While Southern cuisine has reached new heights across the country, it has taken on a whole new meaning in the South. Sure, pimento cheese, fried chicken, barbecue, collard greens and grits are still the backbone of true Southern cooking. But the bar has been raised in South Georgia. Get ready to savor new Southern culinary adventures on the menu in Valdosta.
Downtown Valdosta is teeming with lovely lunchrooms for ladies who lunch, cafés serving up elevated pub grub, downhome diners with a twist and upscale bistros with creative takes on the classics. However, they all have one thing in common. They all pay homage to Southern traditions and always make their guests feel like family.
For a tasty sampling, take a culinary tour with Miss Kate’s Tours. Or spread your wings (and taste buds) even further with a cooking class with Miss Kate. You can also dive deep into Georgia’s burgeoning artisan food scene by picking up locally made delicacies at South Georgia Pecan Co. and other gourmet shops around town. No matter how you slice it, you won’t leave Valdosta hungry.
To get you started, here are some gastronomic gems that serve up a taste of Valdosta.
One of Valdosta’s culinary landmarks, Covington’s has been serving up tasty lunches and take-out for nearly 3 decades. Featuring a bright dining room filled with colorful local artwork (all handpicked by the original proprietors, Sue and Stanley Cox, who still run the show, along with their daughter Amy), the menu is filled with familiar Southern comfort foods, including freshly-baked cinnamon rolls, chicken salad croissants and daily specials like pimento cheese wontons or meatloaf. Save room for a slice of their scratch-made pies or lemon pound cake.
Located next door and owned by the same folks as Covington’s (and sharing a parking lot and herb garden, which is a plus), 306 North is a slightly more upscale version of its sister, serving up Southern dishes with a twist. Start with Thompson Farms braised pork belly served with grits and a cane syrup drizzle or go all out with the Southern Sampler of housemade pork skins, local smoked pork sausage, deviled eggs and pimento cheese. Then move on to their crispy buttermilk fried pork chops or their signature shrimp & grits.
Originally opened as Jessie’s Eats and Treats some 20 years ago, Jessie’s Restaurant & Catering is now owned and operated by Mikki Hudson, who started out as a waitress while attending Valdosta State University. Now with a degree in culinary arts, Mikki has helped Jessie’s become Valdosta’s go-to place for breakfast classics and lunch favorites, like definitive and creative salads, sandwiches (the grilled pimento cheese with smoked bacon and jalapeno pepper jelly puts the South in your mouth) and quesadillas. They also feature a traditional Southern Sunday brunch, monthly craft beer tastings, bourbon tastings, pop-up chef dinners and painting parties.
Burgers are the name of the game at Bleu Pub, with half-pound patties creating the base for awesome combinations. Get a single, double or triple and choose one of their flavorful combinations like the Braveheart with peanut butter and bacon, the Dirty Bird with smoked gouda and a fried egg and bacon or the Runner-Up with pub mac & cheese, onion straws and, yep, bacon. They also serve up wings, sandwiches and pub apps, along with 50 craft beers plus pool, live music and trivia nights.The region boasts many food purveyors whose products can be found at retailers around town and on local menus. See the Grown in Valdosta feature for more details.
Around the corner, The Bleu Café focuses on a casual urban menu of elevated pub grub, including starters like slow-roasted chicken, sun-dried tomato and feta bruschetta, ciabatta sandwiches, stone-fired pizzas (the Old Chicago with mushrooms, pepperoni and Italian sausage is their most popular), specialty tacos with brisket or shrimp, award-winning nachos piled high with creative ingredients and Bleu Plates like pulled pork and tender beef brisket, all slow-roasted and smoked in house. Enjoy them all with a selection of taps, ’tinis and international wines.
The Bistro starts with top-of-the-line ingredients, such as USDA Certified Angus beef, sushi-grade tuna, New Zealand lamb and locally-sourced in-season produce and prepares them in thoughtfully crafted and executed dishes. Paired with a stylish and upscale dining room with exposed brick walls, luxurious artwork and jazz music, one of South Georgia’s largest wine selections and an inventive menu of specialty martinis and other spirits, The Bistro is the perfect destination for a romantic dinner, a special occasion or a night of tasteful dining.
Taking classic Southern cuisine and turning it on its head with local products, artisan producers and creative combinations, Steel Magnolias serves up urban Southern specialties for lunch and dinner in their dining room, at their mezzanine bar and on their spectacular rooftop. The South can be found in their starters, like BBQ pulled pork deviled eggs and fried green tomatoes with bacon tomato jam, salads such as kale with candied Georgia pecans or Southern slaw with shaved cabbage and black-eyed peas served with pork and pimento cheese wontons, and in their entrées such as shrimp & grits, sea scallops and pork belly, and fried chicken.
Not only is the downtown dining scene filled with tasty new Southern cuisine, hop in the car or get a ride-share to a few other hotspots close by.
Friends Grille + Bar in Summit Pointe north of downtown is a neighborhood gathering spot focusing on laid-back Southern cuisine. Partnering with local farmers and suppliers, they use quality, farm fresh ingredients and artisan products for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch on their spacious covered porch, in the convivial dining room or at the lively open kitchen bar. Visitors new to the South should find time for this rite of passage—Ribs & Whiskey happy hour Tuesday–Friday.
The Salty Snapper Seafood & Oyster Bar northwest of downtown is all about the seafood, much of which is served up Southern-style. From appetizers like smoked fish dip and Suwannee Spread (a unique spin on pimento cheese), oysters from the raw bar, fried platters served with grits, slaw and hushpuppies to specialties like crab cakes and shrimp & grits and fresh seafood from the nearby Gulf Coast served in their nautical dining room and sprawling bar.
While in the South, you have to try the barbecue. Head even further north to Woodstack BBQ Tavern and Smok’n Pig BBQ. These popular eateries serve authentic Southern barbecue, including pulled pork, beef brisket, ribs, sausage and chicken, along with oh-so-Southern sides like mac and cheese, greens and fried okra. Both are famous for their smoked meats. Woodstack slow-cooks with oak and the Pig slow-cooks with pecan wood. Either way, comfort is cooked in.
There’s no better way to get introduced to a city’s dining and cultural scene than through a walking food tour. Combining the flavors, history, architecture and stories of Valdosta, Miss Kate’s Tours offers a way to experience the South in a whole new light. Kate’s passion for Southern food, Valdosta’s historic downtown and the stories of its people and places come together in two different tours—Daytime Dining with stops at downtown restaurants and artisan food locations and Samples & Sips, an evening 3-hour tour that combines tastings along with adult beverage pairings. If cooking is key, sign up for Miss Kate’s Novel Food Cooking Class, where guests learn to prepare a 3-course meal inspired by a popular book. Past inspirations have included Gone with the Wind and Game of Thrones.