While Barry and his family are off to exotic locales, I spent my Christmas holidays with our small family at my mother’s 100-year old house in Sikeston, MO. My hometown is smack between St. Louis and Memphis down in the Bootheel which, if Missouri was squared off like Kansas, would probably have been in Arkansas.
I’m always surprised when I mention where I grew up just how many people respond with, “Isn’t Sikeston the Home of Throwed Rolls?”
In fact, it is.
Throwed Rolls is the other name for Lambert’s Cafe. But if your family has lived in Sikeston as long as mine has, you’ll slip up and call it Lambert’s Little Man’s, which was the nickname of the head of the family who started the first eating place in the late forties. Also named Lambert’s, Little Man’s had nine stools, eight tables, and could fit (including the kitchen) on half the front porch of the restaurant’s current location. The same group of men sat at a round table in the corner most mornings to drink coffee before they started their day. Sometimes my father was one of them.
If you’ve ever traveled I-55 or I-57—in a tour bus or otherwise—you’ve likely seen the Throwed Rolls signs. Or, if you aren’t a fan of long drives through the in-between belly states, you might have seen Lambert’s on the Travel Channel as the World’s Best Place to Pig Out.
This award was due in no small part to the all-you-can eat portions of fried chicken (livers and gizzards, too), chicken fried steak, catfish, meatloaf, and chicken and dumplings and the free pass-arounds of fried okra, fried potatoes and onions, macaroni and tomatoes, and black-eyed peas. For the cholesterol-conscious, Lambert’s serves a huge made-to-order chef salad, which comes in an edible bread bowl in case you lose your resolve.
And yes, they actually do throw the rolls. They pass them, too.
Famous patrons include Elvis Presley, Jay Leno, and the stars of Gunsmoke, the longest running dramatic series (20 years) in television history, when they were in Sikeston to appear in the Jaycee Bootheel rodeo. In the summer, all the tour buses make the parking lot one of the shadiest places in town.
From Little Man’s post-World War II to today, Lambert’s has made a name—through delicious food, terrific customer service, and a commitment to customer service as expressed in Norman Ray Lambert’s 13 Golden Rules, starting with the mother of all Golden Rules, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Lambert’s treats customers like guests: “You are our guest, guests in our home, not clients or customers, but guests. It’s our job to take care of you, if we don’t, someone else will.” Lambert’s promises “If we make a mistake, we will correct it immediately.”
They don’t take credit cards or reservations, but they do take checks.
Their model works. Last year, Lambert’s cooked 253,980 pounds of bird, 132,743 pounds of choice round beef, 52,322 pounds of ham and pork, fried up more than 73,440 pounds of okra, and hand-washed and baked 68,000 potatoes.
But those quantities are nothing compared to the rolls, 2,246,400 individual rolls—more than enough to stretch from Sikeston to the gates of Graceland.
Thousands of guests enjoy all that great southern cooking. If you haven’t tried it, you should.