I grew up a thankfully nourished child due to Oklahoma’s once-stellar free lunch program. To typically hungry kids like me that counted on a warm tray of eats every school-day for breakfast and lunch, the gorgeous ladies of well-balanced meals were the true educational heroes of the near-penniless students.
Those women in their tight hairnets and orthopedic shoes always made consistently delicious meals that can still inspire me today more than any celebrity chef that graces a local eatery with their overpaid presence ever could; if I’m being honest, there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t lament that long lost culinary tradition.
And while those days of free lunches might be gone, that taste—that goddamned taste I just can’t shake—is back in the best way possible at the incomparable Polk’s House, 2319 N. Lottie Ave. Sure, they might serve grown-up selections for grown-up hungers, but the spirit of that lunch-lady love remains as soon as you walk into the tiny corner building to order.
With a menu that changes every day, today they offered fried catfish, baked ziti, barbeque pork-chops and fried chicken, all lined up in silver warming trays, the server standing with shiny tongs ready to go. As my gal-pal Jodie made her lunch selection, I scanned the homemade cakes and pies across the top of the sneeze-guard, licking my lips as I chose my midday meal, somewhere around $11.00 each.
As the women behind the counter put together our styrofoam containers, they explained that they do have a small static menu—pointing it out to us on the wall—but it’s their daily changes on the line that people have seemed to love the most about Polk’s in their five-year existence. I carefully listened as I bit down on one of the pickled eggs that rested in a jar next to the register.
We sat outside on the corner of NE 23rd and Lottie in what was the only seating around, exposed as everyone from sweaty-browed city-workers to well-coiffed lawyers shuffled in and out, all taking today’s goods with them. Jodie had picked the fried chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans while I saddled up with the barbeque pork-chops with potatoes as well and a substantial green salad.
Jodie’s fried chicken was crispy gold, with that full-flavored taste people hope to get from chicken chains around town but are always left clucking disappointed; not here, no way. As for my plate, the barbeque pork-chops, lightly slathered in a spicy sauce and with a shake or two of seasonings coating each moist cut, made for a mighty-mighty good lunch.
The tossed salad and green beans were decent side-dishes as well, but if I may wax poetic once again, I have to rhapsodically compliment the creamy mashed potatoes and gravy mix; earlier, when I said Polk’s reminded me of my middle school lunches, it’s the potatoes that I have to give pure justice to and single out with fanfare.
With a velvety texture that melded well with the temperate gravy, these were the potatoes I have been seeking for almost 25 years. These were the tray-fillers of my lost youth, of my good times and of my hollow adulthood, a meaningful dish that brought back a flood of lunchtime memories, many of which I had forgotten and needed to humbly remember.
Leftovers packed up, Jodie and I dug our plastic forks deep into the covetous homemade pecan pie with a buttery crust, sitting back in the padded chair with fulfilled smiles on our faces as people walking by asked how us we were doing. I was a satisfied kid once again I told them, with not a craving or a care in this cruel world. Cómpralo ya!