Blue Willow Inn, Social Circle GA

To help navigate around this blog, but also keep it simple, I decided that each restaurant entry should have just two tags, related to the type of food and the town that we’ve visited to eat it. Assuming this blog maintains my interest for a good while, eventually readers can get ideas and suggestions about where to eat by clicking a tag. I think that of all of them, the tag for Social Circle might end up being the least frequently troubled. Marie and I drove out here with our daughter Saturday and, other than nine hundred police cruisers maintaining order, we did not see anything whatsoever of interest other than the Blue Willow Inn.

Social Circle is about 45 minutes east of Atlanta out I-20. Louis and Billie van Dyke opened their restaurant in a gorgeous old home a couple of blocks north of Social Circle’s tiny downtown in November 1991. Among the framed articles on the walls of the main hallway, there’s a feature article from the inspirational magazine Guideposts that tells how their first few months were really tough, but a raving review by the late, great Lewis Grizzard turned things around almost overnight, and the restaurant has routinely served 200,000 visitors a year. They recommend that you make reservations, otherwise you might end up sitting in a rocking chair on their front porch for a while.

Blue Willow Inn serves up a really nice Southern-style buffet. The price is quite reasonable – just under $20 a head – and includes everything from ham and chicken livers to what might very well be the best fried green tomatoes that I’ve ever had. And I’m awfully particular to fried green tomatoes. The salad was pretty disappointing – uninspired iceberg lettuce in a concoction not unlike what you’d find at a Huddle House – but the rest of the vegetables more than made up for it.

Even though the restaurant is bustling with people, its layout is so nice that each room is comparatively quiet, allowing you to relax and take your time. Everybody there seemed to really be enjoying themselves, knowing that they were doing something particularly nice for lunch. We arrived a little bit before a birthday party started in one of the upstairs rooms. My daughter, who was making her way back from the buffet with seconds, put on a show of faux indignation and asked, of two people going upstairs with gift bags, why she had not been invited. The older ladies replied “Well, of course you’re invited, dear, come on up.” So my daughter put her plate on our table and ran skedaddling up to join them. Apparently she gave the birthday gal a big hug and wished her well before rejoining us, beaming. This is why, when my daughter feigns shyness to get out of something, we know she’s lying.

Desserts consist of a million billion calories in a series of decadent cakes, pies, brownies and forty pounds more banana pudding than I should have eaten. When we left, we made it as far as the porch before I had to commandeer a rocking chair for several minutes. Then we got as far as the koi pond and gift shop before having to stop again.

The parking lot is behind the restaurant, and behind it, there is a small, classy-designed strip mall. Actually, I was exaggerating earlier when I said there was nothing of interest other than the Blue Willow Inn around the area; there is also a small nostalgia-minded soda fountain in that strip mall which might have been worth a look had I not already consumed forty pounds of banana pudding and a slice of chocolate cake buried under whipped cream. How the dickens that place is meant to stay in business with the giant dessert buffet of the inn on the other side of a parking lot is anybody’s guess. Next door to the soda fountain, there’s one of those museums about Adam and Eve and the Jesus horses, for those of you who enjoy throwing up in public.

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