A meal at The Willcox hotel is not typical Roadfood. Strictly speaking, it is not Roadfood at all. It is stylish, it costs a lot of money, and while the menu does reflect glimmers of regional flavor — collard greens gratin with that steak? cheese grits with breakfast? — it is not the place to find a representative taste of Central Savannah River Area foodways. It is, on the other hand, a golden opportunity to savor brilliant New American Cuisine in a setting that is historic, romantic, casual but polished.
At mealtime, you have a choice of sitting in the formal dining room, outdoors poolside or in front, or best of all, in the more relaxed lobby bar, where you can get a secluded table but also observe the comings and goings in this grand hotel. Each setting is a different experience, but the menu is the same. Townies tend to prefer the lobby bar not just for meals, but for drinks, small bites, and socializing. It’s a longstanding tradition on Tuesday nights that equestrians gather for an extempore party.
There is no pigeonholing the menu. Many dishes reflect global reach: Moroccan sweet potato soup, Arab-inspired shakshuka, beef carpaccio Japanese style with tempura oysters. On the other hand, some favorite items are American pop-culture icons, but with a twist: waffled mac ‘n’ cheese with bacon, dessert of PB&J made from panna cotta, Concord grape jelly, and peanut butter crunch; a posh S’more that includes chocolate bourbon mousse; an Arnold Palmer cake that mixes tea and lemon flavors in a completely different way. If you are looking for a big, juicy, beautifully grilled and effulgently dressed hamburger or a handsome New York strip steak, this is the place. At Sunday brunch, eggs Benedict are textbook-right, even better when silk-smooth smoked salmon takes the place of Canadian bacon; potato pancakes come “loaded” with smoked cheddar, scallions, sour cream, bacon, and fried eggs.
Among must-eat dishes (other than the fine hamburger) are crisp-sweet-bitter Szechuan Brussels sprouts, featherweight calamari, and big, beautiful scallops with bacon and honey-roasted parsnips. No matter what else you eat, or even if you come just for a drink in the lobby bar, it is essential to have pâté. It is a Willcox signature dish — smooth and organ-plush, some of the best anywhere.
Note: The Willcox is a thriving hotel and spa and is, without doubt, THE place in town to stay as well as to eat. Reservations for a meal are recommended; reservations for lodging are essential. Around the beginning of April when the Masters Tournament is played across the river in Augusta, rooms get booked a year in advance.