T+L Culinary Journeys: A Southern food road trip with Helen Mirren.

Helen Mirren goes on a foodie road trip in the southern USA (shown: Blue Willow Inn)
Credit: From left: Crystal Photography/Courtesy of Blue Willow Inn; Ryan Emberley/Getty Images for L'Oreal Paris; Crystal Photography/Courtesy of Blue Willow Inn

“I didn’t really know about real Southern cooking until my husband and I took a road trip from Nashville to Charleston, where he taught me about the enormous pleasures of the all-you-can-eat buffet,” says Helen Mirren. “When you find those places they’re usually called Ruben’s, or Mama’s, and the food is just fantastic.”

Inspired by Helen Mirren’s tour, RoadFood’s Michael Stern presents a buffet-led Southern itinerary:

Hermitage House Smorgasbord — Nashville

Hermitage House Smorgasboard
Credit: Courtesy of Hermitage House

You’ll find a roster of kitchen-fresh Dixie delights at this big, popular restaurant, running from Southern fried chicken to warm peach cobbler. A dazzling variety of side dishes includes candied yams and turnip greens.

Miss Mary Bobo’s — Lynchburg, Tennessee

Pie at Miss Mary Bobo's
Credit: Courtesy of Miss Mary Bobo's

When proprietor Miss Mary died in 1983 at the age of 101, the Jack Daniels Distillery bought her boardinghouse. Today, diners enjoy Southern feasts of mac and cheese, baked whiskey apples, and chess pie at communal tables.

Fried Tomato Buffet — Kennesaw, Georgia

This family-friendly restaurant isn’t pretty, but the buffet is a sight to behold. Each day has a specific entrée, from Monday’s smoked sausage to Friday’s fried fish. But you can always count on fried chicken, collard greens, and banana pudding.

Blue Willow Inn — Social Circle, Georgia

Blue Willow Inn
Credit: Crystal Photography/Courtesy of Blue Willow Inn

“Gone with the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell often stayed at this stately Greek Revival house, which today is home to one of the grandest buffets in the land. Pile a plate with smothered pork chops, biscuits, and fried green tomatoes with tomato chutney.

Sweatman’s BBQ — Holly Hill, South Carolina

An essential South Carolina barbecue experience in an old farmhouse, where the buffet features whole hog slow-cooked over oak and hickory coals. The meat is so succulent, you won’t even need sauce.

Bowens Island — Charleston, South Carolina

Bowens Island oyster joint in Charleston, SC
Credit: Peter Frank Edwards

Down a rutted dirt road south of Charleston, Bowens Island serves local oysters steamed under wet burlap, served on tables with big holes in the middle to throw the shells into.