This is a place where waitresses call you "sugar." Where eating ribs requires two hands, where tea is sweet enough to power residential lawn mowers.

Crestview, Florida—Desi’s Downtown Restaurant is the All-American experience. The food here is something fit for Baptist covered-dish socials.

This is not the tasteless fare that passes for home cooking in modern chain-restaurants. No.

This is real.

This is a place where waitresses call you “sugar.” Where eating ribs requires two hands, where tea is sweet enough to power residential lawn mowers.

The buffet selections are basic. Catfish, creamed corn, turnip greens with hocks. They have turkey neck gravy so good it’ll make you look for your aunt in the kitchen.

The local customers are relaxed. Men wear caps with heavy-equipment brands on the fronts. Women wear jeans and scuffed boots. This place is a bona fide field-trip back to 1945.

Beside me: a white-haired woman. She’s friendly. “This used to be the old Lamar Hotel,” she tells me. And she says the word “hotel” like “hoe-tail.”

She goes on, “We pray no out-of-towners find this restaurant because then everybody’d be here.”

Folks like me.

Her husband adjusts his hearing aids and smiles. He tells me the turkey-neck gravy is particularly good today.

So, I waltz to the food-line.

On my way, I see a group of teenagers in camouflage. They’re talking about something important. Their plates are piled high. None of them hold smartphones.

A young girl walks by them. They recognize her. Two boys stand and remove their hats just to say hello. I hope this practice never dies.

The waitress is back at my table. “More tea, Sugar?” She’s already pouring before I answer. This is a woman who works hard for a living.

“Isn’t their tea great?” asks my new friend with the hearing aids.

It sure is.

But it’s more than tea. It’s the way a woman in a booth hugs a girl and asks how her sick mama is doing. Or how one man tips his waitress twenty bucks.

And it’s my server—wearing her high-school colors. Who says, “Make sure you try the banana pudding. It’s the real thing, Sugar.”

The real thing. That’s getting harder to find in today’s world. Another day brings another greedy corporation to town. They bulldoze childhood baseball diamonds to build Best Buys. Too many pines die to make room for another Target.

People fight. Politics abound. I know a family that split down the middle because of differing votes. And I once saw a man in an Outback Steakhouse get so mad at his waitress he flung a handful of pocket change at her for a tip.

Folks are angry. Common sense is getting less common.

But before you lose hope, I know a place that serves yam casserole, gizzards, and zipper peas. And their tea is sugary enough to remind you of sweeter times. They’re only open for lunch.

If you visit, tip your waitress as though the fate of the human race depended on it.

Because, dammit, it does.

36 comments

  1. Brian Stubbs - March 13, 2017 3:08 pm

    I need to stop reading these at work..people keep wondering why I am crying..but please don’t stop writing them. My aunt went to school with Lewis Grizzard in Moreland, GA and he would love what you write…

    Reply
    • LindaD - May 13, 2017 6:05 pm

      I agree!

      Reply
  2. Beckie Johnson - March 13, 2017 3:17 pm

    Getting my Mao out right now to find out exactly where this place is. I am hungry and even hungrier for my Mississippi of the 1950s and this place sounds perfect!!!! Fabulous writing!

    Reply
    • Amy - May 13, 2017 2:13 pm

      Crestview, FL

      Reply
  3. Beckie Johnson - March 13, 2017 3:18 pm

    Map not Mao!

    Reply
  4. Thressa - March 13, 2017 3:30 pm

    I know that place! I’ve eaten there more than once. Wonderful food!
    It was begun by the English family and named for their daughter, who was very young at the time.

    Reply
    • Amy - May 13, 2017 2:14 pm

      And she still works there

      Reply
  5. Diane Enloe - March 13, 2017 3:35 pm

    I so love your writings! It’s like comfort food….every time!

    A Dothan, grey-haired lady died red~
    DIANE

    Reply
  6. James Godwin - March 13, 2017 3:36 pm

    My late wife was from Crestview. She too was one of those “sugar” gals!

    Reply
  7. Sam Hunneman - March 13, 2017 3:52 pm

    Warm smiles on a cold day. … Sugar.

    Reply
  8. Elizabeth Smith - March 13, 2017 5:32 pm

    I look so forward to opening my phone and seeing ” new post”. Your stories are about places I’ve been( how many people know where Port St. Joe and the paper mill can be found?) and the names of people take me back a long way.
    Please don’t stop the stories- they keep me young!

    Reply
    • Gerald - May 13, 2017 12:51 pm

      Or Paxton, or any of a dozen other places you have to be a local Native to know the location, much less appreciate.

      Reply
  9. B.R. - March 13, 2017 5:49 pm

    In the climate we live in today, it is so comforting to read the words you write. Thanks for
    Sharing your talent with us.

    Reply
  10. Bella Michelle - March 13, 2017 7:11 pm

    Found you via a dear Alabama friend and so glad I did. Our region produces the best words because we know the art of good story telling is something that isn’t bestowed upon just anyone. Happy Monday!

    Reply
  11. Michael S. Hickman - March 13, 2017 8:56 pm

    You’re right-on here. I have a place next to my lake house that’s literally where they took most of the bait & tackle section of a convenience store and converted it into a restaurant like you describe above. If you don’t want to wait, you’d better get there before 5pm because it will be packed with locals from 25 miles around. In order to turn tables quicker, they don’t serve dessert at the table. You have to pick that up a-la-carte while you pay for your next morning’s red wigglers and beer. By the way, the food is PHENOMENAL. If you happen into this place by accident, you’ll know it by the awesome fried quail appetizers. I’m not going to tell you where it is, or the name though. It’s still a convenience store, by the way, but they shut down the pumps at around 6pm because they need the room for restaurant parking.

