Like it or not, we've arrived at the end of the Deep South Road Trip. Looking back on it all, Yien and I have had a ton of incredible food in such a short amount of time. Of course, what better places to go to are there for a foodie like me than Memphis and New Orleans, two of the best cities for food in the country? We've tried Tennessee dry rub barbecue, cajun seafood, and Louisiana fried chicken, just to name a few.
And of course, who better to accompany me on this epic road trip than my good friend Yien? On the last leg of our trip back from Memphis to Chicago, 6 hours in, we were getting really hungry. The upside to being hungry as a food blogger with a smartphone? I get to just stumble across a place like Lambert's Cafe.
Lambert's Cafe is a quintessential Southern kitchen. Think wide front porch with plenty of rocking chairs, a gift shop, and of course, the hallmark of any great Southern restaurant, white people as far as the eye can see.
Step inside this giant mess hall-style building and you'll feel like you just shrank to half your size. Everything in this place is super-sized. The "cups" they give you for soda (all regular except for diet coke) are 40 ounces, and refills are encouraged. Their food portions are also massive, as you'll see in just a bit.
The hallmark of Lambert's is, of course, their Throwed Rolls. Every few minutes, you'll hear the words "HOT ROLL!" shouted like a peanut shill at a ball game. Raise your hand during and you better be prepared to get a hot, soft, sweet-yet-crispy-yet-chewy roll in your face. No matter what the distance is between you and the roll guy. Don't worry if you don't catch it or if the roll hits a flag/post/chair/other person, you can be sure rolls will keep flying until you have one in your hands or in your mouth.
These things were delicious too. Obviously, they're fresh outta the oven, which makes them that much tastier, but they've also been baking in plenty of butter and oil; lay the roll on a paper towel for 30 seconds and you'll see what I mean. Even better, servers meander through the rows with Lambert's famous Pass-Arounds, one of which is just (I shouldn't say just...maybe dedicated to) delivery of fresh sorghum (that's molasses for you foreigners to the South) and honey. Add it the already hot, buttery roll, and you've got an addiction.
I don't think I have room to talk about the Pass-Arounds, but suffice it to say that if the aforementioned amount of food doesn't satisfy your (clearly) gigantic gullet, every entree comes not only with its own sides, but free, unlimited other sides called pass-arounds. Think about all you can eat fried okra, macaroni & tomatoes, fried potatoes & onions, black-eyed peas, and we've already talked about the sorghum and honey. If you don't know why more than one-third of America is obese, are you starting to get the pattern?
Be that as it may, we're here, and gonna make the most of it. So in going all out, I reached for the giant XXL center-cut ham, served in the very skillet it was cooked in. This thing is enormous; if the picture above doesn't convince you, hopefully the 40-ounce mug standing next to the skillet of food will. That said, more of something doesn't always mean better. While the first few bites were full of juicy, salty, ham-tasting-yet-steak-texture goodness, bites 25-50 were less so. If you've never had center-cut ham made this way, you should definitely try it; it throws a wrench into your whole perspective on what ham should taste like. That said, who is Lambert's cooking for? Absolutely no one person needs that much ham in one sitting. Throw in all the pass-arounds and rolls I had, and it's easy to see why I almost crashed the rental car driving us out of Missouri. And why Lambert's likely has to buy insurance for people who arrest or MI during their meals.
I'll be honest, Yien took the dish I really wanted: the chicken fried steak. It wasn't all bad news, though; his plate was nowhere near empty, either, so I was able to take quite a few bites of the entree. Man, was it awesome! The breading was perfect; thick, coarse, and crunchy - perfect for piling on moisture-rich mashed potatoes & white sausage gravy without losing its crispiness. On the inside, extremely tender cube steak, just the way they've always made them (and the way I like 'em): juicy, meaty, and almost devoid of the real steak taste.
The gravy was en pointe as well, with plenty of that black pepper spiciness that I love in a country-style sausage gravy. If I'd ordered this dish instead of Yien, we might be staring at a higher grade for Lambert's. That said, Yien wasn't as big of a fan of the chicken fried steak as I was, so it's not for everyone. But it definitely was for me =).
What can I say? If nothing, I had a great time at Lambert's, and that's really what it's all about. For most of the hundreds-to-thousands of people who roll up (haha, pun not intended) to Lambert's only to wait the 45+ minutes in line that it can take on a truly busy day, it's just as much about the experience as it is about the food. Like the restaurant says, you're not gonna find Throwed Rolls anywhere else. So to all the haters/nutrition buffs who are cringing at the thought of this place, I say lighten up a bit. While I agree with the statement that the culture of paces like Lambert's Cafe is contributing to our nation's obesity epidemic, it's not insanely terrible for you if you go once, for the experience.
For giving me the true Deep South experience, and for being a fitting restaurant for this Southern Style Road Trip, Lambert's Cafe earns 4 Cherries.