Foley, Alabama. It’s an overcast day at the beach. Lambert’s Cafe is already busy this morning, and they aren’t even open yet.
There is a small line forming outside the front doors. Lambert’s opens at 11 a.m., but We the People are ready at 10:48. We stand outside among a small group of tourists, ready to eat ourselves into type II diabetes.
For the unbaptized, Lambert’s is home of the throwed roll.
The restaurant’s gimmick is simple. Throughout your dining experience, a guy frequently comes out of the kitchen, carrying a cart of hot yeast rolls, and he pitches these rolls to customers.
The guy throws these rolls across the crowded restaurant. And you try to catch the roll. I have never caught a roll. Not in my entire life. But then, in my defense, I have never been a coordinated individual.
So here’s how it happens:
The guy or gal with the rolls roams the room, until he or she makes eye contact with you.
When he or she has established through visual confirmation that you indeed desire to be the recipient of a projectile individual miniature loaf of bread, he or she throws a roll at you.
Notice I did not say “throws a roll TO you.” They throw it AT you. They aim for your cranial region.
When someone throws something at your face, your natural instinct is to protect yourself. The roll sails across the restaurant like a surface-to-air military offensive, and all you can do is defend your most precious asset.
I have been to Lambert’s hundreds of times because it is my favorite restaurant on planet earth. But I’ve never caught a single roll.
Even so, this restaurant has always been a special place for me. I don’t know why.
I used to come here for my birthdays. Every single one. We would drive all the way to Foley, stand in an impossible line of beach tourists who smelled of Coppertone and B.O., until we finally sat in a booth, whereupon an overeager employee would throw four-seam fast balls at my head. And I loved it.
I also remember coming here after my wife graduated from culinary school. We celebrated her graduation from Faulkner State Community College, and we had a ball. We ate so much food we had to call a taxi. I got nailed in the face twice.
I ate here after I graduated community college in my 30s. I was so proud it hurt. My wife sat on the same side of the booth as me. Our shoulders touched all night. Never caught a single roll.
I ate here when I had one of my first articles published in a magazine, which made me an actual published writer. I cried off and on.
The magazine was nothing to write home about. In fact, the publication had a circulation of two-point-six people.
Moreover, my article was boring. The essay was about — seriously — the effectiveness of leech therapy, or hirudotherapy, which utilizes the beneficial effects of blood-sucking leeches on the human body. Leeches, which are hermaphrodite, carnivorous worms that secrete unique saliva that could be medicinally beneficial when applied to problematic areas on a patient’s body.
I dropped three rolls.
We ate here for my 40th birthday. I wore my cowboy hat. I told my wife that I loved her. The man with the yeast rolls had to physically hand me the roll.
And I ate here this morning. My wife and I were passing through Foley on business. I performed a show in Orange Beach last night.
We woke up early this morning in our hotel. We drank crappy hotel coffee. Then we came to this place. We stood in line like a couple of tourists. I held her tightly. We have been married for nearly 20 years, and I would be nothing without her.
My wife is a woman who took a wayward, hopeless, misguided kid, and somehow turned that kid into a wayward, hopeless, and misguided man.
“I love you,” I told her.
“Back at you,” she said.
And then the man came out of the kithen with rolls. He made eye contact with me.
“Throw one here,” I shouted.
He threw it at me.
My streak remains unbroken.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist, and novelist, known for his commentary on life in the American South. His work has appeared in Southern Living, The Tallahassee Democrat, Good Grit, South Magazine, Alabama Living, the Birmingham News, Thom Magazine, The Mobile Press Register, and he has authored seven books.
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