growing up in Clinton, Iowa, my parents and I would periodically make the forty-mile drive downriver to Davenport (one of the Quad Cities), where my mother would, like a one-woman battalion, invade every woman’s garment store in the city. With laser-like precision, she would seek out every markdown rack in town. Now you must understand that, for my Thrifty German Mother, twenty or twenty-five percent off wasn’t enough. Forty was the minimum and fifty was better.
Once every store had been conquered, it was time to refuel at Bishop’s Cafeteria. The Davenport Bishop’s was one of a chain of cafeterias that was popular throughout the Midwest. Alas, like the Great Auk (largest of all auks and extinct since 1844), Bishop’s appears to be no more. But I still have fond memories of their fried chicken and chocolate cream pie.
Cafeterias in general seem to be a dying species. Victor’s in New Iberia, LA, still lives and many Louisiana plate lunch houses are to some extent cafeterias. But cafeterias were known for a la carte pricing while at a plate lunch house you pay according to your entrée selection.
But a cafeteria still lives in Big Stone Gap (VA)—in the back of Mutual
We arrived early—for us at least—for lunch at around 11:30 a.m. At that point, only a small number of booths were filled. But that soon changed. You could divide the customer base into two categories.
Chuck went with the Texas Fried Steak with, of course, mashed potatoes and gravy and the same Italian green beans. The coating on the steak has lost some of its crispness while sitting on the steam table but was still a well prepared and tender piece of meat. And the white gravy contained just enough black pepper to keep it from being bland.
Both of us ordered the strawberry cobbler that contained large berries under a good cake-like cobbler topping.
While eating, we noticed a small and energetic woman bustling around the seating area and talking to the customers—most of whom she seemed to know well. She stopped by our booth and asked if we were enjoying lunch.
The cafeteria may have been empty when we arrived, but certainly wasn’t so when we left. The cafeteria also serves breakfast daily, but I am not sure that we’ll have time to get back.