Story By: Savannah Jackson.
Down a long country road sits an old white sign next to a bale of hay directing visitors to a hidden gem tucked away in the woods. The winding road eventually turns to gravel and dead ends at the front of The Farm House. Vast fields of what used to be a plantation encircle the property.
The outside looks like an old home. A long stone chimney stands at the side of the house with a hickory-smelling smoke billowing out the top. The front porch is adorned with handmade signs and crafts of all shapes and sizes. A rocking chair sways back and forth, and a cat sits lazily in the sun. The fenced-in yard winds around back, filled with charming antiques left and right. Up the stairs and inside the door is a small room with a burning fireplace and a front desk. An eclectic mix of gifts, crafts and knick-knacks decorate the wooden walls. Around the corner appears a counter and an open window kitchen. Six immaculately decorated cakes sit across the counter. The long room is filled with mismatched wooden tables and chairs in a variety of shapes and sizes. Picture frames on the wall display black and white photos of family and farmland. The kitchen doors open, and warm savory air fills the sun-lit room.
This quaint, 200-year-old plantation home called The Farm House is a restaurant and gift shop in Ellerslie, Ga. The restaurant is famous for its traditional home-style cooking and old-fashioned setting. Found off the beaten path, the family-owned restaurant serves southern food with family values.
The Farm House was established in 1981 when a few Ellerslie wives decided to start a craft shop in the old unused farmhouse on family property. The shop, open two days a week, began as a hobby. Their husbands gave the friends six months to turn a profit.
“We weren’t going be a restaurant at all. We were only going to be a craft shop,” said Beckie McKenzie, The Farm House owner. “My mother decided that we’d also sell sausage biscuits. It went from sausage biscuits to chicken salad to chicken and dumplings. Then we had a dessert and from there it kind of grew.”
The restaurant portion of the craft shop started with just two tables right next to the original farmhouse kitchen. “It was just the two tables, but people were standing in line for over an hour,” said McKenzie.
The town is far different now than it what is in 1981 when The Farm House first opened. “Back then it was just a small community,” said Brian Williams, community development director of Harris County and Ellerslie native. “I’ve lived here for over 40 years now. The town back then was nothing like it is today.”
In the 1980s, Ellerslie consisted of a few houses and small businesses, a church and a gas station. Younger couples and middle-class families who commuted to the city for work populated the rural town.
“It was like a bedroom community,” said Williams. “The men all worked in Columbus and just came back home to sleep and eat.”
When The Farm House first opened in Ellerslie, the owners were unsure of the success it would have. Located in the middle of nowhere, down a winding road outside of the transient town, the restaurant took a chance and flourished.
Recognizing that most residents worked in the city, The Farm House opened just two days a week on Fridays and Saturday afternoons. Residents and visitors waited an hour in line for a table at The Farm House. The convenience of its location for Ellerslie residents was key to the restaurant’s original success.
Today, the restaurant seats about 80 people, but the cooking has stayed the same. Many of the Farm House’s dishes have been on the menu since its beginning.
“A lot of our recipes are family recipes that have been handed down,” said McKenzie. “I have a wonderful girl in the back, Jennifer, that does our cooking. She’s worked in restaurants before, but we trained her to do it our way.”
The restaurant specializes in traditional, southern staples including chicken broccoli casserole, chicken and dumplings, fried chicken and classic cornbread. For dessert, the restaurant always has several cakes made from scratch on the bakery counter. Cakes and frozen casseroles are made available for customers to take-home.
The restaurant staff allows no short cuts and no substitutions in their traditional dishes. The classic home cooking paired with the old homey atmosphere is one of the reasons customers keep coming back.
“We have several customers who come Friday for lunch, Friday for dinner and Saturday for lunch,” said McKenzie.
Two of those regular customers are Farm House neighbors, Jim and Mary Loudermilk.
“Every time the door opens, we’re here,” said Mrs. Loudermilk. “for about 25 years.”
“We live about a half mile away from here, and I had heard there was a place serving food nearby,” said Mr. Loudermilk. “So, I thought I’d try it out. I came and ate and had a great time. I came home to tell Mary all about it, and we’ve been eating here ever since.”
Despite the mixed ages of the restaurant’s clientele, generations are brought together to the family-style tables mirroring traditional home dining rooms. “I love that it’s homey here,” said Emily Bush, a young Farm House employee. “It’s just like being with family.”
“People always tell me, ‘oh this is just like my grandmother’s house,” said McKenzie.
The Farm House has always been a family-oriented restaurant. The business has remained in the McKenzie family for over 30 years, employing the children of customers, nieces and nephews and neighbors of the restaurant.
“Both of our daughters worked here,” said Mrs. Loudermilk. “They went off to college, got married and now they bring their children up here for visits.”
The Farm House celebrates the sense of family in its community as well. Throughout the year The Farm House hosts numerous events for Harris County citizens and friends. The restaurant hosts pumpkin patches, hay rides and Easter egg hunts for local schools going on field trips as well as gardening classes and cooking demos. Above all, the customers boast about the unrivaled annual parties for families in the community.
One of these parties is The Farm House Christmas Tea, a fun, traditional celebration of Christmas and camaraderie for women in the community.
“It’s a time to be with some of your best friends and enjoy the atmosphere of Christmas and love,” said Mrs. Loudermilk. “We know everybody at everyone’s table, and we go around and talk to one another. It’s truly a celebration. And with the best food!”
The unique, inviting atmosphere of The Farm House has made it a community favorite and visitor attraction over the years. The restaurant has been featured in Southern Living magazine and local newspapers across the state. The growing popularity has put the small community of Ellerslie on the map of good home cooking. In April, passed-down recipes from The Farm House will be published in Southern Living’s cookbook, “Off the Eaten Path”.
“They called me up and explained what the book was be about and I said, ‘well we certainly qualify,’” said McKenzie. The cookbook will feature two of The Farm House’s traditional recipes.
The population of Harris County has more than doubled since the 1980s, and the towns and businesses have adapted, including The Farm House.
“Our community has really grown in the last couple of years,” said Williams. “We have more families now, a few subdivisions, and we got our first intersection with a stoplight just two years ago.”
The Farm House restaurant also grew exponentially in its 30 years of business. New items were added to the menu, the original house expanded and an event barn was built in the back to accommodate events and increasing business. Although the restaurant changed, the ambiance stayed the same.
“It is still an original old farm house. We tried not to change anything that didn’t need to be changed,” said McKenzie. “For customers it’s a feeling of going back in time.”
In addition to the traditions, recipes and house décor, the restaurant’s hours have remained the same. The Farm House is open on Fridays and Saturdays for lunch and Friday night for dinner.
“We really opened it as a hobby. It was just wives that didn’t work and we never even considered working all week,” said McKenzie.
The restaurant is in a remote community where people commute to surrounding cities during the week to work. Opening only on the weekends makes it possible for loyal customers and traveling visitors to be able to enjoy the restaurant at a time that’s convenient.
“Opening just two days a week is part of our secret,” said McKenzie. “People can’t come Monday through Thursday, so they make more of a point to come when we are open on the weekends.”
The Farm House restaurant is about 30 minutes outside of Columbus, Georgia and is open Fridays and Saturdays for lunch from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. and Friday night for dinner from 6 to 8 p.m.
This story was produced with the support of
The Historic Chattahoochee Commission