Jim Bishop: Where the elite meet to eat

Amazing how a certain setting, conversation or sudden encounter can trigger nostalgic mental images of another time, another place.

Recently in a gathering of friends I was ticking off eating places in the greater Harrisonburg area that I once frequented but no longer exist. Some favorites included:

– The Old Virginia Ham cafe, the space now occupied by the Rockingham court complex, one of the best places for breakfast that I recollect.

– Kenny’s, the only fast-food restaurant in town during my college years along Rt. 33 east, about where L’Italia now stands. I’d order a juicy hamburger on a Sesame seed bun, fries and a soft drink and get change for my dollar. Circling the place in vehicles was discouraged, but many did so anyway;.

– Lloyd’s Steak House on Rt. 11 south with its white tablecloths, linen napkins and fast, friendly service by grandmotherly waitresses. Their specials included “steak for two” with baked potato and salad at a reasonable price. I also remember their sign at the cash register: “In God We Trust. All Others Pay Cash.”

– The Rib & Sirloin Room at the Belle-Meade Restaurant, where I took a fair young co-ed whom I wanted to impress for a steak dinner with potato, sides and beverage for about $3.98, a lot of money for an impoverished college student to shell out.

– M.D’s “Chicken in the Rough” at New Market. It was hard to beat the generous portions of fried chicken garnished with string fries and dinner rolls served without utensils, just a cup of lemon water to dip your sticky pinkies in. The décor might be described as “early plastic,” with assorted flowers and fruit hanging from the ceiling and walls.

Jess’ Lunch, Klines and the BBQ Ranch on Rt. 11 north always were, and I hope always will be.

As I was leaving the group, a lady at the next table said she overheard my comments about Chicken in the Rough and said, “Don’t forget – they also served honey for the rolls, which made your fingers even stickier.”

She also reminded me that the Harrisonburg Howard Johnson’s served “all you can eat” fried clams every Friday night. (I would always order a clam roll those magical times our family stopped at one of those orange-roofed plazas along the Pennsylvania Turnpike).

Every time that I yield to temptation and pull in to Klines Dairy Bar I’m reminded of special eating establishments from childhood days.

I think my favorite special Kline’s flavor is black raspberry because every luscious lick takes me back to a drive-in spot on Rt. 611 just a few miles south of Doylestown, Pa., that specialized in frozen custard made in vintage ice cream machines. They always had soft-serve raspberry on hand.

I can still visualize our family pulling into the crowded parking lot on a muggy summer’s night, the confectionary delight soon melting down the cone and dripping onto my t-shirt or shorts.

A Frosty Cup affair a bit farther from home, along Rt. 309 near Souderton, Pa., offered the ultimate taste bud treat – a hot dog off the rotisserie grill and a soft-serve ice cream cone washed down with A&W root beer served in chilled frosted mugs.

Other local but long-gone places included Mary’s and the Red Rooster, which served the best Philly-style cheese steaks I’ve ever consumed.

My family wasn’t that well off, but somehow we managed to eat out frequently. What great culinary encounters followed when Dad pulled into Ed’s diner in Doylestown – ooh, could we afford fried shrimp stuffed with crabmeat? – or Goldie’s Diner in Dublin. The best part of the dining experience at Goldie’s were the times someone plunked a coin into the colorful Wurlitzer jukebox – six plays for a quarter – and I watched the 78 rpm platter rise from the depths of the machine, the turntable start to spin and Miss Patti Page warbled, “How Much is That Doggie in the Window?”

Of course, going to such “fancy” places required that we all dress up. Does anyone do that anymore?

Today, virtually every fast-food and chain eatery has settled into the ‘Burg. I go out with my backyard neighbor, Harold Huber, for supper every couple weeks, and we have fun sampling the wares at a place we’ve never been before.

But, every so often, I find myself yearning to drop by Doc’s Tea Room across S. Main Street from the former Madison College, if only for an order of ketchup-drenched greasy French fries and a fountain soft drink.

It remains a joy – and privilege – to eat out occasionally and, along the way, to recall some former eating places and certain menu items that many years later still leave a pleasant taste in my mouth.

Jim (Bon Appétit!) Bishop is public information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. Contact him at bishopj@emu.edu.

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