I was in the Texas metropolis that goes by the name of Royse City.
No time to hurry
It wasn’t that many years ago that Royse City was a typical small town in northeast Texas. It was a renowned speed trap on Interstate 30, which connects Dallas to Little Rock and beyond. When I lived in Paris, Texas in the 1990s, I received two tickets and a warning from Royse City’s finest. They frown on heavy feet and thrive on freeway speeders.
Consequently, I had a sour taste in my mouth for the place.
My kid brother building his home there did not assuage my feelings. But then my daughter moved there a few months back and I was obliged to look at the town through a new lens. Wasn’t long that I discovered it was a pleasant enough place with the kind of quaint downtown area I prefer and, despite the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex threatening to absorb it into its ever-lengthening tentacles, the place still feels like a small town.
To me, that feels like yesterday.
It was breakfast time and I was hungry so I asked Google for the best breakfast restaurant in Royse City. Among the suggestions was Fuzzy’s Tacos, which I like but it is a chain, which I did not want, and Denny’s, which, if that is the best the town can offer, well, I won’t bother.
Thankfully, there were others.
I settled on B&F Diner. The reviews were great and it was only a 15-minute drive from my daughter’s house. This joint had a Royse City address but it was not in Royse City. I zigged and zagged down lonely roads one country mile after the other. I was forging deeper and deeper into east Texas…and further from my ultimate destination, which was the opposite direction. I was beginning to think Google maps was messing with me when I passed the Ridin’ High Cowboy Church and Clayton Horses Unlimited, where they board and train horses. What the heck would a restaurant have to do with the middle of somewhere lonely?
I was on the verge of giving up when I came upon the restaurant, right where Google marked it.
The sign out front declared it the “best breakfast in town.” Actually, the sign read “BES T BREAK FAST INT WN.” The letters had formed their own alliances, apparently, and kicked out the “O” entirely.
The restaurant itself was a modular building painted red with black trim. It was narrow and looked to be a small venue, which was worrisome because the number of vehicles in the parking lot implied it may be packed.
The B&F Diner sign above the front door had no missing letters or misspellings.
Love at first bite
When I stepped inside, I fell in love. The floor was black-and-white checkered peel-and-stick tiles. The tables were red with black-and-white checkered edges. Each table was covered with a glass top. Under the glass were cards and flyers advertising local businesses. There was plenty of seating because the narrow building was long. I was told I could sit where I liked, so I picked a table in the middle. I was determined to soak up the atmosphere.
I am a hat guy. I have more than 30 caps, a dozen or so fedoras, a derby, three cowboy hats, and a scally. I did not wear a hat that day. Most days, in my world, I am the only guy wearing a hat. This day, I was the only hatless son of a gun in the whole place. The other men were divided almost equally. Half wore cowboy hats and the rest wore caps. These were men’s men. They drove trucks. They met other men for breakfast – probably every morning given the way everyone knew everyone but me – before heading off to their day’s work.
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I had found my America, the one in which I was raised. I didn’t know a soul there but knew they were my people. They were all friendly, too. They nodded or tipped their hats to me. They were welcoming without being intrusive. They left me alone but did not make me feel out of place. This suited me just fine.
The breakfast was fine. They know how to make gravy the Texas way. The biscuit is big and fluffy. The eggs seemed farm fresh. The hash browns they almost got brown enough to suit me. The sausage was tasty. The coffee was too. The breakfast was fine.
The experience was better! It took me back to the early 1970s, back before the landscape was dotted with McDonald’s and Denny’s. Back when Kip’s Big Boy was a big deal. Back when an early morning business trip to Weatherford with my Dad meant breakfast at a diner. Back when an evening trip anywhere with the family might result in dinner at a diner. A mom and pop diner. A diner where they cook to order. A diner where a slice of their homemade pecan pie awaited the boy who cleaned his plate. A diner where everything is homemade and much of it homegrown…especially the smiles, the handshakes, the conversation. A diner where Dad didn’t have to know anyone in order to talk to everyone.
Guy Fieri’s Predecessor
Back when the Food Network was church women ministering to the sick or to a family who buried a loved one by bringing casseroles and cakes to the afflicted…back when Guy Fieri was still being housebroken, my Dad was holding court at diners, drive-ins, and dives. A Sunday evening after-church outing with another family or two might find us at Carl & Mary’s eating a chicken fried steak finger basket or at the Chicken Go-Go, where they served up “drumettes” long before there were chicken wing chains on every other street corner. Or, we might hit the Dairy Mart, which still stands to this very day, and still serves up the dangdest greasy spoon burger in Mineral Wells, Texas.
You never know where a day will lead. While it moves you forward, a little farther down the road, further from the magic of childhood, it may just pivot and deposit you right on yesterday’s doorstep, just so you can remember, relive, and rejoice that you lived it at all.
Cheers to Royse City, to B&F Diner, to my departed Dad…and to yesterday. I believe together they will make for a better tomorrow because they make me want to be the man my Dad was investing in and trying to build one diner, one memory, one shared slice of pecan pie at a time.