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.