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LORAN SMITH: A&E Grill offers good food, atmosphere, and memories

LORAN SMITH: A great hamburger can put fried chicken in its place

In Habersham County, there are 35 listings on the National Register of Historic Places. Twenty three of them are in Clarkesville.

For many folks in this delightful county, named for Col. Joseph Habersham, native of Savannah, a soldier in the Continental Army who later became Postmaster General of the United States, there ought to be one more — the A&E grill just outside on town on state route 115. Be hard to find a better hamburger anywhere. I would be willing to bet that more people visit the A&E grill than the 23 historical places in Clarkesville put together. You can’t eat a brochure on Grace Church or the Mauldin House. Best thing to do is arrange your day so you can see the historical places and then have lunch with Allen and Ellen Browning, the proprietors. Now, you probably know how the name of the business came about.

Allen and Ellen took a condemned building and turned it into a down home restaurant featuring the ever popular hamburger. I am an aficionado of hamburgers. Never met one I didn’t like. When I travel, Wendy’s, Burger King and McDonald’s are my friends. That includes international addresses. To tell you the truth, I didn’t expect to find so many fast food places in France and heard a Frenchman say, with regret, that there is a McDonald’s within 20 minutes of every Frenchman.

There is the memory of a hamburger, which I would rank in the “great” category, at a placed call Rovnosky’s Houston. My most memorable hamburger was at a McDonald’s in Hong Kong. I had been on Mainland China for two weeks, so there is no doubt about being ready for a hamburger. Louis’ lunch in New Haven, Connecticut claims to be the place where the hamburger originated. Louis Lassen’s great grandson, Jeff, is still serving hamburgers in the same location.

At home this time of the year, what can be better than grilling a Bubba Burger for friends on your backyard grill? Only burger to rival that would be one of Allen and Ellen’s burgers at A&E, served by Lisa Hooper.

Having grown up, dining on elite fried chicken, it took the hamburger to put chicken in second place.

Sometimes an enjoyable meal has to do with atmosphere. Or friends like Jimmy and Kathy Harris and their friend Lee Hiers. I like the hamburgers at A&E, but I like the environment and the patrons. Much of it is Ellen who smiles her way through the long day by trying her best to bring about the most satisfied customers in Habersham County. Nearby counties, too.

Ellen takes your order with the most hospitable smile and demeanor you could imagine. She’ll help you with suggestions, but without arm twisting or showing a modicum of impatience. She knows you are hungry. She doesn’t want any anxiety for you or her.

While you wait, you can browse around and see Allen and Ellen’s wall of fame. A Titanic poster. An Old Gold cigarette sign. A photo of the 1936 Habersham Mills baseball team and a photo of Humphrey Bogart. I was disappointed there was not one of Lauren Bacall. There was a street sign, “Elvis Presley Blvd.” A Route 66 sign. An advertisement for a “Mustang” automobile. A signed photo of former Braves pitcher Darrell Cheney wearing a Cincinnati Reds uniform. Darrell is a satisfied customer.

There’s country music playing softly in the background and the ambience is pure rural America. Folks who dine here would get your ox out of the ditch. They share with you from their gardens. They probably know where the best moonshine in North Georgia can be found.

Having reached this point, I think it ought to be pointed out that if for some reason you don’t prefer a hamburger, Ellen is ready for you. She can fix you a chili dog, slaw dog, corn dog or a dirty dog. You sit at a table covered by a red checked table cloth and you’ll see a truck driver deep into his all-the-way burger. A lawyer in a tie and a short sleeve shirt. A man in overalls with a wife, wearing a scarf, and checking his iPhone. Chan Gailey, who a couple of springs back was coaching the Buffalo Bills might walk in. Outside you see a pickup truck parked by a Lexus.

The best hamburger in North Georgia? A&E gets my vote. I’d drive there just for lunch. In fact I did that last week.

Loran Smith is co-host of “The Tailgate Show” and sideline announcer for Georgia football. He is also a freelance writer and columnist.