By Jennifer Kornegay
On a particularly sunny autumn Tuesday, I was sitting by a window in Zack’s Family Restaurant in Dothan, polishing off my plate of country-fried steak, veggie casserole, mashed potatoes and field peas and wrestling with a weighty decision: Should I eat the rest of my field peas, or stop and get started on the nanner pudding?
My pondering was interrupted by the guy sitting behind me as he chatted with his friend. “My dad ate here yesterday and couldn’t eat his dinner last night. He does that every time he comes here, just gets too full,” he said.
It was a fortuitous break to my concentration, since it provided me with some much-needed perspective. “I will not be like ‘guy behind me’s’ dad,” I exclaimed to no one but me. “I will exercise self control. I’ll put my fork down, pick my spoon up, and eat only two bites of the pudding.” Why? Because I’m strong. And why else? Because I have a chicken roasting with 20 cloves of garlic in the crock pot at home, and I’m definitely eating my dinner.
I may be a bit more disciplined than “guy sitting behind me’s” dad, but I understand why, at a place like Zack’s, he tends to over-indulge. This casual, no-frills, meat-n-three place serves your favorite Southern staples, and its food is so popular, it has two other locations: one in Slocomb and another in Enterprise.
It’s all served buffet style. You grab a lunchroom-line plastic tray with rounded edges and slide it along the three metal bars as you browse and then choose from a bevy of foods that take a long time to cook, but mere minutes to dish out on your plate, classics like baked chicken, fried chicken, country fried steak, collard greens, mashed potatoes, fried okra, vegetable casserole, field peas and more. You may think you have plenty, until the kindly attendant spooning out veggie casserole asks, “What else you want sweetie? You get more.” Other choices include to gravy or not, and if you do go with gravy, which kind you prefer: the brown or the white, speckled with black pepper. You also have to pick dessert; pies, white cake with chocolate icing or banana pudding are options. The long list of meats, sides and sweets changes daily, but it’s all always fresh, tasty and served with a smile.
For your bread (because you obviously still need more to eat), you don’t have to play favorites. Just grab the little basket with both cornbread and a cheese biscuit and scooch things around ‘til you’ve made room on your tray. Next, you pay a reasonable $9.50 (that’s including tax) for your meal, which comes with a big ole drink.
Once you pick your spot in the dining area that’s filled with lively chatter, a waitress brings you your drink, which is a nice touch since there’s no way you could have carried a cup full of liquid and, by now, zero room on your tray.
Giant sweet teas and a comfort food feast in a “this is where the locals eat” atmosphere is an experience that lots of restaurants around our state can claim to offer, but owner Zack Whaley explained what makes his places special. “We operate under the philosophy of providing quality food, quality service in a quality atmosphere for the families that come here,” he said. “That’s why everyone here makes you feel welcome when you walk in. We are happy and appreciative that you came. We may be feeding you, but you’re making our living, so we’re thankful for you.”
Whaley added that he wants each of his customers to feel like they are family, like they are at grandma’s house. “I want them to relax and enjoy themselves,” he said. And who doesn’t get a little stuffed when visiting grandma? Just throw on a pair of stretchy pants, and you’re ready to have lunch with the kinfolk you never knew you had at any of the locations of Zack’s Family Restaurant.
To get there:
Zack’s Family Restaurant
1495 Headland Ave., Dothan
Open 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Check out zacksfamilyrestaurant.com for the daily menus and the addresses of the Slocomb and Enterprise locations.