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food finds: Barbara Jean’s

Planning a fall beach trip to St. Simons Island, Georgia? Pack an appetite for flavors from the sea.

If you want to forget froufrou, try this spot that welcomes flip-flops and families. It looks like the rich relative of a Denny’s with subdued tones, personal service, and fantastic old St. Simons photos on the walls. In an ode to the crustacean, I savored both the she-crab soup and the crab cakes, a local legend. (Forgive me, Alix, but these were the best.) The soup was thick and creamy with a little heat, but crab remained the star, as it should be. When I fork into a crab cake, I dream of seeing big lumps, not strings of crabmeat suspended in gummy breadcrumbs. Here, I was granted those visible lumps and a soft, creamy binding. Dessert, like all else, was unpretentious–a gooey chocolate brownie with real whipped cream, artfully named “Chocolate Stuff.” ‘Nuff said. 214 Mallory Street, St. Simons Island, (912) 634-6500. Entrees: $7-$17.

By Dana Adkins Campbell


The Best All Around

Barbara Jean’s, St. Simons. Jamming in the locals at brunch, Barbara Jean’s fills the bill just about any time of day, with Southern-tinged specialties like greens and cornbread, served with the house specialty: simple, fresh lump crabcakes–so popular you can order them for delivery across the country.


Casual, Coastal Barbara Jean’s


When a charming ice cream shop went up for sale on favored summer getaway St. Simons Island, Barbara Barta couldn’t believe her luck. It was the property she had seen while on vacation, pointed toward, and told her husband, “That one.” The shop was her choice location for a restaurant, a little place she’d call Barbara Jean’s

“We started coming down here to St. Simons Island on vacation, and I just fell in love with it,” says Barbara Barta, a trained dietician who owned and operated a Virginia eatery called Black-Eyed Pea for ten years before opening up her namesake restaurant in coastal Georgia. “As soon as we got to the island the first time, my husband said, ‘This is where we’re going to retire.’ It took me longer. It took me fifteen minutes before I agreed.”

Barbara and her husband, Jim, “retired” to the island in 1998 and promptly started serving down-home comfort foods alongside seafood specialties at their restaurant, which quickly became a local favorite. So successful was Barbara Jean’s that the couple, along with their business-partner son-in-law, opened four additional stores throughout the Southeast.

“We don’t have anything on the menu that doesn’t sell,” says Barbara. “Everybody raves about all the items.” And rightly so. Virtually everything is made from scratch, including the delicious sweet rolls, jalapeño cornbread, and pumpkin bread served as soon as customers settle into their seats.

But as tempting as the bread basket is, it’s not what Barbara Jean’s is famous for. instead, crab cakes steal the show and have become so popular that the business opened a packing facility to accommodate the requests they receive. They now ship the savory cakes all over the country.

Barbara reveals that the restaurant’s mainstays weren’t original offerings. “All three of our signature items were not on our menu when we first opened,” she says. Barbara whipped up the recipe for She-Crab Soup after a patron said he couldn’t eat at her restaurant five days a week because once a week he had to go somewhere else to get his favorite-soup fix. “I thought, ‘Why can’t I make it?’” recalls Barbara. So she did.

The Chocolate Stuff, a rich, gooey, secret-recipe brownie topped with whipped cream-homemade, of course-was born after a customer said she wouldn’t come back until Barbara Jean’s had a chocolate dessert. the famous crab cakes were originally offered as a special but were quickly added to the regular menu after a friend who’d tasted a sample at Barbara’s home couldn’t stop raving about them. Other menu items include not-so-fancy favorites such as meat loaf, squash casserole, chicken salad, pork chops, and pot roast.

“We’re not a dining experience; we’re a food experience,” says Barbara, who points out that their prices reveal customers won’t be eating from fine china. But the laid back atmosphere only adds to the appeal of Barbara Jean’s, a place perfect for summertime-make that anytime-casual dining.


What’s for Thanksgiving?


There are many stories about what could have been the first Thanksgiving and where it happened and what foods were used in those celebrations. To give us direction, the United States Congress in 1941 established Thanksgiving to occur annually on the fourth Thursday of November.

Usually, we think of the celebration that the Pilgrims and Indians had as the first Thanksgiving and we think of turkey as part of the food. Historians indicate that turkey, as we know it, was not a part of that celebration. However, traditionally we seem to think of turkey as the leading meat for the annual feast of thanks.

If you are looking for a change, Barbara Barta of Barbara Jean’s Restaurants has some suggestions and they are all great! How about crab cakes or pork loin and some She Crab soup? Well, your next thought should be, where do I get these items or how do I make them? The answer is easy.

