If there was an early frontrunner for 2017’s new restaurant of the year in Kosciusko County, George’s Highlander Bar and Grill, a steakhouse/bar & grill in Etna Green, would have to be it. Open just over a month when we visited for the first time, our experience at George’s reflected that of a well-established restaurant more than a brand new steak joint.
Opened by George Faulkner, who hails from a local farming family and also owns the nearby Etna Elevator, George’s utilizes meat sourced from cattle raised on their family-owned farm. The farm, in turn, feeds the cattle with grain and feed made from the Elevator, resulting in a farm-to-fork venture in the truest sense of the catchy phrase.
Managed by Mr. Faulkner’s daughter and son-in-law, Roxanne and Dale Schwenk, the restaurant can best be described as a moderately-priced family friendly steakhouse offering comfort food in a hunting-lodge-like setting. Located in the old Etna Pub building, the restaurant is divided into two sections, the family-friendly dining room and the 21 and over bar area. If I estimated correctly, there are about 30 seats available in the family dining area. It filled up while we were there and a queue quickly formed at the back entrance. The bar offers a little more space due to the main bar’s capacity to seat about 10 patrons, leaving a couple dozen other seats at assorted tables around the room.
About six starters occupy space on the menu with another half dozen soups and salads to choose from. Among those is the Highlander Chili, a house special recipe concoction described as “rich with ground beef & sausage, peppers, onions and red beans” and “topped with shredded cheddar and green onions.”
As with any self-respecting steakhouse, burgers are on the menu. Served with a side of fries and priced around the $7 range, the sandwiches approach the $10 mark when adding cheese ($1) and bacon ($1.50). I ordered the house burger with cheese and bacon, foregoing a steak so I could spend more money on cocktails. The thick crisp bacon immersed itself in a layer of delicately melted cheese which itself coated a slightly-charred-on-the-outside-juicy-pink-on-the-inside burger. If you’re a fan of burgers, you’ll love it – I did. If you gravitate more towards “gourmet” burgers, you may wish they had used a pretzel bun instead of a standard hamburger bun. It’s an inconsequential gripe but something the decision makers at George’s should consider.
Two members of our party ordered the tenderloin and were satisfied with their purchase. The size alone was intimidating and guaranteed to make any similar county fair brethren shake in their boots.
Staying with the number 6 theme, there are about a half dozen “On the Hoof” (meat) selections. Since this is a steakhouse, we couldn’t have paid a visit without ordering steak so my brother eagerly ordered the Jim Beam Bourbon Steak, a 10 oz. Choice Angus Sirloin served in the restaurant’s own Jim Beam marinade and grilled to order. The steak eater was so impressed he declined to share any of it with us, not even bothering to shave off a sliver for me to sample. It looked tasty and according to him it was – I guess you and me both will just have to take his word.
The head chef and kitchen manager at George’s is Carlos Hall. I’ve had the great luck to experience Carlos’s creations at private events and in restaurants and I’ve never been disappointed. I asked Carlos what it was that convinced him to jump into starting a new business and he told me that “It was the chance to start from the beginning. I’ve never done that before.” He went on to remark that it’s been a lot of long hours and hard work but that he was “most excited about working with a great family that are just farmers wanting to try something different.” “We’re just trying to be a steak joint,” said Carlos, a welcome addition to an area surprisingly lacking in that option.
If you like cocktails (which I do … a lot), you’ll enjoy the price points at the bar. My whiskey sour with Maker’s Mark cost me one whole Abe Lincoln. Beer lovers will adore it as well. Three types of the all of a sudden omnipresent Yuengling are on draft and reasonably priced at $3 a pint and $3.50 for a 22 oz. serving. Typical American beers are also available along with a few craft beers and ciders.
There were a few minor issues at George’s. Placing our food order took longer than it should have and while our drink order was taken soon after we sat down and prepared within minutes, the thirst quenchers sat tantalizingly too long on the bar, long enough for me to consider just walking up there and grabbing the tray myself. Our waitress was apologetic and her slightly-frazzled manner led me to believe that she was simply “in the weeds.” Once our food order was taken, however, the plates were delivered in a timely fashion and all was right with the world. For a restaurant just open over a month, these issues are to be expected and something I don’t foresee becoming a recurring problem.
George’s Highlander Bar and Grill is an infinitely better option than the establishment that previously occupied the premises and for the tiny hamlet of Etna Green, it’s a boon. Don’t shortchange its small town location, though, as this steakhouse/bar and grill would stand out in any locale that appreciates good food and friendly service. For a local farming family practicing a pure form of farm-to-fork, that’s all they could ask for.