THE SONIC BOOMER
If you have ever been to Foley, Ala., you likely have been to Lambert’s Café. On the wall is a photo of Ronnie Van Zant, lead vocalist for Lynyrd Skynyrd, with the nearby inscription, “I wrote ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ for you.”
Just about anyone who has visited Foley has been to Lambert’s. Mark and I stopped because we saw so many people outside that it looked like the place had been evacuated. When we realized they were merely waiting for tables, we decided to join the melee.
It was 9 at night, and there was still a 40-minute wait. We knew this because the girl in the air-conditioned booth outside (there was no room for her inside) told us so as she took our names. When we got inside, we knew the wait was worth it.
At Lambert’s, you are seated in a booth because that’s all they have — wall-to-wall booths. You are immediately brought the drink of your choice in what looks like a 55-gallon drum and handed a menu. The menu features chicken and beef and pork, but it also lists “The Bubba Sandwich” (fried bologna), “Somethin’ Southern” (“all the white beans a body can eat”) and hog jowl “sliced thick and deep fried” (“Why settle for bacon?”).
I ordered the hamburger steak and two sides. Despite the fact that you get two sides, servers are constantly coming around with “pass-arounds,” big bowls of food that you are entitled to as well. Our first server showed up within minutes and asked us if we wanted some fried okra.
“But we haven’t got any plates yet,” I said.
“We heap it on one of those towels,” he said. There was a roll of brown paper towels to my left. I declined, but Mark accepted. I got my “heap” when the girl with the fried potatoes came around. The other two choices were tomato macaroni and black-eyed peas.
When my dinner arrived, it wasn’t on a plate anyway — it was still in the skillet they’d cooked it in. “Careful, that’s hot,” they warned.
We had just begun our meal when two guys came out of the kitchen wheeling a cart. The cart contained two layers of hot rolls, still in their cast-iron baking pans. Anyone who wanted one put their hands in the air, and the guys, who looked like star pitchers from the high school baseball team, tossed a roll at them from across the room. It seemed odd, but this is what Lambert’s is famous for. As their motto on the wall proudly proclaims, they are “The Only Home of Throwed Rolls.” And it is entertaining.
Little kids stand up on the seats of their booths, and the pitchers nod to the kids’ fathers behind them to be ready. The rolls are “throwed” a little high, perfect for the dads to catch. In the whole 10,000-square-foot restaurant, I saw only one roll on the floor. And they’re delicious — a perfect combination of ingredients coupled with the pride of being able to catch the thing.
Lambert’s is definitely a real Southern restaurant, and despite not caring for fried okra, hog jowls or white beans, I instantly became a fan — despite the fact that I wished they had “thrown” their rolls instead of “throwed” them.