Monday, November 25, 2013

Brenda's Country Cafe: Open for Business

We've lived in Shelby County for almost three years and made the trip down Todd's Point Road and into Simpsonville at least a hundred times. On the right, just over the railroad tracks, is an old grocery store building, with no current sign on it, but a OPEN neon sign hanging in the window. Usually a couple of pickup trucks are parked out front. We've often wondered what was going on behind the dark windows, one of which has a bullet hole through it.

A month or so ago we made a trip into Cottrell Farm Equipment, our favorite Simpsonville shop. While waiting for Renee Cottrell to figure out what was currently wrong with our chainsaw, we asked about the mysterious building. Renee's brother-in-law Bobby said that Brenda was behind the window, and she was cooking up a storm and feeding anyone who ventured in for breakfast or lunch. Two weeks later, Ed and I ventured in, and we returned again today.

I'm not sure I can adequately explain what goes on behind those windows. It's not really about the food, but rather the whole experience. First, there is the place: a big open room lined with shelves that are filled with knickknacks. At first I thought they were for sale, but now I'm not so sure.

Six or eight tables with red checkered plastic cloths and mismatched chairs are scattered around, most with various sections of newspapers on them. A wood burning fire is going. Usually an old man or two are sitting at one of the tables or in the vinyl easy chair by the wood stove. Perhaps they ate earlier in the day, but now they just sit or sometimes play Rook.

In the back corner there is a steam-table, a grill, and Brenda. She greets everyone as they come in and explains that you can have a hamburger and fries or her daily special. That's it. You don't like it, leave. Both times we have eaten there, the daily special has been pork loin. Today it was served on a bun and came with canned peas and macaroni. There's chocolate cake with chocolate icing for dessert. Whipped cream from a can is optional.

When we got there today, Brenda was a whirling dervish as she plated a dozen burgers and fries. She was expecting a large group to walk in the door any minute and she said she would get to us soon enough. I don't know where these people came from, but sure enough, in a minute or two a whole crowd came in, picked up their full plates, and made themselves at home. In the middle of serving them she yelled over at us to see if we wanted the daily special and, in a matter of minutes, Brenda yelled that our plates were ready for pickup. She was all out of iced tea, so tough luck. Did we want a soda? One of the other customers called over to Brenda about getting some ketchup. She yelled back: Why you asking me? Don't you see that refrigerator? Get up and get it yourself.

The large group ate and settled up before we even got started. Most of them seem to have a running tab and it was stored in Brenda's brain. There was a lot of back and forth about who owed who how much and just when could they pay up. Between when they left and when the next group came in, Brenda came over to chat with us.

We found out that her name was Brenda Ried and she had been cooking at the store for decades. In times past, a furniture factory was located next door and she single-handedly fed all the workers breakfast and lunch, five days a week. The factory is now shut down. Seems like most of her customers are farmers or down-on-their-luck young people, looking for a place to hang out and fill up. Construction workers also seem to find their way to Brenda's.

She's cooking turkey and dressing on Thanksgiving for anyone that needs a place to go. She doesn't want anyone to go hungry. If she's got something cooking, she's going to make sure all get fed. That's just what she does. That's just who she is. Brenda's Country Cafe, open for business.

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