Most anyone who has ever vacationed in the Florida Panhandle has probably driven Highway 331 through rural South Alabama at some point. If so, you know that It Don't Matter Restaurant is the first sign of civilization this side of Luverne, Ala., once you pick up Highway 331 in Montgomery.
I've commented several times to my beach buddies as we've breezed past the diner that one day we needed to stop there. But due to its rather humble exterior and questionable cleanliness, we never have.
Last year, on family vacation I repeated this goal. It was driving me crazy wondering what inspired that name. What was it that didn't matter? (My sons rather cynically suggested it was either "good hygiene" or "food poisoning.")
So last week, driving home solo from vacation, I rolled into the gravel lot of It Don't Matter.
What I had always thought was just a gray mobile home with a low-slung covered porch built across the restaurant's front was actually the entrance into a two-story stone building. There was a dining room at road level and basement below. One of the cooks, who was out on the porch having a smoke, greeted me with a big smile and asked where I was from.
The interior was quite rustic, with rough, unfinished plank floors, wood-paneled walls, a mountain-stone fireplace and laminate-topped tables. The diverse clientele consisted of two tables of hunters still wearing their camos, two young couples, several tables of senior citizens and one table of fire-and-rescue guys.
The hostess said to seat myself, so I chose the table with a view and sat across from the good-looking fire-and-rescue squad. I took a picture of the interior and texted it to my beach buddies and kids to prove I was there. My older son quickly responded he wouldn't have made that public.
The lunch choices were either an unlimited buffet for $8 or the menu, which duplicated the buffet with the exception of sandwiches. The buffet choices were: fried or smothered.
With what I considered a lack of foresight, the buffet/salad bar was positioned directly in front of the front door. Every time a customer entered or left, flies also came and went through the open door. I waved off several as I perused the buffet/salad bar.
It Don't Matter's cooks were obviously deep-frying disciples of Paula Deen. Everything on the buffet was fried, with the exception of one type of meat that was covered in a thick brown gravy. This was old-fashioned Southern comfort food, the kind I remembered my mother's relatives making during my childhood.
There was fried chicken, fried fish, fried ham, fried livers and fried gizzards -- yes, gizzards is how it was enticingly labeled.
All the vegetables were fried as well, with the exception of one green choice: a mayonnaise-based coleslaw. There was fried squash, fried corn, fried okra, french fries and corn fritters.
Now I blush to admit it, but there was a time in my life that I would have uttered a big "Thank You, Jesus!" and loaded my plate with those veggies. All my favorite fried veggies in one buffet? Yum!
But as I have learned more from nutritionists Pam Kelle and Jamie McDermott while writing this column, my brain actually rebelled at the thought of all that artery-clogging grease.
Yes, evidently three years of trying to make healthier choices had taken its toll. Those dishes didn't hold any appeal to me anymore. I opted for tea and a sandwich.
When my waitress brought my check, I had to ask the million-dollar question. I couldn't leave without knowing what had inspired the restaurant's name.
She grinned, twirled around and presented the back of her T-shirt to me. It depicted an elderly couple dressed in stereotypical Southern clothing of overalls on him, sunbonnet and apron on her.
He's asking, "Honey, what do you want for dinner?" She's answering, "It don't matter."
So that was it. I had my answer. I ate at It Don't Matter and could cross that off the bucket list.
And I have the T-shirt to prove it.
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...