visitors to Helen, Georgia will have plenty of delicious options for every meal.
1. Hofer's Bakery and Cafe lures visitors with pastries and more
Helen and Hofer’s form a natural fit – Alpine village plus German bakery. The original Hofers came from Germany in the 1950’s and worked for a European baking company in Atlanta until 1973, when they decided to branch out on their own. Their first bakery received such acclaim and recognition, they decided to find a second location. That’s when they found the Alpine-themed town of Helen, a short two-hour drive away.
Ralph Hofer bought the former First National Bank of White County and oversaw extensive renovations. Fortunately, the original bank vault was kept and is now a fun gift shop at the bakery. The enticing bakery case is filled with German desserts and breads, many of which are baked daily in the stone hearth oven. The walls of the entry area are lined with German products, including magazines which are a welcome sight to the Germans who have settled in the area. A very unique feature is a mural along one of the walls hand-painted by Joseph Mahler which shows the history of German baking.
In addition to baked goods, Hofer’s houses a cafe open seven days a week and a Biergarten open on summer weekends and during Oktoberfest. Hofer’s enticing breakfast menu features a wide array of choices with apfelkuechle as one of the standouts. It consists of apple slices dipped in batter, fried then sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.
A variety of sandwiches and soups are offered for lunch or a light dinner.
2. Cafe International has laid back atmosphere and great sandwiches beside the river
Cafe International is great for people-watching, especially people who are fishing and tubing along the Chattahoochee River a few steps away. It is best known for its large outdoor deck and amazing German sandwiches. The Reuben is often called “the best I’ve ever had” by those who try it.
In keeping with the “international” part of its name, Cafe International also offers dishes from Italy, France and the United States, although it calls itself a German restaurant. You’ll know you’ve found the right place when you see the flags flying outside. Don’t worry if the weather isn’t suitable for sitting outside, there are seats inside as well.
3. Bodensee Restaurant offers an authentic German dining experience
Bodensee Restaurant has a true European atmosphere that has been carefully created by a husband and wife team who are committed to authenticity. Aurel Prodan is the chef. He is originally from Romania but traveled to different regions of Germany to perfect his cooking skills. He particularly favored the foods and seasonings of Bavaria. The restaurant’s name comes from one of their favorite places, Lake Constance in the Alps. The German word for Constance is Bodensee. Wife Doina makes sure that the experience of her guests is unhurried, and instructs her servers to leave all the plates on the table until the last diner in the group has put down their silverware.
Everything served at Bodensee is made in house. The sauerbraten, for example, has to marinate for 4 to 5 days, and Doina grows many of the herbs herself.
The staff includes the Prodans’ daughter and son-in-law, both of whom help in creating the amazing food.
Be aware that Bodensee doesn’t take reservations, and they are closed on Wednesdays. So, plan accordingly to visit the other six days for lunch or dinner.
4. Bigg Daddy's appeals to a wide variety of tastes
From wings to pizzas and steaks to tacos, Bigg Daddy’s seems to be ready to serve all of the typical American favorites with a dose of local flavor thrown in for good measure. Smoked trout dip and fried green tomatoes are just two of the enticing appetizers, and the menu continues to many great entrees and desserts.
Bigg Daddy’s is open seven days a week for both lunch and dinner, but may be best known as a gathering place for folks who enjoy the live music on weekends or watching sporting events on television with like-minded fans.
Various weeknights feature specials such as Taco Tuesdays and half-priced Philly Cheese Steaks on Mondays, so you might want to plan your visit around the specials. Dress casually and look for Bigg Daddy’s not far from Cool River Tubing and the Holiday Inn Express and Suites.
5. Bernie's Restaurant at Nacoochee Valley Guest House sets the scene for an intimate, elegant occasion
Owner Bernie Yates has been in the hospitality business for 49 years, and 30 years of that has been at the Nacoochee Valley Guest House and her namesake Bernie’s Restaurant. Her daughter, Monda Dodge, is the chef of Bernie’s, and her well-deserved reputation for great food stems from her training at the Culinary Institute of America in New York and her straightforward philosophy regarding food. She says, “Start with fresh ingredients and let the food speak for itself.”
