Making the Grade – Buck’s

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Photo by Mike Wallace

By Stacey Patton Wallace

Do you have a favorite restaurant in your hometown where you grew up, eating there with your family? For me, that restaurant would be Buck’s Dairy Quick on Highway 22 in Alexander City. (Or again, “Eleck City” to the locals.)

 Buck Daniels opened the restaurant in 1961, the year before I was born. I wish I had a dollar for every chicken snack, cheeseburger basket and hamburger steak plate I’ve had there in my lifetime; I could have retired even earlier than I did.

 When I became old enough to drive, I would call in my family’s order to Buck’s and pick it up. Buck’s (everyone shortens the title to this) was and is very popular, so you sometimes have to keep dialing because the line is often busy. Also, you know you’re a regular customer when you walk in the door, and an employee calls out, “Patton’s here.”

 After Mr. Buck retired, his son Paul ran the restaurant. Unfortunately, in 2014, Buck’s caught fire and sustained a great deal of damage. Word got out that the restaurant would be closing for good. No more Buck’s? I couldn’t believe that such an Alex. City icon was closing. After all, Buck’s is to Alex. City as Mrs. Story’s Dairy Bar is to Opelika.

 Thankfully, the cavalry arrived. Lynn Patterson, an Alex. City native, saved our beloved Buck’s. Patterson owns several businesses in Alex. City, including Who’s Diner, the Huddle House, Papa John’s, Scooter’s Coffee and the movie theater, among others.

 According to Patterson, three elderly ladies came in to eat one day and told him, “You can’t let Buck’s close.” He couldn’t bear to see that happen either, so he bought Buck’s and reopened it. Hearts were happy again in the Patton family and all over Alex. City.

 My brother Mike, an avid Buck’s fan, once asked his wife Sandi for an unusual favor. They live in Texas, and Sandi, who is from Opelika, had come home to visit her family. Since Mike couldn’t get off work for the visit, he asked Sandi to get him a hamburger steak plate from Buck’s and bring it to him in Texas.

 Sandi refused. She told him, “I’m not taking a hamburger steak plate to the Birmingham Airport and on that plane!” Probably wise. The amazing smell of that hamburger steak with gravy and onions would have driven the other passengers wild. I salivate now just thinking about it.

 Recently, my husband Mike, Mama and I ate at Buck’s. That day, Mama chose her regular order: chicken fingers, slaw and French fries. Although I am a chicken addict, I chose the 6-ounce hamburger steak with gravy and onions, slaw and French fries, as did Mike.

 As usual, our meal was terrific. Unlike fast food franchises, Buck’s food is prepared fresh as you order. Mama’s chicken fingers were large, lightly breaded and delicious. Our hamburger steaks were tender and the flavor was enhanced by the onions and gravy. Now, I am really a salad woman instead of a cold slaw one; however, I really like Buck’s slaw. In fact, the slaw is so popular, many people order it by the carton to take home. Also, the prices are great for the economically challenged; our plates were just $6.95 each.

 In addition, Buck’s followed COVID-19 safety protocols very well. There was plexiglass between their booths. Also, all employees wore masks. Adam, our waiter, was terrific. After he brought our food, he came back and brought all three of us fresh fries because he didn’t like the way ours looked. Also, as we were leaving, he ran outside to give me my forgotten umbrella. That’s amazing customer service in 2021.

 Incidentally, Mr. Patterson said that he plans to bring Scooter’s Coffee to both Auburn and Opelika in the future. I requested that he also open up another Buck’s in our area.

 Buck’s makes the grade with an A+ from this retired English teacher. Remember, “Pooh-sized” people NEVER lie about food. Enjoy!
 Stacey Patton Wallace, who retired from teaching language arts for 30 years, is a professional diner. Her column, “Making the Grade,” will appear each week in the Observer. Stacey may be reached at retiredlangartsteacher2020@gmail.com.

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