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Old South - Eccentric restaurant offers
southern hospitality, unique decor

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Truck driver Dennis Robinson spends most of his day delivering a variety of products to stores around metro Atlanta. For the past six months, he and group of fellow truckers have traveled to Old South, a curiously patriotic country cabin at 4972 Ga. Highway 42 in Ellenwood, for breakfast.

The restaurant is easy to spot. An American flag motif spans the entire surface of the building. Only open from 5:15-11 a.m., Monday through Friday, the restaurant serves as a breakfast oasis for servicemen, truckers, mechanics, and other blue-collar workers in the area.

"It's good food and southern hospitality," said Robinson. "They take pride in what they have. It's more up close and personal."

Robinson said he enjoys the food they serve, such as the pancakes, patty sausage and city ham. But he said the restaurant's interior is far more interesting than its facade.

Hanging from the ceiling are items such as a prop shield used in the filming of "The Ten Commandments" starring Charlton Heston, the "world's biggest" (and smallest) Zippo lighters and the "world's biggest" (and smallest) Hohner harmonicas.

On the restaurant's walls are aliens, rare birdhouses, taxidermy rattlesnakes, a multitude of stuffed rodents, and a mounted likeness of the elusive "jackalope," the fabled cross between a jackrabbit and an antelope. On its shelves are rare artifacts from the Civil War including hooks, pins, buttons, pistols, knapsacks, and a fragment of a 300-pound mortar fired during the Battle of Fort Sumter, the battle that started the Civil War.

"You can't franchise something like this," Robinson said. "Every time you come in here you find something to look at."

Luther "L.C." Mathis, Jr., 61, whose family has operated the restaurant since 1976, said he has spent most of his life purchasing collectible items from customers, trade shows, and antique shops, and continues to do so today.

"We tried to fix it up like an authentic country store," he said. "For 15 years, every other weekend, we would just drive around to junk shops and hang things on the wall that nobody has ever seen. We got so full on the walls that we started putting things on the ceiling."

Today, Old South boasts one of the rarest collections of curio in the Southern Crescent. While people stop by to get a peak of Mathis' massive collection of rare, historical, and humorous artifacts, people stay for the sausage, he said.

"I go to a lot of different food shows and I bring back a lot of things for employees to taste," he said. "Sausage is the biggest seller. A lot of people don't just say it's great sausage, they say it's the best sausage they've ever had. That's the best compliment you can get. We have to fight for every customer that comes through this door ... that's why the taste is the most important thing for us."

In addition to several types of patty and link sausage in pork and healthier turkey varieties, the restaurant serves an assortment of meats - such as city (sugar cured) and country (salt cured) ham, salmon, bacon, and batter-fried steak - along with pancakes, grits, eggs, and other traditional breakfast foods.

Old South did not always specialize in breakfast, however. For many years, the restaurant went by the name Ole South Bar-B-Q, and sold lunch and breakfast. The restaurant's name was changed in the mid-1980s and four years ago, it stopped selling lunch altogether.

Luther Mathis, III, 34, who works in the restaurant alongside his father, sister, and mother, said the store has adapted to meet the changing face of Ga. 42 and the sluggish economy.

"The industry has changed so much," he said. "This area has a lot of early-morning workers ... businesses that are blue collar, just doing like we are, struggling to get by. We had so many people coming in and spending money on breakfast.

"For a lot of people, lunch is a luxury," the younger Mathis said. "We have tried to adjust to when the customer is hungry. We're just blessed to still be operating after so many years."

While the restaurant may be hidden to some, Old South has many loyal customers. More than 30 years ago, Larry Austin, 62, of Ellenwood was the restaurant's first customer. An operations manager for a nearby concrete company, Austin has eaten breakfast at Old South almost every day that it has served breakfast.

"It just has personality," he said. "It's down-home cooking and everybody knows each other. That's never changed. I came down with pneumonia for two weeks and they called to check on me. If I'm not here, they know something's wrong."

Old South purchases collectible memorabilia. For more information, call (404) 366-8130.