The Last Windrow: You have to experience a mom-and-pop cafe

I've had some very good experiences in the small cafes and I've had some experiences that made me wonder why I ever turned off the highway.

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"Who the he.. ordered a peach waffle?" I slumped in my booth.

Travelers were on the road this past weekend and I'd bet that somewhere along their path they made a decision to stop by some local cafe or eatery to have breakfast, lunch or dinner. With the proliferation of franchise fast food choices, seeking out a truly local cafe can be a challenge.

Yes, there are local franchises that do put their own spin on their menus too, but I'm talking about the "mom and pop" diners that used to thrive in almost every small town.

Each of those pieces of the independent life in America stood on its own. The owners might be good and they might not be so good, but the traveler didn't really know how to judge them on their food until they sat down at a booth or table in those samples of true Americana.

I've had some very good experiences in the small cafes and I've had some experiences that made me wonder why I ever turned off the highway.


One such occasion was a salmon fishing trip I took with my younger brother to Manistique, Michigan, many years ago. We'd left home at 3 in the morning and by 8 o'clock I could hear my young brother's stomach growling.

"There's a fast food place up ahead and I'm hungry," he said.

I replied: "No, we're going to stop at some small cafe. They usually have better food."

End of conversation since I was driving.

We entered the small food emporium and saw all the tables were full except for one. I should have noticed that no one was eating. The patrons just sat there reading their morning papers and occasionally visiting with the folks at the table next to them. No waiter was to be seen.

After sitting at our table for what seemed eternity, finally some guy in a white, smeared apron came to us with two glasses of water. He took our simple order, turned without saying a word and marched back to the kitchen.

A half hour later we still hadn't seen our meals and neither did anyone who was there before us. Having fishing on our minds, I decided to poke my head into the kitchen to see what was happening.

There I spotted the guy who took our order, standing beside one very small grill with what seemed like an avalanche of orders dangling before him. I think our order was at the bottom. I told him to cancel our order and he didn't even look up from his fry pan.


We ate at the fast food place a block away. I'd bet those people in that cafe are still sitting there today.

My wife and I were returning from a car trip to Florida a number of years ago when we too decided to stop at a local cafe for breakfast. The place was evidently the local hangout witnessed by the rusted and dented cars in the parking lot.

"This is where the locals must eat," I spoke confidently to my wife. "Let's stop here."

We were immediately noticed as foreigners when we entered the door as everyone at the tables turned to look at us. They didn't have to say anything for us to figure out that we were on their turf. A nice looking waitress came to the table and welcomed us to her fair community and took our order.

I watched as she sashayed back to the kitchen were we could see a bearded cook with a cigarette hanging out one side of his mouth working feverishly over the grill. The waitress hung our order in his window.

The cook glanced up at our order and a puzzled look came across his half shaven face. He stuck his head out of the window and roared, "Who the he.. ordered a peach waffle? Now I've got to open a can of peaches!"

I meekly raised my hand and said to the waitress, " I really don't need a peach waffle. I just thought since I was in the south it might be something I'd remember."

By that time all eyes in the cafe were trained on my wife and me.


John Wetrosky
John Wetrosky (2022)

"Don't worry about him!" the waitress replied. "He never likes to make anything other than eggs and hash browns. You'll get your peach waffle."

My wife ordered cinnamon oatmeal with raisins. I wonder what the cook thought of that. No, let me guess. That waffle was mighty good.

Have an enjoyable time at those mom-and-pop cafes this summer. They are an experience. You should order a peach waffle at least once during your lifetime.

See you next time. Okay?

Opinion by John Wetrosky
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