A Public Service Blog: For All True Southerners, and for Those Unfortunates Who Are Wannabees
When on travels to our part of the country, one of the most important decisions comes to choices of restaurants. It used to be so much simpler: find an establishment named “Mama’s” or “Grandads” or “Aunt Jemima’s” and you were pretty sure that you would be getting the real thing. However, as the marketing folks in the big cities recognized what a brand name could mean, they took them over.
As a native southerner who grew up and lived most of my life in Louisiana, but now lives happily in that cradle of southern cuisine, Nashville, TN., I have tested my share of country restaurants, particularly over lunches with friends.
Now I must digress to tell you that I’ve become a part of a group that I truly never saw coming. I’m now referred to as a “ROMEO.” No, not that kind!! It stands for Retired Old Men Eating Out. We can be found every day at the truly local restaurants at breakfast or lunch. And we’re not all that fond of those chain places. So some of us golf buddies got into an ongoing discussion of how one can tell if the place you choose is the real thing or not. Here’s what we came up with. Just call it ROMEO Criteria for now.
- Date of founding must be on the signage or menu, and it must have been before 1960.
- We had a long discussion about menus. Most of us don’t trust any place with a laminated menu (a sure sign of a chain place). My favorite menus are on chalkboards over the kitchen area, or best, as one perfect southern waitress right out of central casting told me, “Son, if it ain’t a stain on the tablecloth, we don’t have it.”
- In any right-standing southern restaurant there will be things that aren’t, in fact, on the menu. You see, they don’t need to be. Because if they didn’t have these things – sweet tea, biscuits, cornbread, gravy, etc. – it would just be stupid! Another ROMEO friend told me that the beverages of choice in the deep south town he came from were sweet tea and gravy!
- Before you pull in for a parking place, look at what’s parked in the lot. Pickups, cars produced before 1977 (when cars were still large, drank gasoline, and could hold a family of 12) are good signs. Probably want to stay from anywhere with Prius’ or Tesla spaces.
I’ve come to love and enjoy my ROMEO friends. What could be better than meeting over a meal to discuss how differently we’d do things. But mostly we talk about these criteria if you really must know.
Enjoy your search, and please share additional ROMEO criteria.