I did a happy dance. I’d first heard about The Dutch House in Wrens, Ga., back in my Augusta Magazine days, when one of our staff raved about its transcendent baked goods. But it had been a while since we’d eaten there.
The morning started off bright and early, with a stop at Buona Caffe for some iced coffee to fortify us for the roughly 35-minute drive. The coffee shop (located on Central Avenue across from Crum’s) offers Summerville’s only stop for a variety of hot and iced coffees, with beans roasted on site.
We had a busy morning wandering among the lush flowers, bushes and trees for sale at McCorkle’s, all spread out in a large field. (If you’ve never been, here’s how it works: Sign in, and take an order sheet. Find the plants you want, and set them in your own little place at the front of the field. If you plan to buy a lot, bring a cart; otherwise, be prepared to carry! Flag down one of the staff, who will check off the plants in your pile. Load them in your car, drive to the checkout and pay, then you’re on your way. )
Sean’s SUV was filled with fragrant bushes and flowers for our front walk. It was still a little early, but we drove on down to Wrens and stepped inside The Dutch House a little after 11 a.m.
The restaurant was fragrant too, with scents of Southern cooking. Owned and operated by Mennonites, the Dutch House offers an S&S-style Southern buffet, along with a full bakery, featuring a variety of cookies, bars, pies and cakes, whole or by the slice. Also for sale are ready-made casseroles, perfect for a homestyle meal without all the work.
We took a few minutes to check out the plethora of bakery options tempting us from within their glass case before walking over to the restaurant side and grabbing a tray to get in line. We opted to skip the desserts in favor of buying some for the ride home, but they looked great: from key lime and coconut cream pies to red velvet and chocolate cakes.
Lunchwise, the options were the blue plate (a meat, two sides, bread and drink); 3-veg plate with bread and a drink; and an interesting ½ plate (½ meat, 2½ sides plus bread and a drink). Sean and I both went for the first option, and once I saw roast beef on the menu, I knew that’s what I wanted. Sean hesitated between the fried chicken and catfish (other options were spaghetti and chicken tenders), then chose the fish.
The buffet offers typical and not-so-typical sides – Sean tried baked potato casserole with ranch dressing, along with butter beans; while I ordered my usual (my measure for any good Southern restaurant): mashed potatoes and green beans.
The décor is simple and clean country, but in a restrained way, like a piece of well-worn but starched calico. The restaurant itself is huge, with a plethora of four-tops in the front area next to the buffet line, and another room with tables to accommodate larger crowds. Today, because we were so early, we basically had a private dining experience.
Sean and I do this thing where we compete to see who chose the best meal: Today, I hated to admit it, but he was the clear winner (even more so when he generously swapped plates with me for a while). My roast beef, shreds of meat in a brown gravy, was a little chewy, needed salt and just didn’t have that rich meatiness that I associate with good roasted beef. Likewise, I thought the mashed potatoes and green beans were a little flat. A dash of salt helped, but I couldn’t help but feel that there was a flavor profile missing. And the corn muffin was also dense and doughy.
Sean’s fish filet (also available as a whole fish) was perfect though: tender white fish with a nice, crisp coating, matched with a tangy, pickly tartar sauce. His torpedo-shaped hush puppies were terrific, too – made from a slightly sweet cornmeal batter, all crisp and brown.
His potato casserole was rich, with the tang of ranch dressing and creamy melted cheese; and his butterbeans were salty and peppery, and fell apart in your mouth.
I hoped for redemption with the desserts. We chose a selection: a snickerdoodle, peanut butter cookie and cream-filled oatmeal cookie, plus a lemon bar and a pecan cupcake. The cookies were a little salty, but the lemon bar met my hopes for transcendence – soft shortbread, with thick lemon curd and a crumbly topping – as did the pecan cupcake, a delicate spice cake with pecan pie topping.
Happily sated, we headed back toward Augusta. Our adventures that morning were at an end, but I had learned one thing at least: When it comes to plants and Southern food, Sean’s advice won’t lead you wrong.
ON THE MENU
• THE DUTCH HOUSE RESTAURANT AND BAKERY, 14455 U.S. Highway 1 N, Wrens
HOURS: Restaurant, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday;
11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday; Bakery, 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday
MORE: Restaurant, (706) 547-3261; bakery, (706) 547-7130. LilDutchHouse.com
• MCCORKLE NURSERIES, 4904 Luckey’s Bridge Rd., SE, Dearing
MORE: (706) 595-9702, 800-572-2874. For the biannual plant sale, like facebook.com/GiantPlantSale. The fall sale is Sept. 20 (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) to 21 (8 a.m. to 2 p.m.).
• BUONA CAFFE COFFEE AND ESPRESSO BAR, 1858 Central Ave.
HOURS: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday,
8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday
MORE: (706) 869-4074, buonacaffe.com and or Facebook