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Time-Traveling Pie

September 15, 2010

If you grew up in Cape Girardeau, like I did, you might have thought you lived in a big city. I personally used to tease my cousin simply because her town, which was less than half the size of Cape, was so small that it didn’t have fast food restaurants.

I didn’t visit St. Louis or Memphis until I was old enough to be scared of towering buildings and rush hour traffic. By that time, I had brains enough to know that the world was much bigger than the borders of Cape, but stretched beyond where I could see the birds fly, when they cleared the horizon in v-formation at the end of fall.

Years ago, I would pretend I could see into that future, flying like the birds high and away into an unnamed far-off city, where the buildings stretched forever and the restaurants served fast food to people whose lives marched along even faster.

Pie is a taste that takes you back at Patty Lou's.

It wasn’t until I ate at Patty Lou’s Café (formerly Brenda’s Place) that I realized that if pretending to be a bird could connect me to the future, then eating Patty Lou’s coconut cream pie could drive me to a screeching halt into my distant past. Entering Patty Lou’s Café on Morgan Oak in Cape Girardeau was like stepping into a portal that dropped me some 30 years back, to a land where the smell of home cooking permeates your soul, where fried chicken is familiar and fried catfish is a friend.

Stepping into the restaurant at lunch time, you’ll find bright yellow light filtering through the windows, tracing the corners of the rectangular room, tables set in even rows, the ubiquitous ketchup bottles, salt and pepper shakers exactly where you expect them to be, the men talking in deep voices, hands reaching for forks, callused from a hard day’s work, stopping to wave to a friend across the room.

A generous platter of catfish at Patty Lou's Cafe.

The restaurant reminds me of the almost forgotten places of childhood—BBQ stands, hamburger joints and fish fry houses—where the waitresses always know your name. The menu is easy to navigate filled with recipes and daily specials like chicken fried steak and cheeseburgers, but it’s the pie that will call you like a lullaby, in sweet tribute to the ones your mama used to make.

Digging into that pie reminded me of sitting on the porch swing with my grandma, peeling apples in one long continuous peel, my grandfather returning from fishing, his minnow bucket full, and sitting around the dinner table eating as much as we could hold while still saving room for dessert.

The creamy center of pie perched haphazardly on my fork struck me as poignant, when I remembered making pie for the first time as a teenager, waiting with bated breath as my dinner guests put forkfuls in their mouths and smiled. It was that same pie I would eat again, on a first date. It was pie that I would make myself, wining over my study group in college. It was a pie that graced my table at different times and in different places—a pie that made friends as much as memories.

Everyone has a favorite flavor from the past. Whether it’s a family recipe, a favorite restaurant, a late-night diner, a combination of spices, that singular dessert your grandmother put together effortlessly, served up during the holidays like a long-lost brother—there is a taste that takes you back. The beauty and charm of a small town like Cape, is that here you can experience local flavors that withstand time and become infused with daily life and with history, to become part of the story of every single person who sits at the table, even in that hard to imagine future.

What flavor takes you back in time?

About the author: Capewoman AKA Stephanie Lynch is the Director of PR and Marketing for the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook at the CVB’s official sites or sign up for The Cape Social newsletter.  This post originally appeared on

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