When I'm on the road I do my best to find a local mom'n'pop eatery, the kind of place where the old timers and real locals go. I was wandering around Richmond last week looking for such a place why my wife was in a meeting, when I stumbled across the Madison Diner. It's a tiny little place on Big Hill Road just outside of downtown proper. It didn't look like much from the outside, and doesn't even have much of a sign, but it had a good mix of vehicles in the parking lot. I look for a place that mostly has pick-up trucks, old clunkers, and a few late model sedans. That combination tells you that the portions are good (big ol' boys in trucks need quantity), the price is right (cheap cars mean they need to stretch a dollar), and the service is great (old people are picky and drive big cars). Another good thing to look for is a sign that says "breakfast all day", which generally means real down-home cookin'.
The Madison did not dissapoint. The older lady who told me to sit anywear quickly cleared off my table, brought me some coffee, and asked me about the book I was reading (which was for work and not worth discussing). She sounded like a diner waitress should, with lots of "honeys" and "darlins". The other patrons were just about right as well, lots of old men talking politics and high school sports, and big families (and by big I mean obese) eating waffles with extra has browns and hot sauce. It was only about 10 in the morning but I'd had an early breakfast so I ordered a "Bill's Spicy Burger" with fries. The burger was pretty good, although not particularly spice, as were the fries, and the bill was only $7, which included the coke I had. They didn't charge for the coffee, which they refilled about 5 times while I read and listened to the old codgers around me solve the world's problems. After about 1 1/2 hours I finally went up to pay. I gave the old feller at the register my credit card, who was probably "Bill", and he apologetically told me their machine was busted. When I told him I didn't have any cash, he said "don't worry 'bout it, take care of it next time you come in." Since I'm not in Madison County very often I pratically had to beg him to give me the address of the place so I could mail him a check. He was just going to let it slide!
These are the kind of places we all need to visit more often. They're owned by real people, and pretty much all their profits stay right in the community. It's a crime that there are more fast food joints in the Commonwealth than home cookin' restaurants.