Did you know there was one (very famous) fast food chain that spent more than 500 million dollars last year—in advertising alone? Think about that …
FIVE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS!!
And the food isn't even that good.
Oh, I eat there sometimes. Mostly when I come to your town. Because when I am in your town, I don't know where else to go … Don't get me wrong. I don't have anything against franchises. I eat at a lot of them. Some franchises are really good. Some … (like Chick-Fil-A) are even great.
But what about the really unique—great value—fantastic tasting—one of a kind experience restaurant? Yeah, you are probably thinking of one in your area right now, but how am I supposed to find it? For the most part, eateries like these don't advertise much. They have a local clientele so they probably figure there's no need.
These fabulous places don't usually look like a restaurant you'd take a chance on. They invest money in their employees and their food—not the building. For instance, the Conestoga Steak House in Dothan, Alabama is housed in a plain, white painted, concrete block structure, but their steaks are better than any I have eaten in the world. And the yeast rolls are better than the steaks. And you can't spend twenty dollars a person there even if you eat dessert! Sure, there are nicer digs, but I am into the food.
I had the idea to write about this topic for two reasons:
1) I am curious (and hopeful) about whether these kinds of "mom and pop" restaurants will be around in our world much longer.
2) While they are here, I want to know where to eat!
Small, family owned restaurants aren't normally managed in such a way as to maximize profits—if there are any profits to begin with. In addition to the dearth of advertising mentioned above, these businesses don't have multiple locations with one central buyer who can negotiate bulk rates for all the locations at once. Or favorable tax and zoning ordinances. Or huge walk-in freezers for storing food bought at low prices.
Nope, they have only our enthusiasm to advertise the specials that go up on a blackboard by the cash register. There is one kitchen and mom or dad is in it. All the food is fresh (where would they store it?) Heck, it is a miracle if there is any money left over at the end of the year, but that's okay, they'll tell you. After all, they only started this place because everybody loved mama's fried chicken … or daddy's vegetable soup was the best anyone had ever eaten … or Lillian was making pizzas for the UPS man and soon she was making twenty a day! (Lillian's Pizza—Perdido, Florida … six miles from my house).
Will these places be here when our children grow up? I hope there will always be a family excited enough about Aunt Minnie's homemade rolls or Earl's barbeque sauce to share the tastes with the rest of us. We just have to be sure they can "make it" financially. So when the question comes … "Where ya wanna eat lunch?" … Don't always make it fast food. Remember good food. The kind your mom encouraged you to eat. Don't worry, they can get it to your table fast if you're in a hurry!
In my area, the Crazy Horse Café is not to be missed. Look on the map. Highway 98 going east from Foley, Alabama through Elberta into Lillian (not named after the Pizza Lillian … this is a whole 'nother Lillian) and across the Lillian Bridge. Florida begins at the bottom of the bridge and 4/10ths of a mile from the state line, on the left, is the Crazy Horse.
Even though they don't have a sign, there will be a pile of cars in the gravel and shell parking lot, so you can't miss it. The sign they did have was blown through four years ago by Hurricane Ivan—the frame is still there—and nobody figured there was any need to replace it. All the locals know where the Crazy Horse is and the name is painted above the front door anyway!
The menu changes a bit every day. I usually choose from the several meats and what seems like fifty different vegetables. Our boys loooove the fried fish and Polly won't get anything but the big ole cheeseburger. Jimmy makes them by hand. You know, the burger patty is never perfectly round, but there's a lot of meat there, it's seasoned just right, and you won't ever eat a better one.
No reservations, seat yourself, the Crazy Horse Café (now serving breakfast until 10:30) has been in the same location since God's dog was a puppy and is owned and operated by Jimmy and Barbara Stewart. Whichever one is not busy will probably meet you at the door and welcome you in.
Don't go on Sunday because Jimmy and Barbara are at church. The place is closed. Yes, I know that Sunday is the biggest money making day for any restaurant … but I already told you, Jimmy and Barbara are at church.
Don't go on Monday either unless you want to work. That is the day Barbara spends in the kitchen getting a jump on the desserts for the week. Trust me on this … the desserts are unbelievable. There are at least five different choices at all times. Pies, cakes, cobblers, and puddings are always "just coming out of the oven".
"Pineapple-upside-down-cake's still hot," is how we were greeted one day last week. We turned it down though. The boys wanted the coconut pie and I NEVER refuse Barbara's blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream on it. Polly got what she always gets for dessert … "just a bite of yours."
Anyhoo, there is my recommendation for when you visit our Pensacola/Mobile/Gulf coast area. So now you tell me: Where do I eat in your town?