A meal at the Blue Willow Inn is an event. A big, big event. Sunday supper to the max, seven days a week.
Located in a grand old mansion in the quiet Dixie town of Social Circle, it is a serve-yourself buffet. Pay one price and eat all of everything you want.
Once you find a seat and get your lemonade or sweet tea, graze through the buffet room, where the day’s food is set out, arrayed on several tables, including one dedicated only to dessert. The beautiful vista of things to eat fills us not only with insatiable hunger, but also with a certain degree of anxiety. There is no way any one person can even taste everything, let alone eat satisfying portions of all the food that looks so good. With at least four meats and a dozen vegetables on display, not to mention biscuits and cornbread and relishes, you either aim for a tiny bite of everything or you find yourself making hard choices: pass up the macaroni and cheese in favor of skillet squash; ignore cornbread dressing so there is room on the plate for sweet corn casserole. If you crave a feast of baked and smothered pork chops, then you likely won’t sample the kitchen’s magnificent streak o’ lean — thick strips of bacony pork that vary in texture from wickedly crusty to meltaway-lush, blanketed with smooth white gravy. For those of us who travel far to eat at the Blue Willow Inn and can come only rarely, these decisions can be agonizing.
Certain foods are musts: Fried chicken is classic. Fried green tomatoes are exemplary, all the better when dolloped with red tomato chutney. Collard greens, long cooked to porky tenderness, are an only-in-the-south joy. Chicken and dumplings, which is served as a soup but is thick as stew, is supremely comforting — alabaster white, soft, smooth, and aromatic. And, of course, biscuits. Using a recipe from Sema Wilkes’ legendary boarding house in Savannah, the kitchen creates tan-crusted domes with fluffy insides and a compelling fresh-from-the-oven aroma. Their tops are faintly knobby because the dough is patted out rather than rolled.
As for dessert, there are pies, cakes, cookies, and pudding. The one we recommend (assuming you have an inkling of appetite by the end of the meal) is warm fruit cobbler.