Good County cooking is hard to find. We were pressing our luck.
It’s just one more small town. A big two story courthouse in the center of the square. Lawyers offices on one side. The hardware store on the other side. A barber shop wedged in between the insurance agent’s place and an antique shop.
Then there’s the café. The last time I was in town, the café was on the South side of the square, about 50 giant steps from the granite Confederate soldier. He’s still facing the South. Today, the little café is on the north side of the square.
The owner greets you at the door. “Sit where you can find a place. What can I get you? Thanks for dropping by.” He’s all smiles, wearing a white apron and a baseball cap.
“The old place burned a year before Covid hit.” He tells me. “I found a new location and changed the name.”
My wife and I didn’t know what to expect. But, most city cafes stand on the food they prepare. It’s a given, not a stroke of luck. Outside the front door, three locals were talking, hidden from the noon day sun by an awning built in 1895. Ornate iron posts listened to the local gossip.
The chalk board menu was simple. It’s Deep South staples. They are always serving meat and potatoes. Like in fried chicken, roast pork, smothered steak, roasted potatoes, sweet candied yams, turnip greens, rice and gravy, black-eyed peas, cornbread and yeast rolls.
All you can eat for $9.00. Drinks are extra. And, by the way, they have apple pie, banana pudding and chocolate cake for dessert.
My kind of place.
Nothing fancy at all.
Cafeteria style serving. Two high school girls, their hair pulled back into pony tails. One is wearing another baseball cap. They work the food with big spoons, filling up the plates, putting a hot yeast roll on top of the potatoes.
You can’t go wrong if this is where the court house workers eat lunch every day. The lawyers drop in, they are wearing coats and ties. They drink coffee and plot their next arguments while the insurance agents look for someone to shake hands with. One guy has a ball point pen, writing on a napkin. Two women are whispering to one another.
The little city cafés are dying.
Out on the main drag, the fast food places, complete with drive-thrus are lined up like barkers at a country fair. They have electronic menu boards, photos of what they call food, little notes on the side, showing how many calories and the cost of clogging your arteries.
You yell your order into a speaker. They yell back to drive around to the side. One takes your money, the other hands you a bag and a drink. We call this progress.
It ain’t country cooking at all.
Back to the café on the square. The people inside are genuine. One more time, they ask where you’d like to sit. They ask what you want to drink, knowing full well the answer is sweet tea. They come back to your table, asking if everything is alright. Asking if you need anything. Asking if you are enjoying your meal.
The food is hot. It’s never touched a plastic plate or been stuffed in a two pound paper bag for carry-out.
County cooking and, yes, we got lucky.
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