Clair McFarland: This Restaurant Has Great Food, But The Staff Is Sketchy

Columnist Clair McFarland writes, "I can see inside the kitchen over a half-wall barrier and, oh my. If I had a weak stomach or a Karen temperament I’d call the department of health."

Clair McFarland

June 02, 20246 min read

Clair new column shot
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

I’m at a seedy restaurant on the desert’s edge, weak with hunger.

The food here is great, but the staff is a little sketchy. No matter, I could eat a horse.

Horse is not on the menu.

“Welcome to Scrummy’s, what y’all want?” asks a waiter about the size of a golden retriever. He’s either harboring a wad of gum or a fake Southern accent in his cheek.

The menu is handwritten, laminated with packing tape and littered with errors. I’ve brought my third-born son, the big sweet twin, along as my lunch guest.

Big-Sweet orders the pancakes.

I want something heavier. “I’ll have … the scrambled eggs,” I say.

“And?” demands the waiter.

“The … apple and Cheetos platter,” I add, nervously.

“AND?” the waiter booms.

“A … mug of tea?”

The waiter nods, snatches my menu out of my hands and marches off toward the kitchen.

I can see inside the kitchen over a half-wall barrier and, oh my. If I had a weak stomach or a Karen temperament I’d call the department of health.

A tower of used mixing bowls threatens to fall. Muffin batter congeals in a vase. The sink brims with grey water and in the distance, a cat yowls.

“Do yowl — er, y’all — need help in there?” I call out.

The cook, a monologuer in a baseball jersey that’s seen better days, brandishes his spatula at me and says, “NAWP. No noobs allowed in Scrummy’s kitchen.”

I have no idea what a “noob” is, but I’m only here for the food, not to overthink the lingo.

Smoke slithers off the griddle.

“Your griddle’s smoking,” I mutter.

“How many eggs you want?” bellows the cook.

The griddle smoke plumes. Any moment now it’ll burst into flames. Something crashes onto the floor.  

“I SAID, your griddle’s smoking!” I shout.

“Pancakes are done!” calls the waiter, who’s stepped into the kitchen to help the cook.

Next to me, my 10-year-old guest applauds.

The waiter hands him a plate full of crispy pancakes, a sticky bottle of syrup and a spoon, of all things.

“Perfect,” says Big-Sweet. “Thank you.”

I always hoped he’d be polite to servers, but I never expected him to carry that courtesy to the scraggy edge of civilization.  

The cook opens an iPad and commands it to play “Seven Nation Army” – to steel his nerves.

The song is loud enough to page Mars. It rattles the fillings in my teeth.

“Does the music have to be so LOUD?” I ask.

The waiter grins. “It’s a Saturday afternoon at Scrummy’s, ma’am, and we were born to rock.”

Big-Sweet nods. He likes this heck-hole. But I’m getting a little crawly about it.

“I think we picked the wrong restaurant,” I whisper.

His eyes widen. “This,” says my boy, “is the only restaurant in these parts.”

I sigh.

Even over Jack White’s sick bass line, I can sense all is not right in the kitchen. The chef frowns at a batter-splotched cookbook. He sniffs, then trudges over to where I sit.

“Um,” begins the chef. He’s just 10 years old. He’s got a wooden spoon in one hand and a stick of butter in the other. “Should I cook your eggs on high, or low?”

The waiter eyes us. I don’t want the waiter to suspect that the cook can’t make eggs, so I lean in close to the cook and whisper, “Medium low.”

“And,” the cook adds, biting his lip, “is the butter supposed to be brown?”

I sniff the air and sure enough, that’s the stench of burnt butter.

“Nah buddy. Dump that butter in a jar, put some fresh butter on the pan and pour some whipped eggs into the new butter,” I tell him.

“Thanks, Mom,” the cook says with a nod. He springs back into the kitchen and starts over, sploshing butter onto my poor, tortured stovetop.

I wonder how many dishes I'll have to wash when this is over. My house has harbored some dive businesses over the years, but this one is the most pungent.

Gradually, the reek of burnt butter, smoking electronics and fried arm-hairs (wait – what?!) begin to fade.

But my hunger doesn’t.

“Otter-UP!” calls the cook.

“That’s ORDER up,” snaps the waiter, who brings me a plate full of eggs and an apple.

“Thank you,” I say, emulating Big-Sweet’s good manners.

Afraid for the next 12 hours of my gastrointestinal life, I flake off some eggs with my fork and raise them to my mouth.  

They’re delicious.

“They’re DELICIOUS!” I squeal.

The cook nods. The waiter nods. They high-five through the smoke. 

Instantly, the waiter stomps over to me and announces the contents of the bill.

“You owe us 50 cents, or a .22 bullet,” he says.

I think I’m out of .22 bullets. Leaning against my plaintive hard-backed chair, I dig in my pockets and find …

“I’ve got one dollar for each of you and some, uh, ear plugs.” 

The waiter is delighted. He grabs it all.

“Thank you for eating at Scrummy’s today. Come back for dinner.”

Well, if it all digests as well as it tasted, I just might.

Clair McFarland can be reached at

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter