The Georgia Shakespeare Festival is located in a dullish stretch of suburbia that is all but devoid of restaurants. I know this because I checked out of my hotel at noon on Sunday, went looking for brunch, and found nothing but a Piccadilly Cafeteria, three of the Waffle Houses that are ubiquitous as telephone poles in the Deep South, and a half-dozen fast-food joints. Opting for nostalgia over efficiency, I chose the cafeteria, though not without double-checking the time in order to make sure I got in ahead of the after-church crowd. Southern cafeterias start to fill up at a quarter past twelve on Sundays, and by 12:30 you can’t count on getting a table.
I don’t know when I last ate at a southern-style cafeteria. When I was a boy in Smalltown, U.S.A., my family used to go straight from the Murray Lane Baptist Church to a restaurant called Two Tony’s, but that was an all-you-can-eat buffet, the kind of place where you served yourself from endless steam tables, pausing only to tell the white-hatted man at the end of the line whether you wanted roast beef or baked ham. At a cafeteria the cheerful ladies behind the counter fill your plate for you, and the only thing on which you get seconds is your soft drink.
Time was when such establishments were nearly as easy to find below the Mason-Dixon Line as Waffle Houses. They’re still far from uncommon, but you don’t see so many of them nowadays. Baby boomers prefer to be served by a waitress, or to pick up their food at a drive-through window. I’d guess there were a hundred people seated in the dining room of the Piccadilly Cafeteria on Peachtree Road on Sunday at twelve-thirty, all but a dozen of whom were either gray-haired or bald. (I was about to say that I was the youngest person there, but alas, I wasn’t. I find it hard to remember that I’m fifty years old.)
Times change and so do tastes, but the Piccadilly chain has yet to acknowledge the evolution of the American palate. I can’t put it any better than does the company’s Web site:
Walk into any Piccadilly and you’ll swear it’s your mother’s kitchen. The first thing you’ll notice are the friendly smiles, followed immediately by a huge selection of your favorite comfort foods. Delicious fried chicken, succulent roast beef, tasty fried shrimp, all ready to enjoy. Choose from our wide variety of garden fresh home-style vegetables like carrot souffl