Thursday, September 16, 2010

Carly Sue's Family Diner needs less family, more polish

Posted By on Thu, Sep 16, 2010 at 1:09 PM

Maybe try adding a sprig of parsley?
  • Maybe try adding a sprig of parsley?
Maybe try adding a sprig of parsley?
There's no Carly Sue working at the family-owned diner of the same name. It's a fictitious name.

There is a Sue, however: Sue Byrum, a former caterer and hairdresser who recently turned from perms to pancakes when she opened the neighborhood diner -- it's really more of a small-town truck stop, without the big rigs -- with her parents, Tom and Barbara Byrum, in the former, short-lived Mezzaluna space at 120 East Gregory.


There's something about the place, probably the sincere friendliness of the hard-working Byrum family members, that made me want

to like Carly Sue's. But there are some serious problems that need to

be addressed here. The food and the service need work and the kitchen

seems clueless at attempting something utterly basic: like the simple

act of adding a garnish to a visually unappetizing plate of chicken

fried chicken.

Just getting one of the servers -- who all seem to be related, somehow, to the owners -- to notice you was a chore the other night -- and the restaurant was hardly busy.
Sitting at one of the tables with two friends, we barely got a nod of recognition from the two young ladies on the floor. Finally Barb Byrum, a sweet elderly lady, came over to us and said, "Has anyone offered to take your order yet?"

"I think our server is ignoring us," I said.

Barb leaned into the table and whispered conspiratorially, "Your server's name is Autumn. Or Stephanie." And then she left.

A friend of mine who lives in Waldo and has eaten at Carly Sue's twice now loves it because it's such an eccentric restaurant: "I call it the Twilight Zone Cafe," he told me. "Nobody seems to know what they're doing, but everyone is so goddamn nice. And the food's not bad. It's like the stuff they used to serve at the old Nichol's Lunch."

The comparison to the old Nichol's Lunch -- may it rest in peace -- is a fair one, although the veteran servers at Nichol's wouldn't have to be reminded to bring out condiments, like mayonnaise, with a fried pork tenderloin sandwich.
 
My friend Bob likes Carly Sue's a lot: "You can't complain about it," he snapped at me. "It is what it is, a nice little family diner."

And it's an awfully nice family: Tom was polishing the napkin holders on each of the tables, Barb came over several times to check on us and Sue even managed a half-smile when I asked if any customer had ever asked for a wash-and-set with their meatloaf dinner.

"The Health Department would never allow that," she said.

Bob liked his chicken fried chicken dinner and the piece of cherry pie he ate for dessert. There weren't a lot of choices that night: apple pie, cherry pie, diet cherry pie and carrot cake.

"Are these Golden Boy pies?" I asked Sue Byrum when she served Bob his dessert.

"Golden Boy? These are Sara Lee!" she said.

What was I thinking?

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