    Reply
  12. Mark G. - March 13, 2017 9:02 pm

    There’s a place just like this in Snead, Alabama. Your stories bring back memories from my childhood, Papa’s mules, Granny M’s knittin, Granny G’s cathead biscuits, eatin watermelon straight off the vine beside the patch with Granddaddy G., pullin corn or cuttin firewood with my dad, shellin purplehulls or diggin taters with my momma. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I started reading your stories. Your stories slow my mind and bring a peace I’d forgotten about. Thank you for sharing your gift and allowing a focused mind to wonder a bit… God Bless!

    Reply
    • Gerald - May 13, 2017 12:56 pm

      Snead, alabama! There is a Sneads, Florida as well and I thought the only one. If you don’t know where that is it’s just down the road from Two Egg, Fla.

      Reply
  13. Judy - March 14, 2017 2:08 am

    The first time I went south, I couldn’t find unsweetened tea anywhere. So I ask if they had Pop. I was asked if I wanted a Coke? No, I wanted a Diet Pepsi and they had it, but they called all cola drinks, Coke. I never did acquire a taste for grits or greens. But the others with me sure liked their biscuits with with some thing called “red” gravy on top? I like my biscuits with real butter and honey. LOL

    Reply
  14. Michael Hawke - March 14, 2017 2:11 am

    Makes me want to visit. Thank you.

    Reply
  15. June RouLaine Phillips i - March 14, 2017 5:08 am

    this reminds me of a little spot in the middle of nowhere…steaks you can cut with a butter knife..Always service with a smile.

    Reply
  16. Michael Bishop - March 14, 2017 1:08 pm

    In my book, zipper peas rank right up there with rattlesnake beans! Human salvation through culinary legerdemain! Et cetera. Et cetera. Thank you.

    Reply
  17. Jackie Garvin - March 16, 2017 8:52 pm

    Geneva,AL is a tiny little town in southeastern AL. It is the place both my parents were raised. I spent lots of time in Geneva visiting my grandparents who lived in the Cotton Mill Village in a 3 room house with unadorned light bulbs that hung from the ceiling, a kerosene furnace for heat, and an enamel kitchen table. I learned about life, zipper peas, homemade biscuits, Jesus and love in that community of hard working poor people. I’m grateful for the gift of small town Southern life.

    Reply
    • Gerald - May 13, 2017 12:59 pm

      And if you don’t know where Geneva is it’s just down the road from Black, Ala.

      Reply
  18. Lori - March 16, 2017 11:39 pm

    Sean I just love your musings. You need to come eat at Laney’s in Leeds. The white flour handprints on the backsides of the cooks when they come out of the kitchen says it all. I know you would find tons of fodder for body and blog.
    Lori Frank
    Deep South Painting and Murals

    Reply
  19. Susie Munz - March 17, 2017 2:52 pm

    Great story, Sean. I just got back from visiting my daughter in Costa Rica. What was my favorite thing? The REAL people, like you describe so well…the people who say “How are you?” And really want to know how YOU are, come by to pet your dog before the vet comes to help him cross the rainbow bridge, who bring you fresh vegetables from their garden, or who came to a pot luck to meet your “mama” who is visiting from the States. We are losing kindness, and that is so sad. We need to work on bringing it back. You are helping with that cause! Thank you.

    Reply
  20. Deanna J - May 13, 2017 12:44 pm

    My kind of place!! Yummy! Thanks!

    Reply
  21. Hoke Thomas - May 13, 2017 12:51 pm

    Sounds like home. Try Zack’s in Dothan and Slocumb for a similar experience. Taste Of Lemon in LaGrange, Ga is in a church dating back to the late 1890s. Great food and atmosphere also. These are gems to be enjoyed as is the Crestview restsurant.

    Reply
    • Diane - May 15, 2017 11:11 am

      LaGrange, GA and Taste of Lemon!!!!! I L.O.V.E. reading your column. Keep them coming…my small town, Auburn, AL., is changing so so fast. Lossung it’s Loveliest VILLAGE On the Plains title.

      Reply
      • *Diane - May 15, 2017 11:12 am

        *losing.

        Reply
  22. E.Huntley - May 13, 2017 1:10 pm

    Such wonderful memories of favorite childhood tresturants. Thank you again!

    Reply
  23. Ladd Goodson - May 13, 2017 2:59 pm

    Desi’s one of my favorites. I love everything about it and you just made me hungry. Louise and I thank you for taking the time to visit with us after your show last night. May God continue to bless you and your family.

    Reply
  24. Lori - May 13, 2017 4:22 pm

    There are only two places on the internet that I feel safe reading the comments section. Humans of New York, and Sean of the South.

    Mr Dietrich, you’ve done a beautiful job of creating a loving, supportive community here. Your stories have brought in folks from all over who appreciate the gentle, southern spirit of the people and the places that you pay homage to. Thank you.

    Reply
    • LindaD - May 13, 2017 6:13 pm

      I completely agree with both of your paragraphs!

      Reply
  25. Ben Smith - May 13, 2017 9:09 pm

    Not enough “SUGAR ” places left in this world. Love your stories.

    Reply
  26. Donna L - May 14, 2017 3:07 am

    Crestview is home, and at Deal’s you’ll feel right at home. Real southern down home cooking.

    Reply
  27. June Roulaine Phillips - May 20, 2017 11:52 am

    I love the trips down memory lane…o wait it’s just a trip down the road. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply

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