Out to Lunch: Decatur Family Diner sure to make you smile

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By Bethel Poston

Readers have asked if we ever have disappointing “Out to Lunch” experiences. There are times when we don’t know what to expect on our visits. If we are not pleased, I don’t write about it.

We were a little uncertain about the latest “Out to Lunch” adventure, because I had very little information about Decatur Family Diner.

It’s across Hwy. 58 from the Meigs County Courthouse in Decatur.

It turned out to be an extremely enjoyable visit.

Maybe it was because my wife, Carol, and I invited longtime friends and recent newlyweds, Jess Plemons and Barbara Carmack, to join us.

Jess, now retired, was recently honored at a Kingston football game as coach of the 1973 Tennessee state champions. Our son, Buddy, was a member of that team.

Jess later served as superintendent of Roane County Schools.

Barbara retired some years ago from the atomic facilities in Oak Ridge to raise her children. She and Carol have been active in area bridge groups for some time.

Business was good the day of our visit. Had we not circled the block looking for a parking place, we would have missed the large scene of early settlers and farmland painted on the south side of the diner building.

We all selected items handwritten on the Dry Erase board as Friday lunch specials of the day, served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Barbara decided on the flounder with fries and ordered a side garden salad that looked large enough for a meal. All salad dressings are made on site.

She finished the salad, but I saw some flounder, fries and cornbread in her take-home box.

“The flounder sounds good to me, but I want baked beans and coleslaw as my sides,” Jess said.

He made a point to show me he had cleaned his plate.

“They sure know how to cook baked beans,” he said.

Carol’s first choice from the daily special board was corn nuggets. Creamed or sweet corn is spoon dropped onto an oil-coated baking sheet and frozen. The frozen corn is coated with a mixture of egg, milk, cornmeal, flour, salt and pepper, then deep fried.

She also had meatloaf and coleslaw with dinner rolls.

I like leftovers and later enjoyed some of her meatloaf. It was like Grandma used to make.

Country-fried steak, with brown or white gravy was the only remaining daily-special entrée. I devoured it without gravy and added mashed potatoes, corn nuggets, coleslaw and freshly baked corn muffins.

I know that Carol likes pecan pie, so I ordered a slice for us to share.

Jess said he didn’t want dessert, but Barbara ordered a slice of pumpkin pie. The next thing I knew, Jess had eaten half of Barbara’s dessert.

We passed on apple pie.

A year and half ago, Jerry and Janet Brewster took over the former Our Family Table and changed the name to Decatur Family Diner. They moved to the Decatur area after Jerry retired from the trucking business in Ohio.

Family Diner can seat 65. On the day of our visit, very few seats were empty. Hours are 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday thru Saturday, and 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.

Hostess Gloria Collins quickly seated customers and assisted server Lucy Dillard in making sure customers had everything we needed.

Lucy also makes the popular Wednesday chicken casserole.

Family Diner features cod or catfish dinners with hushpuppies and sirloin steak (with grilled shrimp) or ribeye steak from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

I visited with Mildred Ware of Decatur at another restaurant in March 2012. At that time, she proudly told me she was 92.

During our visit to Family Diner, she told me she is 93. It was her second visit, and she had flounder, mashed potatoes and coleslaw.

She sold real estate in the area for 30 years, and her husband ran Volunteer Electric Cooperative.

Eating with Mildred was Clare Nell Breeden, a retired University of Tennessee Extension agent who was involved with the Meigs County Fair for more than 30 years.

We both agreed that the country-fried steak was good. She had hers with green beans and mashed potatoes.

Our table was surprised when Kingston’s Scott Woodlee stopped by our table to say hello. Jess was his football coach in high school.

Carol is playing bridge at the home of his parents, Sydney and Wayne Woodlee, as I write this.

Scott is a project manager with Volunteer Energy Cooperative in Decatur. Volunteer Energy serves 17 counties in East and Middle Tennessee.

I asked if he was a regular Family Diner customer.

“Oh, yeah,” he replied. His choice the day of our visit was the meatloaf special with mashed potatoes and peas.

Daily lunch specials are baked ham, chicken livers and country-fried steak on Monday; barbecue ribs, hand-breaded chicken tenders and flounder on Tuesday; smoked sausage and sauerkraut, chicken casserole and open-face turkey sandwich with gravy on Wednesday; and open-face fried or grilled pork chop, fried chicken breast and roast beef sandwich with gravy on Thursday.

Sides vary daily. Those not already mentioned include white beans, pinto beans, potato salad, macaroni salad and cream corn.

Homemade chili, potato and chicken noodle soups are daily specials. All are served with a sandwich.

Carol Howard and Charlene Miller work at Storm Copper Components in Decatur. They had the special of chili, Fritos and grilled cheese sandwiches.

“We’ve eaten here several times and usually have the soup special,” Charlene said.

Meigs Primary Care medical assistants Leeah Fekete, Jessi Freeman and Emily Jewell were seated at the table next to ours. They are also Family Diner regulars.

Leeah had the chili, Fritos and grilled cheese sandwich. Jessi ate a side garden salad and grilled cheese sandwich. And Emily had the corn nuggets, a popular item the day of our visit.

I noticed Evelyn Searcy enjoying a cheeseburger and fries. Her brother, Ken Gilliam, who attended high school in Kingston, had flounder, nuggets and coleslaw. Another brother, Don Gilliam, was doing a good job on a shrimp skewer and baked potato.

Family Diner’s menu offers an extensive list of appetizers, salads and cooked-to-order items including pizzas, sandwiches, salads and entrées.

One of my favorites, a hot dog, is on the menu. There’s also a corn dog and sandwich items of fried bologna, BLT, hamburgers and cheeseburgers, fish, chicken, barbecue, Philly cheese steak, club, and grilled ham and cheese.

Other entrées include fried chicken breast, chicken tenders, catfish fillet and popcorn shrimp.

Breakfast is also served and includes omelets, pancakes, waffles and the traditional biscuits and gravy.

Call 423-334-3354 for additional information.

“I’ve noticed people coming in with a frown on their face, and a smile when they were leaving,” Barbara said.

Our group left with a smile on our faces, full stomachs, and talking about how much we enjoyed this “Out to Lunch” adventure.

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Bethel Poston is a Roane County businessman and entrepreneur who writes about places of interest in our area. E-mail suggestions and comments to postonplace@bellsouth.net.