Oct 25, 2018

Lambert’s legacy: Throwed rolls and a whole lot more

As any of my few faithful followers could tell you, when I post about an eating or drinking establishment, I often try to chose ones that are either off the beaten path, relatively obscure or simply underappreciated.  

Lambert’s Café is none of these.  In fact, if you love your road food as much as I do, or if you take frequent road trips through the South or Midwest, chances are you’re already familiar with one of the three Lambert’s Café locations.  For me, the one in Sikeston, Mo. – the original – is almost always worth the stop while traveling Interstate 55, and it’s one I’ve been making for as long as I’ve taken road trips to Memphis or New Orleans (and that’s since I’ve been able to drive!). 

But, what has made Lambert’s Café such a popular place to pig out and a bona fide tourist attraction?  Is it because of so many appearances on various popular food-related travel shows and websites?  Is it the constant barrage of billboards along I-55?  Is it having earned a reputation for being the restaurant with “throwed rolls” – a practice which began way back in 1976 when an impatient customer couldn’t wait for his to be served?  Or maybe, as I’d like to think, after four generations under the same family’s ownership, it’s still the down-home country cooking.  

For all the reasons I mentioned, Lambert’s is destination dining.  So, when the opportunity presented itself a while back, Punky and I decided to take the Kiddo – herself a foodie in training – to Sikeston, Mo., for her first Lambert’s experience.   

To be honest, if it weren’t for Lambert’s, the only draws to Sikeston would be an annual rodeo and an outdated outlet mall.  So, once you head west toward town from Exit 67, Lambert’s isn’t hard to find at all.  The cars in front of you are probably headed there, too. Just look for the giant green building that screams Americana surrounded by a giant parking lot full of cars from all over the United States.     

From the moment you walk inside, you can’t help but be impressed by the overall scale of the place. Depending on the time of day, you may see two separate lines of people in the entryway waiting to be seated.  Don’t worry; it doesn’t take as long as it looks. 

You will, however, have enough time to check out everything on display around you.  The statue of Norm Lambert throwing a roll is among the more prominent displays. 

Tributes to other family members, including founders Earl and Agnes, are featured as well. 

Once you get to the end of the line, you’re tantalizingly close to entering a cavernous yet crowded seating area.  As you can tell, the walls are almost entirely covered with license plates and other eye-catching paraphernalia from all over the country.  You won’t be bored looking around as you wait for your food

Even looking straight up, we had something other than a throwed roll (grammatical faux pas aside) to grab our attention during our visit.

The wait for service won’t be long, either.  That’s because, in addition to your server, you’ll have a nonstop parade of waitstaff in blue shirts and red suspenders bringing you something.  And the portions will be large.  For instance, the Kiddo was rightfully impressed with the mug-sized servings of soft drinks.  

And before you know it, you’ll hear the call for throwed rolls.  This guy must have one of the most fun jobs in the world.  Throw up your hand and be ready.  They’re big and buttery, and they will slip out of your grasp if you’re not careful. 

Once you’ve caught your roll, you’d certainly be entitled to tear it apart and dig right in, but I’d suggest waiting to the sorghum server to come by and ladle a nice, sticky serving onto your roll.  Trust me on this one, even if your dentist would disapprove.

The rolls aren’t the only extras that come with any meal at Lambert’s.  There’s an entire menu of “pass-arounds” as they call them to look forward to arriving at your table.  If you’re still waiting for your meal, I highly recommend a serving of fried okra.  Just tear off a towel from the dispenser on the table, and they’ll drop it right in front of you.  By the way, the Kiddo and I agree – this is some of the best fried okra you’ll ever experience. 

You’ll have to wait for other extras until after your plate has arrived, but personally I would not pass up the macaroni and tomatoes or the fried potatoes and onions.   

The menu at Lambert’s is full of the staples of Southern cooking, and on this visit, I chose the barbecue pork steak.  And they sure don’t cut any corners on the serving size.  Although it was smothered in sauce, the pork was as tender as can be.  It comes with three sides of its own, and as you can see I couldn’t resist pairing my pork with baked beans.  The vinegary bit of slow-cooked turnip greens provided a nice flavor contrast, and super sweet and soft baby carrots rounded out the meal.  Plus, at less than $15, this was a steal!  No wonder the barbecue pork steak is reportedly one of Lambert’s best sellers.   

Punky opted with a can’t miss order at a restaurant like Lambert’s – the fried chicken.  Again, the portions were more than generous (looks like half a bird on that plate!), and it came with two sides.  Her choices: some very nicely seasoned green beans and cole slaw. 

The Kiddo’s dinner was not pictured, but she went with a very sound choice – and one she chooses often at Cracker Barrel – the four sides as an entrée for just $9.99.  Considering you also get all the pass-arounds, it’s hard to argue with her logic.   Plus, she was really impressed with the mashed potatoes and gravy. 

Lambert’s Café is by no means high-end cuisine, so if you’re a foodie snob, this may not be the place for you.  But if you love comfort food made with love as much as we do, it doesn’t matter how gimmicky the surroundings are, or how many rolls are "throwed" your way.  As you drive past Sikeston, Mo., on your way elsewhere, a stop at Lambert’s is always in play.   

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