Sitting on the patio glancing at the menu I am suddenly distracted by sand flying up onto our table. I turn to see a cute little five-year old girl with the top of her head pressing on the sand, digging frantically into the over-sized sandpit throwing sand up between her legs and onto our table.
A few feet away, I spot my own girl (Ariel) — now covered in sand from head to toe — totally engrossed by a boy twice her age. His appeal: a giant bright green exotic pet lizard that is now hanging out on her shoulder. You know the kind that looks like a baby dinosaur?
A small boy next to her is chowing down on a mouthful of sand as if he hasn’t eaten in a week.
I run my eyes over the patio to find parents relaxed and singing along to Jimmy Buffet while sipping those cheesy voodoo cocktail buckets — you know, the ones we used to drink in the 80s when letting loose in Buckhead.
Am at the beach? No. It’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon and I am at a popular Lake Lanier marina restaurant called Fish Tales Lakeside Grille (6330 Mitchell Street, Hideaway Marina Flowery Branch, Tel: 770.967.3775) where kids are actually encouraged to play.
No pressure on the wiggly kids to sit still, and no pressure on the parents to make sure they do.
If you don’t small children I recommend that you sit inside or on the patio that overlooks the water.
If you do have small children, you’ve hit jackpot. This might very well be the kid friendliest restaurant in America. Just off the big patio is a giant sandpit with buckets and shovels for building sand castles, or utensils to help bury your brother.
On the other side of this beachy sandbox (aka the litter box) is a small makeshift stage for live music.
When it comes to the food, well, it’s okay. I recommend sticking the fresh grouper fingers (fish tales) which are excellent. They come with house made tartar, but ask for a side “boom boom” sauce — a reddish brown, slightly spicy sauce that’s great dipping for everything from fish to fries.
If you do venture beyond grouper fingers fish tacos are your best bet.
My biggest gripe with the kitchen is inconsistency. One day the grouper tales and fish tacos are perfectly seasoned, ditto for a second visit. However, during a third trip everything was far too salty.
It’s no gastronomic experience of a lifetime by any stretch, but those grouper fingers are tasty. Besides, it’s hard to stay mad at a place that allows (heck, they encourage) your kids to run wild in a large sandy beach pit (in view) while you kick back with a couple of cheesy cocktails and listen to live music.
It’s like being on vacation minus the seven hour drive.
“We’ll be back,” claims Ariel, “but I’m bringing a bigger shovel next time.”