P had a meeting at our church last night so Caroline and I were on our own for dinner. I told her we could go anywhere she wanted. She chose Luby’s.
And she was genuinely surprised that Luby’s was totally empty when we walked through the doors at 6:00 p.m. because she has no appreciation for the fact that the majority of Luby’s patrons eat at 4:30 and are home watching old reruns of Murder She Wrote by 6:00.
So we ate our LuAnn platters and caught up on the day. Actually, I listened to Caroline’s running dialogue about the injustice of fractions and her thoughts on Harry Potter and how she wants to let her hair get really long and that she likes the smell of the new stuff I put in my hair and did I know that they threw piles of weeds at each other during recess and one of her classmates said that they shouldn’t do that because it hurts Mother Nature and Caroline responded with “Who cares? Mother Nature isn’t real. I’ll tell you who made these weeds. G – O – D.”
Which reminded me of a youth group skit I saw one time where the kids sang “You down with G-O-D, yeah you know me” and confirmed forever my belief that it generally works out best for everyone when Christian culture doesn’t try to rip off pop culture.
Anyway, the conversation was lovely. But the food.
I don’t know when I’ll accept that Luby’s is a far cry from the Luby’s of my youth.
I loved Luby’s Cafeteria from the days when it was still Romano’s Cafeteria. And then it was Luby/Romano’s Cafeteria. And then the Romanos must have gotten kicked to the curb because it became just Luby’s.
We’d go there after church on Sundays and wait in that long line. And I’d order the chicken fried steak which was known by its fancy name, breaded beef cutlet. With cream gravy and mashed potatoes and fried okra.
And jello in a fancy glass dish for dessert.
It was the meal by which I judged all other meals for a long time.
The best part was that Luby’s was a constant, unchanging presence in my life. Kind of like if God wore a hairnet and scooped out delicious mac and cheese.
(I actually feel that there will be mac and cheese aplenty in heaven. But no hairnets. Those will be reserved for hell.)
Even when I went to college, there was a Luby’s right on the corner of the Texas A&M campus with an interior all decorated in maroon. And anytime I craved a delicious meal lovingly prepared by women in hairnets, I would beg my roommates to head to Luby’s with me.
But at some point after that it began to go downhill. The fried okra wasn’t the same. The breaded beef cutlet became a little flavorless and chewy. And the mashed potatoes tasted a little too instant.
Apparently I wasn’t alone in the end of my love affair because, a few years after P and I got married, they closed a bunch of Luby’s, including the original one that was down the street from our first apartment.
But I held out hope when they were bought out by a bigger restaurant chain. Alas, all this brought was higher prices, a drive-through window, and an attempt to make Luby’s cool. It’s not supposed to be cool.
It’s a cafeteria.
Yet I still get lured in by Luby’s from time to time. The siren song of the mac and cheese is too powerful to resist. And I always hold out the hope that this time, THIS TIME, it will be like the Luby’s of yore.
Then I sit down with my LuAnn platter and am faced with the cold, hard reality of a study in culinary mediocrity. And I vow that this will probably be my last time to eat there.
(Please picture Scarlett O’Hara in the field at Tara shaking her fist at the sky.)
Until I crave the taste of a home-cooked meal. And remember that a home-cooked meal these days requires that I cook it since I am the cook in my home. And then I lament the fact that there aren’t any restaurants around who just serve good old-fashioned food that tastes like home.
Which brings me back to Luby’s. And the taste of disappointment.
Have y’all ever had a restaurant turn on you but you can’t let go? Am I alone in this journey?
Is there a light at the end of this cafeteria line?
(I don’t even know what that means.)