Vittles Restaurant, Smyrna GA

Over on South Cobb Drive, just below Windy Hill, Vittles Restaurant has made its fourth home. It’s been around for better than thirty years – our server explained that she’d been with the business for twenty-eight of them – and has made a name for itself as a place to go when you want a gigantic pile of food for not much money. Most of their staple meals – a meat, two sides, salad and bread – are only $5.99 on the menu. How on earth they’re able to maintain their quality and the portion sizes for that money is a mystery.

Neal, whom we met for lunch on Saturday, has heard a theory that the restaurant subsidizes their meal prices with sales from their gift shop, which starts in the inner foyer and explodes all over the restaurant’s walls. The nicknacks here are really a sight to see. If you need porcelain plaques with Bible verses or large photos of horses with inspirational quotes, this is where to buy them. The interior is absolutely covered with these things, and should you be unfortunate enough to sit in one of the front booths, you might well be stuck underneath a shelf full of statues of sad-eyed children and puppies.

Last month, I wrote about how The Vortex reacted to Georgia banning smoking in restaurants that served minors by banning minors from their restaurant. Vittles took a different approach. They moved to the building next door and turned it into two completely separate dining rooms, with children restricted to the equally-sized non-smoking room. Now I must say that while the staff at the Vortex keep a very sharp eye out for any teens or kids trying to get in, the staffers at Vittles genuinely do not seem to care.

We tried to get a group together here one Thursday last month, but were stymied somewhat. My kids and I arrived first and were told we couldn’t claim a table with room for seven in the non-smoking section because there was going to be a Bible study in 45 minutes’ time. (I suppose that I should clarify that we knew up front that there’s a Bible study at the restaurant on Thursdays, but I didn’t realize that it effectively takes over the restaurant.) So we took a booth until Neal and Tim arrived, and agreed that we’d try a large table in the smoking section. I completely forgot about the law, and it didn’t even occur to me that the kids legally couldn’t enter that room, but, and here’s the kicker, it didn’t occur to anybody else at the restaurant either. When we eventually concluded that the smoke was too heavy for either David or Marie to find comfortable, we paid for our drinks and left. None of the four or five servers or table staff in that section batted an eye at the kids.

Well, the following week, the kids and I stopped by on a whim to give Vittles a chance while Marie was out of town, and I have to say I was glad I did. There is an unfortunate amount of Sysco in the menu – fries and a faux A-1 steak sauce whose packaging steers so close to trademark infringement as to be comical for starters – but the food – I had the pork chops that evening – is mostly quite good and there is a heck of a lot of it.

We returned this Saturday to photograph the place, and the experience was not quite so pleasant. I really don’t appreciate having any politics broadcast at a restaurant, neither mine nor anyone else’s. I think that it runs counter to what I’m looking for in a meal, which I think is to get away from the world, enjoy good company and good conversation, or, if eating by myself, a good book. I do not want politics interfering with my lunch. There exists a small chain of barbecue restaurants in the northern suburbs which I will not revisit because, on two separate occasions when I stopped by for supper before tutoring students in the town of Cumming back in 2000, I had to listen to some loudmouth in the back screaming his lungs off about that year’s scapegoat destroying America.

The omnipresent Fox News on the TV in both non-smoking and the smoking rooms was mildly amusing a month ago, when Glenn Beck was on selling his gold scam to his audience of aging, paranoid suckers. But you know, I was really enjoying my country fried steak and gravy Saturday, and didn’t appreciate the latest big-screen Fox News distraction, and certainly didn’t appreciate the loudmouthed conversation behind me from one of that 18% of the country’s morons who’s convinced our president’s a Muslim because of Sean Hannity’s latest lie. It’s unfair to hold a restaurant accountable for the boorish conduct of its guests, and I don’t, even if they feed their paranoia by turning the TV to Fox instead of a baseball game or something.

We left and I borrowed Neal’s camera to shoot a picture of the building. There’s an American flag out front of the restaurant. This flag is: (a) horribly tattered and torn and ready to be honorably retired, (b) attached in some fashion to an equally tattered and torn old Georgia state flag, the one with the Confederate colors, and (c) upside down. I might have another order of that steak and gravy once they fly a new flag, and hoist it the right way up.