The Roanoke Times, September 3, 2003
By Larry Bly, Roanoke.com Columnist
I recently read two articles in The Roanoke Times that made me revisit Pat’s Café for some of the old Lendy’s fare. In a front-page article on Jan. 27, 2003, The Roanoke Times reported the passing of Leonard Goldstein, creator of Lendy’s Restaurants here in Roanoke. Goldstein was a creative man who came up with original ideas and recipes and treated his people nicely.
When I came here in 1971 several Lendy’s were still around, though they were looking a bit war-worn by then and very close to closing altogether. I tried the famous strawberry pie and perhaps a Longfella ham sandwich; I can no longer remember. I was told by a friend that this was a part of Roanoke restaurant history that I needed to experience while I still could, so I did. I would not learn until many years later just what a love affair Roanokers had with Lendy’s.
As a young jock on WROV AM in those early 1970s, I ran Lendy’s commercials all the time (they were a big advertiser) and Fred Freelance was “the voice” of Lendy’s. I still have one of the commercials in a big box of old tapes under my bed. Fred was, aside from being a wacky guy most of the time, a soft-sell type announcer who made the Lendy’s specials sound mighty tempting.
A more recent article in the Times told of a Williamson Road “Cruise-In” that featured lots of folks in vintage cars, who cruise Williamson for old time’s sake and end up on a vacant lot for Lendy’s food, as prepared by Pat Dotson of Pat’s Café. It’s the only place serving up most of the popular sandwiches and such these days out on Shenandoah Avenue.
Even Hizzoner, Mayor Ralph Smith, came out for the cruise and the good food. It was sort of hard for me to imagine the good straight-laced millionaire mayor back in the old days, perhaps with a DA haircut, Bass Weejuns and a chick on his arm -- but I guess we were all young a foolish at least once in our lives.
So for those of you who yearn for the Lendy’s strawberry pie, the Longfella ham sandwich, the Buddy Boy burger, the bucket (now a cup) of deep fried shrimp, onion rings or the Brawny Lads, just head up the not-so-fashionable Shenandoah Avenue to Pat’s Café. Once you get past the religious tracts posted at the front door, you’ll make your way to one of two windows: one for ordering, the other for pick up.
There are so many signs in the place that you’re sort of taken aback at first, so it’s best to have some idea of what you want. You can then study all the posted specials for a future visit. Service is fast. You order at one window, then pay and pickup at the other. I’ve never seen the place busy, so either the Lendy’s crowd is dying fast, people just don’t know about it, the location isn’t ideal or maybe people are satisfied to remember the food, knowing that it’s never the same as you remembered it.
I took along an old pal of mine who, like so many people locally, spent a lot of his youth tooling from one Lendy’s to the other. He talks about how his mom and dad would take him there to get a huge bucket of fried shrimp -- big ones -- for little money. Now 10 pieces will set you back $9.99, and onion rings are $2.99.
I had the Poor Boy Special, fried bologna, chips and drink for $3.19. What you can say about fried bologna? It's something I grew to love from my childhood. My Aunt Tootsie would fry bologna when she couldn't think of anything else, I suppose.
My friend got the Buddy Boy Platter, with fries and pickle and I can't remember what else. Heck, it all looks the same after a while. Pat, who worked for Lendy's for years, has all the original recipes.
It would appear as though Pat's is where old restaurant chains' menus go to be revived again, along with old posters, signs and logos. Besides to Lendy's food from the past, Pat's also will serve you a Biff-Burger (remember them?) or even some items from the old Chicken in the Rough chain. We had one of those up in the Shenandoah Valley when I grew up, and we went there just "on special occasions." It was a glorified KFC but with sit-down service. They featured "shoestring potatoes," hard to find even today but very delicious, a half of fried chicken (or quarter), a roll with honey (in those old timey little glass jars), and salad with choice of dressing. But the finger bowls really made the place an "after church" dress-up kind of restaurant. That was pretty high-toned for us country-folk. I think I drank from mine the first time, bringing much laughter from my family.
I still have a collection of glasses, cards and other stuff from the Chicken in the Rough. The chain was from out of Oklahoma City, Okla. I once visited there and went right to the original Chicken in the Rough, where I met a very elderly Mr. Beverly Osborn and his wife (dripping in jewels -- there's money in them chicken bones) who started the chain. Wonderful, friendly folks who just stopped by to say hello to the diners. I don't know if they're even in business anymore. Ours in the Valley burned to the ground one night and was never re-built. Chicken grease or arson were suspected.
But back to Pat's. You can get a lot of great items from Lendy's, such as sundaes ($2.29 and $2.59), shakes ($2.29 and $2.59), banana splits ($2.99) and hot dogs ($1.19). They also have fried clam dinners ($4.99) and a barbecue platter ($4.39).
Pat's has daily specials for lunch, like pintos and corn bread, and even something called "Senior Citizens Iced Tea" (29 cents). That should tell you about the demographics. But who cares? We're all young in our minds, and if a trip to Pat's makes you feel younger, why not make the trip?
The Lendy's story was told well in The Roanoke Times article about Mr. Goldstein. If you'd like to learn more about that, Pat's and a lot of other arcane Lendy's lore, log on to a Web site set up just for a nice trip down memory lane.
3526 Shenandoah Avenue
Copyright Roanoke Times. Sept 3, 2003