The Final Black-eyed Pea in Texas – Texas Month-to-month
“The pork chops listed below are so good, they’re harmful,” he says. On today, although, Candy opts for salmon with carrots and inexperienced beans, a more healthy merchandise that was positively not on the menu once I frequented the Fort Value Black-eyed Pea on Camp Bowie Boulevard with my household, as a child within the early Nineteen Eighties.
In contrast to its heyday, when there have been 130 areas round the US, the Arlington restaurant is the final Black-eyed Pea in Texas. All of the Tennessee areas are shuttered, and solely a handful stay in Colorado. For some, the truth that this country-cooking chain has dwindled down to at least one won’t appear surprising, however these individuals have seemingly by no means eaten the deep-dish hen potpie.
Dallas restaurateurs Gene Road and Phil Cobb opened the primary Black-eyed Pea on Cedar Springs Highway in Dallas in 1975, and the fried okra, squash casserole, and buttery rolls seduced generations of Texans. A lot of these recipes got here from Road’s mom, who lived in Salado. In September 2016, although, twelve of the remaining Texas Black-eyed Pea areas abruptly shut their doorways for good after declaring chapter in 2015.
I hadn’t heard concerning the chapter or the closings, so I’m unsure what received me fascinated by Black-eyed Pea’s evergreen-colored awning and curly signal font. Possibly I used to be lacking Mamaw and Pampaw, who would at all times order chicken-fried steak smothered in gravy. After I began looking for the closest location to Hutto, the place I reside, I couldn’t consider it was 180 miles away in Arlington. I watched TV information clips from 2016 exhibiting defeated regulars strolling as much as eat lunch solely to search out out concerning the chapter. One lady was “astonished.” One other, as if dissociating from shock, lamented, “At the moment is Wednesday. It’s potpie. Hen potpie . . .”
Like the shoppers within the information clips, I used to be crushed to study concerning the closings. So, like Candy, I made a decision to trek to Arlington.
“We get so many calls the place individuals say, ‘Oh my God, you’re nonetheless open?’ ” says proprietor Cheri Coffin, who has labored at varied areas of the chain in North Texas since she began as a server in Mesquite in 1987, when she was seventeen years outdated. “We now have the identical common prospects who are available on daily basis. It’s like Cheers.”
Due to all these cellphone calls, Coffin put a billboard up on Freeway 360 that claims “OMG Sure, We’re Nonetheless Open.” Road and Cobb offered the chain in 1986, and Coffin says the Arlington location was underneath a distinct umbrella company than the opposite twelve Texas eating places that closed, so she was capable of scrape the funds collectively to purchase it. She studied journalism and advertising at UT Arlington and by no means thought she’d handle a restaurant, not to mention personal one. “This place is my coronary heart and soul,” Coffin advised me over a video name. When all the opposite areas folded, she couldn’t bear to let the kitchen shut for good. Via the pandemic, she and her loyal staff did no matter they may to maintain the place going.
“We’ve all had damaged bones and cauterized nerves,” she says. “However we’re nonetheless standing.” One of many causes Coffin purchased the situation was that she couldn’t stand to see longtime staff lose jobs. When the chapter occurred, she says she would get offended calls from individuals asking why and the way her location was open, whereas they have been left and not using a paycheck. She couldn’t save each worker’s job, however she may save a couple of.
Now, virtually each day, the cellphone rings and it’s somebody shrieking with disbelief that they’ve discovered the final Black-eyed Pea within the state. “After I get these calls from individuals, it makes me goosebumpy,” Coffin says.
On a Friday in April, I hit the highway to see if it might measure as much as my recollections.
I drove into the Arlington Highlands complicated desirous to be transported to a time earlier than kale and keto. It was 11:30 a.m. and several other prospects sat in black cubicles or at sq. wood tables, consuming salads and sipping from plastic cups of candy tea or Coke.
Coffin is out working a catering job, so I meet supervisor Jennifer Peyton, who has labored at completely different Black-eyed Pea areas over the past 20 years. “I perform a little little bit of every little thing,” she says. When Peyton exhibits me across the kitchen, she introduces everybody by their identify, and she or he additionally makes positive so as to add what number of years they’ve labored there: Claudio, 20 years; Jorge, 36 years; “Pedro is the rookie,” she says; “Sharky,” a plucky server, has been there for seven.
The cellphone rings and Peyton excuses herself to go reply it.
“I received pink beans, I received black-eyed peas, I received carrots,” she tells the caller. “I received fried corn, I received inexperienced beans. I advised you, I received all of it.”
When she hangs up, she tells me it was a lady who couldn’t consider she’d discovered a Black-eyed Pea, and she or he wished to verify the menu was legit and never some knock-off.
“I advised her, ‘Lady, we’ve every little thing,’ ” Peyton says. “She stated they’re driving proper over from Dallas.”
The fortunate ones, like mates Sandy Norrod and Nelda Blackburn, reside shut by. Norrod and Blackburn eat starter salads at the back of the restaurant, similar to they do each Friday. Norrod tells me she and her husband eat on the Black-eyed Pea thrice every week.
“Cheri fought actual arduous to maintain it open,” Norrod says. “If it closed, my household would starve to demise.”
Beverly Majkut, a neighborhood retiree, began coming in for lunch each Friday as soon as pandemic restrictions eased, “so I wouldn’t go insane,” she says. She adores the meals, but in addition appreciates the texture of the place. “I get a cost out of seeing all of the completely different ages and races. It’s not simply outdated individuals, although there are a whole lot of these,” she says.
Peyton palms me a to-go bag filled with squash casserole, black-eyed peas, fried okra, and people glistening buttery rolls and cornbread. I inform her I would simply must drive the 180 miles again up from Hutto quickly for an additional meal.
“We now have one man who comes on the town from Houston to go to his daughter up right here, and he at all times is available in with an enormous empty cooler and fills it with pot roasts and pork chops and shepherd’s pie,” Peyton says. Hauling a bunch of to-go pot roasts throughout the state might sound excessive, however I love him.
After I get residence to Hutto and share the meal with my husband and son, I swear it’s a transcendent expertise. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to being again at that outdated Black-eyed Pea on Camp Bowie with my grandparents. If I shut my eyes and take a chunk, I’m proper there.