Warning: This may sound like a commercial. Don’t worry, it is.
We left Louisville at 7 am. Homeward bound to Mississippi. Didn’t want to do the Interstate puzzle. Grabbed a map at the first rest area. Looked for some two lane roads to take us south.
Kentucky will lose you if you don’t have a map. It’s the hills and hollows, and road builders who drink too much bourbon.
We ended up in Murray, KY. Lunch time.
I didn’t want another fast food bag lunch. The Lord knows I’ve had more than my share. I wanted a real plate with real food.
Once upon a time, there were city cafes in every small town. No bright lights and neon-backed menus, no stainless steel work stations, no drive-thru, just a nice little dining room and really good food.
A city cafe is a place where the city people meet up. They drink coffee and eat a blue plate special. One meat and three veggies, drink included. Out- of-towners need a place to eat also.
Rudy’s is across the street from the courthouse and a stone’s throw from city hall.
The sign says “Rudy’s Home Cooking.” Inside, the menu says “A Murray tradition for more than 80 years.” The place wears it’s age quite well. A new paint job could ruin everything.
Down one side was a counter, with high backed stools. Down the other wall were the booths. In the middle, a half dozen tables. We took a table. The waitress couldn’t have moved faster if she wore roller skates.
“Can I bring you some sweet tea?”
I took a sip of tea and she was there to refill my glass. Restrooms were in the back, up the stairs.
It was standing room only. People waiting their turn to eat.
The meal was great. A daily lunch special. A choice of three meats and three of seventeen sides. They had everything from a slice of water melon to banana pudding to fried okra and turnip greens.
I didn’t see the deserts until I got up to leave. An apple cobbler in the biggest black iron skillet I have ever seen. A half dozen pies, meringue toppings six inches high. Chocolate, lemon, coconut. And a pecan pie.
Ain’t no food like that coming out of a box or a freezer.
But, that’s not the story.
Pam runs the place. She stopped at our table two times to ask if we needed anything. Middle-aged, a few wrinkles starting to show. Hair pulled back against her head. She told me she had just bought the place. A perpetual motion machine, moving, watching, pointing, showing, smiling.
She pointed to two tables joined together.
“There’s the original family. They still come by and eat with me. I want to keep it like they had it. It was a special place.”
Eight older people sat there, together, laughing and enjoying a meal. Pam stopped by and talked to them three or four times.
“I’m working my butt off, but this kind of work is all I’ve ever done. Now, this place is mine.”
Pam opens for breakfast at 5 am every morning except Sunday. She sleeps in until 6 am on the Lord’s Day. It’s seven days a week.
She wiped her brow and was off to make another round, asking if everything was alright, if she could do something for her customers.
The waitress was making her rounds with a tea pitcher in each hand.
My parents owned a little cafe once. My uncle owned one also. I grew up working in a fast food place. I promised myself I would not work in one ever again.
But, I’m glad to find a place like Rudy’s and a woman like Pam.
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2 thoughts on “The City Cafe”
I loved every word! I could almost taste the meriange on the pie and the color of the curtains next to the door…with sunlight drifting across the floor. The words you wrote captured the visual snapshot in my mind! Loved it! That’s an “old soul” kind of place!!!
No city cafe in my hometown, but we had a great family owned cafeteria–Thornton’s–great food and better memories.