by ANNE BRALY
The road that connects the Tennessee towns of Ducktown and Copperhill, and the Georgia town of McCaysville, is one well-traveled for those wanting a mountain getaway from the hot summer sun. But in the past, food choices were few and limited to just a diner or two. Times, though, have changed, and so has this area where the two states – Tennessee and Georgia – come together. It now offers an international buffet of palate-pleasing choices.
“I think we’ve evolved into a tourist area, but it’s still so quaint and comfortable here,” says McCaysville native Nancy Swanson, manager at the local Katz Deli. “We still have a lot of small-town charm.”
There’s no “Welcome to Georgia” sign as you travel south along Highway 68 from Tennessee into the Peach State. There’s no obvious marker delineating the state line. Ask, though, and you’ll be told it runs through the middle of the parking lot at the local Hometown IGA grocery store in the center of town.
The best way to enter the cities, whether you come from north, south, east or west, though, is to come on an empty stomach and get ready for a feast of flavors. The Tennessee-Georgia is a line you’ll want to cross again and again.
Katz New York Deli
32 Toccoa Ave., McCaysville
A taste of New York comes to North Georgia at Katz, a popular eatery that exudes charm. It moved into its current location three years ago in what was a family home. Green awnings spread across the front of the red-brick deli. Wide front steps lead inside into several dining rooms as well as a room counter where orders are placed. An expansive front lawn is dotted with tables for dining al fresco, a pleasant experience shaded by big oaks.
Owners Fran and Steve Katz are originally from New York and introduced foods from their native city to their adopted hometown while adding southern notes to many of their dishes.
The specialty of the house is the Reuben, but not your average mix of corned beef and sauerkraut. The Reuben at Katz is layered with corned beef — roasted inhouse for hours till fork-tender — and pickled red cabbage served on freshly baked Jewish rye. It’s a colorful rendition of a sandwich sold in most every deli in New York.
“If you’re going to call yourself a New York deli you have to have some of the things that you would find in a deli in New York,” Swanson says. “I think we’ve brought something to this town that we didn’t have before. But we do have a big variety on our menu, like biscuits and gravy on the breakfast menu.”
Katz hours: 7:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday-Saturday; 7:30 a .m.-3 p.m. Sunday. Closed Tuesday.
Rum Cake Lady Cuban Café
10 Blue Ridge Dr., McCaysville
Elizabeth Correa began making her rum cakes and selling them in her local Blue Ridge, Ga., farmer’s market more than five years ago. She became known as the Rum Cake Lady, and her ultra-moist, rum-soaked cakes became so popular that she opened a small cafe, and, in addition to selling her rum cakes, offered a menu filled with Cuban fare from her homeland. That place became so popular, she expanded, and, 18 months ago, opened her second Rum Cake Lady in McCaysville at the corner of Toccoa Avenue and Blue Ridge Drive.
The building, a former Pure gas station, catches your eye with its tin roof and brick patio with red-and-white picnic tables and red umbrellas. There’s dining inside, as well as a large counter where orders are placed and Correa’s mouthwatering pastries and rum cakes are kept fresh.
The cafe’s small kitchen makes big tastes — five different version of Cuban sandwiches; Cuban food bowls; empanadas; plantains; and traditional pork Cuban tamales. And for dessert? An individual mini rum cake for a taste of what made Correa famous, or caramel flan, tres leches cake or lemon bars. Full-size cakes are also sold here, so pick one up if you have a gathering planned.
Hours: 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Monday, Thursday-Sunday. Closed Tuesday-Wednesday.
Kenny’s Pizza and Subs
64 Toccoa Ave., McCaysville
Have you ever seen a 30-inch pizza — a pie so big it’ll hardly fit through the door? Kenny Pfund has to order specially-made boxes to hold it.
Pfund opened his namesake restaurant, Kenny’s Pizza and Subs in 2013 in a nondescript brick building next to the local H&R Block along main street McCaysville, and it quickly became known for its pizzas, but also the quality of food that comes out of the kitchen. Everything’s made from scratch — no preshedded cheeses or precut meats, Pfund says. THe big meatballs are all hand-formed and served drizzled with marinara sauce. The house-favorite is lasagna that’s often enjoyed with a basket of homemade garlic rolls. All seafood is hand-breaded and served in a basket or on a po’ boy.
Making foods to order allows Pfund to make some outlandish combinations, such as the eggs Benedict pizza one customer ordered with ham, poached eggs and hashbrowns with hollandaise sauce.
There was once a small dining room inside — COVID put an end to that. Pfund plans to bring it back, but not yet. For now, all orders are take-out, but don’t let this stop you. There’s a nice pavillion across the street with picnic tables.
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday, Thursday-Saturday; noon-8 p.m. Sunday; closed Tuesday-Wednesday.
Habanero’s Fresh Tex-Mex
120 Ocoee Street, Copperhill
Within a one-block area of downtown Copperhill there are three restaurants serving south-of-the-border specialties — Habenaro’s Fresh Tex-Mex, Mexico Loco and El Rio Mexican Restaurant, but at Habenero’s, you’ll find an interesting combination of dishes not found on your average Mexican menus — Locos Fries topped with bacon, pico de gallo, sour cream and cheese; Mexican pizza; pulled pork tacos; and cheesecake burritos; and deep-fried ice cream. But yes, you can still order a traditional fajita, quesadilla or a big, fat burrito or chimichanga.
The restaurant is located in an older red-brick building. The dining area is large with booth seating in some areas, tables in others. Dime-store decor adds a colorful touch. But you’re not here for the decor. It’s the food that’s been bringing people in as soon as the doors open at 11 a.m. for the past seven years. Unlike many other restaurants in town, Habanero’s is open seven days a week.
Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-9:30 p.m. Sunday.
Rod’s Rockin’ Rolls
327 Main St., Ducktown
Rod’s Rockin’ Rolls is a family-owned restaurant that specializes in Asian fare, and, according to online reviews, the best spring rolls you’ll find this side of the Phillipines. The sushi bowls, such as the Copper Basin bowl with salmon, cream cheese, veggies and rice, or the crispy shrimp bowl with avocado, cucumber and rice drizzled with Asian sauce are house favorites. But so are the spaghetti and meatballs, Spaghetti Alle Vongole (baby clams in white wine sauce) and the chicken Alfredo. Wait a minute. Is this an Asian restaurant or Italian? Actually, some of both, plus a place where you can sit down and order a cold beer and some chicken wings.
Orders are placed at a large counter, and the interior dining area is large enough for ample social distancing. A large patio with tables, blooming flowers and big shade trees is off to one side of the building. On a cool summer evening in the mountains, it draws a crowd.
Rod’s is located a stone’s throw from downtown Copperhill/McCaysville in the heart of Ducktown. There’s not much to see in this little town, but it’s worth the short drive just to get a bite of the unexpected.
Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday-Tuesday.
WATCH: Anne Braly is interviewed on “The Y’all Show” about her trip to the Copper Basin towns of Ducktown, Copperhill and McCaysville.