Around 11:30 a.m. Nov. 19, having had a light breakfast of a toast and a cup of coffee earlier, my mind settled onto an unusual delicacy — a hamburger steak with French fries.
I drove first to Elm Street, thinking possibly I could find it on a particular restaurant’s menu that day. The parking lot was crowded, and the only other place I could recall serving what I had in my mind was Dub’s in the shopping center.
The closest I’d been to Dub’s in the last 10 years or so was the occasional delivery of a few items to Goodwill, a couple of doors north. Many years ago, before the advent of Shoney’s, Cracker Barrel and Ruby Tuesday’s, Dub’s was a go-to, local, homegrown greasy spoon in Athens.
That morning, I pulled into a parking place at the front door. The inside was loaded with aromas you seldom ever garner in today’s restaurants. The walls were still the off-white color, and tables and chairs were the same as I remembered from way back when. Stools along the counter to the left appeared to be relatively new, possibly 10 or 15 years old.
About 20 diners sat around, all talking and enjoying the camaraderie. Several faces were familiar to me.
Being a single diner, I chose to sit at the counter toward the back, and from that vantage point, I could watch the ever-moving hands of the quiet grillmaster and observe the waitresses. They took orders and accomplished extraneous duties in an assembly-line fashion that guaranteed prompt and efficient service.
The small dining area was beginning to fill, with some customers in Liberty overalls, some nicely dressed and a couple of graying elderly ladies with little black purses dangling from their arms. My order was taken by a nice woman who helped me along with deciding exactly what I wanted and the way I wanted it.
When I said, “Thank you,” she smiled and sweetly replied, “You’re welcome, sweetheart.”
I hadn’t heard that acknowledgement in a long time, but at Dub’s, it seemed right and proper. It brought back to me a truly Southern thing, an Athens thing which I’d heard many times over in my life. I smiled to myself as I glanced around, thinking — joy can sneak up on you at any time.
My water was served in a tall Styrofoam cup. Minutes later, the lady brought a small bowl of plain lettuce and chopped tomatoes with ranch dressing on the side. It was perfect compared to the large salads served elsewhere with additions of cheese, nuts and no telling what else.
I reached for the salt and pepper shakers. The old dime-store shakers with dented tops possibly held fingerprints of other diners but worked perfectly, unlike the misadventure where you have to unscrew the top from the pepper shaker to get anything out because the fashion is “course” ground pepper.
At the grill, the chef was hand-making my steak from two hamburger patties, which had also been handmade that morning by one or two of the waitresses. Just when the bottom of my salad bowl could be seen, my dinner arrived on the familiar green platter with a heaping pile of the hottest golden-brown French fries.
Before I could ask, the lady questioned, “A1 or 57 sauce?”
The salt and pepper shakers made their play again, and in front of me laid everything I’d wanted earlier that morning, prepared just right without undue fanfare.
The steamy window up front, the aromas wafting around inside, the chattering diners — two of whom came to say hello to me — and faces of everyday folk say a world of good things for any soul. It felt like going home again, suddenly renewing an old friendship and bringing back cherished moments from another time.
And I was handsomely rewarded with good food and “sweetheart,” making that day a special event, a top-drawer day, thanks to dinner at Dub’s.