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Disappointed in Dillard

  • r

We recently got caught in a tourist trap, and I have come home from our trip, wanting to warn others.
We thought a stop at the Dillard House, Dillard, Georgia, would be a nice stop...family-style dinner and all. Well, the food was uniformly tasteless. The ham slices were tough and leathery, and our waitress said that that's the way they always are. We did not pass that comment on to the apparent house manager as she visited tables, but when we told her that our food was tasteless, she defended the resturant as having long-time recipes with very few complaints. Even after that conversation, the desert cobbler was cold. When we requested one that was warm, they were surprised that the first one was not. $20.00 is outragious for about the worst meal of our vacation. To my friends, the chowhounds, I warn you: AVOID the Dillard House!
Thanks, Ric

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  1. Our experience was quite the opposite. The meal was good, smoked chicken, fresh fruit, etc. Way more food than 2 people could possiblly eat. Last year was our first trip and we are going back again this year for 2 days. They have a bbq cookoof there in Aug, if you had waited until then you have gotten some bbq.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Raine

      I love the Dillard House but can understand that it isn't everyone's idea of a great meal. You have to like southern cooking to appreciate it. I've been going there for years and the country ham has always been tough and leathery--that's how real country ham is!

    2. I'm sorry your experience wasn't great.

      BTW, country ham IS always tough and leathery. :)

      1. I agree in general with the OP. Aside from the issue of how authentic country ham is "supposed" to be (I would change that to "typically is"), IMO the food there is all about quantity and not quality.

        It's a huge place with a big parking lot, waiting benches, people milling around, etc. IIRC from a single visit (dinner), they almost literally dump about 20 different items on your table all at once and leave you to wade through it. Most of the veggies we had seemed canned, and most of the protein was dry. Herbs and spices seem to be unknown on the premises. It's a typical place that has a huge reputation among ordinary folks, think it's wonderful, and come in in droves. Offhand I know of no restaurant with that profile that turns out a worthwhile meal. And with all due respect to Becky above, I don't think it has anything to do with "Southernness," although of course everyone is entitled to his own take on what constitutes good Southern food. I have eaten much better Southern-style dishes than what I encountered there.

        That said, I have heard breakfast is good there, but have not tried myself so can't say. At least a place like that has a better chance of turning out a good breakfast than other meals, so it might be worth a shot. In fact, maybe I'll try it and report, though it's really hard to go there for breakfast and thus preclude oneself from driving just a bit further to Henry's for some really good food starting at 11am.

        1. Don't feel bad. You're not alone. We lived about 35 miles from there and we went there a couple of years ago and left feeling like we had just eaten a good majority of Green Giant's canned vegetables. For that price, there are too many other places to get better "southern" cooking IMHO. We haven't been back. No "Southern cooking" can command that price from me.

          1. Thanks for the head's up, Ric. Sorry you had to be ginnea pig. A friend had told me that Dillard House was good, but Smith House in Dahlonega (same genre) was much better. We went to Smith House, it was ...OK. That made me scratch Dillard house based on his comparison.

            As to Country Ham...it IS supposed to be a heck of a lot tougher and drier than "normal" ham. I'm southern, but I can't stand the stuff. It's the salt that gets me. I don't see how people eat it as a protein source. I HAVE learned over the years (because it gets served alot) that in tiny pieces, it makes an interesting condiment. Kind of like anchovies. A morsel of country ham on a jelly biscuit gives it a nice little salty/hammy edge. Otherwise...bleh. (please note I am not recommending anchovies on a jelly biscuit ;-)

            1. I ate there today for lunch...lots of food, something like 18 plates on our table. Enjoyed it, but when the check came it was something like $46 bucks for two, before tip. That was a lunch for two and two soft drinks...The guy I was with was a "local" and told the cashier that when we checked out. The bill automatically went to $24. Are they taking advantage of the tourists or what?

              2 Replies
              1. re: bull51773

                Yes they do have "local" rates. However, it still isn't worth eating there IMO.

                1. re: bull51773

                  It's not uncommon for similar places to have discounts for people that live nearby----it's not so much "taking advantage" of tourists (that are responsible for basically 90% of their business) as it is just good PR with the local community.

