Dixie-style eats in small-town Georgia


MADISON, Ga.-- We're not exactly certain how Ye Olde Colonial Restaurant got its name; there is nothing obviously Colonial about this popular town cafe on the square in the Georgia town of Madison. It is located in a vintage bank building with a beautiful interior of wood-paneled walls and flocked red wallpaper, and its high arched windows provide a view of the street outside. Meals are casual and inexpensive, eaten in booths and at round tables in the center of the room, each of which is set with a large pitcher of presweetened iced tea so customers can help themselves.

There are no waitresses wearing Colonial uniforms. In fact, there are no waitresses. Food service at Ye Olde Colonial is by means of a small cafeteria line at the back of the room. Here is where you come to understand the old-fashioned implications of the cafe's name. The food served in this citadel of gastronomic excellence, while not strictly antique, is classic. Ye Olde Colonial Restaurant specializes in genuine Dixie cooking, just as it has done since current owner Jimmy Cunningham's parents started the business 36 years ago.

Every day at noon there is a choice of three meats available, including baked or fried chicken, fish filets and some kind of pork. Barbecue is our favorite -- great, luscious shreds of smoky-flavored pig, infused with peppery red sauce, heaped into a mound on the plate by the serving person, who then passes the plate along for corn bread sticks (crisp and steamy), and your choice from an array of vegetables and vegetable casseroles that would make any Southern cook proud. Feast upon buttery mashed yams, crisp fried okra, collard greens drenched in pungent pot likker, black-eyed peas or rutabagas. We found our holy grail as soon as we tucked into a great, quivering heap of custard-rich squash casserole.

After plowing through apple cobbler for dessert, we returned to the cafeteria line for more of the exalted squash, and to beg the recipe for it from the lady dishing it out. She willingly described how to make it, but seemed quite amused that we two Yankees were so enthusiastic about a dish that she has taken for granted all her life. In fact, she couldn't remember a time when egg-and-cheese-enriched squash casserole wasn't part of her regular cooking repertoire. She reckoned that Southern cooks have been making it like this since Colonial times.

Old-time squash casserole

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

2 pounds winter squash (Hubbard; acorn), cut into 1-inch cubes

1 clove garlic, minced

2/3 cup chopped onion

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons margarine or butter

1/4 cup evaporated milk

2 eggs

1 cup grated Cheddar cheese

1/2 cup cracker crumbs

2 tablespoons melted margarine or butter

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 2- or 3-quart casserole.

Combine the squash, garlic, onion, salt and water in a saucepan. Bring to simmer; cover and cook 20 to 30 minutes, or until squash is tender, adding small amounts of water if needed as liquid cooks away. Remove from heat, drain well and mash hot squash mixture with 2 tablespoons margarine or butter.

Beat together evaporated milk and eggs and beat into squash. Add all but 3 tablespoons of the Cheddar cheese and enough of the cracker crumbs (up to 1/4 cup) to thicken mixture so it isn't overly soupy. Combine remaining cracker crumbs with 2 tablespoons melted margarine or butter and reserved 3 tablespoons of cheese. Sprinkle on top of casserole and bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until nicely bubbly and browned.

Ye Olde Colonial Restaurant, 108 E. Washington St., Madison, Ga. 30650; (404) 342-2211.

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