My dad’s been staying with me while he recovers from back surgery and this past week we ventured out of the house for the first time for dinner. Daddy wanted a steak, but when the waitress set the plate down in front of him, all I could see was the baked potato.
Cheese, bacon bits, chives and sour cream towered over everything on the plate, with the butter oozing out from under, dripping down the side of the potato.
For a moment I was nine years old, sitting with my mom and dad at The Farmer’s Daughter, an old restaurant in Fort Worth. It’s closed now, but in its day, it was one more swanky steak place. At least it was to a nine year old. And the fact that after dinner we were going to see the musical, Anything Goes, at Casa Manana, well, that was just icing on the cake.
We ordered our steaks and I waited, expecting the twirly thing with the cups of toppings for baked potatoes to be brought out to our table after we finished our salads.
Because that’s what they always did at Frontier Steakhouse or one of the Pioneers at home. Waitresses brought that twirly thing to your table if you ordered a steak with a baked potato. Sure, the cheese might be a bit dry and waxy on top, and someone might’ve dropped bacon bits in the chives or vice versa, but it was all still good. And the twirly thing was fun to spin when no one was looking.
But now we’re here at this fancy restaurant and nobody’s bringing the twirly thing to our table.
Where are the chives? The bacon bits? The cheese? My beloved globs of butter and sour cream?
Then someone started setting our plates down in front of us – without baked potatoes!
“What would you like on your baked potato?” the waitress asked from behind a cart she had wheeled over to our table. The cart was covered with bowls full of butter, sour cream, chives, cheese and bacon bits. Real bacon bits. And the waitress was already slicing open our steaming hot potatoes for us!
My mom went first and told the waitress what she wanted on her potato. Everything. So did my dad. I only wanted butter and sour cream on mine, but I swear it was the best baked potato I’d ever tasted.
I sat there with my mouth gaped open as the waitress went to work on our potatoes. Oh let’s be honest, we all three sat there in amazement. We lived in Wichita Falls where most people thought a steak from places like Bonanza or Sirloin Stockade – restaurants that came up with the disgusting novelty of sneeze guards over salad bars – were a big deal. We’d never had anyone fix our baked potatoes for us!
It was one of the few steak dinners we’ve had where we talked more about the potato than we did the steak. When the bill came and Daddy said it was $17.41, I was horrified. I think he probably was, too. We’d never paid that much for a meal in 1970.
I’d pay just about anything for more baked potatoes like that. For three.