After college, I spent a lot of time trying to unlearn some things from the bottom of a rocks glass in local taverns. When the bars closed, there was really only one option for after-hours dining: Ol’ South Pancake House (1509 S. University Dr., 817-336-0311).
I certainly didn’t go for the food, though the German pancake ($7.29) (there’s a smaller version called Dutch Babies) was delicious. The enormous treat, with freshly squeezed lemons, whipped butter, and a Tony Montana-portion of powdered sugar slathered on a thin popover was folded tableside into a burrito-like hillock the size of a premature baby. The waitresses applied the ingredients with the grace of a prison line-cook.
The atmosphere at the dingy, hotel-looking relic was otherworldly. The clientele at that hour was like a who’s who in Fort Worth’s seedy underbelly. At 3 a.m. in the hallowed halls of Ol’ South, you were almost certain to see a seemingly endless procession of rough-and-tumble lesbian cowgirls in starched denim, colorful and gregarious transvestites, heavily tattooed and pierced goth kids wearing all black and loitering in a booth with just one cup of coffee between them, smoke-stained musicians still sweaty from their gigs at the Impala or Aardvark, and everyone in between. There were also the lecherous, way-too-old regulars, whose entire social life revolved around floating from table to table and booth to booth chatting up unsuspecting TCU girls. These guys were like ambassadors for the place. Except gross.
The colorful waitstaff was also a major draw, though the service wasn’t what you’d call good. At all. I can’t tell you how many times I got up to refill my own coffee, and in some cases I brewed it myself.
My regular server was Elvira, who would viciously slap anyone she heard cursing. I mean she’d hit you ridiculously hard –– even for relatively tame or implied curse words. I once got a plastic menu upside the head for using the word “hell.” She was ancient-looking but moved around better than most young people wearing skates. Another server, a woman known as “The Beaver Lady,” would scream and scuttle around the dining room like an angry, confused hyena. She got her name because, after some provoking, she’d put on beaver finger puppets and lead the dining room in “The Beaver Song.” It’s loudly sung slurred lyrics –– “Beaver one, beaver two, let’s all do the beaver chew …” –– were the soundtrack to many of my late nights.
I went back recently to see if the place still had some of its old magic. It was 3 a.m., and I was sober as a church mouse –– as is too often the case in my adult years. The dining room was clean, the décor was spiffier than I remember, and the waitstaff was young. And depressingly nonviolent.
The crowd was still a colorful mix of characters, but the whole scene seemed so tame. I felt the same way I imagined The Ramones would feel after returning to the Chelsea neighborhood where they got their start to see the empty street corners that once belonged to the murderous male prostitutes Joey sang about filled with a Baby Gap and tapas restaurants.
My chicken-fried steak and scrambled eggs ($8.29) was, dare I say, good. The meat was tender enough, and the batter was crispy and didn’t taste at all like a bicycle chain. The eggs were overcooked, but that happens everywhere, so I don’t really hold it against the kitchen.
I guess Ol’ South is all grown up now. It only took it 53 years. I’ve never been more disappointed to have a great breakfast and efficient, friendly service.
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