Monday, August 25, 2014

The Lunch Lady

The Turn Around Cafe closes soon.

For the past two years I've eaten lunch there every couple of weeks or so.  The food is good and the atmosphere is...unconventional.

The owner is lean, lanky, and prone to wearing hospital grade support stockings with her cut-off denim shorts. Her long ponytail is mostly grey.  She's quick on her feet and even quicker to swish a damp rag across a spattered tabletop.  She's also more than a little bit caustic.

The Turn Around sits on a corner at the edge of town, about a block from where the street dead ends.  The building started out as an old filling station.  The office area has been converted into the non-smoking dining room.  There's a sign on the front door that says "ring the bell".  The "dammit!" is implied.

The sign refers to a doorbell located just inside the door.  When you enter, you have to push the button so the bell rings in the kitchen to let the owner/waitress/cook know you are there.  Four tables fill the cramped space; you can take your pick.  Three of them seat four people and one old, yellow, Formica and chrome surface seats six.  If you want a menu, you have to get it your own damn self from a stack on the counter.

Eventually the owner/waitress/cook will appear from the back give you the daily special spiel. The special is always meat, bread, vegetable and cake.  It's good lunch-lady food.  Nothing fancy, just good, solid eats. There is only one problem.

Nine times out of ten, in my experience, the vegetable is Lima beans.  I hate Lima beans. 

Once she spouts the special you will be informed, with a scowl and a lip curl, that you could also order off the menu.  She hates menu orders as much as I hate Lima beans.

Generally I chance it, face her wrath, and order a burger.  She makes a mean burger and her French fries are pretty epic.  But it pisses her off something fierce when you don't eat the special.

Evidently no one else likes Lima beans either.  I usually get there a little early, just before the noonday crowd, so I can to watch the steam rise and her blood pressure visibly surge as diner after diner eschews the special in favor of menu fare.

By the time the last table is filled she's slinging napkin-wrapped silverware at menu-ordering noshers and all but throwing the menus at late-comers pushing the bell button on their way through the door.

Once I saw her refuse to even tell a customer what the special was because he wouldn't want it anyway and would just order a burger.  So, he was getting a burger and that was that.  He meekly agreed.

Today we watched  the crowd dwindle and change for a little longer than usual.  One of the tables was occupied by two electrical construction company supervisors from out of town.  The waitress  easily bullied them into the special.  They even ate most of their Lima beans.  Once they'd sopped the last of the gravy and left, the men at the other two tables exchanged looks and laughed.  "Brand X," one sneered.  "Wouldn't trust 'em,"drawled the other.  My friend Sherri explained the hometown guys were both employed by the local electrical utility.  Both home-towners managed to avoid the Lima beans.

A few moments later, three more young men opened the squeaky door and tentatively made their way to the vacated table.  They were out-of-towners; laborers, young and hungry.

The waitress heard them, eventually, as they didn't see the small, handwritten 'ring the bell [dammit!]' sign.  She entered the dining area with a heavy sigh, grabbed a stack of menus from the counter (which the newbies didn't realize they were expected to pick up themselves) and flung them onto the table. 

"The special is chicken strips with gravy, a roll, Lima beans, and strawberry cake.  Or," she leaned intimidatingly over the table and growled at them, "you can order off. the. menu."

"C-can we have a minute?" the table's spokesman managed.  Another of them reached timidly towards the stack of menus. 

She slapped the table with her order pad, making all three jump.  "Fine," she hissed.  "I'll be back."

The 'I'll be back' would have made Schwarzenegger cringe  and I thought the table spokesman might tear up and cry.  The tiro appeared to want desperately to get up and leave, but were obviously too afraid to move for fear of reprisal.  And possible retribution.

Sherri and I about fell out of our chairs, trying not to laugh out loud.  Good times, y'all. 

Alas, however, all good things must come to an end.  The Turn Around closes at the end of this month.  The owner is moving out of town, following her husband to his new job.

The Turn Around still smells like a gas station.  The non-smoking dining room reeks slightly of diesel fumes.  The bathrooms are still outside, remnants of a time when the key to such retreats came attached to a tire rim or a cinder block.  The smoking area is the actual garage area of the gas station.  It's much larger than non-smoking, I believe, but I've never been inside.  I can only imagine the heady aromas that must fill the air in there.

Fortunately all is not lost. Two of the Turn Around's most loyal customers have bought the business and plan to keep it open.  My fingers are crossed, but I have my doubts as to whether or not they'll be able to reproduce the same high quality food.

After all, The Turn Around Cafe made Texas Monthly's top 40 list of small town cafes a few years back. 

I am hopeful, however, that the new owners won't serve Lima beans.

And, in a shining stroke of good fortune, the cafe is staying open an extra week or two past it's original closure date while the new owners secure title insurance.  The owner is keeping it going for lunch.  When Sherri asked about it, the owner said she is through cooking supper -  no more nighttime meals these last two weeks.

So if you require sundown sustenance, you are on your own. 


Have I mentioned her name is...Joy?


Cyn Huddleston said...

Oh, the joy. How did I not visit this place?

spookyrach said...

Next time!

Princess of Everything (and then some) said...

~applaudes~ i love your ulterior motive!!

I have got to go there and eat. I hate lima beans....I will quietly put them in my napkin...cause I have practice doing that.

spookyrach said...

Oh my god, me too! I am so going to miss the floor show when she's gone.

annie said...

Nice work, Ms. Ulterior Motive!

Monica said...

bwhahaha! I haven't been there, but every small town has one. Here it might be a taqueria, but I'm thinking of a burger place in Victoria that has wonderful food and service with a bit of a "dammit" attitude. So fun.

I hate lima beans too. In fact, I don't think I trust anyone who claims to like them.

spookyrach said...

Thanks, Annie!!

Good damn point, Monica! I can't remember ever meeting anyone who DOES like them. Ever. Why do we even sell them? Now, butter beans? That's a WHOLE different story.

Lori said...

That's gotta be close to the been tale you have woven yet... felt like i was sitting right next to you cringing while she was tapping....
Love butter beans... why can't folks serve those?
Joy... now that's perfect.

patricia said...

There's a place like that here, only there is no menu. You can have what he is cooking, or he will make you a pbj.

Patti said...

I like lima beans. By God.

spookyrach said...

No ya don't. Nobody likes lima beans. Nope. Nobody. ;)

Vic said...

This is one of my all time favorites.
I have a healthy fear of the lady who owns the take out place I order from about once a week. She barely tolerates please and thank you, but makes one heck of bacon cheeseburger.