The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

January 8, 2014

Mike Pound: Smell of coffee brews up family vacation memories

I’m a sucker for the smell of coffee in a small restaurant.

When I was a kid, my dad was in the military and we traveled a lot, and much of that travel was done in the family station wagon. Actually, we had several family station wagons. My parents would drive one until the strain of hauling six or seven kids around took its toll and the station wagon had to be shot.

That’s right. Our family station wagons were worked so hard that they had to be shot.

If you’ve never spent eight or nine hours riding in the back seat of a station wagon with five or six brothers and sisters, you may not understand what the smell of fresh brewed coffee in a small restaurant can mean to a person.

When you have six or seven kids riding in your car, you don’t stop at big, fancy restaurants. Nope, what my parents normally did was look for smaller, more casual places to eat. They did so for two reasons:

They were cheaper.

The food was always better than the food at bigger, more formal restaurants.

On Wednesday afternoon, I headed west out of Carthage to eat at a small restaurant a friend had recommended to me several months ago. But when I got to the restaurant, it was closed.

So, there I was, in the mood for lunch but with nowhere to go. For some reason, I found myself driving on Main Street in Webb City, and I noticed Norma’s Kitchen on the east side of the street.

Several years ago, I had a cheeseburger at Norma’s Kitchen on North Range Line Road, and I liked the place. I liked that there was a large section of the menu dedicated to breakfast.

So on Wednesday, I parked my car on the west side of the street, got out and walked over to Norma’s Kitchen. I opened the door and walked into that familiar aroma of fresh coffee.

The smell immediately took me back to all of those great diners and cafes to which my parents took my me and my brothers and sisters all those years ago. I thought of scrambled eggs and hash browns, cheeseburgers and fries, hot soups, open-faced roast beef sandwiches, and (on Fridays) grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.

After taking in the coffee smell for a few seconds, I took a seat in a booth near the door. A nice waitress came over, gave me a menu and asked me what I wanted to drink. Oddly enough, as great as the coffee smelled, I opted for a glass of iced tea. I’ve discovered that you don’t have to drink a cup of coffee to appreciate the aroma.

When I opened the menu, I was happy to see that breakfast is still a big deal at Norma’s Kitchen. I was tempted to try one of the three-egg omelets. I also was tempted to try a Reuben sandwich. This may come as a shock to some of you, but I don’t find myself in a position where I’m required to make a lot of tough decisions, so my omelet-sandwich quandary was a big one. I did what I always do when faced with a tough food decision: I ordered a cheeseburger. I’ve discovered that it’s hard to go wrong with a cheeseburger.

But I didn’t order just any cheeseburger. I ordered the Norma’s Kitchen Juicy Lucy cheeseburger. Because I am nothing if not a health-conscious individual, I didn’t order the largest version of the Juicy Lucy but instead went with the medium burger, also known as the deluxe.

The burger was juicy, as advertised, and it was just the right size. And the fries that came with the sandwich were perfect.

After my meal, as I drove to a meeting in Joplin, I found myself almost missing being in the back seat of a station wagon with five or six brothers and sisters.

Relax. I said “almost.”

I may be a moron, but I’m not crazy.

DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA for Mike Pound’s column? Call him at 417-623-3480, ext. 7259, or email him at mpound@joplinglobe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mikepoundglobe.

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