The Scraps

by Dave Schuler on January 13, 2013

Yesterday evening I saw the matchbook at the left on my kitchen counter and it brought back a flood of memories. In the 1960s, 70s, and early 1980s The Rib Cellar was the best restaurant in Huntsville, Alabama. Maybe the best restaurant ever in Huntsville, Alabama. It was a tone-y, white glove steak and seafood place and definitely targeted at the expense account crowd. It was located in the Huntsville airport in the JetPlex, a building with something of the futuristic, Jetson quality of some of the building of forty years ago. Those were the days when Huntsville was on the NASA contactors circuit along with Houston, Melbourne, Florida, and Washington, DC, and there was definitely expense account money to be had back then. It’s peculiar when the past is more futuristic than the actual future that emerged.

Thirty some-odd years ago I spent the summer in Huntsville. I’d fly in from Chicago on Sunday evening or Monday morning and fly out again on Friday evening. Southern Airlines, in the days when flight attendants were exclusively attractive, young women who wore uniforms tailored in the extreme. The service and food were excellent and you got the impression that the people who worked for the airline were happy in their jobs and glad you were giving them your custom, something rare nowadays.

Ten weeks went by that way. Up on Monday, back on Friday. Working ten or twelve hour days during the week. During those ten weeks I ate at The Rib Cellar possibly two or three times. It was good, not great, but certainly the best that Huntsville had to offer in terms of fine dining.

Every morning I ate at a little better-than-average diner called The Dwarf on Governor’s Parkway. The Dwarf’s coffee was good and its baked goods excellent. This was before franchises ruled the world and baked goods weren’t all made from mixes. The Dwarf was the sort of place where every breakfast came with a side of grits. For some of my associates “Hold the grits” became their most-used phrase.

The best place I found for lunch was a cafeteria in a shopping center. Huntsville is in the Cafeteria Belt. I don’t know if it’s still the case (I suspect not) but once upon a time there was a swathe of the country extending from Oklahoma to Georgia where some of the best food around was in cafeterias. Miss Hullings in St. Louis was an exemplar of that time. The tiny cafeteria in a Huntsville shopping center was another. I’ve never had better fresh strawberry or peach pie. There is no doubt whatever in my mind that the cooks were black.

None of these places exist anymore other than in the memories of the people who used to frequent them. They’re fond memories. Odd, isn’t it, how little scraps like this can remind us of places and things of long ago?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

PD Shaw January 13, 2013 at 4:39 pm

The memory this stirs is picking up matchbooks for my brother, who decided about 25 years ago he wanted to become a phillumenist. I really don’t see matchbooks around anymore, which probably has something to do with my lifestyle changes, but also the country’s.

TastyBits January 13, 2013 at 4:49 pm

@Dave Schuler

… For some of my associates “Hold the grits” became their most-used phrase.

You are judged by the company you keep.

PD Shaw January 13, 2013 at 5:17 pm

Northerners tend to need an explanation for grits.

PD Shaw January 13, 2013 at 5:22 pm

I’m not familiar with the cafeteria belt, but I used to have friends from the Chicago area that attended Southern Illinois University and they would go on at length with each other about the most northern location in the state where you could get grits — the mythical grits line. The cracker barrel probably blurred it subsequently.

michael reynolds January 13, 2013 at 9:45 pm

I never understood the hate for grits. With fried eggs and bacon? They’re not hash browns maybe, but then no one does decent hash browns anymore anyway.

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