Review: Doug’s Place serves down-home, country-style cooking in Emerson

When you live in Atlanta and get assigned to review a country-cooking spot up Lake Allatoona way, and invite a friend and her 15-year-old son to come along, you don’t expect them to text back: “We love that place!”

As it turns out, Doug’s Place Restaurant, a Southern meat-and-three diner just off I-75 in Emerson, is a favorite spot of my friends, Jodi and Sam, who reside in Jasper but spend a fair amount of time on the highway, taking care of business in Atlanta or shuttling to ballgames.

On the recent Friday afternoon I met them at Doug’s, they were in fact headed to Sam’s baseball game. So what better way for the East Cobb Braves catcher/second baseman to build up his stamina than with some hearty, rib-sticking Doug grub?

Fried okra. Sliced tomatoes. Chunks of fresh cantaloupe. And country-fried steak with creamy milk gravy for the win!

Doug’s is a rather ramshackle-looking, family-style joint where you are likely to find oversize pickups and Harleys in the parking lot. On one visit, I sat next to a gray-haired lunch bunch (I’m guessing it was a church group), where the talk ranged from “How do you cook your turnips?” to “What do you think about the new ‘low-water’ toilets?”

Moving along …

Let’s just say Doug’s may not look like much. (Think: classic greasy spoon with red-vinyl booths, old family photos, lots of tchotchkes.) But any lack of creature comforts won’t amount to a hill of beans when you see the prices ($7.44 for a meat and three) and taste the victuals (not stellar, but solid).

Owner Melissa Ferguson, 66, told me in a phone interview that the building dates from around 1900. It was built as a general store to serve the surrounding community of mineral miners. Her late husband, Doug, bought it in 1994 and ran it until his death in 2007.

A picturesque red barnlike structure with a Coca-Cola sign on the exterior, Doug’s appears to have been cobbled and recobbled like an old shoe, so there are lots of nooks and crannies, hidden alcoves and a front porch where vegetables from a nearby farm are sold.

Should you happen to find yourself headed to the lakes and mountains of North Georgia, stuck in interstate traffic or just plain hungry, this Bartow County dive, about 45 minutes north of downtown Atlanta, is worth a stop. (If you were a fan of the pinto-bean-and-cornbread fare of the late, great Bobby and June’s Kountry Kitchen on 14th Street, you’ll be smitten.)

And if you are a regular, you won’t get bored. I stopped by two days running, once for lunch and once for supper, and was happily surprised to see the menu had changed considerably between visits. (There’s even a designated phone line for calling ahead to see what’s cookin’. See the info box.)

Biscuits are made fresh every day, and chicken comes many ways: with dumplings; baked and paired with cornbread dressing; fried.

As a Southern boy, I’m fairly particular about my fried bird, and I’m happy to report that my breast and drumstick passed muster: crispy, not overbreaded, perhaps in need of a little salt when I dug down to the white meat. Paired with macaroni and cheese (the loose, saucy kind) and a dish of nicely seasoned turnips, it was the stuff of childhood memories.

The dumplings were comforting, in a wet, stirred-to-smithereens kind of way. I liked the chicken and dressing, too, though the shredded meat could have used a little more juice.

Some other “meats” you might find at Doug’s are fried chicken livers, meatloaf, salmon patties, smother-fried pork chops, etc. There are chicken tenders, all-you-can-eat catfish on Friday nights, burgers, patty melts, hot dogs and barbecue sammies.

Now let’s discuss the veggies.

Some — greens, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash and rutabagas — are fresh.

I like the way the kitchen chops yellow squash into cubes, coats it with cornmeal and fries it like okra. Clever. The green beans are canned, and they taste like it.

Ferguson tells me the creamed corn, which the restaurant is famous for, is frozen fresh and bought from a supplier. It ain’t Kevin Gillespie’s fatback-fried Silver Queen corn, that’s for sure. It had the sweet-soupy texture of some grocery-store corn, but I liked it anyway.

And Sam, well … Sam liked pretty much everything. He polished off the country-fried steak before I could nab a bite. He smiled when I announced it was National Macaroni and Cheese Day. “It’s gotten so it’s National Something Day everyday,” he mused.

National Meat-and-Three Day? If so, I know where to go.

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