Bernie, who hails from upstate New York, had a dream of owning a B & B. She proudly describes what happened during a drive through north Georgia: “The first time I drove up this valley, it took my breath away. I found this house, and five weeks later I owned it!” She was looking for an English cottage type of setting with a Southern flair and a space for a garden. This property fit her mental image perfectly.
At Bernie’s, guests are treated to fresh linens and flowers on the table and sterling silver utensils. Whimsical salt and pepper shakers will make you smile, and the smells and tastes of the food will delight you. A daily quiche and soup are offered, along with specialty sandwiches served on bread baked in house. The ham and white cheddar quiche with caramelized onions was delectable, as was the creamy tomato basil soup. The baked brie with roasted vegetables is an extraordinary appetizer. Be sure to order it if you find it on the day’s menu when you visit.
The guest house has only two guest rooms, but both are charming and well-appointed.
The property is a popular venue for weddings, showers, rehearsal dinners and all kinds of special occasions.
6. Cimmi's Courtyard Cafe gathers diners for a casual breakfast or lunch
Cimmi’s Courtyard Cafe is across the street from Helen’s neighborhood grocery store, simply called Betty’s. It is a great indoor or outdoor gathering place for breakfast or lunch, every day except Tuesday. The outdoor seating area is large and shady, and indoors is reminiscent of a log cabin. The menu is simple, and the prices are very affordable.
Previously Cimmi’s was in a cramped 500-square-foot building (46.4 sq/m) but gradually outgrew it. The present location opened in October of 2018, just in time for the town’s annual Oktoberfest.
If Cimmi’s seems to have a community vibe, it is likely because Cimmi, whose real name is Cinnamon, is also the current mayor of Helen.
7. Clyde's Table and Tavern has a reputation for mouth-watering smoked meats
Owner Ward Gann obviously has a great affection for his dog because he named his restaurant and decorated it with beloved Clyde in mind. Not only is the appearance of the restaurant Gann’s concept, at least a third of the recipes are also his very own.
The building was originally a dime store built in 1948 but has been repurposed tastefully, now providing seating for 40 guests inside and 30 on the outside deck. Two items are menu highlights – smoked meats and desserts made in house. The brisket and pecan pie are both exceptional, but the wedge salad, deviled eggs and avocado fries also get rave reviews.
Clyde’s is actually in Cleveland, Georgia, a close neighbor to Helen, and is only a few miles from Babyland General Hospital, where the famous Cabbage Patch Kids are created.
8. Mully's Nacoochee Grill serves a chef-prepared meal with outstanding music in a homey setting
You’ll feel as if you’ve been invited to a home for dinner, because the building at Mully’s was indeed a rural farmhouse brought in and reconstructed in its present setting on South Main Street in Helen. The music of Kurt Johnson will also lure you through the front door, but the culinary wizardry of Chef Frechette and the easygoing greeting from owner Greg (“Mully”) Ash will keep you coming back again and again.
Mully’s serves many entrees from their wood-fired grill, but the slow-cooked baby back ribs are also popular. Several appetizers and sides are made from grits stone ground at nearby Nora Mill Granary, and it’s clear that the whole atmosphere is about as “local” as you can find. For a true north Georgian experience, try the grilled trout with collard greens and cheese grits.
Mully’s is closed on Mondays but is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday and for brunch and lunch on Saturday and Sunday.
9. Fred's Famous Peanuts is a fun stop for a snack or local Southern specialty
No visit to Helen and White County is complete without a stop at Fred’s Famous Peanuts. Inside, you will find peanuts, of course, but you will also be treated to fully-stocked shelves of Appalachian art, souvenirs of the area, some fresh cider (in season) or a slushie flavored with peaches or muscadines.
Fred’s is an eye-catching roadside store with fun items outside waving at you to stop and explore.
Tastes are as tantalizing as the sights
The winding roads of the Appalachian foothills, the meandering Chattahoochee River and the carefully-constructed Bavarian-style shops and restaurants will stir your senses. The aromas and flavors produced in Helen’s wonderful eateries will complete your experience. From Southern comfort foods to fresh trout and authentic German fare, visitors to Helen will find plenty to delight them and cause them to return often.
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