The low country in the north Georgia mountains? Yup. A shoutout to Wheeler High School Class of 89, and my classmate, Kip Lowery, who has worked in the Atlanta hospitality scene for the past 30+ years. Along the way, Kip learned the "front and the back of the house"--how to offer southern hospitality to guests and how to operate a kitchen. So now with decades of experience under his belt, he's casting out his own line with Dive Southern Coastal Kitchen which recently opened near downtown Canton.
It's easy to tell that Dive is a labor of love from the moment you walk in—turquoise walls, ropes, boat oars, mermaids and other nautical references adorn the space including an antique brass diving helmet that sits guard on the edge of the bar. But closer inspection reveals a large wall of family photos and other meaningful flourishes including a massive anchor that used to decorate the front yard of a family home in Hilton Head for years before making its way to Canton. Family involvement runs throughout the operation: Kip's sister Celeste and her husband Rob were involved with the decor as well, crafting the bar, shelves, and even barrel tables that line the outdoor patio. Kip's wife, Heather, makes the desserts (you MUST try the carrot cake). There are even small tributes to Kip and Celeste's late parents hidden in the decor.
But where I really experienced familial love was in the food. Critics often lavish praise on chefs who break new ground or deconstruct classic recipes—rarely do the chefs that nail time-honored cooking get the attention they deserve. But Dive is one of those places that accomplishes precisely what it sets out to do: cook up an experience as authentic as you'd find in Tybee, Hilton Head, Folly Beach, Jekyll Island, or any beloved low-country dive that won you over the first time you tried it. Exquisite fried shrimp and fried grouper, perfectly breaded and with the sort of golden brown you only get at the beach or in the low country are just a few of the offerings that beckon for the beach. A low country boil, fried green tomato BLT on a buttermilk biscuit, buttermilk fried chicken, and shrimp-and-grits served in a cast iron skillet are all splendidly executed and transport you directly into the sea breeze. Are these cliché southern cooking staples? Sure—but when you can play the greatest hits note for note, who cares? You play the greatest hits! The only thing that wasn't on my beaten path was the seafood lasagna, which was also extraordinary.
So while the drive up 575 for most of us leads to the North Georgia Mountains, the escape to the low country at Dive might be a requisite stop before ascending to higher altitudes.