Here’s a place that took me the better part of eternity to get around to visiting. I first spotted Ye Olde Colonial – and yeah, let’s go ahead and acknowledge just how silly that awful name is – about fifteen years ago, when I was living in Athens and occasionally visiting Madison every couple of months. There are some amazing antique stores in and around the town square, and I remember coveting some really neat walking sticks with silver wolf’s heads and things atop them. I’m still not completely convinced that I should not, when I hit age fifty, always go out in a very nice, old-fashioned suit and a walking cane with a silver wolf’s head. But, if we’re strictly honest, the coolest thing I found back then was my Dr. Shrinker jigsaw puzzle.
I never got around to eating at Ye Olde Colonial back then, and nor did I visit during the many (oh, so many) trips that I made to Madison in 2004 during that mistake-prone period of dating some girl there, to which I’ve often alluded. No, while there are a couple of really decent restaurants in Madison (and one, The Flat Penny, which has sadly closed), I never ate at Ye Olde Colonial until I came out here with Marie one Saturday in 2007. We had only been dating for a few months at the time – she was still living in Athens and I was here in our “Hipster Pad” in Marietta – and we drove down to Morgan County to get breakfast and do some shopping. I recall that was a productive trip for her. Marie likes those Dutch tiles you sometimes find, and she found one in a shop here, which, our friend Devlin tells us, has since moved to nearby Watkinsville. All things being equal, that’s probably a bit more of a treasure than a Dr. Shrinker jigsaw puzzle in some quarters.
I’ve set up a few goals for the restaurants that I hope to cover in this blog, and one of them is to hit all of the places in Georgia that are reviewed on one of the best foodie sites out there, Roadfood.com. I was pleased to see that Ye Olde Colonial – the spelling of “old” is interchangeable, one way on the sign pictured and “olde” everywhere else, including on a smaller sign at the door – is on their list, since it would give us a good reason to swing back by Madison and have another good breakfast there.
The building that houses Ye Olde Colonial was previously a bank, and by “previously” I mean “in the 1840s.” Madison is a beautiful old town, almost entirely spared from the devastation of the Civil War and Sherman’s march to the sea. No, the fire that hit this property came about ninety years later, when the interior was damaged by a small blaze. By that time, the bank had long closed and the building was a restaurant simply called The Grill. When the restaurant reopened, it was under its current name. The owner told me about this on Saturday, explaining that it was his late father who gave it the silly name.
The interior is still quite gorgeous, suggesting that whatever the size of that fire in the 1950s, it was not too destructive. The dining room is the former bank lobby, with a nice tiled pattern on the floor and flecked red wallpaper, along with a lovely ceiling molding. The bank’s vault is still intact for guests to look in. Here, you might can see some of the old fire damage, because the interior walls of the vault are lined with a pattern made from scorched and ruined currency. I noted that Roadfood’s Michael Stern described the room’s tone as being “hushed” when he visited in 2002, and that is still true today. Ye Olde Colonial was not very busy when we arrived shortly before 9 on a Saturday, but there was a large party of older gentlemen, who looked for all the world like they have eaten here every weekend for decades, and a few other tables, but the room was overall very quiet. Nobody wanted to talk very loudly and risk disturbing the past.
Breakfasts here are very good, especially the grits, which might be the best I’ve ever had. Marie, damn yankee that she is, still hasn’t developed a taste for grits, but my daughter is finally opening up to the idea, and scarfed about a quarter of my order. The country ham is really excellent, if perhaps not quite as good as Atlanta’s Silver Skillet, and the ladies were each quite pleased with their pancakes. One small note of dissatisfaction came with the syrup, which comes in small prepackaged cups from Smucker’s. I just can’t help but feel that a proper glass bottle on the table would just look better.
Actually, it’s surprising that Ye Olde Colonial doesn’t have old-fashioned syrup bottles on the tables to go along with all the other antiques in their place, including shelves full of apothecary bottles in the front room. The other really neat call from the past that can be seen here is just to your left as you enter. A set of stairs leading to a basement is blocked off by a gate, but it’s otherwise impassable anyway by stacks and stacks of really old newspapers, like copies of The Atlanta Journal, the old evening edition, from the 1930s and 1940s. Perhaps the antiques aren’t really from the colonial period, but when you add in the old wardrobes and the military treasures mounted on the wall in the dining room, you really do have a place that pays more than lip service to the past, and invites you to enjoy a superb breakfast in the company of history.