Georgia’s Restaurant: Southern Comfort Comes to LBX

Georgia’s fried green tomatoes. Photo by Erin DeWitt

A meal at Georgia’s Restaurant was always worth traveling three freeways and battling the always-congested parking lot of the Packing District. But now, as if our chicken-fried prayers have been answered, owner Nika Shoemaker-Machado brings her acclaimed collection of family recipes (with the help of mom and co-owner Gretchen Shoemaker) to a second location.

Adding some Southern comfort soul food to the eclectic mix of cuisines already offered at the Long Beach Exchange, Georgia’s officially opened on July 18, following a successful soft opening. The menu is the same as at the Anaheim outpost: fried chicken, barbecue, po’ boys, fried catfish, jambalaya, Southern fixings, peach cobbler, sweet potato pie and more. Perfectly soft, sweet cornbread muffins come two to a basket with a smear of creamy honey butter on the side. Chicken and waffles are served all day.

The original restaurant opened at the Packing District five years ago and remains unfailingly popular, with lines of patrons regularly piled up to order at the counter, then spilling into the communal seating areas. The Long Beach location, however, is far more comfortable than its flagship. At this standalone restaurant, customers still order at a counter, but then they settle in at any number of tables inside the dining room or on the open-air patio. Upgraded and improved, yes, but the décor is unmistakably Georgia’s, with that same hue of seafoam green setting off wooden countertops and black menu boards. Pots and pans hang behind the register, and a framed photo of Nika’s father and Gretchen’s husband, George, for whom the restaurant was named, is proudly displayed.

The Plate-Up: A Choose Your Own Adventure of flavor. Photo by Erin DeWitt

Order a Plate-Up, you’ll get to choose a protein such as St. Louis barbecued ribs, smothered pork chops, Creole flat-iron steak, or the juiciest fried chicken I’ve come across outside of a home kitchen. Brined for 12 hours, the dark-meat-only bird is battered in an extra-thin coating of seasoned cornmeal. Ask for a side of clover honey (of which they’ll give you a tiny tin) or grab a bottle of Frank’s Red Hot from the table to splash on even more flavor.

Each Plate-Up is accompanied by two Soulful Sides. The collard greens were just-barely bitter and perfectly tender, while the mac and cheese was a true Southern vision, more a baked casserole than cheese sauce spooned over noodles and a perfect vehicle to utilize more of the Frank’s.

Gretchen’s jambalaya. Photo by Erin DeWitt

Cooked to order, the jambalaya is ladled into a large bowl, then topped with either rice or pasta. The deep, rich, brick-red stew coats chicken, andouille sausage and shrimp (no vegetable pieces evident), with a touch of heat.

Georgia’s fried green tomatoes, a telling standard of any restaurant’s Southern-frying capabilities, are served four fat slices per order, with a light batter that slides off as you bite into it. Served with a tangy aioli sauce, the bright tomato was actually better without any dressing other than a squeeze of lemon.

As many patrons have noted of the Anaheim location, Shoemaker-Machado flits around the dining room, greeting guests with a mega-watt smile. She’ll duck into the service area, handing out plates and managing orders while making sure to thank each guest for visiting. The plates come out quickly and steaming-hot, even as more people pour in. It’s hard for a restaurant to find that balance between commercially run business and down-home-cooking feel, but Georgia’s seems to have it mastered.

Georgia’s Restaurant, 4101 McGowan St., Long Beach, (562) 420-5637; www.georgias-restaurant.com.

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