So that you can enjoy the day, Barbara, her husband, Jim, and their Southern-trained staff will help you. Their restaurant will be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. to serve you, or you can call in for a “pick up,” or some items can be ordered online at and be prepared at home. Barbara is so dedicated to her customers that she has turned her family Thanksgiving over to her daughter, Lisa. To go along with her big meal, Lisa makes cranberry-orange sauce and bakes cranberry nut bread.

The Thanksgiving menu at Barbara Jean’s will offer roasted turkey breast and pork loin roast with a special apple-rosemary sauce to go with the cornbread dressing and fresh vegetables. Dessert will be peach cobbler- Yum Yum!! Now if you are still looking for something different and passed on the crab cakes and She Crab soup, how about the coconut fried shrimp and some chocolate stuff? As always, there will be freshly baked pumpkin bread, homemade wheat rolls, and sweet jalapeño corn bread.

Since Barbara, Jim and their family opened their restaurant on St. Simons Island, Georgia, in 1998, they have made a great name for themselves as they feed the hungry locals and visitors. If anyone is looking for a great place to eat in the Village, they are told to look for the crowd on the corner waiting to get inside. The family now has six restaurants, three of which are in our area and have a booming online business that ships overnight. Barbara emphasizes that her signature crab cakes are fresh and never frozen.

As a thank you to many hardworking people who have to toil on Thanksgiving Day, Barbara Jean’s gives a card to employees at St. Simons’ hotels where there is no restaurant for a complimentary Thanksgiving dinner. Most of them pick up the dinner, so even if they can’t be with their families, they still have a great meal on that special day of thanks.

Because everyone can’t make it to one of their restaurants, and Barbara and Jim can’t place everything on the menu, she was encouraged to write a cookbook. She did and can you guess the title-Barbara Jean’s Cookbook! She declares that she has gotten to where she is with “lots of hard work and creativity. And by the way, I’m not a chef. I’m a cook. A really good cook.” The hardback book is almost 200 pages of “mouth-watering” recipes, wonderful color pictures and neat stories. It too is available online.

If you are fortunate enough to eat some of Barbara’s food, you will agree that she is a “really good cook”! Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!


Our Favorite Regional Restaurants: Georgia
Check out Southern Living’s picks for our top regional restaurants.

Barbara Jean’s (Traditional Southern): 214 Mallory Street, St. Simons Island; (912) 634-6500 or This small family restaurant with comfy booths stays crowded. Homemade soups, pot roast, and veggies are standouts, and the crab cakes melt in your mouth. For lunch, try the meat and two and a berry cobbler. Lunch, dinner.


Island Time Georgia Style


Regardless of how you spend your day, you’re sure to get hungry at some point, and if you’re surrounded by salt water, eating seafood is a must, unless you’re apt to break out in an allergic fit. Those of you not prone to rashes and swelling airways at the sight of seafood should head straight for Barbara Jean’s.

It’s a popular spot and there’s usually a waiting line, but don’t let that deter you. Once you’re seated and place your order for the tastiest crab ever, you’ll be treated to a generous basket of Barbara Jean’s fresh baked bread–pumpkin bread, sweet jalapeño cornbread and homemade wheat rolls. The breads are so popular that beginning this October the restaurant will offer the bread batters for sale in its online store. But don’t fill up on this delicious treat, save room for the feature attraction.

Those who consider themselves something of a seasoned she-crab soup and crab cake aficionado will see the light with just one bite. You will never taste crab like you taste crab at this local favorite.

“The secret ingredient is crab meat,” teases Barbara Jean Barta, who has owned the island eatery with hubby, Jim, for the past eight years. “If you don’t use it, they don’t taste the same.”

Her tongue-in-cheek attitude about the masterpieces she creates is well deserved. These filler-free crab cakes are so nearly pure crab meat that you’ll want to eat it painstakingly slow and savor every morsel. So popular are they that the Bartas will ship them to you on dry ice lest you faint dead away before you get back to St. Simons to eat them again. These, too, are available through the Internet, and come with a DVD of Barbara Jean demonstrating her crab cake cooking techniques.


America’s Favorite Seafood Dives

Barbara Jean’s, St. Simons Island

What’s now a small, family run chain began here. The crab cakes get star billing, along with the bread, but save room for the Chocolate Stuff dessert, topped with homemade whipped cream..


St Simons Island in 48 Hours

St. Simons Island is a favorite destination for lovers of great food, world-class accommodations and outdoor fun. Because this island has so much to offer, we have created a 48-hour to-do guide to help you make the most of your time while searching out local culinary and cultural favorites. Don’t forget to take time to sit, walk and play on the beach too!

Friday 12 p.m.: Barbara Jean’s, Mallery Street, St. Simons Island. A local favorite for lunch and Dinner, the crabcakes and she-crab soup are out of this world.