It was late on a recent afternoon, and I had a big decision to make. I was hungry, and I needed to find a place for a quick snack or an early dinner.
This was not a minor concern at all. Hunger was beginning to dominate my thought processes. Where? Where? I started to think big.
Over the tract of my life, I have been favored to be able to dine at some very nice restaurants from Orlando to Denver, San Francisco to Washington, D.C., Dallas, to New Orleans, and yeah, Baton Rouge.
I’ve had food that I knew nothing about before I saw the name on the menu, and yet, I tried it. Until my late 30s, I didn’t know anything about calamari. I didn’t know about the wide variety of steaks and how they can be prepared. And, Lord knows, mushrooms were not found on my food.
I now order major-label, top-shelf alcohol (yes, I do partake now and then) that I didn’t know about years ago. It's a giant step up from the time I shared a bottle of Swiss Up with a couple friends. Have you ever heard of Swiss Up? Yeah, I didn't think so.
But the decision was swirling in my head. Where should I go? Would it be here or there for a steak? Or what about this place for their oysters? I was going alone, so I could go anywhere.
Well, I wound up picking up a breast, a roll and a drink from the Chicken Shack, a place I’ve known since I was a child. I grew up about a block from the original restaurant. This is not an advertisement for this restaurant. It is more about having a flashback of my first neighborhood.
It was a privilege to head over to Lettsworth Street, a gravel road in old South Baton Rouge where that first Shack sat. But, somehow my thoughts drifted back to all of the restaurants around my tiny part of the world. Great dining spots like Allen’s, Tid Bits, Bernard's and Snowflake's.
At those places you could get barbecue, red beans and rice, chicken, hamburgers, fries, chitterlings (yeah, like you don’t eat them), grits, eggs, hot sausage po-boys, oysters, shrimp, catfish, hush puppies, and on and on. The basics were all there. There were no fancy names, just blessed goodness.
Those places were noisy and fun. But most of all, the food was awesome and very, very affordable. I refuse to use the word cheap.
Everybody went to those places because they had a fixed clientele. They were born out of creative entrepreneurship and segregation.
Most of the owners couldn’t get a bank loan to start their businesses. They put together a few dollars, got a good cook and matched that with hope and there you had it — a restaurant was born.
As I drove away from the Shack that day with my order, I stopped at a nearby park. It was a pleasant day, so I ate my order while listening to music on my cellphone.
During that time, I began to think that I needed to do more visiting of these businesses. For all of the fancy-schmancy restaurants I am blessed to be able to visit, these places probably need my dollars more.
My generation and the generation after me abandoned those restaurants, stores and other places as integration opened more doors to opportunities and experiences. And, I guess, that’s the natural order of things.
But that moment, with that one-piece order, had me in a reflective mood. What’s more, I wasn’t done.
After I finished my great meal, I headed back to the car. I wasn’t satisfied. I was still hungry. After traveling about five miles, I saw a food truck offering a dish that goes way back and that I really like.
I stopped at the food truck where a young man was selling boiled turkey necks. I stopped immediately. Yes sir, give me three. It was heaven.
Edward Pratt is a south Louisiana freelance writer. His email address is email@example.com.