On the way to lunch at The Stockyard Cafe in north Baton Rouge, I received a text message from a friend who got there early.
“Welcome to 1950,” it said.
If food in 1950 was fresh and flavorful, with no concern given to nutritional or culinary fads, then the cafe is a welcome throwback to the middle of last century.
The Stockyard Cafe’s exterior features touches of the art deco look of the 1930s, the decade of its founding, according to one of the women behind the steam table buffet. It mixes an artfully curved facade and glass block with the iron-barred chutes and dusty parking lot of an auction lot.
Inside, the wood paneling walls feature a few handwritten signs warning customers that credit and debit cards are not accepted and that profanity will not be appreciated. The scarred linoleum floor is covered with tables where a roll of paper towels stands in for napkins.
Most of the cafe’s patrons work in the industrial sector of Airline Highway near the old bridge, with work trucks and idling big rigs filling the parking lot. But the crowd isn’t just blue collar types. A few office workers fell into line behind us as we grabbed a tray and silverware before examining the buffet’s offerings.
Along with my two lunch guests we tried three of the four daily specials ($10 each, including tax, with a drink) and an array of the available sides.
The hamburger steak one of my guests ordered wasn’t large, but it was a good size for lunch. It was savory and, most importantly, made of quality meat. My co-worker chose the fried chicken and requested dark meat, but was told that he’d have to wait five minutes for it. When he stuck with the white meat, the jovial man behind the cash register assured him, “It’s the moistest white meat around.”
And he was right. The large chicken breast had a thick, crisp batter, but what set it apart was a juiciness that would make any chicken leg envious.
I chose the smothered chicken, which was falling off the bone and served over white rice. Moist and tender, the wing and breast were flavorful, and the meat flaked off onto the rice.
As good as the entrees tasted, the sides were excellent on their own. My carrots tasted fresh and sweet, with the vegetable’s taste standing out rather than salt or seasonings. The okra and tomatoes — one of my favorite dishes — were perfect. Some restaurants cook them with a heaping helping of salted meats, turning them to a greasy, salty mess. These fresh, stewed vegetables showcased their flavors.
The mustard greens had a little kick, likely from a hint of pepper sauce used in cooking, and the string beans were cooked to the point of being limp, which is the common Southern style.
We had only one complaint, and it was minor: The new potatoes were salty and almost overcooked.
All the meals were served with a crumbly, salty sweet cornbread and a drink. Sodas were available, but the sweet tea complemented this meal perfectly.
According to another sign above the buffet, salads are available, too. But I doubt many of those are ever eaten at The Stockyard.