By John J. Duncan Jr.
I miss Wright’s Cafeteria. Everything I ever had there was good, and I always saw a lot of friendly people there. One of the most pleasant was the owner, my friend David Wright.
The cafeteria was filled with pictures of Tennessee football teams and players, and David always had a prediction for the upcoming game. I don’t believe he ever predicted a Tennessee loss.
The meat and vegetables and rolls were great, but most peoples’ favorite was either the banana pudding or the coconut cream pie. I enjoyed both, but I almost always couldn’t resist the butterscotch pie because that was almost the only place you could get one.
Once many years ago the Metro Pulse, which was sort of a liberal elitist weekly, had a bad review of Wright’s. In the middle of the review, it said, “Reportedly, this is Jimmy Duncan’s favorite restaurant, need we say more?”, like I wasn’t high class enough to know really good food. David apologized to me, but I told him not to worry about it. I said: “I will let them have uncooked green beans and hard-as-a-rock asparagus like they serve at some of those snob deals and I will stick with all those who like your kind of food, and if they would let me run on that basis, I would win 95 to 5.”
Once the late Jay Garrison, a fine lawyer who had played with the UT Band, called and asked if I would play golf with him and Gary Sousa who had just moved from Connecticut to head the band. On the 18th hole at Holston Hills, Mr. Sousa asked me to tell him some of my favorite restaurants. I recommended Litton’s, Regas, and Wright’s Cafeteria. With his Connecticut ear and my East Tennessee accent, he just couldn’t believe there was a restaurant called “Rat’s” Cafeteria.
When I was a boy, families ate almost every meal at home. Now most families seem to eat most meals at restaurants or at home with food carried out from some restaurant. We thought it was a very special treat to go on family night to the old S & W Cafeteria on Gay Street. It had great strawberry shortcake, as did Regas.
I miss the S & W and Regas, too. My Focus column of Sept. 21 2020 was about three of the biggest things in my life, all of which happened at Regas Restaurant.
Writing about cafeterias made me think of a sign I saw in a cafeteria in Virginia which said, “The only way to stay healthy is to eat what you don’t like, drink what you don’t want, and do what you’d rather not.”
Other restaurants that I enjoyed that are long gone included the Brass Rail on Gay Street, Harb’s just off of Magnolia, and Ruby’s next to Barnes Barber Shop in Burlington. I was eating at Ruby’s one day and it was the birthday of one of the waitresses. Roy Berrier, the barber, came over and started singing to her a joke of a song called “Pine Trees,” starting very low, but going to very high on the third verse. It brought the house down.
I took my first date at UT to Mr. Changes’ G & H Restaurant on Cumberland, also long gone. I took my first date with my first wife to Ye Olde Steak House on Chapman Highway, and we had a marriage that lasted until she passed away last year. That restaurant is still there and still very good.
I am thankful the Pizza Palace on Magnolia is still there and was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. And I still enjoy Sam & Andy’s in Farragut and Louis’ on Broadway. And I appreciate and enjoy our local chains such as the Chop House Restaurants, Aubrey’s, and Buddy’s BBQ.
My friend Steve Hall, when he was Register of Deeds, told me if Wright’s Cafeteria was next to the courthouse, he would weigh 300 pounds. I might come close to that if I got all the strawberry cake at Litton’s that I would like to have.