This week I was out in southwestern Missouri, getting into some hilly country that's part of the Ozarks. Most of my time was spent visiting people in courthouses but I had time to sample three major features of the region. One was the reasonably well-known "strip" in Branson, reputedly where middle America goes to be entertained.
If they do, many are likely to be disappointed. In the early days there, names like Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson did perform but now the whole place is bogus, filled with impersonators and reconstituted singing groups from long ago, such as the Platters, who may have one of their original members still on hand. There are souvenir joints and fast-food places and other turisto specials galore.
I'm someone who has frequented almost every kind of show you can imagine--from summer stock to circuses to rodeos to amateurs doing Shakespeare and yes, the Rolling Stones--and I'm leaving out the worlds of opera, jazz, chamber music, musical comedy, and film. A few weeks ago I happened to drive down the Las Vegas Strip, also a place with tack aplenty but also some genuine headliners and real names on the marquees.
But the other two local specialties were more fun. In Springfield is the still-being-constructed Bass Pro Shop World, which must be the biggest hunting and fishing emporium anywhere. On my way to meet some people at a restaurant contained within the walls--and named Hemingway's, naturally--I must have passed displays of every kind of gear and outdoor clothing imaginable, and and then a few more. Finally, I heard some shots and yes, there was an actual shooting gallery right there in the midst of the sales floor.
Finally, my local colleagues, well, they were down from the state capital but they know the area, had little trouble convincing me to dine early that evening (5:30 so we wouldn't have to wait too long) at the original Lambert's "the ThrownRolls place" which is located, appropriately, in Ozark, Mo., with two other outlets in Arkansas and Alabama. Lambert's holds 700 diners at a time, gives you a choice of barbecue offerings, such as ribs or pulled pork or catfish, or country ham or meatloaf, or in my case, pot roast (o.k., they call it roast beef). Servers turn up with "passarounds" beginning with their famous fried okra and then black-eyed peas and other sides, some coming with the meal, such as fried apples and cucumbers'n'onions and every kind of potato.
The piece de resistance, however, are the hot rolls. Apparently, someone once shouted to a waiter to throw him one, so now, young men move down the center aisles with barrows and toss rolls out to those who can field them, much as those cheerleaders flip t-shirts out nowadays at major league baseball games. Yes, the food is of the volume-over-refinement sort but it's mostly good old basic American favorites. I'd go back in a heartbeat--if I still have one after this outing.