We always liked the Colonial Cafe. It was part of the character of the main street of Navasota, a Kennard family stronghold, something we took for granted. No matter where we went in the world or how long we were gone, we always thought that the Colonial Cafe would be there when we got back, just down the street from the Navasota Abstract Company and catty-corner from the John Deere tractor place.
But now the Colonial Cafe is closed, and we feel the way we did when Ed’s great-uncle Willie died. He was one of those relatives we liked even though we didn’t see much of him. We had always intended to do this or that together, but we never did. We’re sorry for the time we didn’t spend with Uncle Willie and for the meals we didn’t eat at the Colonial Cafe.
The passing of the Colonial is a shame because it was a piece of that Texas you don’t find much anymore, the Texas of the fifties, back when just about everybody drove a Ford with a sticker on the rear window that read, “Built in Texas by Texans.” Don’t misunderstand; we’re not opposed to change. It doesn’t bother us that gas stations don’t check your oil and your air or even pump your gas. We don’t care that there aren’t any dime stores or barbershops or drive-in movie theaters that show something besides pornography. Those aren’t the things that define our state. But cafes are different, and their waning numbers underscore the erosion of Old Texas. The day may come when the only Texas cafe you’ll be able to find will be in Fort Worth’s Amon Carter Museum—and it won’t serve food. This erosion didn’t start yesterday, of course; it’s been happening for years. Obviously it has something to do with the development of the interstate highway system, which avoids small towns, and the growth of fast-food chains. How can a local cafe survive a highway bypass or compete with the marketing macho of a McDonald’s, a Wendy’s, a Dairy Queen, or a Sonic? It can’t.
But the cafe hasn’t vanished altogether. If you look hard enough, you can still find authentic Texas cafes in which to eat—and some in which not to. But you have to know where to look, and unfortunately for urbanites, the city is usually not the place (though there are a few notable exceptions). No, to find the real thing you have to search in small towns—and you have to get off the freeways. You’re about as likely to find a cafe on a big-city freeway as you are a Texas highway patrolman willing to ignore the fact that his radar just clocked you doing 83 miles an hour.
Once you’ve discovered what appears to be a cafe, it is necessary to check it for authenticity, or else you could easily end up eating in heaven forbid a restaurant or a barbeque joint. A simple but generally reliable rule is that real cafes usually call themselves cafes. Another good test is the cashier’s counter. A glass display case with a well-worn cash register and a spindle