There was nothing exceptional about the meal, but the experience was truly invigorating. Only six miles from our St. Elmo home, Dave’s Modern Café is in Tiftonia, a place very few people have any reason to go, unless you’re getting on the interstate, having glass cut at the Ace Hardware, or looking for a local hotel that accepts multiple dogs.
Modern Dave’s is plywood, literally, yes, but also figuratively—a piece-meal of old retro-modern booths from some long-gone diner, a waitress who may or may not have ever travelled the ten miles to downtown, Christmas lights, and a mauve toilet circa ‘85. In spite of all this, Modern Dave’s has a feel—perhaps it’s legitimacy, perhaps it’s just the dim lighting.
Chris’s dish Pork, Turkey, and Beef Penne utilized the smoke-house meats not consumed the evening before. And its smokiness deepened the red sauce to create a different flavor entirely. But what I truly loved was the recycled concept, the owner-chef mentality of it all. The rest of the food was good, satisfactory, but the experience—and the fake raccoon made of authentic unspecified pelt—will pull me back.
A few years ago, for a lone lunch, I went to a French restaurant located in a strip mall. The owner—in her eighties and wearing Bridgette Bardot’s eyelashes—offered me melon because it was good that day; she sprinkled it with freshly-ground black pepper. She also demanded that, after my quiche, I enjoy her Chocolate-Chambord cake; I had no choice. What I didn’t eat I was instructed to take home for my husband.
No matter how shabby or ill-located, restaurants like these have a certain intimacy that speaks of a simpler mentality—the sort of mentality that Chris and I try to live by but seem to forget when we leave the house: eating what is good, in season; utilizing what’s left over; making do. And maybe the magic of these places is that they make you feel like you’re eating in even when you’re eating out.