This is the final installment in my series about my grandmother’s cafe, how it influenced my life, and turned me into the foodie I am today. She owned her cafe from 1927 until about 1972, if my memory serves me. It supported her and her family, helped put her children through college and start them off in life, and left each of her grandchildren a legacy when she died.
The food she served was typical small town lunch-counter fare. A hamburger cost ten cents (mustard and pickles, onion on request), and a cheeseburger cost a quarter (cheese, mayo, tomato and lettuce. Onion on request). She offered a special every day. I wish I could remember them all and which days they were served, but I do know that they included a plateful of navy beans with ham and a hunk of cornbread, chicken fried steak and gravy, hot beef sandwich, pot roast, and fried chicken on Sunday. Oh, yes, fried catfish, coleslaw and hushpuppies. That would be on the menu after she or one of her relatives had been fishing. Most plates came with mashed potatoes, though there were plenty of home fries and french fries to be had.
She’d grill you a cheese sandwich or onions on the side, or you could get a vegetable plate of fried okra or crookneck squash, green beans with bacon, fried potatoes, lima beans and fatback, maybe some fresh tomato slices. Depended on what was in season. You could count on getting a hunk of cornbread with it, whatever it was.
There way always pie. My sisters and I cherish the memory of the glass pie case behind the counter, displaying a tower of pie slices for your delectation. She made the pies herself. I mostly recollect fruit pies in the case, though there may have been the occasional lemon meringue. Apple was never missing, and cherry and peach were always there in season. Rarely, she would have pineapple pie, and I thought it a red-letter day when she did.
In the center of her kitchen stood a very large butcher block upon which sat a couple of enormous hunks of meat, a ham and a joint of rare roast beef, right out there in front of God and everybody, covered with dishtowels to keep off the flies. Not only was this meat not refrigerated, the cafe wasn’t even air conditioned. In the summer, the doors stood open - there were squeaky screen doors, of course - and ceiling fans moved the humid air around. If you ordered a hot beef sandwich, Grandma would throw the dishtowel off the beef joint, carve you off a piece, plop it on a piece of white bread, spoon some mashed potatoes on the side, and slather hot beef gravy over all. It was scrumptious.
If a 21st Century health inspector were to somehow be transported back in time to the 1950s and observe the scene described above, Grandma would be out of business in a trice and the inspector would have to sit down and put his head between his knees until he recovered from the shock. But we all ate it. Everyone in Boynton ate at Mrs. Casey’s Cafe for almost 50 years, and thrived.