years of sampling East Texas Plate Lunches, I have concluded there
is an unwritten law that says the best are served in nondescript,
slightly rundown country cafes.
To illustrate, the old Murchison Hotel, a few miles east of Athens,
looked like a 1930s residence gone to seed. But inside was one of
the best East Texas Plate Lunches in existence.
Five times a week, residents of the Murchison community and the surrounding
countryside, including lawyers, judges and corporate moguls, would
sit down at the tables to dig into hill-sized platters of food that
threatened to spill over the platešs sides, and to partake in lively
conversation touching on everything from the latest watermelon prices
to the newest scandals in Henderson County politics.
I once told a friend about the Murchison Hotel and we drove there
nearly 80 miles for lunch, our mouths watering all the way.
But when we got to Murchison, the hotel and cafe was disappeared.
The lot was vacant.
Just like that -- not even a state historical marker to mourn the
passing of this particular East Texas Plate Lunch.
The other day, Wayne Smith, who regularly reads this column in the
Tyler Morning Telegraph, called me with the news he had located the
old Murchison Hotel.
Fittingly, we met on the lot where the cafe once stood and drove deep
into the countryside to the Blackjack community. And, there on a hillside,
was the Murchison Hotel, all spruced up and freshly painted. It had
become the country home of Johnny Morrison, who owns a local ceramics
and pottery company.
Johnny wasn't home, but Wayne and I stood there, admiring the transformation.
We could almost smell the odors of fresh blackeyed peas, chicken fried
steak and peach cobbler emanating from the building. In retrospect,
there are some things about the East Texas Plate Lunch that are sacred
and should not be messed with by either the cook or the customer.
Years after the Morrison Hotel closed, a New York friend came down
to East Texas and I carried him to Petty's Cafe in Hawkins to sample
an East Texas Plate Lunch. He scanned the menu and noticed that the
Plate Lunch came with turnip greens.
"ONow, Miss," he lectured the waitress. "I don't want
the turnip greens. I don't like them. I never have. And while I know
that everybody down here eats them, I do not. And will not. Is that
The little waitress nodded her head and trotted off to the kitchen.
She soon returned with my friend's East Texas Plate Lunch. There on
the plate, in all their green glory, were turnip greens.
My friend was furious. "Miss, I don't understand this. Why on
earth have you served me turnip greens, even when I clearly said I
didn't want them?" The waitress straightened up and looked my
friend squarely in the eye. "Sir," she said, "I think
it's the law."
29-March 6 , 2004 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
(All Things Historical is a service of the East Texas Historical
Association. Bob Bowman of Lufkin is a former president of the Association
and the author of 30 books on East Texas.)