Lambert's home of throwed rolls, endless pass-arounds, and good eats

Versie Alexander Cline's oldest boy has not missed many meals in his lifetime. He will eat anything at least once.

His long list of favorite restaurants is topped by wife Georgann Cline's kitchen, followed by No. 2, F McClintock's at Pismo Beach. Forget those “divine presentations” restaurants in San Francisco.

My bride and I did a week of R&R recently with our first visit to Branson, Missouri, and found a cafe that earned a spot high on my eatery list.

Western Farm Press Associate Editor Chris Bennett recommended lunch at Lambert's Cafe in Ozark, Missouri, between Branson and Springfield. Chris is not only an excellent hand at editing and laying out each edition of Western Farm Press, he is also a pretty darn good judge of restaurants.

The first tip-off that Lambert's is different is its Web site Yep, a fellow tosses rolls to all who raise their hands, and there are more hands in the air at Lambert's than a wave at a Saturday afternoon college football game. Not just any rolls, but piping hot, 5-inch diameter rolls so light the thrower has to toss them up high to allow them to float into recipients' hands. If he tried tossing them in a straight line, he'd get tennis elbow from tossing them so hard to get them to travel 10 feet.

Roll throwing is just part of the Lambert's draw. The food is better than excellent. Chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes like none other. It comes in a long handle skillet to keep the gravy from spilling over the side.

The list of “vegetables” available for each main dish is longer than any I've ever seen. However, the real treats are the pass-arounds. Servers roam Lambert's with buckets full of fried potatoes and onions, macaroni and tomatoes, black-eyed peas, fried okra, and sorghum for the hot rolls.

We had no more than scooted into our booth benches when a young lady arrived with her hand on a spoon submerged into a bucket of fried okra. My wife loves fried okra almost (Georgann made me add “almost”) more than she loves me. We did not even have plates yet. The young lady told us to grab a couple of paper towels from a supply on the table, and she promptly served up a mound of hot fried okra with a smile and an “enjoy.”

The pass-around black-eyed peas were to kill for. Tea came in mugs large enough that they did not need refilling until tomorrow.

Lambert's does not take credit cards — cash or checks only. However, the parking lot is full of cars from open to close. Tour buses make the place look like a Greyhound terminal.

There is a lot more I could detail, like Lambert's customers ate almost 41,000 pounds of white beans; almost 2.5 million hot rolls; 61,200 pounds of fried Arkansas okra, and 21,600 44-ounce cans of sorghum molasses last year.

As they say, if you ever get near Ozark, Missouri, or Lambert's other two locations in Sikeston, Missouri and Foley, Alabama, stop whether you are hungry or not.

Be sure to visit the gift shop where there is a rack of paperback books to read while digesting and driving. I could not help but notice the titles of two: “Do You Want to Double Your Church's Attendance?” and “Train Your Own Stock Dog.”

Missouri is a great place for a Californian in need of an attitude adjustment and an eatin' experience like no other.

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