Tomorrow's winner?
Yesterday's Cafe finalist in 'Good Morning America' contest

RUTLEDGE - Yesterday's Cafe in downtown Rutledge is about to be in the national spotlight.

The cafe is one of four finalists in "Good Morning America Weekend's" Best Bites Challenge.

The contest invites viewers to submit nominations for their favorite local restaurant, "the one place that captures the flavor and uniqueness of your town," according to GMA's Web site.

Pam Jones, owner of Barn Raising Antiques, located next door to Yesterday's Cafe, knew right away the restaurant - a local favorite for its Southern cooking and hospitality - fit the bill, so she submitted an essay nomination, naming the cafe's buttermilk pie as her favorite dish.

Yesterday's Cafe was chosen as a finalist, and a "Good Morning America" crew was filming at the jam-packed restaurant during lunch hour on Monday.

Good Morning America Weekend anchor Marysol Castro, who helped pare down hundreds of entries into four finalists, said she was impressed with the cafe's "down-home" feel.

The competition emphasizes atmosphere just as much as good food, she said.

"The food has to be good, but it's the whole package - the ambiance," Castro said. "It doesn't necessarily have to be the most expensive gourmet restaurant that serves crudites. It has to have character."

During Monday's busy lunch hour, Castro said she was impressed that owner Kris Bray seemed to know every customer.

"It's nice to come and visit and let the rest of America know these places do exist," she said.

Angie Moore-Sims, who had lunch at the restaurant with her family Monday, said lots of local folks make eating there a regular habit.

"We are regulars. Our family eats here every Saturday morning for breakfast," Moore-Sims said. "We just came over here for lunch today ... we didn't know what was going on."

The other finalists are restaurants in Chicago, North Carolina and Mississippi, according to GMA producer Eric Noll.

A three-minute segment featuring all the finalists will air Saturday on "Good Morning America Weekend." Then, viewers will have the chance to vote for their favorite at www.gma.abcnews.com. Those votes, along with input from the show's four anchors, will determine the winner.

The winning chef will appear live via satellite on the show's Sunday broadcast.

"It's exciting. It's really exciting," said Yesterday's Cafe owner Bray.

The cafe just celebrated 16 years in business, Bray said, and she's happy to get the good publicity.

But if Yesterday's Cafe is selected as the winner, it will be Jones, the nominator, who walks away with the grand prize: a two-night trip for two to New York and $450 gift certificate for dinner at one of the city's finest restaurants.

Yesterday's Cafe opened Labor Day 1991. Bray describes the menu as "Southern classic," with a rotating selection of meats and vegetables, along with standard offerings like hamburgers, sandwiches and salads.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.