Bold takes on Dixie delicacies
Rice House in Adairsville is just more than 60 miles from Atlanta, but it feels a world away. Long, narrow roads pass baseball fields on one side and cow pastures on the other. Adairsville is the sort of town you’d envision an outdoorsy type settling in if he wanted to live simply off the fat of the land with his family. That’s precisely what Englishman Godfrey Barnsley did in the 1820s with the construction of the original manor at this location. Reconfigured as Barnsley Gardens Resort (now Barnsley Resort) in the 1990s, the 3,300-acre property is almost like its own village, with elegant rooms and cottages, a spa, a Jim Fazio-designed 18-hole golf course and three dining venues — Rice House being its signature establishment — that thrive off of ingredients from the land. Rice House’s feel is quaint yet sophisticated. Its menu is smart but unabashedly Southern. It’s the sort of tucked-away place you’d want to have dinner in if you were in the mood for pork chops and polished service without the pretense.
If you’re driving up to Barnsley Resort solely for dinner, keep your eyes peeled because the building is somewhat hidden. After a bit of winding — you’ll pass golf carts and spot the occasional swan — you’ll get to the restaurant’s parking lot. Merely follow the signs from there to the building. However, if you’re an overnight guest, walk along the delightful north lawn; the walkway essentially ends at Rice House.
The restaurant’s name serves as a wink to an actual rice plantation in nearby Rome, Georgia, where the house stood around the time of the Civil War. (The structure has the external bullet holes to prove it.) Inside the two-story building, you’ll feel an air of downhome refinement in the layout (a staircase meets you at the entrance), color scheme (cream, burgundy) and décor (plant drawings, twigs serving as molding). When making your reservation, ask for a table on the sun porch — the view out to the pasture takes the mind to a carefree place. Of course, once the light sounds of Frank Sinatra bounce off the exposed wood beams, you’ll realize how far back the 1820s truly are.
Call it a slice of culinary irony, but Barnsley Resort executive chef Adam Hayes’ inclusion on a fall 2014 reality cooking show called Cutthroat Kitchen is a puzzler. This nice fellow cares enough about your dining experience that he meticulously plans out Rice House’s refined Southern menu based on what’s fresh from the onsite garden and what area butchers deem quality. On top of that, after you’ve placed your order, someone from the attentive waitstaff graciously brings out an amuse-bouche — during our visit, we tried the cherry tomato, caviar and crouton bite — as a preview of the deliciousness to come.
You’ll feel even more welcomed once you see all the choices afforded you from the kitchen. With starters that range from an elaborate grilled watermelon salad to a peach-tea-brined Carolina quail more succulent than the fowl you’ll have at Thanksgiving, to brilliantly prepared mains such as Florida striped bass and chicken ballotine, Rice House’s menu is abundant without being overbearing. If you’re vegetarian, the chef will round up asparagus, fingerling potatoes confit and other garden-fresh goodies for your own arrangement. Hayes is so homed in on your meal that, even if spinach or some other side isn’t on the menu, he’ll make it happen for your dinner. There’s nothing cutthroat about that.
Technically, the young man you see parading about the restaurant, recommending dinner wines to go along with the prosciutto-wrapped duck, is a sommelier. But Greg Teague prefers to be called a “wine snob.” Have Teague at your table longer than 30 seconds and you’ll realize that he’s not snobby at all. He seamlessly mixes stories about the resort’s vivid history with takes on the night’s labels so well that it creates a fun, pressure-free atmosphere. (Teague periodically hosts wine dinners and spirit tastings at the resort, too.) And with an imposing vino roster that includes everything from Napa’s Silver Oak to Loire Valley’s Champalou Vouvray, that’s exactly what you’ll need.