Feasts, treats and beasts: Your city guide to Locust Grove

A bengal tiger named Gabby yawns in her enclosure at Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary, Thursday, June 22, 2023, in Locust Grove, Ga. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

30 miles south of Atlanta, nestled along the drive down I-75 towards Macon, lies the quiet city of Locust Grove — at least until you hear a train whistle. Established in 1893, the railway town of Locust Grove was named for its locust trees, not the feared insects. It was centered around a train depot along a major shipping line that transported produce and cotton and the town also had other industrial buildings like cotton gins and warehouses.

But it wasn’t all industrial. The Locust Grove Institute began in 1894 as a college prep school for students and was one of the first accredited schools in Georgia. Today, that building serves as the primary government hub for the city. In recent decades, as the metro Atlanta population in Georgia has boomed, Locust Grove has grown four-fold. Its vast expanses of land are home to not only its residents, but an animal sanctuary, an outlet mall, and many great restaurants — all while preserving its charming downtown strip near the train tracks that started it all. (Be sure to stop by the train viewing platform during your visit for a taste of the old town.)

Count the animals two by two at Noah’s Ark. Reopening in March, Noah’s Ark honors its namesake by being a wildlife sanctuary for a wide range of animals you don’t typically find in Georgia. Started in 1978, and once known for their infamous BLT (that’s bear, lion, and tiger) trio, lone survivor Baloo the bear lives on alongside exotic cats, zebras, monkeys of all kinds, and even alligators. See the full list of furry friends and learn more at their website.

Shop ‘til you drop at Tanger Outlets. Home to one of the largest outlet malls south of Atlanta, Tanger Outlets has a little of everything for shoppers. Whether you want premium accessories from Coach and Kate Spade, classy clothes from Banana Republic and Ralph Lauren, or affordable family gear from Carters and Old Navy, there’s something for everyone. And if your feet get tired walking around, there are multiple shoe retailers to get a new pair from!

Where are the best places to eat and drink in Locust Grove?

The French Market and Tavern

Nestled in Locust Grove’s historic downtown strip right in front of the main freight line, this historic building has become a New Orleans-inspired diner. From classic bayou bites like gumbo and Creole shrimp and grits to more Southern fare like fried green tomatoes, The French Market and Tavern has regional food covered. If you want a lighter lunch before exploring the town, they also have a selection of sandwiches and burgers available. A one-stop shop, the market also has a full bar and a shop complete with local goods.

Location: 3840 Highway 42; Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; Website: facebook.com/frenchmarkettavern

Gezzo’s West Coast Burritos

From the Hsu siblings who brought you Asian barbeque in Atlanta comes this burrito joint honoring their coastal roots. Choose from one of their specialty wraps like a teriyaki chicken burrito or a “surf n’ turf” burrito stuffed with shrimp, beef, and an island ranch. Or make your own entrees (inside or outside of a tortilla) by choosing one of their many proteins and adding toppings like onions, pineapple, pickled jalapeños, or — if you want to make it really California style — guacamole. Kids eat free on Tuesdays with the purchase of a regular entrée.

Location: 4918 Bill Gardener Parkway; Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Website: gezzos.com

Spudz

There are no duds, only spuds at this starchy restaurant. Spudz proudly claims to bring potatoes to life with their creative baked potato dishes, and with flavors like these, we agree. The Macho Nacho is loaded like a taco with ground beef, jalapenos, roasted corn, and sour cream on a baked potato. The Yes I Yam tops a baked sweet potato with roasted chicken, onions, garlic, and an asiago cheese blend. And the “Oh Boil!” smothers roasted potatoes with andouille sausage, Cajun shrimp, and garlic butter for a Creole kick. There’s more flavors where that came from so stop on by.

Location: 511 Stanley K. Tanger Boulevard; Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.; Website: eatspudz.com

Crumbles by Nicole

Close out the day with dessert from Crumbles by Nicole. Home to decadent cupcakes and crumbly cookies, this sweet shop has the perfect treats to snack on as you watch trains pass by. Its award-winning baker Nicole Silva brings her reality cooking show skills to your taste buds with custom cakes, birthday treats, and more.

Location: 3988 Highway 42; Hours: Wednesday through Friday, noon to 6 p.m.; Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Website: crumblesbynicole.com

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