Steam billows up as the lazy Susan spins about like a merry-go-round on steroids. Elbows and hands go flying trying to get the crispiest piece of fried chicken or first portion of fresh cornbread. The musky marinade of the pulled pork BBQ mingles with the peach perfume of the cobbler. Conversation rarely comes into it. This is serious business. We are eating at Bea’s.
Daddy always took the “All You Can Eat,” as a personal commandment sent down from above. Biscuits with white gravy, green beans cooked all day with ham hock, fried chicken so crispy it crackled like cornflakes when you bit into it, as warm juice dribbled down your chin. Sweet corn, fried squash, fried okra, banana pudding, pulled pork BBQ, and peach cobbler. Mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, fries, onion rings. It was a sweet Southern symphony of food. Food that was bad for the heart but good for the soul. Regardless of occasion, Bea’s was the place we celebrated. Never a demonstrative family, our family loved each other with food, and Bea’s was an orgy of family love which always ended in the sweet agony of heartburn and the vow to “Never again…”
We’d impatiently wait in line to go in and pay $5 a head to stuff ourselves into oblivion. Stocked with diner chairs with red vinyl-covered backs and seats that squeaked and squealed when your sweaty back and backside hit them, heavy pale green plastic dishes like they use in a school cafeteria, plastic flowers and a Coca Cola clock as décor, and black and white tiled floor probably there since opening in 1950. It was Southern fine dining at its best.
I’m filled with complex emotions remembering these times at our favourite Southern restaurant. We rarely went places with my Dad, as he worked constantly. I’m sad as I lost my dad when I was 20 and he was 52. I was just getting to know him as an intelligent, thoughtful human being who worked so hard for a retirement that never came. The food was gorgeous, but it’s the time spent with my dad that I miss the most.
Years later, trying to get to the bottom of my intense craving for fried chicken, I remembered these afternoons eating at Bea’s Roundtable in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Fried chicken equalled love in my mind. It reminded me of my love for my dad and his love for me. I was encouraged to find something sans calories that reminded of my dad. I loaded my iPod with Big Band tunes by the likes of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, two of my dad’s favourites, thus helping to end my addiction to fried chicken. Addiction aside, a trip to Bea’s is still required when I return home to Northwest Georgia. It’s a family tradition.
Monday, 29 May 2017 18:43