I’ve always enjoyed dining out but I’ve not often gone to the finest establishments.  Perhaps if I’d go to a five star restaurant once in awhile, I’d develop an appreciation for what’s to be experienced there but I’ve always been a bit intimidated by too much luxury.  There’s too much homework up front to learn the vocabulary.  Still, I probably should work on it a bit more because I’ve visited quite a few establishments at the opposite end of the dining spectrum.

South Arkansas is always a good place to look for literal hole-in-the-wall places.  Once, when visiting my sister in El Dorado, I said I wanted some fried catfish.  That was something that didn’t exist where I was living at the time so she took us to Bo’s Hut somewhere near Smackover.  Bo’s Hut was not one but several huts.  The main one was where you ordered and picked up your paper tray of fried catfish, hushpuppies (also fried), and coleslaw (not fried).  Then you went to one of the other huts to eat. 

Apparently Bo (for I assume that there was somebody named Bo involved somewhere) had either found a discount on small storage buildings or perhaps had once had such a business and needed something to do with his inventory for these were literally the sort of storage barns that most people put in their back yards to store lawnmowers in.  There were three or four arranged quite randomly on the lot and connected by rickety wooden sidewalks elevated above the grass (which got swampy after a rain – like most lawns in Smackover).  The point to dining in the huts was to avoid the flies and to enjoy the air conditioning.  The place employed many ziplock bags of water hanging from all the awnings that were alleged to keep the flies away but it was this singular visit to Bo’s Hut that taught me that those bags of water do not keep the flies away.  If they had any effect at all, I shudder to think how many flies would have been there in an otherwise unbagged facility.

The catfish was good though.  At least as good as the food at the RoadRunner.

The Roadrunner was closer to her house on the Magnolia highway.  This may or may not have been the name (I’ve long since forgotten) but it was one of those gas station convenience stores that had had a small restaurant grafted onto one side.  They had a few naugahyde booths for dining in and sold fried chicken, catfish, and barbecue.  It was good too – and cheap.  This was our primary reason for going there.

My uncle Wayne had a similar little grill in one of his stores.  Uncle Wayne had built up a small empire of small independent convenience stores in the Camden area over the years.  He usually only operated one of them at a time by himself and sold the older ones.  One of them at one point had a grill inside and he had located an ancient black woman who was an expert at fried chicken and such.  It was not so much his restaurant as it was hers and her reputation brought in a good bit of traffic.  Melissa and I went there several times to visit and eat.  We usually timed the two to coincide since in her elder years, my mother was less and less inclined to cook.  Wayne even ventured to say to me “Go ahead and eat – you know you won’t get anything to eat at your mama’s”, a comment that offended my mother tremendously even though it was totally true.  In response, she gave us some money and sent to dine at the Hush Puppy one night – a place that again sold fried catfish although this place had atmosphere and tables with tablecloths. 

There was yet another place called “Wood’s Place” that had this same menu.  It was quite plush in its dining room since it occupied an old Tastee Freez drive-in but was less pretentious than the hushpuppy.

When living in Fort Worth, I ended up working at General Dynamics which was subsequently sold to Lockheed Martin.  It was a giant factory facility that had been built during World War II to build B-24 bombers and had been busy since that time building one sort of airplane or another.  It was built adjacent to the former Carswell Air Force Base on the shores of Lake Worth.  It was this sort of environment with lots of men with short lunch breaks that gave rise to Jobe’s El Campo.  (Pronounced Joebee’s.) Jobe’s was a classic greasy spoon that sold hamburgers and a few other random items.

It was just off the property right on the lake and had obviously started out as one size and had grown several times with amateurishly built additions.  As far as I could tell, it was just outside the city limits and thus building codes were either non-existent or unenforced.  The floors were not level as you went from one part to another.  Part of it was on stilts out over the water.  If you were lucky, you’d get one of the waitresses that had all her teeth.

The only questions were:  “hamburger or cheeseburger?” and “Tea, pop, or beer to drink?”  They came with fries – no questions asked.  The only reason we went there is that it was so much trouble to go anywhere else and the food was at least as good as the food in the on-site cafeteria.  One guy brought his wife once day and she asked if they had salads – the waitress looked at her as if she was from Mars.  “We got taco salad” was the response.  The fact that it had more lettuce than meat meant it was a salad.  Everything about the place – both General Dynamics and Jobe’s looked like it was from WW-II because it was.  Jobe’s still had a glass-topped counter where you paid for lunch with gum and mints for sale underneath and crappy cigars for sale on a wire rack by the register.  They also sold Rolaids which was ironic but also necessary.  It had been written up in the local paper once and that article was displayed proudly on the wall in a frame behind the register even though the write-up had described it as a “dirty, squalid little restaurant.”  We wondered if the owners had ever read it all the way through.

I also used to take Evan to a place in Choteau once a year on our way home from the Dad and Lad campout outside Tahlequah when he was in cub scouts.  I have no idea of its name – it just had a sign outside that you could see from the turnpike:  “EAT.”  On the Sunday mornings when the campout finished up there was always a crowd and long lines at breakfast so we followed another Dad and his son to this place which was really popular with truck drivers.  They had all the classic breakfast things like eggs cooked any way you wanted, sausage, biscuits and gravy, strong coffee, etc.  It was the sort of place where nobody took their hat off when they came in.  Even the cinnamon rolls were greasy but they were homemade and really good.  Evan always had a bit of a touchy stomach where grease was concerned and so these never agreed with him but we could usually make it back home before he had to run into the bathroom before he exploded. 

It’s difficult to think of south Arkansas restaurants without remembering the Taco Bell in Camden.  This is a standout in my mind because in all the times we ever ate there (and there weren’t really all that many), they never once got the order right.  It became a bit of a game when we went to visit Mom and Dad to see just what they would get wrong.  I stopped checking the bag when we picked it up at the window – I preferred to just take it home and open it like a Christmas present to see what the surprise was.  We didn’t eat there much but we went there over a space of several years and the situation never changed.  We kept returning because, as bad as this service was, it was better than the service at the Burger King across the street.  That’s the place that once told me that “We ain’t got no meat. We got chicken though.” This is why I prefer the Mon-n-Pop greasy spoons.

I never had any problems with any of this greasy stuff.  But now that I read back through this, I’m realizing that I need to change where I eat.  Some of those places seem kinda creepy.