                  And since someone has to be the "lone voice" in this thread, for the sake of anyone reading it, the place is fine place to eat, IMHO, and I've never had anything there I didn't think was pretty decent. Of course....all of this was consumed with the "local" discount, and pretty much every meal I've ever had there has been on a weekday....the place is a zoo on most weekends.

                2. Have eaten there alone maybe 3 or 4 times, and as most Hounds will point out, it is primarily for gourmands who will not be overwhelmed by how much food is put on the table. Dollar-for-dollar it's a pretty good value for that area, especially if you're staying there and some things (e.g. sweet potato casserole) are better than others (canned vegetables) I would agree that the Smith House is better, especially with Southern cooking (fried chicken, etc)

                  1. I am in the unique position of being a Southerner by birth to Southern parents, but raised in a neighborhood in Miami where 7 languages were spoken. I'm a 4-star professional caterer of international & southern-fusion cuisine, with leanings toward Cuban, Greek and Italian.

                    I happen to live in the NE Georgia mountains and visit Dillard House at least once a year with a slew of friends who look foward to the yearly trek. We all, including myself, love the food for what it is --- freshly prepared (NOT CANNED) Southern fare (Dillard House publishes a cookbook of their recipes.) And yes, Country Ham is a different product than the ham steaks many northerners are used to. Country Ham is cured and dried, much like jerky, and is so salty, it is traditionally soaked in water before cooking.

                    I've visited restaurants in nearly every region of our great country. Many are popular for reasons unbeknownst to me. But if the food does not please your or my sophisticated palate, we must remember the patrons of such restaurants would neither enjoy nor appreciate the delicacies you and I revere. I think we must relish the EXPERIENCE of visiting popular regional restaurants, rather than compare them to trendy spots we frequent, or even to the foodie dishes from our own kitchens. For the EXPERIENCE is the joy in life -- meeting locals and travelers from around the country, and tasting regional foods that will expand our horizons. Cheers to the Dillard House for its charming Southern hospitality and recipe for success.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: Chef in Blairsville

                      I respect your viewpoint. But couldn't one say pretty much the same thing about, say, Old Country Buffet, or Cracker Barrel, or many other such "successful" pack-em-in and push-em-through "Southern cooking" places?

                      PS, as per my post above from 2006, I agree with several others that the veggies are NOT prepared in house. And FWIW I believe that Dillard House's kitchen is sub-contracted out to a big corporate operator (I once saw some job postings in a local paper that indicated that). I also wouldn't put too much credibility in the fact that they have a cookbook. That's all part of the "sell stuff to the tourists" business model of the place, IMO.

                      1. re: johnb

                        I was recently in the Kitchen at the Dillard House. I can assure you that everything is made from scratch and that the owners go to the farmers market to purchase all the produce. I was amazed at size of the kitchen. They use the same recipes for the items. They age the hams in the original ham house, They have a killer bbq pit and smoker behind the kitchen. Before commenting on that" Dillard House's kitchen is sub-contracted out to a big corporate operator" check into your info. They do a brisk business and have been in business for a long time, they are obviously doing something right.

                        1. re: bonanacroi

                          I live very close to the Dillard House. I know what local farmer's markets around here have and the quantity on offer. I don't know what you thought you saw in the kitchen, and of course there may be exceptions, but I can assure you that the "owners" do not go to local farmers markets to purchase ALL the produce. That would be a physical impossibility.

                          DH probably serves 200 or even 300 covers on a busy night, year round -- they even have a take-a-ticket system with a public address system to tell you when you can go to the dining room. They serve everybody a ton of food, operating on the pig-out principle. There is absolutely no way DH can possibly be sourcing more than a tiny fraction of their produce from local farmer's markets, because local producers in no way could support the huge quantity needed, even in season let alone the winter. It is you who had better check into your info.

                          They do serve some things that are fresh, but most of it is not. They do cure their own hams (Alton Brown likes them, by the way). And they do do a "brisk" business (see above). They have indeed been open for a long time. And they are certainly doing something right, if sales is your definition of right. They have been very successful serving mostly mediocre food to the masses, who don't have any appreciation of truly good or fine food and believe quantity makes for a good deal (read between the lines of Chef in Blairsville's last paragraph above). It works great for the bottom line, but anybody who is enough into food to read Chowhound and goes there expecting chow worthy food will be disappointed, as was the OP 13 years ago.

