We reached a milestone on Wednesday. At noon, we met a friend for lunch at Yummy Bowl. It was the first time we’d eaten in an honest-to-goodness restaurant since mid-March. I felt as though I’d been let out of a cage.
I realize I built the cage myself. If traffic in the city is an accurate gauge, we may be in the minority as far as “Safer at Home” goes. We’ve stayed in except to go out for provisions. Picked up carryout several times. Made some new friends at food trucks around town. But going to a restaurant and having a meal, sitting with friends and shooting the breeze for a while seemed an unnatural luxury.
I’m happy the first venture was Yummy Bowl. That place is consistently good, and the staff is friendly. The same can be said for Oriental Express — surprisingly tasty food in generous quantities, served up by folks who are genuinely glad to see you.
That is the key, I think — and I say that as a guy who is as knowledgeable about the restaurant industry as I am genome mapping. The experience is better when one’s business is appreciated.
Ever since Wednesday lunch, I’ve been thinking of restaurants, and how I’ve missed them. I don’t want to calculate how long it’s been since my last plate of Mexican Connection enchiladas, chopped steak at Conestoga or slab of grouper at the Old Mill. I dream of the Reuben sandwich at Basketcase and the beef tips at Blue Plate. I miss Zack’s country fried steak and vegetables. I want to sit among the din of happy diners at Express Family Restaurant, chat with Lisa and Alexa if they slow down half a minute, and clamp down on a roast beef hoagie and fries, or a Medium Super.
But truth be known, what I really long for is something I cannot have – a Boomer Burger. Cheddar cheese, no mayo and no onions. Fries and sweet tea. It would not be the same without the whole tableau. I want the twins, Debbie and Sandy, to be there. I’d want to see my friends who have moved on, or those who have passed away, like Livie, my record store co-worker, or Boomer’s owner Fred Moody, who could usually be found on a bar stool in the corner, holding court under the television. Donnie or Recie or Denise would be behind the bar, clanging a bell when someone tips. Wali would be in the kitchen working his magic on the food. Carefully curated music of the day would be the soundtrack, and a group from the latest SEACT production would pack in around a table in the back, blowing off steam after another rehearsal. The usual crowd would be scattered throughout, and maybe someone would be playing guitar and singing in the living room. All under the watchful fixed gaze of the ancient, dusty mannequin, Mrs. Boomer. The matchbook cover called it “Just another bar and grill — warm beer, lousy food.” It was anything but that. It was more of a social club where anyone could belong. The food was great, as was the company.
If I had a time machine, that would be my first stop. But I would also set the dial toward 1970 or so, and aim it at the square in Headland. We didn’t eat out much growing up, so when we did, it was a treat. One evening, we got loaded into the Plymouth and headed out; my parents wouldn’t say where we were going. We’d stopped at the post office and meandered north, and as we turned onto Headland Avenue by the Meadow Gold plant, my sister Susan, who might’ve been five, yelled, “We’re going to Ted’s in Hedstrom!”
Close — we arrived on the square a bit later and made our way into Edd’s Place, the iconic hot dog/oyster bar. The chili dog buns were cut on a slant, making everything sit better. The tea, served in goblets, tasted like Juicy Fruit gum. It was a real treat.
I’d point the time machine toward Marianna, so I could have some more smoked mullet at Green’s. I’d point it toward Murphy Mill Road in the late 60s, and settle into a booth with privacy curtains at Gabe’s Fish Camp. I’d pointed it toward Montgomery, and have crab claws at the Sahara before stopping in at the Capistrano Lounge. I’d point it toward South Cherokee, where there was for a short time a little joint called Chess Grill, with a fantastic chicken salad sandwich. I’d point it toward the outskirts of Pinckard, where we just recently lost 231 Barbecue, with the most consistently outstanding smoked pig I’ve ever encountered.
Instead, I’ll eat at home. Few things can beat what we whip up at the house — especially if Conecuh sausage is involved.
Bill Perkins is editorial page editor of The Dothan Eagle. E-mail: email@example.com.
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