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Blue Willow owner Louis Van Dyke dies

Billie Van Dyke standing in front of the Blue Willow Inn (AJC Staff)

Billie Van Dyke standing in front of the Blue Willow Inn (AJC Staff)

Louis Van Dyke who opened Social Circle’s Blue Willow Inn on Thanksgiving Day 1991 has died. He was 63. Van Dyke and his wife, Billie, turned the early 20th Century mansion into a local landmark for its all-you-can-eat buffet of Southern fare.

The restaurant’s reputation as a northern Georgia dining destination was sealed by the late Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Lewis Grizzard, who experienced a fried-green-tomato epiphany there, and devoted a column to the pleasures of the restaurant’s buffet. It has seemingly been packed since.

Here is Grizzard’s March 13, 1992 –  column offered here as a tribute to Mr. Van Dyke.

Louis Van Dyke

Louis Van Dyke

HERE’S THE BOOK ON FRIED GREEN TOMATOES

by Lewis Grizzard

A lot of people who saw the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes” probably asked themselves, “What’s a fried green tomato?”

There wasn’t any dialogue that I recall concerning fried green tomatoes in the movie – just a sign outside the Whistle Stop Cafe that advertised they were on sale inside.

The type food the movie dealt with mostly was barbecue, and if I go any further, I’d be giving away some of the plot for those who still haven’t seen this year’s “must-see” movie.

Truthfully, I hadn’t thought about fried green tomatoes in a long time till I saw the movie.

My grandmother used to serve them when I was growing up, but after I left home, I don’t recall eating another one.

So I set out a month or so ago trying to find some place that still served fried green tomatoes so I could reacquaint myself with their taste.

I was in a restaurant in Jackson, Miss., that served fried dill pickle slices. For the record, they’re a perfect munchy with a cold longneck bottle of beer.

Fried eggplant is easily located in the South. Fried okra, of course, is served in just about every place that features the meat and three.

But fried green tomatoes? I searched and searched. Nothing.

But then I had business this week in the hamlet of Social Circle, 35 miles east of Atlanta, off I-20. When lunchtime came I asked a local, “Where’s the best place in town to eat lunch?”

“Try the Blue Willow Inn, ” I was told.

The Blue Willow Inn, on the main drag in Social Circle (do they still say “main drag”?), was inside an old plantation-style home that obviously had been renovated recently.

The deal was $6.50 for all you could eat of any and everything sitting out on a couple of large tables.

I started with the sweet potato souffle. I went to the baby lima beans from there. Then to the squash casserole, the green beans, the rice, and on to the turnip greens. My plate runneth over and I wasn’t to the meats and breads yet.

I piled three pieces of fried chicken on top of that and added a piece of hot, buttered corn bread. Next to the corn bread was something I didn’t recognize right away.

“This wouldn’t be . . .” I said to a waitress.

“Yessir, ” she replied. “They’re fried green tomatoes.”

I wound up eating 10 slices. The sweet sourness of the green tomato – quite different from the taste of red tomatoes, with the crust on the outside – was incredibly pleasing.

I talked to the proprietor, Louis Van Dyke, who said he had been in the restaurant business nearly all his life. He said he opened the Blue Willow last Thanksgiving Day.

I asked him about the fried green tomatoes.

“I was serving them a long time before the movie came out, ” he said.

He even brought me out a green tomato and told me he bought it in a farmers market in Forest Park. You slice ‘em, batter ‘em, and throw ‘em in the grease. Sounds easy in case somebody wants to try it.

I am a connoisseur of authentic Southern cooking, which is getting more and more difficult to locate. Half the time you think you’ve stumbled upon it, they serve mashed potatoes that come out of a box.

But not at the Blue Willow Inn in Social Circle.

If I gave ratings for Southern cooking, I’d have to give the Blue Willow my absolute highest mark – five bowls of turnip greens.

Every dish was authentic and delicious, including the banana pudding I had for dessert.

I shall return.

22 comments Add your comment

Texas Pete

December 1st, 2010
2:53 pm

I still need to make my 1st visit to Blue Willow. This is a shame.

DMac

December 1st, 2010
2:54 pm

Mr. Grizzard was telling the truth. The Blue Willow Inn has always been my favorite place to dine. Here’s hoping that Mr. Van Dyke and Mr. Grizzard both rest in peace, and get to enjoy lots of fried green tomatoes together.

cc03

December 1st, 2010
2:57 pm

This is a sad loss for the Social Circle community. Mr. Van Dyke will be missed by many. @ Texas Pete: The Blue Willow Inn has wonderful food and if you have not been, you need to go!

