I can’t count how many times over the years I’ve passed Sawmill Family Restaurant in Wiggins.
Usually the timing wasn’t right (they serve breakfast and lunch) or I wasn’t hungry or the parking lot looked full. Whatever the reason, I had never been there. I knew it had to be good because of that full parking lot, plus I liked that long, deep porch with the rocking chairs.
But I scratched the Sawmill off my bucket list recently. I parked in the meandering gravel parking lot (sometimes people are parked along the edge, too) and passed a group of Mississippi Highway Patrol officers getting ready to go back on the road. As Bill Engvall would say, here’s your sign. If law enforcement frequents a restaurant, you know it must be good.
“What are you drinking, baby?” a sweet lady named Belinda asked me as I took my seat. I asked for half and half tea, she nodded with a smile and as she passed the table next to me, I heard, “How about you, baby? You doing OK?” It was like I had been dropped back in my hometown and was getting a hug from a waitress who has known me my whole life as well as a couple generations of my kin.
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Most of the tables are four-seaters, although I found a three-seater by a front window. If it’s just me, I don’t like taking up a table, so the fewer chairs the better. Even better, I had a view.
On to the buffet. Of course, there was a lot from which to choose. I glanced over all the offerings and settled on lima beans with meat, rice (I forgot gravy), chicken fried steak with white gravy, fried chicken (white and dark meat available) and a biscuit (cornbread was there, too). Then I realized I had a “white plate” — pretty much everything was colorless — so I added a pile of greens (which I like anyway) in the middle. If you want pepper sauce or hot sauce to accompany your meal, there are several bottles waiting near the buffet for you to take back to your table. My greens always want pepper sauce.
I also partook of the salad bar. Don’t expect anything exotic, but all the favorites are here, including pimento-stuffed green olives and diced picked beets — a lot less dicier, pardon the pun, than trying to cut those slippery slices. Honey mustard, ranch and Italian are represented here as well as thousand island, my choice that day.
My half and half was just right. In fact, everything was just right. How long had it been since I had had chicken fried steak, and with the white gravy? You can take the girl out of Mayberry, but sometimes the girl just has to have some food that Aunt Bea might have served up to Andy and Opie. Since it’s a buffet, you can go back as often as you like, but I was set. Except I did need to get some dessert. My options that day were a couple of varieties of sheet cake with icing or little bowls of banana pudding. Oh, yes, banana pudding.
Lunch buffet is $8.99, but if you’re craving something else, there is a small lunch menu that includes appetizers (fried dill pickles, french fries and chicken strips), burgers and sandwiches priced between $1.99 (grilled cheese) and $4.49 (club sandwich) and dinners and seafood dinners priced between $6.99 (country fried steak with gravy or grilled chicken breast) and $10.99 (fish and shrimp). Dinners come with salad bar and a choice of french fries or mashed potatoes. They’ll also fix you up with a grilled or fried chicken salad ($6.99) or multiple trips to the salad bar for $5.49.
There’s also the menu “for the little lumberjacks,” with grilled cheese sandwich, chicken strips, burger with or without cheese, shrimp plate and catfish plate, priced $2.99 to $3.99; fries are included.
For breakfast, Sawmill offers menu items such as omelets, pancakes, breakfast platters, biscuit and a la carte items. Breakfast platters include the Lumber Jack Breakfast ($6.39), described this way: “If you can’t decide here you can have it all. Two pancakes, two eggs and a choice of sausage, bacon or ham and hash browns or grits.” Steak and eggs, at $7.69, includes hash browns or grits, and toast or a biscuit. On the “Something Extra” is Eddie’s Trash Potatoes for $3.99: “Cheese, onions, tomatoes, peppers, ham or bacon. These will make your mouth water.”
Elaine and Sherwood Beckham are the owners of Sawmill, although you’re more likely to see Elaine in the restaurant and Sherwood right next door at their custom T-shirt shop. They’ve owned the restaurant since 1998 when they bought it from the previous owner.
“I leased it for a year to see what I could do, and then I decided to buy it,” said Elaine, who had worked for a national restaurant chain.
The buffet’s featured meat changes each day, although the fried chicken is always there, per “the fellows’” demands. Regular always insist on their banana pudding, I learned. Monday, expect to see roast beef and sausage, Tuesdays you’ll see roast and hamburger steak; Wednesdays mean meatloaf, and on Thursdays the buffet features country fried steak. Friday is seafood day, with shrimp and fish, and on Sundays, there’s a special Sunday buffet.
“We’re closed on Saturdays. There’s lots of grandmas who work for me, so they get the day off to see their grandbabies play ball or whatever,” Elaine said. In fact, several of the “grandmas” have been with her since the day she started.
If you don’t see what you want on the buffet or on the menu, just ask, she added.
“One customer just loves liver and onions, so we do it. If you want something, just ask us and we’ll try to get it for you,” she said.
Sawmill Family Restaurant
Where: 2205 U.S. 49, Wiggins
Hours: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday
Menu: The lunch buffet reigns here, but menu items also are offered. Breakfast is off the menu. Buffet to go is available for $3.99 per pound.