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J. KARL MILLER: Good food can be just the thing to bring different people together

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:56 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A couple of weeks ago, my esteemed colleague from the left side of the opinion page offered a rather unusual but highly imaginative and practical service — that of identifying and recommending local restaurants. While my taste in cuisines does not compare to the exotic and exquisite palate preferences of David Rosman (a transplanted New Yorker), I will attempt to emulate his reaching out to the readers by providing something other than politics for the weekly diet.

For breakfast, a meal I can (and often do) enjoy three times a day, I am a Waffle House guy. The atmosphere is homey and friendly; the coffee is excellent, always hot; and the waitstaff has never failed in the Herculean test of keeping my coffee cup full. It is also one of the few local restaurants I have found that offers jalapeno peppers in omelets. An omelet is hardly an omelet without jalapenos and Tabasco.

For the biscuit and gravy aficionados, I recommend Bob Evans. The gravy, advertised as sausage gravy, is laden with chunks of sausage, and the biscuits are genuine, as opposed to the "whomp" biscuits, so named because that is the sound made when the can is opened by "whomping" it sharply on the counter.

My third choice for breakfast is Cracker Barrel, a restaurant chain with a well-earned reputation for Southern cooking. One of my brothers-in-law describes the food as "larruping" — high praise in any language. My Cracker Barrel breakfast favorite is also "Uncle Herschel's Favorite" — eggs to order, grits, biscuits and gravy, a choice of five meats and either fried apples or a hash brown casserole.

I would be remiss and doing a community disservice if I did not mention and recommend Lucy's Corner Cafe (formerly Ron's Country Boy). Breakfast at Lucy's is a happening — particularly as the portions are huge and well-prepared. Don't order a full stack unless your belt has some leftward, unused holes.

On those days I don't go out for breakfast, I have been known to whip up a mean batch of SOS (the Marine Corps' breakfast specialty). That I don't consider cereal breakfast food must be obvious.

For meals other than breakfast, I have a number of restaurants I frequent according to mood, atmosphere, or if I am so starved that my navel is one with my backbone. A favorite for lunch or dinner (I still consider it dinner and supper) is G&D Pizzaria in the Crossroads West Shopping Center. There, one can depend on a good, substantial meal at a reasonable cost served in the friendly atmosphere created by Alex, Pano and Rob. The scenery is also exquisite.

One restaurant to which my wife of 50 years come September and I always return is the 63 Diner on Missouri 763. Soon after my my retirement, she began volunteering every Tuesday at The Wardrobe. Asserting her liberated woman psyche, she opted out of cooking on her volunteer day — preparing that evening meal fell to me. After about two weeks, Tuesday night at the diner became a superior option.

For those unfamiliar, the 63 Diner offers a variety of tasty, homestyle meals at a reasonable price served to the tunes of '50s music by waitresses in poodle skirts. What is not to like about good food, a friendly atmosphere and the strains of Fats Domino, Little Richard, Danny and the Juniors or doo-wop? The diner's Wednesday night special — one-half fried chicken — is to die for.

For our more upscale dining, our choice is the Vandiver Drive Ruby Tuesday restaurant. The food is well-prepared, the salad bar is well-stocked and fresh, and the young and attractive staff is unfailingly friendly and helpful.

Other recommendations have to include Jack's Gourmet Restaurant for the bar-served burger; Buckingham's Smokehouse BBQ, Smokin' Chick's BBQ and Bandana's for barbecue (try the horseradish coleslaw at the first two); and Heuer's Country Store and Cafe on Old 63 North for Friday and Saturday night prime rib and Sunday fried chicken. They serve a full breakfast menu that includes real country cured ham.

I know I have omitted some of your favorites, and my apologies to those deserving restaurants that I have yet to examine. As I don't do carbohydrates or anything made with white flour or containing more than trace amounts of sugar — that means pizza, pastas and desserts are out. For the inevitable dissenters of my evaluation of food quality or restaurant staffs as friendly and helpful, I am merely stating my own observations. Over the years, I have found that, like voters and government, a customer usually gets the service he or she deserves.

For those of you who were expecting a recommendation for the best steak in town — that epicurean delight is prepared by me at home on my trusty charcoal broiler. Don't expect an invitation, as none will be offered, but I can provide testimonials from my wife, my three sons and dozens of friends and extended family.

That concludes my local dining recommendations, which are based on my experiences in establishments I have frequented. David, much obliged for the notion — it proves that good ideas can originate from left of center.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via email at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.


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Comments

Michael Williams April 25, 2012 | 7:38 a.m.

Gee whiz, JKarl....it's a wonder we've not run over one another. You hit all my fav places. I can't think of one you left out.

When traveling in the country and in need of a meal, I try to get to the county seat and drive around the courthouse square. I'm looking for a bunch of pickup trucks parked outside a diner.

Farmers will not tolerate a bad meal.

(Report Comment)
David Rosman April 25, 2012 | 10:06 a.m.

Thanks for the thumbs up. Wonderful selection, Karl, but as soon as I read "biscuit and gravy" my cholesterol went up 10-points. However, Bob Evans also makes a killer roast beef hash and they have WiFi.

Cracker Barrel is included on our list, as well as my father's (USAF - 1943-1946). Until recently when he stopped driving from NYC to Florida and return once a year, Cracker Barrels were his rest-stops. It use to be Howard Johnson's, but the orange roofs seemed to have disappeared.

I have written glowingly about Lucy's. For breakfast, they are #1.

And please do not forget Denny's and the McDonald's on Clark and on Broadway. Lots of discounts for those of us born in the middle of last century.

(Report Comment)
Lissa Gaw-Orscheln April 25, 2012 | 1:02 p.m.

Thank you from Smokin Chicks BBQ for the recommendation, Mr. Miller! We appreciate it and hope to see you again soon! Lissa and Chick

(Report Comment)

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