Henry D.

December 1st, 2010
3:02 pm

I am sure Mr. Van Dyke are in the buffet line at the fried green tomato station right now. I love the Blue Willow, although for some reason it was not on the restaurant list my cardiologist gave me last week. But I’m sure a little sneak in there every once in a while will be o.k.

Still miss you Lewis, and rest in peace Mr. Van Dyke

Tony

December 1st, 2010
3:03 pm

Heh, an ode to fine fried Southern cooking from a man who died early of heart problems.

I realize that statement is out of context, and that his pig valve was not the result of a dislodged bit of barbecue, but I find the send-up ironic nonetheless.

newton60

December 1st, 2010
3:04 pm

Enjoyed a delightful dining experience there in the Spring–finally! My sympathy to all the wonderful folks at the Blue Willow.

Dee

December 1st, 2010
3:26 pm

My prayers go out to Louis Van Dykes family and friends. Blue Willow is a nice place to eat at. I was there recently with my 2 girl friends for lunch. So sorry to hear this sad news. R.I.P LOUIS!

Jenn B

December 1st, 2010
3:35 pm

My prayers to their family too. I don’t mean to dismiss the man’s passing, but I have to wonder after reading that what Lewis would think of the dining scene today? He couldn’t find fried green tomatoes on menus through out the southeast but today you can’t walk into an Atlanta restaurant and avoid them. I’m sure he’d not be amused by all the sauces and goat cheese that’s usually (and oddly) served with them!

Robert Barron

December 1st, 2010
3:36 pm

You can skip dinner when you eat there for lunch.
It’s a good thing Social Circle is some distance away or I would have put on some serious weight by now.
It’s a shame Lewis and Louis died young.
Condolences to family and friends.

Terri

December 1st, 2010
3:48 pm

I loved this place!!! RIP sir!

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Andrew

December 1st, 2010
4:14 pm

Few people know that Louis and his wife had a restaurant in Covington in the mid to late 80’s where the food was the same as the Blue Willow, It was named Billie’s. They also ran the restaurant in the American Legion Hall in Monroe. He will be missed by the Social Circle community.

droy

December 1st, 2010
4:27 pm

I’ve eaten there a couple of times and was never impressed. Over priced for what you get. not nearly as good as my wife’s cooking but it is decorated beautifully especially at Christmas!!1

Jury Dell

December 1st, 2010
4:39 pm

She was such a fine Lady and I think her husband was impressive in Mary Poppins.

BuckheadBill

December 1st, 2010
5:10 pm

The Blue Willow Inn is a great place to eat if you crave all the things that your mama made you eat until you left home.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by DeeAnn Parks, Atlanta Daily. Atlanta Daily said: Blue Willow owner Louis Van Dyke dies – Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) http://bit.ly/hTV9h6 [...]

art

December 1st, 2010
6:03 pm

Thanks for this piece John… How appropriate to have one Georgia institution, Lewis Grizzard, memorializing (unknowingly so) another, The Blue Willow Inn. …”my absolute highest rating- five bowls of turnip greens”…classic.

Chuckles™

December 1st, 2010
7:59 pm

It was a lousy Wednesday – sore legs, not enough sleep, cold & wet following the monsoons of the last two days. And then I noticed this article. It is a sad day.

My families condolences go out to the family of Mr. Louis. We have dined at his place over the years and truly enjoyed the Southern love & care they put into what they serve.

But in the midst of the sadness, John, I want to thank you for reprinting Louis Grizzard’s article here.
He was the highlight of my day. He always was. Bless You.

Jenny Turknett

December 1st, 2010
8:51 pm

If anyone is interested, the Blue Willow Inn has their fried green tomato recipe on their website.

Dot Whitelaw

December 2nd, 2010
9:03 am

A travel from Tucker,Ga. to Blue Willow with Church Group, Women In Construction and many other groups was always a treat, Number one the Food, Atmosphire in a Beautiful Building & Wonderful people that worked at Blue Willow – he will be missed !

Jimmyd

December 2nd, 2010
12:47 pm

http://journeysendrestaurant.com/index.html
Journey’s End in Loganville is another good meat n three out that way that’s a bit less crowded, and less expensive, but also very good.

Trudy B.

December 3rd, 2010
2:16 pm

Sorry to hear about his passing. My husband & I went there for our anniversary about 10 years ago due to hearing so many good things about it. While I’m sure there were lots of delicious items, all I can recall is that the mashed potatoes were instant. That was very disappointing. I hope they make them from scratch now. If so, I’d love to go back.