Chef Tom remembers Rogers Restaurant by Tom Yates

Chef Tom remembers Rogers Restaurant by Tom Yates

For years we were Roger’s Restaurant people, denizens of the smokey bar area known as the back room. We had our booth, and if it was taken, we would sit at the bar drinking Old Fashioneds until it was free. Everybody went to Roger’s, whether it was to eat, drink, or talk about the horse industry. Whenever we drove into the parking lot to park, by the time we got inside, our cocktails were sitting on the bar. The televisions would be blaring Wheel Of Fortune or the local news, and the overheard
conversations were always convivial.

Most people went on particular nights depending on the nightly specials. Wednesdays were Fried Chicken Night, fried in a cast iron skillet with a “please be patient for the length of time” warning. Good things took time. The fried chicken would rival any
grandmothers. In fact, it was cooked by grandmothers in a very hot kitchen using lard or Crisco. Flaky, crispy, and moist. We would call ahead to reserve our chicken because they always ran out. When it was gone, it was gone. Period.

The Lamb Fries, Fried Catfish, Pan-Seared Country Ham with Red Eye Gravy, and Pan-fried Trout were some favorites among an extensive menu.

The Prime Rib was fantastic, swimming in a salty reduced au jus, so dark it would almost stain the tender meat.

They had Soup Beans with Corn Cakes, laden with ham hock and tear-inducing chopped onions. Thay also had a wonderful Wilted Spinach Salad, broken down with a hot bacon vinaigrette that was so sugary sweet, it made your teeth ache….in a marvelous way. I would start eating it with a fork and finish it with a spoon, capturing every drop.

Then there were Fridays. Friday night was Swiss Steak & Salmon Croquettes night. We always went for the salmon croquettes. Very old school. Triangular orbs of salmon, deep fried, plated, and topped with a thick mildly-sweet velvety egg sauce. A squeeze of lemon would perk it up and cut through the richness of the sauce, a perfect pairing. Corncakes with butter pats, a potato of some kind, and buttered peas rounded it out. A plate of heaven!

We probably would still be going to Roger’s had it not closed in 2004 after 81 years of making people happy and welcome.

Friday night can still be Salmon Croquettes night, especially during Lent with Meatless Fridays. Last night, we took a trip down memory lane with them. Croquettes are something I don’t make. Michael is the croquette maker in this house, and always has been. He does them perfectly. Very basic. Very old school. Very good.

Salmon, eggs, mayonnaise, breadcrumbs, and seasonings are mixed and patted out, pan-sauteed until golden brown, and topped with a sauce. He has been tinkering with ingredients as of late. To the standards he’ll sometimes add chopped peppers,
green onions, or fresh lemon juice. Any new addition always bumps up the flavor and taste.

I usually make the sauce, depending on mood and on-hand ingredients. I never could master the Roger’s egg sauce and eventually stopped trying. Last night, I made a sour orange hollandaise with minced red peppers and tomato concasse.

The croquettes very wonderful, crisp brown with a bite to them. The tart buttery hollandaise was a good partner. We served them with creamed peas and twice-baked potatoes. The textures and flavors enhanced and complimented each other.

Bright. Sweet. Spicy. Buttery. Crunchy. Soft. Creamy.

We didn’t even miss the meat. We did miss Vanna White.