Visiting Blue Ridge, GA in the ’90s (and even as recently as 2009), there was little indication that this tiny town would soon become a tourism hotspot.
Spanning just 2.6 square miles, with a population of less than 1300 people at the time, it felt like any number of other sleepy towns in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Even on a Saturday during the Christmas holidays, the quaint downtown area was quiet and uncrowded, with few restaurants, but several antique and curio shops to explore. The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway was really the town’s only major tourist attraction.
Lots of locals credit James Beard Award-nominated chef Danny Mellman and Michelle Moran, the partners behind Harvest on Main and several other Blue Ridge restaurants, with turning the town into a foodie-friendly mecca.
Relocating to Blue Ridge in 2009 after 25 years in Florida, the success of the couple’s Lit’l Pond Hospitality Group has revitalized the North Georgia food scene.
Here’s a deeper look at Harvest on Main’s menu, interior design, and why we think it ranks among the very best restaurants in Blue Ridge, GA.
HARVEST ON MAIN INFO
• Danny Mellman is a self-taught chef who honed his skills in England, France & Italy.
• He was formerly Executive Chef of The Mad Batter in Cape May, NJ, where he drew national attention for his innovative use of game and wild herbs.
• Mellman moved to Captiva Island, FL and opened The Greenhouse Grill in the late ’80s. He spent 25 years and opened several restaurants there, earning a James Beard nomination for Best Chef in the South.
• His partner, Michelle Moran, is a longtime gourmet food writer and oversees the couple’s agricultural project, The Cook’s Farm in nearby Morganton.
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THE ATMOSPHERE AT HARVEST ON MAIN
Located on Main Street in the heart of downtown Blue Ridge, Harvest on Main is designed to look like a cozy mountain lodge from the outside.
With riverstone steps, massive wooden beams, Deer antlers, and strings of lights illuminating the entrance, it sets the stage for the upscale rustic look of the restaurant’s interior. The wafting smell of smoking meats definitely entices passers-by to venture inside.
The design really brings the spirit of outdoor adventure indoors. A large wooden canoe and paddles take up the wall above the door.
Antique fishing rods adorn the wall to the left of the huge hearth stone fireplace, while antique hunting rifles adorn the wall to the right.
Wooden tables, chairs, floors, and cathedral ceiling are offset by Elk antlers, Moose and Deer trophies, with paintings of nature scattered about.
With the dim lighting and mellow music, it sets an intimate, romantic mood immediately as we settle at a table right by the fireplace that dominates the center of the dining room.
There’s a bar in the back that serves an array of cocktails and an extensive list of wines, and bustles with action during the busy summer months.
The place was relatively quiet when we visited on a Thursday night in mid-winter, but we could hear occasional bursts of laughter from the private event space on the restaurant’s bottom level.
HARVEST ON MAIN MENU
Chef Mellman’s Harvest on Main menu centers on what he calls globally influenced cuisine with a Southern twang.
It generally adheres to the Farm to Table ethos, sourcing the majority of ingredients from local farmers and artisinal suppliers. As such, the menu changes seasonally, with appetizer and entree specials that change daily based on what’s fresh and available.
Mellman and Moran also own The Cook’s Farm, which produces quite a few of the ingredients that appear on the restaurant’s menu. These include eggs, honey, specialty produce, Quail, Pheasant, Rabbit, Geese, and Duroc/Tamworth Pigs.
We started our meal with a Charcuterie Platter special, which featured House Smoked Bacon, Smoked Duroc Sausage, Smoked Tasso Ham, House Spiced Spanish Olives, House Pickles, cornbread, spicy mustard, and more.
The flavors of the farm-fresh meats were uniformly intense and smoky, with just the right amount of peppery spice. The Pimento Cheese appetizer, which is served with House Pickes and crackers, seemed somewhat tame by comparison.
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For me, the true measure of a chef lies not in how inventive and “out there” his/her culinary concoctions are (remember molecular gastronomy?), but how well he or she puts an original spin on a classic dish you’ve tasted a million times before.
So for our entrees we started with their Wild Caught Gulf Shrimp & Grits, a masterful revelation. The Logan Turnpike Grits were whipped ’til they tasted like fluffy clouds of creaminess, and the peppery Tasso Ham gave it just the righ amount of kick. The homemade Buttermilk Cornbread on top, baked and then pan-fried in butter, was simply divine.
We followed it with Locally Farmed Rainbow Trout, which is served with House Smoked Bacon, Sweet Potato Succotash, and topped with Chickpea & Pickled Tomato Salad. The fish tasted so fresh it might’ve been caught that afternoon, and the succotash added a sweet finish.
I also highly recommend a side of Harvest’s “3 Pork” Collard Greens. Fresh from the farm, they’re lightly sweetened with molasses– an unusual, but refreshing change from the typical vineger-drenched approach of most Southern chefs.
By that point we were really too stuffed for dessert, but could not resist the temptation of a Blueberry Bread Pudding topped with caramel ice cream. It was just as luscious as it sounds, calories be damned!
PRIVATE EVENTS AT HARVEST ON MAIN
As mentioned above, there’s a private event space downstairs at Harvest On Main, which offers full-service customized menus tailored to each event’s needs.
The company also offers off-site catering, as well as hosting larger private events at The Cook’s Farm in Morganton.
The Farm is also home to an annual Sunday Supper farm-to-table series, and a “Farm-to-Fork” summer camp for kids.
After an exquisite dinner at Harvest On Main, we’re looking forward to returning to Blue Ridge in May to review Cucina Rustica, Masseria Kitchen & Bar, and their other Lit’l Pond Hospitality Group restaurants. –by Bret Love; photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett