Photo by Tenaya HillsContrary to what readers may think, I can't cook—according to my office mates, melting the finest quesadillas this side of Zacatecas doesn't count. So it was with a bit of trepidation that I bid adiós to my parents last week as they took their annual winter sojourn to the ranchos of their youth and middle age. With the cooking-able sibling currently in the convent of finals, I was charged with feeding the two younger ones, teenagers who don't share my obsession with eats of the world, snot noses whose definition of ethnic grub is Happy Panda, Weinerschnitzel and/or Pizza Hut.
I needed a special eatery, one that would satiate my brother and sister's too-Americanized palates while placating my world-weary tongue with the promise of something new. I needed something family-friendly, something that could fatten the kids up with enough calories to withstand a food-free week. I needed meatloaf. And that's how we ended up at PoFolks in Buena Park.
PoFolks is a rustically eccentric restaurant—tin and wooden agricultural-company signs on the walls, a working train that chugs the perimeter—specializing in Norms-style home cooking with a Southern bent, the kind of place where fried chicken livers with red beans and rice is a daily special and peach cobbler isn't some ironic/iconic treat but what's for dessert.
There were no hordes when we visited, thank goodness—it was a Monday evening, a bit before the five-o'clock-dinner stampede from the Knott's crowd down Beach Boulevard. But I still encountered problems—my kin would not budge their sheltered mouths open. My brother didn't ask for fried green tomatoes like I requested—instead, he knifed through a country-fried steak, a rather-thick, rather-lengthy strip of beef transformed into crackly golden heaven. Despite my insistence, he wouldn't dignify the collard greens that came as a side; I gladly scarfed down the bitter delight, enjoying the pork flecks that imbued the veggies with a hearty glow. And he refused to spill a thick bowl of gravy onto the steak, claiming he's never tried gravy before.
"What about Thanksgiving?" I demanded.
"That was brown gravy," he shot back.
My sister was equally skittish, sticking to the blue-ribbon fried chicken with a side of corn on the cob drenched in butter. "Better than Popeyes'?" I asked—earlier in the evening, when I said PoFolks was similar to Popeyes, she argued we should just go to Popeyes. She didn't answer, a massive drumstick occupying her word-hole.
It was up to me to be the adventurous one, so I ordered meatloaf. Snicker all you want—I had never tried the American standard. Funny, no? I've slurped turtle soup, forked through goat spine, and think chilled ox tripe is the pinnacle of appetizers, yet meatloaf is a foreign platter to me (and it would be to you if you grew up in the kitchen of a Mexican mother that, to this day, makes fresh beans daily).
After eating PoFolks' rendition, I can't understand the modern-day revulsion to the meal. I found its breaded, no-frills presentation of beef robust, like a Lebanese brain sandwich sans the cilantro. The color was a bit ashy, but the gobs of sweet brown gravy solved that tone problem quickly.
I was more familiar with my sides, which also impressed—the fried okra retained a greasy freshness, while the mac and cheese redeemed the dish after one too many bad Kraft experiences. And the onion-laced hush puppies were fried orbs of grace, like a teddy-bear blanket for the tongue.
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As pocho as I am, though, I can never take the salsa out of my veins. Seeing a flask of torching Cajun hot sauce, I drenched each hush puppy and scarfed them down. A linebacker-sized waitress passed by and stopped.
"You put hot sauce on the hush puppies?!" she exclaimed in a matronly tone, like a mother who catches her son spraying on deodorant for the first time. "I've never seen that before! Around here, we squeeze on some honey, honey."
She smacked a plastic jar of honey on the table and walked away in disbelief. My brother and sister laughed—loudly. I can gloat about my foodie credentials forever, but I'll always remain a rancho child like them—one messy, satiated, happy rancho child. I squeezed honey over the hush puppies and added more Cajun sauce. Fabulous.
POFOLKS, 7701 BEACH BLVD., BUENA PARK, (714) 521-8955. OPEN 7 A.M.-
9 P.M. DINNER FOR TWO, $12-$26, FOOD ONLY. ALL MAJOR CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED.