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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Toot-n-Tell

The Toot-n-Tell

What is the Toot-n-Tell?

The Toot-n-Tell is a family restaurant in Garner, North Carolina. You probably have never been to anything like this before, not to eat anyway. This restaurant started out two or three generations ago as a drive-in. I do not know that the waitresses wore roller skates then, but I do know that they do not now. They do, however, frequently wear cutoff jeans, and I do mean cutoff, very cutoff, excessively cutoff. My mother, in her usual state of dementia, has some sharp comments about the attire and additional hairnets needed, which I hope the ladies do not overhear.

Where is the Toot-n-Tell?

The Toot-n-Tell does not have a web site, and there is no surprise in that, especially to those of us who have eaten there. They didn’t start taking credit cards until a few months ago, and even now if you want to include the tip on the charge, you have to mention it ahead of time so the owner can add the amount to the total bil. They do not use the post-charge follow-up as most restaurants do. Of course, I believe I am the only person to have used a credit card in the establishment, but then, I’m not permitted to carry cash, whatever cash is.

The restaurant is located at 903 West Garner Road, Garner, North Carolina. At the time of this writing, Google would find applicable restaurant reviews of the Toot-n-Tell just by typing “Toot-n-Tell” in the search bar. If you go online, do not read these reviews. They will not heighten your enthusiasm for a visit, and you really do want to eat here once. Of course, once is about enough unless you have Yankee visitors in town who need to be put in their culinary place. If the Yankees are from Boston, the boiled cabbage you’ll encounter will foil your plan for culinary adjustment.

If you’re planning to ride Jenny to the Toot-n-Tell, you’ll need to be careful. The restaurant was built directly after Highway 50 was moved westward. It used to branch northeast at Wimpy’s, intersecting Highway 70 a few miles to the east of where it does now. Jenny will not likely remember this, and she’ll want to take the old road, which is now covered with housing developments from the 50s. Remind Jenny with the firm placement of your heels to her ribs when she gets to Wimpy’s. Of course, you’ll also want to stop Jenny from jumping onto Highway 70 when she reaches the bridge. It wouldn’t be prudent to ride a mule on Highway 70, regardless of the hour or season.

Parking at the Toot-n-Tell

Parking at the Toot-n-Tell is easy, as they have a huge parking lot, which is generally holding more than one dump truck and two tractor-trailers. Park where you want. I generally park by the railroad tracks, which are located behind the restaurant on a ridge about 20 feet above the pavement. I do not know who cuts the grass on that embankment, but I do pity the poor soul, and I hope that one day he receives a green card.

Sometimes I arrive before my dining companions, and I need to kill some time, not that time actually dies when I kill it; mostly, I think I’m the one doing the dying then. One option you have is to explore the train tracks. If you do, bear in mind that the Amtrak train blasts through just before noon. You really don’t want to be on the tracks at that point. Being there then would stunt your growth. On the other side of the tracks is a copse of woods with lots of little paths. I do not know who made these paths, but they appear to be miscreants, given the wee treasures I often find, usually with filed serial numbers.

To the east of the Toot-n-Tell is an ancient graveyard with a small church just a few steps further east. The church does not appear welcoming to me, despite the ramp beside the steps. I often cruise the graveyard to chat with the withered souls there. Some graves are 200 years old. Others are from the last century. Many have trees growing in them, and I like to think that the old wooden coffins have given way to the invading tree roots, permitting the old souls to stand in the sun again, or at least share in the midnight beer parties that appear to occur nearby, what with the piles of bottles and cans.

Entering the Toot-n-Tell

Brace yourself. You enter the L-shaped foyer of the Toot-n-Tell and face the community bulletin board, covered with business cards for this and that, none of which you’ll ever need, want, or use. Next, you’ll see the menu of the day. Ignore the menu. It hasn’t changed in 30 years, though it is still accurate. Passing through the second door, you’re facing the check-out counter. The people lined up to pay their tabs are probably in your way. Be as nice as you can.

The first room is where you sit if you want the waitress to bring your food to you. You can order from the menu, but bear in mind that your food will probably come from the bar. In this room, I had a fine plate of fried chicken livers some 30 years ago with my Other Mother. Chicken livers are not on the menu now, I think. Of course, I haven’t looked at the menu in ages. Smoking is permitted in this part of the restaurant. If you don’t smoke, just be quiet as you walk through, and you’ll be safe. Utter one of those patented non-smoker comments, and you’ll find yourself in the fatback fryer.

The second room is where the bar is, and as you might expect, this is where I sit most often. However, the bar is about food, not drinks, so don’t get your hopes up, no matter how much you think a drink would improve this dining situation. I usually sit in the booth either to the right or to the left as I enter, as those are the two seats that my mother can now tolerate. Occasionally, I sit at a table, but doing so presents a developmental opportunity to Mama, and I avoid developmental opportunities at all costs. You may not smoke in the second room; I do not know why not other than the signs say so. However, you can watch TV in this room.

The third room is usually reserved for large parties. It’s also a room in which one may smoke. I’ve been in it twice. Once for Christmas lunch with my mama, and once for dins with a bud. The walk to the bar would now confuzzle my demented mama, and we don’t go there much any more, at least with her.

What to eat at the Toot-n-Tell

The Toot-n-Tell is known for it’s excellent fatback. I disagree. The fatback is very salty. You could leave a strip on the back steps for months, and the salt content would protect it from decay. However, the pounds of salt are not my complaint. Actually, I like the salt part. What I object to is the degree of frying. Although frying is the way God intended for her fatback to be cooked, she did not intend for the fatback to be cremated in the oil. Rather, she intended that the fatback be removed from the oil when the strip becomes translucent. Cooked in this manner, the skin is still chewy, which means that I’m not at risk to need another crown after gnawing down a couple of pounds.

The hot bar will have more than fatback. Often, you’ll find ribs, beef or pork, boiled in a tomato barbeque sauce. (You’d think they’d know better.) Sometimes, you’ll find meatloaf. Many times, you’ll find chitlins. Be careful with the chitlins. The chitlins are often directly beside the chicken stew. I do not know why, and the two often look very similar. It would be very easy to go for a bowl full of chitlins, but wind up with a bowl full of chicken stew. This could stunt your growth.

The veggies on the bar are the usual. Beans. Peas. Greens. Corn. Sweet potatoes. All boiled beyond recognition, with a chunk of fatback lurking somewhere in the pot. Get what you want; it doesn’t matter which, as they’re all extruded from the same vat sorta like a Pringle, but without all the crunchy goodness.

By the way, they always have mac-n-cheese when m’Lily visits.

The dessert part of the bar will include banana pudding, chess pie, coconut pie, chocolate pudding, and some other stuff I do not recognize. I rarely get dessert, mostly because I’d gravitate to what looked like chess pie, but oh no, it’d have lemon juice in it, and that would stunt my growth.

I often spend my time with the salad side of the bar. That’s where we find the perfectly browned lettuce, the yellowed broccoli, the translucent cucumbers, and the chopped boiled-until-green eggs. Pile your plate full of these aged raw vegetables. Once the plate is sufficiently mounded with yellow and green things that should be green and yellow, head to the Ranch dressing. Make everything white with the dressing. It’s safer that way.

There is also fruit on that side of the bar. Eat at your own risk.

Paying at the Toot-n-Tell

After you finish your meal, you’ll need to pay on your way out, which is probably facilitated by the local rescue squad. I suggest using cash if you have it because it’s more easily tossed to the owner from the gurney. Leave the tip on the table. From my careful observation, the modal tip is $1, regardless of the number of people at the table. I leave $5, mostly because of the dialogue with m’mama that I’m sure the waitress overheard. Because of my tipping habits, the waitresses come to our table faster, leave our water sooner, and check on us more often, all of which irritate m’mama.

To my knowledge, the tips have not done a thing for the cutoff jeans, and I do not know about the extra hairnets.

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