Even though I am not one for buffet-style eating, there is a place which many of my friends like to go that has been around for a while, and my son loves to go there. So I thought I would go to Bea’s on Dodds Avenue with Jack and my daughter in-law Linda after church on Sunday.
It is a little different than your normal buffet because there are several rotary tables with food dishes they bring out for you to help yourself.
We were seated at one of the tables and I just hoped they wouldn’t seat other people with us. It’s not that I ‘don’t like people’, but I just don’t like strangers dipping in the same food that I do – and that is one of the reasons I don’t like buffets.
The sweet tea and water was already on the table when we sat down. We were lucky that it wasn’t too crowded and I didn’t have to worry about anyone sitting at our table. In the middle was a large lazy Susan turntable in which the waitress set her choice of foods down on it. There is no menu, so if you are a picky eater, you are out of luck. In fact, you need to really like Southern-fried, artery-corroding foods because that is what this place is all about.
Our waitress wore attire that reminded me of an old-fashioned nurse all dressed in white, but I think the idea is to look like the waitresses back in my day. She was very sweet and her manners went with her uniform. She said ‘Yes ma’am’ a lot.
The tea was so sweet I thought I’d get a cavity in my dentures, but that is just how Jack likes it. Linda drank water. I couldn’t believe she agreed to come with us to this place because Linda is a health nut.
I think she was trying to be a good sport about it and, as our waitress kept bringing food to the table, Linda said, “If I had known there would be this much food, I would have worn my fat pants.” I knew better. She did not plan on doing anything but nibble. That girl is no bigger than a minute!
The price per person is $12.50 and you can help yourself to an old-fashioned dinner that takes you back to your childhood… or at least my childhood where my mother would cook the vegetables until all the vitamins evaporated and we all sat down at the table to eat and passed the food to each other.
I don’t mind an old-fashioned atmosphere and Southern-cooked food on occasion, but I sure couldn’t eat like this all the time or I’d have to borrow Jack’s fat pants. There were chicken and dumplins, fried chicken, pinto beans, collard greens, potato salad, slaw, russet potatoes, fried okra, cabbage and corn muffins.
I tried a little of the dumplins, but didn’t care for them because they were quite doughy and with a very thick gravy. The potato salad was really good, with a mustard base instead of mayo. I like it that way best. The barbecue had a strong vinegar taste. I thought the tang overpowered the flavor of the meat. It was not good at all… even Jack didn’t like it and there isn’t much my boy doesn’t like.
Linda nibbled on a piece of fried chicken and had slaw and potato salad on her plate. I liked the slaw too and thought since I didn’t like the other main dishes, I would get a piece of chicken. Linda had only taken one bite from her chicken so I expected it not to be very good, but then she asked the waitress, “Could I get dark meat?”
Our waitress told her that they don’t serve dark meat. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. What do they do with the rest of the chicken? No drumsticks? I liked the chicken okay (but nothing has beaten Champy’s fried chicken).
The pinto beans were good and not mushy or cooked to death. It was hard reaching for the hot sauce that was in the middle under the glass on the turntable. I felt like I was in a race with Jack when turning the table to get the food we wanted, but I didn’t say a word - I minded my own business. When I tried to take a picture he was busy turning it and it blurred one of my pictures. Linda didn’t eat much of her chicken, but she did like the slaw and potato salad. We were all waiting to have the cobbler Jack told us about.
The waitress only brought out one dish of cobbler and, by the time Jack helped himself, there was no crust left. It was just cherries and sauce with very little crumbs. I passed on dessert.
I tried to be open-minded about this place because I know it is a favorite of many and it’s a Chattanooga icon, but Willie Mae just doesn’t like buffet food or ‘too country’. So don’t take my opinion to heart on this one - if you like country cooking and enjoy a buffet you might like it. I loved the old-fashioned hospitality, but I think my taste buds are more modern and lean a little less toward too much country cooking.
It does have a nice ‘family’ feel to sit at a table and say, “pass the bread.” You get to help yourself to what you want without getting up and it’s great for when you are feeling lazy.
11 a.m. until 8 p.m.
Wednesday - Sunday
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays