Douglas Adams, author of A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, wrote that all civilizations pass through three phases, Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication. "The first phase is characterized by the question 'How can we eat?' " wrote the Englishman, "the second by the question 'Why do we eat?' and the third by the question 'Where shall we have lunch?'”
Sophisticated as we dwellers at the throbbing epicenter of the known universe may have become, that third question is not one that gives us much trouble. Trenton has more restaurant choices than many a town the same size but London it ain't, so that we denizens o' Dade are spared the agony of choosing among Mediterranean, Mongolian and Thai on the typical Friday lunch hour.
However, The Dade Planet is happy to report, a few more choices are available at or near the center of the universe, or they are in any case fixin' to be. Prowling the Lookout Valley like a hungry shark in its constant search for food, The Planet has found:
Café and Toast:
This Vietnamese-Singaporean restaurant is not in Dade County but in the Walmart shopping center in Tiftonia, close enough! It puts Banh Mi, the insanely addictive national sandwich of Vietnam, within 20 minutes of Trenton and that is no distance at all for a hungry shark.
Johnny Gn--he swears that's the way he spells it--runs Cafe & Toast with his Vietnamese wife. The Lookout Valley restaurant offers the closest banh-mi sandwich to the center of the universe.
Banh mi—as The Planet has raved before in these pages—is the gastronomical lovechild of the French occupation of southeast Asia, with French-style bread stuffed with inscrutable Asiatic flavors. The Café and Toast version, which will cost you $4.50, is on a softer rather than crustier French loaf but still pretty damn inscrutable and all-the-way delicious. The Planet is already dying for another. It is available in beef, pork or chicken.
Café and Toast also serves several versions of phoh, the Vietnamese noodle-and-vegetable dish, bee hoon; the irresistible vermicelli dish from Singapore; spring rolls with a taste and texture unlike any in a Chinese or Thai restaurant; as well as many other mysterious and alluring Asian entrees. The Planet has now sampled three and all were very good indeed.
Café and Toast is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. every day but Sunday. The telephone number there is (423) 803-0493.
The Lil' Chicken Coop
The Lil' Chicken Coop just celebrated its first birthday—it opened about this time last year—and The Dade Planet only discovered its existence this week. That would have been embarrassing enough in a town this size but add to it the fact that it is run by one of The Planet's favorite cooks, Lynda Ditmar, and you have one sheepish hungry shark!
Lynda was the culinary powerhouse behind the original Jo Mama's Wraps, which had become one of Dade's most popular lunch spots when Lynda and her husband, Zack, sold it a couple of years back. Zack needed more time to devote to his gig as a Baptist minister, and Lynda didn't want to run the place on her own.
Lynda Ditmar waits in the walk-up window of the Lil' Chicken Coop as helper Ashley Suiter opens it for the day's lunch rush. Lynda is the "slick chick" who used to run Jo Mama's Wraps, and her new lunch lineup is a "lil'" version of Jo Mama's menu.
"I didn't want to work all those hours," she said at a brief interview at the Lil' Chicken Coop Wednesday. "[Now] I've cut it down to just three hours a day."
The Lil' Chicken Coop, it should be explained, is not a full-sized restaurant but a "food trailer," an Airstream-sized kitchen-on-wheels with a walk-up window in front. "Actually, we bought this when we sold the restaurant," explained Lynda. "We were going to do events, you know, travel. But events don't usually let you wind down until Saturday, and we had to be back for church on Sunday."
So the food trailer sat for six months in the driveway, while meanwhile Jo Mama's under its new management shortly shut down, its site on the Trenton town square now occupied by Thatcher's BBQ (of which more in a minute.)
Then Lynda's son, who owns a business on Jacoway, offered the Coop parking space on his pavement, and she started a takeout and catering business from it.
Her menu is also "lil',"featuring a couple of favorite sandwiches from Jo-Mama's, like the Slick Chick and Lynda's famous chicken walnut salad wrap, plus $5 lunch specials on Wednesdays and Fridays. And advertising has been the "lil'-est of all." "It's just been word-of-mouth but we stay busy," she said.
You can get a sandwich from the Coop's walk-up window any weekday from 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m., or call and get lunch delivered for $2 more per order (not per sandwich). The Lil' Chicken Coop is also pleased to cater luncheons and meetings.
You can call The Lil' Chicken Coop at (423) 645-3807. Physically, it is located on Jacoway Street just off Highway 11 North, beside Dade Tire—right in town but far enough out of a hungry shark's line of tunnel vision to account for The Planet's belated discovery of it.
The Artzy Cafe
The Artzy Café on Main Street was lovingly and artistically decorated inside and out for months before it was opened last year—for a brief few months before closing its doors.
Now a new owner, Ruth Reed, is lovingly and artistically redecorating the place and vows she will fling wide the doors this Monday, Sept. 19, though hell should bar the way.
Ms. Reed was so busy this week with building inspectors, staffers and men on ladders doing enigmatic things to the light fixtures that she had no time to chat with The Planet.
But she did say she's changed everything about the Artzy Café except the name. The old "artzy" décor is gone and more, just as artzy, has taken its place, and Ms. Reed has hired a chef and completely redone the menu.
The Artzy Cafe is not due to open until Monday, but you still can't find a parking space there-- the lot is too crowded with the vehicles of building inspectors and workmen.
Ms. Reed, a painter and muralist from Texas, said she would keep the "studio-café" aspect of the business intact, the growingly popular trend of teaching painting in a coffee-shop setting, as previous owner Ann Keaton was doing at the café during her tenure.
The Dade Planet cannot yet furnish a phone number for the Artzy Café, but physically it is just south of the square at 12238 S Main.
The Old Thatcher's Restaurant
The old Thatcher's BBQ restaurant across from Jenkins Park on Price Street has been vacant since Thatcher's moved onto the town square a couple of years back. But Thatcher's owners, John and Melanie Thatcher, have an active construction permit on the old building and Trenton Mayor Alex Case says he understands the idea is to turn it
into a different kind of restaurant—possibly a fish place, Case thought.
Case said that construction had started some months ago but that the Thatchers had since been obliged to pause it for the time being, and he had no idea when they planned to resume.
The Usual Suspects
Until then, the where-shall-we-have-lunch question in Dade County must be answered with "the usual suspects," the restaurants we are already fortunate enough to have, plus the smattering of exciting new possibilities outlined above. The Planet once again reminds the reader that these represent a pretty good selection for a place this size.
But what else would you expect from the center of the universe?