My first warning that Crockett’s was a little rundown was the grimy kitchen odor that permeated the place: grease-soaked concrete, pressure washed, steamed broccoli, yeast. It triggered a powerful memory of running around in the kitchen of Mister J's, an ill-fated business venture in which my dad tried his hand at managing a family steakhouse.
There is an appetizer menu pinched between the Heinz Ketchup and the A1 bottles on the table. It’s a generic offering of fried cheese, fried broccoli and cheese, and some other fat bombs, no doubt frozen and bagged, sold as a package to the owner of Crockett’s with this attractive presentation menu, imprinted with Your Restaurant Name Here. Surely, they must’ve thought, now we can compete with the big guys.
Her name is Kari and she’ll be our server this evening. She takes our order briskly, without making eye contact and then vanishes.
A thick, bleach blond manager is distinguished from the teenage waitresses by her short sleeved denim shirt and tie. The girls all wear purple Crockett’s T-shirts (for sale at the hostess stand, $14.95 each). Manager roams the dining room settling disputes. That job will give you a stroke.
An oversized boy, maybe 12 years old, has slid down in the booth next to us so that is head is level with the table. “If our food don’t come, we should just leave,” he’s whining in his whiniest voice. “Can’t we just leave?” This kid seems awful young to be doing the customer service moan. “It’ll be here in a minute,” says his mother, pleading.
The steamed broccoli is a happy green, but drenched in butter or something. It slips around the plate when I cut it with the side of a fork. The fork has one inner tine slightly bent and it scrapes my lips with each bite.
We start piling our trash in the bowl of peanut shells. The red onions from our salad. The lonely squares of kale that decorated the steak. A slab of blubber from the prime rib. The wrapper from a lemon scented Fold-a-Fresh. The bowl is now the prettiest thing on the table.
The oversized boy and his two even bigger brothers and their mother are eating now. All four are bent over their plates, eating wordlessly. One reaches for a drink. Mom has her head resting in one hand, turned away from the dining room as she feeds herself.
In the men’s room the floor the old brick red with black grout. Then there’s another section where the floor is a grimy terrazzo that looks like it belonged to another room. A guy in one stall appears to be vomiting and smoking at the same time.
Later I peed and it smelled like Baby Back Ribs. I image my dinner was drenched in liquid smoke, frozen in some far off processing plant, thawed and microwaved at the Roadhouse, and slathered with sugary BBQ sauce. The smoky flavoring survived my digestive system with minor alterations.