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.
HERE’S THE BOOK ON FRIED GREEN TOMATOESby 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.