Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Phone Rings . . .

a voice speaks. “Meatloaf with mashed potatoes, corn, a roll, and dessert.”

A minute later.

The phone rings. A voice speaks. “Meatloaf with mashed potatoes, corn, a roll, and dessert.”

Another minute passes.

The phone rings. A voice speaks. “Meatloaf with mashed potatoes, corn, a roll, and dessert.”

Welcome to the Firehouse Café in Crowley, LA.

We were going to spend the morning and early afternoon around the environs of Crowley and planned to stop there for lunch. While Crowley is home to The Cajun Way Boudin King restaurant, which serves Chuck’s all time favorite onion rings (the inspiration for his “Ode to the Onion Ring” [see the 11/1/08 blog]), we wanted to try something new. A brief Google of restaurants in Crowley provided us with the name of the Firehouse Café.

Just before lunch we found ourselves at the regional Information Center, so I asked one of the two women staffers if she was familiar with the place. While she had never eaten there, she did say that it had a reputation for good food, especially their daily plate lunch special, and that we should get there early. She also told us that “back in the day” the soda shop at this location had been a teenagers' hang out known for their cherry Cokes and that “cruising” up and down the street in front of the café had been a popular pastime.

The front door provides the first clue that the café is owned by a former firefighter. In flame-enhanced writing is the phrase “Let Us Extinguish Your Hunger Pains.” (I am more familiar with hunger pangs, but maybe Cajuns have hunger pains.)

As you look around the room, you see more evidence of the owner’s former vocation. There is a display of firefighting helmets on one wall;

there is a woven throw, containing the firemen’s prayer;

and there is a banner from the Crowley Fire Depart-ment.

The Firehouse Café is yet another variation of the plate lunch house. There is a set menu along with a plate lunch special (frequently only one) that changes every day (see the daily specials in the far right column of the photo on the right). Since the café does not have an online presence, you can call—as many did—with the question “What’s the day’s plate lunch?” or come in and order from the set menu if the special doesn’t excite you. Of one thing you can be certain. Since this is Catholic Louisiana, the Friday special will probably be fish or seafood.

Did I mention in an earlier blog that these places tend to be inexpensive? $3.59 for a double hamburger? I haven’t seen prices like that since jalopies were cruising past the café’s location.

As you may have guessed from the intro, the plate lunch for the day was meatloaf with mashed potatoes, corn, a roll, and dessert. Chuck won the coin flip and got to order the meatloaf. The first thing that you notice is that the lunch was served in a three-com-partment styrofoam container—another staple at many plate lunch houses. The tray contained a very generous—although slightly dry—thick slice of meatloaf. The accompanying corn was standard frozen and then boiled, but the real mashed potatoes even tasted good to a non-mashed potato lover. And the brown gravy was divine. Too bad it hadn’t been ladled over the somewhat dry meatloaf.

I am sure that the confetti cake—which he was persuaded to share with me—was sweet and moist. Did it come from a box? Probably. But, then again, so did my mother’s.

Since Chuck was having the plate lunch, I had all of the other options to choose from. Was it serendipity that led me to order the fried oyster platter with fries and a small (emphasis on small) salad of iceberg lettuce? Whatever. On that day I had the absolutely best fried oysters that I have ever eaten. They were plump. They were sweet. And, at the same time, they were saltwater briny. Tossed in a light cornmeal-based coating, the dozen medium-sized mollusks were fried just to the point of doneness and no further. I convinced Chuck to taste one and even he, not being a big oyster fan, admitted that these were pretty good.

Yes, the lettuce in the salad was iceberg and the ranch dressing came from a single-serve portion controlled package. Yes, the crinkle fries were surely of a commercial origin. And I gave my roll to Chuck. (Have to cut a few calories, you know.) Who cares with oysters like these? I was one happy camper!

I’d give Chuck’s lunch a solid 3.5 Addies and my oysters alone are worth 5.0 Addies. For a grand total of $14.98 before tax and tip, who’s going to complain?

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