Great Grapes
Flowery Branch hot spot offers wine tastings, pairing dinners

It's Saturday night, and you could go out to dinner, mingle with friends or have a glass of wine with your significant other.

Or you could go to Grapes and Hops and do all three.

Grapes and Hops Bar and Bistro is a cultural hub in the middle of Hall County.

The restaurant offers wine tastings two to three times a month for $15 per person and shuts down once a month to put on a four-course wine dinner.

Co-owner and proprietor Michelle Schreck is a professional wine consultant who belongs to the Wine and Spirits Educational Trust, conducts classes in the fine art of wine and judges wine-tasting events.

Grapes and Hops offers more than 140 wines by the bottle and 60 wines by the glass. Or you could try a wine flight - a selection of three wines, including sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot grigio, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel, for $8.50.

Schreck wanted to start her own wine bar when she was working at the high-end package store adjacent to the restaurant. Originally, she wanted the place to be just about the vino, but Hall County regulations specified at least 40 percent of her sales must be from food.

Enter head chef Timmy Lee, a graduate of the Atlanta Culinary Institute.

"Timmy Lee has such a passion for what he's doing," Schreck said. "I give him carte blanche to do whatever he wants in the kitchen because I know it will come out fantastic."

The menu is seasonal, but the restaurant has become known for a few mainstays. Always available are the crab-and-lobster bisque, featuring blue crab meat in sherry-coconut cream broth, garnished with lobster meat; and the coco-and-coffee blackened salmon filet, served with white truffle and herb-cheddar grits and a side of panko-crusted fried green tomatoes topped with a molasses and chipotle sauce.

Lee prepares special menus for the tastings and the wine dinners.

"He always tries something different and never does the same thing twice," Schreck said. "However, if customers really like something from a tasting, we'll put it on the menu."

Lee prepared a four-course menu for the restaurant's most recent wine tasting on Aug. 14. Paired with the three white wines was a selection of cheese and crackers provided by Publix, followed by shrimp skewers with basil and mint pineapple salsa. For the three red wines, herbed goat cheese in phyllo cups topped with smoked duck were followed by classic Italian bruschetta served with toasted crostinis.

Grapes and Hops serves a Sunday brunch every weekend. A big draw is a Bloody Mary bar, where customers can make their own concoction from more than 25 different items.

"Of course, we also do mimosas," she added.

Favorite brunch foods are eggs benedict, fresh beignets served with powdered sugar and honey, and jumbo Gulf shrimp with truffle cheese grits. Also on Sunday, every bottle of wine is half price.

Customers can listen to live music on the patio every Friday and Saturday in the summer, and pianist Dennis Nunnelley plays jazz and blues inside on the weekends, as well.

Grapes and Hops customers seem to enjoy Schreck's vision.

"Everything they do is a class act," said Grapes and Hops patron Tony Didato. He and his wife Ann attend the wine tastings and dinners, and often come for brunch. "We love coming here. It's a really great atmosphere, great food and everything that comes afterward is spectacular."

SideBar: If You Go

What: Grapes and Hops Bar and Bistro

When: The restaurant serves lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. On Sunday, brunch is served from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and dinner is served from 5 to 8 p.m.

Where: 4856 Hog Mountain Road, Flowery Branch.

Info: Call 770-965-9145 or visit www.grapesandhopsbarandbistro.com.