Lunchtime, mid-week. Eating Companion and I are driving east on State Road 64, past pastures and farms, various fields of crops, and a whole lot of, well... land. A few weeks back EC spotted a little roadside convenience store advertising fried chicken, BBQ ribs, fried fish sandwiches and more, and insisted we check it out.
So here we are, at the Farmer’s Inn, greeted by a barrage of signage out front: “Country Boys Can Survive,” “THIS IS COUNTRY.” The building is surrounded by some rundown trailers, a massive barn to the south, and a beautiful stretch of farmland just across the street to the north.
Inside we’re acknowledged by a man in his 70s, who seems if not annoyed, not particularly excited about our being in his store. We step up to the counter and take a look at the offerings: cheeseburgers, fried chicken, a bowl of mashed potatoes and gravy with green beans and pork chop sandwiches, everything pre-made, wrapped in cellophane. EC starts asking questions as to what everything is. His questions are answered with one word answers, though we’re starting to realize the man’s attitude is ingrained and not the result of some displeasure with our being here.
“You have any ribs?” EC asks.
“Friday,” the man says.
“Friday.” And so on.
We order a couple cheeseburgers, some fried chicken and some roast beef, which the man says is “good.” We cruise through the store’s selection of beverages, surprised by the variety of cane sugar sodas available, including Dr. Enuf (“The Original Energy Drink — Enuf is Enough!”), Sioux City Root Beer, Cool Mountain Root Beer, and Cheerwine. We grab some root beers and a cherry herbal Dr. Enuf, cash out with our friend, and grab a seat at the picnic table out front.
A few trucks pull in. Laborers pile out and return with their hands full of the same meals we’re about to enjoy. Save for the occasional passing trucks, it’s seriously quiet out here.
We rip into the burgers. Despite being wrapped up and kept warm, they aren’t soggy at all, the lettuce and onion are crisp, the tomatoes juicy and firm. Served on a sesame seed roll, their must be a half-pound of ground chuck. It’s good, quality-tasting meat, seasoned lightly and cooked well-done. They aren’t going to win any awards, but they fill the void between fast food and your favorite highbrow slider.
EC tears open the bag of fried chicken and digs in. The breading is thin and simple, heavily peppered in the Southern tradition. The breasts are heavy with tender, juicy white meat. The thighs and wings are a bit lighter on the meat, but EC’s always preferred dark meat and seems totally enamored of these crispy little dudes.
Our friend from inside has come out to fill up his mop bucket. He asks us where we’re from, what we do. I tell him I bartend in Sarasota. He says that must be some job, dealing with drunks. I say, “Sometimes, yeah.”
We tell him the chicken is killer. He says, “It’s tough, cooking out here. We make everything each morning. Sometimes we have 50 or 60 (diners) and everything’s gone. Other times, there’s no one. And once the food’s made, we gotta get rid of it.”
Mop bucket full, he heads inside. We dig into the roast beef, which it turns out is on the bottom of the bowl of green beans and mashed potatoes and gravy. It’s melt-in-your-mouth soft, with a thick, rich, salty gravy. The green beans are soggy, bland. The mashed potatoes are boring, though in being boring they let the roast beef shine.
We finish up our seriously tasty sodas, toss the meal’s remnant in the trash, and head for the car. Our friend says to have a good day, and to keep an ear out for anyone who might want to lease his place. “I’ve been doing this for 37 years,” he says. “I’m ready for something else.”