At 8:30 in the morning at the Crystal Café, the sour cream raisin pie comes out from the kitchen too hot to slice. At the counter and in the booths, men and women who are starting the day (or finishing a long night) converse about such issues as jackknives, deadheading, log books, and speed traps. They are professional truckers; the Crystal Café is where they come not only to eat, but for fuel and over-the-road supplies. It is an open-all-night truck stop just west of the Missouri River.
Each place is set with a clean overturned coffee cup and a water glass. The waitress flips your cup right-side up and pours coffee and refills throughout breakfast; pour your own water from a pitcher on each table. The cuisine is haute highway: big food, served in abundance. Plate-wide buttermilk pancakes, chicken-fried steak with a patty of oily hash browns, sausage gravy on big, crumbly biscuits are some of the morning specials. The caramel sweet roll is thick and goopy.
The lunch menu features breaded pork tenderloin, bowls of chili, and hamburgers. Pies are grand. It is exciting to watch the waitress cut a piece of cream pie using a moistened warm knife to slide down through a full eight inches of whipped topping, then balance a taller-than-wide slice on a plate.
An unusual souvenir from our visit: a booklet from the adjoining truckers’ store entitled Beef Spotter: A Guide to Midwest Feed Lots.