COLUMBIA — Mike Schuster was working his way through the buffet line at Aunt Maggie's, a big smile on his face.
"I came to see a friend and was passing by on my way back to Belleville and saw the sign," he said as he scooped green beans and then chicken and dumplings onto his plate. "I don't know what looks better, this or the desserts. There are so many!"
That big sign in downtown Columbia, with the pretty chef winking at traffic, is just the attention-getter Jackie Tewell wanted.
"Not old-fashioned, but a little retro," said Jackie, 50, of the design. It might also describe the restaurant she and her brother, Craig Rudy, 45, and father, veteran caterer John Rudy, 71, opened last December. From-scratch food is served in a friendly atmosphere -- buffet style, with a daily change-up of entrees. Diners also can choose items from a limited menu, which is growing as the business does.
"We started with a buffet. That's our expertise because of catering. We know how to do that," she said. "But, we also know that some people would rather order off a menu, so we have a few things right now. We'll keep adding as we go along."
Eventually, she said, they will also serve breakfast.
The family, originally from Freeburg, bought the building last summer and, after serious renovations, opened Dec. 5. Fried chicken is the restaurant's big draw. "Our specialty," Jackie added with a smile.
It's always one of the three entrees for dinner; one of two for lunch. On a recent Wednesday, the buffet also included chicken and dumplings and roast pork. On a Thursday, it was the fried chicken, meat loaf and rouladen.
"My dad is Hungarian, so Thursday night, there is a Hungarian/German item on the buffet," Jackie said. "The third Sunday of the month, the whole thing is a Hungarian/German buffet."
Friday's focus is on fish, such as cod and walleye. Saturday night, enjoy a prime rib special.
The buffet includes an astounding array of John Rudy's baking talents: cheesecake, gooey butter cake, crumb cake, pie, cookies and sweet rolls. When you step up to the counter to pay your bill, it will be difficult to resist taking home more dessert waiting inside the glass display case: whole cheesecakes or pies ($10.95), gooey butter cake ($6.95) and cookies ($5.99 to $6.99 a dozen).
Jackie said the men in her family left it up to her to design the interior, which has wood wainscoting, painted a rich warm goldenrod, and cherry-colored wood tables, chairs and booths. It's divided into three areas: the front dining room with lots of big windows looking out on North Main Street, a smaller middle section with the buffet and, at the back, the Bavarian Room banquet area,with seating for about 50. A giant cuckoo-style clock hangs on the wall, thanks to Craig.
"He gave it to me and I thought it would be perfect in here," his sister said.
It's not the only piece of family memorabilia her brother has on site. In the main room is a 1964 phone booth. It has come out of storage to become a favorite place for customers to get their photo taken.
"Santa was in there over Christmas," Jackie said.
And, if you're wondering who Aunt Maggie is, just ask her niece.
"She's Dad's sister," Jackie explained. "She's 82 and lives in South City. She doesn't cook, though."
Aunt Maggie's on Main
Where: 230 N. Main St., Columbia
Offers: Lunch and dinner
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; to 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays; to 4 p.m. Sundays. Closed Mondays.
Lunch buffet: $8.99 ($4.99 takeout); dinner: $10.99 ($5.99 takeout).