Once upon a time, people didn’t take photos of their food. They just ate it.
Sometimes, they ate that food at cafeterias. You remember – those affordable places where customers serve themselves, piling food on a tray and carrying it to their tables? Maybe you ate at a cafeteria with your parents or grandparents. Maybe even a Piccadilly cafeteria. If you did, you grabbed pudding and jello, and your mom made you put one back.
There were Piccadillys in Miami-Dade. In fact, there were Piccadillys all over the state. Now there are only two left, and one’s in Jacksonville, which hardly even counts as Florida.
But we still have one left, South Florida. And in this world of endless food halls, it’s time to resurrect Piccadilly in all its unpretentious, wholesome, comfort food, stop-with-the avocado-toast glory.
The last Piccadilly in South Florida sits in the former home of an Olive Garden at 4500 Hollywood Blvd. It draws a busy lunch crowd of retirees, office workers, working people, cops, families celebrating birthdays and graduations. A breakfast buffet lures customers on the weekends.
We’re not sure about dinner. It closes at 8:30 p.m., way before we ever get around to eating.
Piccadilly, which first opened in Baton Rouge in 1932, has 41 restaurants, all of them in the South – and has somehow managed to weather the whims of the ever-changing American palate.
“In the ’80s cafeterias started to go out of style, but we’re finally on the upswing,” says Max Jordan, vice president of marketing for Piccadilly. “We kind of lost a generation of guests. Now we have to continue to serve our long-time guests, but we’ve got to become relevant for the new 25- to 44-year-olds and their families.”
So Piccadilly has been working on new ways to connect with customers. The restaurant is rolling out updated menu items in some markets, like Tuscan chicken and fried pickles. Customers can sign up to get email or text alerts on weekly specials, say, chicken tenders plus two sides and bread for $4.99. (Sign up now and keep an eye out for Fourth of July barbecue specials.)
The restaurant even has an Instagram account, and you can order items via Uber Eats. Seriously.
What has kept people coming? Piccadilly’s affordable entree/two sides/plus bread formula, Jordan says, adding that it’s a good deal for families especially (kids’ meals are $1.99 on Thursdays).
“If you’ve got a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old, you don’t want to sit at a table and wait for your food,” he says. “Picking the food is an activity, and you start eating right away. There’s no down time.”
The restaurant also has private dining rooms available for reservation. One bridge club in Baton Rouge eats lunch, then plays cards for a couple of hours every week in one of them.
“Piccadilly has something for everyone,” Jordan says. “You can go into Piccadilly as quickly or as slowly as you like. If you’re having a busy day you can grab lunch in 20 minutes. You can go with a group and take an hour and a half. We’ve got the convenience today’s customer requires.”
The most popular old-school Piccadilly entrees
- Chopped steak. America’s meat.
- Fried chicken. They’ll bring you hot sauce if you ask.
- Liver and onions. No, really. Think about it – if you are the sort of person who orders liver and onions, where else are you going to find it?
The sides you should order. Don’t argue.
- Mac and cheese. This is no time to start that idiotic no-carb diet.
- Mashed potatoes. There is no shame in ordering mac and cheese and mashed potatoes as your two sides. Life is short.
- Carrot souffle. More on this magical substance later.
This is what the eight-year-old you grabbed:
This is what the 40-year-old you grabs:
And if this red velvet cheesecake isn’t available? Just go for the basic red velvet cake. The desserts are made in house. You will not be disappointed.
The single most important item at Piccadilly
It’s carrot souffle. What is carrot souffle, you ask? It’s a miracle. It tastes like a dessert and counts as a vegetable. It’s carrots and cinnamon and more sugar than any of us dares to consider. It tastes like all that is holy and pure about your childhood.
In fact, the carrot souffle is so good that last year Piccadilly created National Carrot Souffle Day, which is Aug. 8. You can go in any Piccadilly on that day, and the server will happily hand over a free carrot souffle. Best national holiday ever.