                          Full disclosure: during this time of year they put on a Friday night only seafood buffet which, if you know what to select ("not-fried" things like shucked oysters, poached salmon, sometimes scallops, mussels, sometimes crab legs, salads) and what to avoid (badly fried items that are over-battered and sit in steamers, gloppy soups) you can do fairly well for yourself.

                          BTW, bonanacroi, I see this is your first post on Chowhound, and your profile suggests you are in the ad business with some type of link to Chow.com. Is that significant?

                          1. re: johnb

                            As far as I can gather from what I saw. They source alot of the produce from Atlanta markets, which a lot of places in the area do. As you said, there just not enough places to source locally for that kind of volume.

                            BTW, I am not with the ad business. I actually cook at one of the Local Country Clubs.
                            IN the summer we do get some stuff Locally. We use a produce company that also visits Atlanta to get their stock. We also get some very good goat cheese out of Cullowee, some organic produce from a company in Asheville.
                            As far as chow worthy food. I agree it is not something a Foodie would pursue. They serve alot of food, lots of it fried, but that is what they are know for.
                            I have not been into their seafood night. So I cannot comment on the fried items or the soup.
                            This type of place seems popular in this area. Their is a place in Dilsboro that also serves this style. There used to be a place, I believe it was called the Food Mill, never went myself, but it was another quantitiy place.

                            1. re: bonanacroi

                              The original post was in 2002. maybe things have changed in 11 years.

                              1. re: Sue in Mt P

                                Nope only worse now. They're spreading themselves too thinly.

                                Sysco & Gold Kist/Pilgrims Pride trucks show up just about every other day with a load of canned veggies and fresh chickens.

                              2. re: bonanacroi

                                Well OK. I'm sure most places in the area do source from wholesalers in Atlanta. Where else could they? That means they are mostly using stuff that has been shipped in from all the usual places (California, Florida). Not terribly local (not that that bothers me personally -- the local thing has been overdone IMHO, but that's just me).

                                Sorry about the ad thing -- my bad.

                                I still believe they use lots of canned stuff. If not, then they cook it to death which amounts to the same thing.

                                Was the Food Mill in Mountain City, east of 441? There was a place there once that fits that description. Are you talking about the Jared House in Dillsboro? And have you ever tried Henry's in Clayton? Lunch only and an odd schedule, but pretty good food of that Southern buffet genre. Steve Drucker may chime in. Where's your country club?

                              3. re: johnb

                                My wife and I have been visiting Dillard House for more than 20 years. Each year in the past three we have visited no less than four times a year. The restaurant has gotten progressively worse from the previous visit.

                                Last week was the last straw:
                                a) They raised the lunch prices to $19.95 person

                                b) They always seat you right away, but if your waitress is not there, they don't know about you. We sat for more than 8 min (we time everyone now). We were about to get up and leave, b/c there are restaurants in the area equally good.

                                c) Finally the waitress arrives and the man who seated us brought the water. She doesn't explain her tardiness - only asked whether we prefer the all you can eat or the lunch menu. As long as we've been going, there has never been a lunch menu. One meat and three veggies for $11.95 - w/your drink. That's a good deal better than having them throw away food delivered to the table that you won't eat.

                                d) We ordered the pork chops and three veggies each. Ten minutes later we get our meals, but not my third veggie nor the second chop. Note "chops" it is plural - that means more than one.

                                e) We ate and it was good - certainly worth the $11.95 price, but no where was the waitress to refill the water glasses. Finally she arrived to ask how our meal was - so I asked her where our second chops were and pointed it out that it said chops, not chop. She flippantly said "well you discovered that one didn't you" - filled the water glasses and went about her business.

                                Attitudes make up the difference when the food or the service needs a little work. The loyal busboys and seating staff (all foreign workers) make up for the lazy attitude of the blonde waitresses working there.

                                But, we won't be back.

                                On a side note - they are auctioning off the chalets. I asked the girl about that and she said they can't do both. Well they've been that and running the lodge at the same time for about 20-25 years. I guess they were spreading themselves too thin.