Carrots with a cup of sugar.
Here’s a dish from my childhood that brings on ultimate nostalgia.
Earlier this year on a return visit home to Hollywood, Florida my mom and I went out to lunch at one of her favorite spots - Piccadilly Cafeteria. While there I had the famous carrot soufflé for the first time in maybe 10 years. It inspired me to write this post.
It's very likely 95% of you don’t live anywhere near the national treasure of Piccadilly Cafeteria, so here is a little slice of Americana.
Piccadilly Cafeteria was founded in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the 1930s and gradually expanded all over the gulf-coast/southern United States. It’s a cafeteria style restaurant serving classic southern comfort food. Famous for the southern classics like fried chicken, with recipes that are apparently well guarded.
In 1998 Piccadilly acquired Morrison’s Cafeteria which is how we were gifted with its presence in South Florida. Morrison's Cafeteria was essentially the same concept with a similar origin: 1920, Mobile, Alabama. With the majority of their locations in Georgia and Florida, Morrison's was the Cafeteria style restaurant near our house growing up.
I have blurry memories of the original Morrison's location in Hollywood. I do remember the giant scale next to the check out register at the exit of the dining room. That scale was used for weighing small children. Yes, the children. I remember getting hoisted up on the scale, to determine the cost of my meal. Young children's meals were a penny a pound based on their weight. I'm sure there was an age cut off, but that was less of a concern for me as I wasn't the one paying. Either way, What a deal?! I'm sure it brought a lot of families into the restaurant, including my young parents who could go out to eat and pay less than a dollar for my sister and I. Penny a pound night was once a week, and included clown making balloon hats etc. in the dining room, a double win for a kid like me who loved food and a party.
As mentioned, in the late 90's all Morrison's were acquired and converted in to Piccadilly restaurants.
That's really where my story of the carrot soufflé begins.
Morrisons, and what became Piccadilly was a regular dining spot for my family. As soon as I was tall enough, and could sort of hold my own tray, going down the line choosing my own food was exhilarating. An entree, two sides, and a bread. It usually involved my parents telling me I had to get something green as one of my sides. Though 95% of the time I was able to choose the far superior orange sides before anyone noticed: Mac and Cheese, and Carrot Soufflé. In a recent discussion with friends about buffet restaurants, I also had the realization that today's beloved Kale was simply used as the vehicle for presenting bowls of Jello Jigglers and the like. Kale was garbage in 1995, and I kind of respect that.
When I went back home in February, I was oddly determined to get back to Piccadilly. While my parents go regularly, it had been a long time since last time I had to chose between Texas toast or a dinner roll. (Pro Tip, always get the Texas toast). The location near my folks in Hollywood is the last standing Piccadilly in South Florida. It's a time warp to an era of fast-casual dining before anyone knew what fast-casual dining was. While the restaurant is experiencing a resurgence with the aid of Food Ordering Apps and To Go Service- nothing will replace the cafeteria experience that comes with Piccadilly.
The carrot soufflé is by far the most notable dish at Piccadilly. In the early days of recipes on the internet Copycat recipes were a huge hit. Finally people could share what they've figured out in their mad science laboratory kitchens. Recipes for knock-off chain restaurant favorites filled the kitchens of America. While probably in less demand, Piccadilly copy cat recipes were no exception. Once my mother figured out how to use the internet, carrot soufflé became a regular side at Thanksgiving.
The carrot soufflé is a perfect mix of carrots, eggs, sugar, salt, butter, and vanilla. Baked to achieve a crisp top, and fluffy center, topped with more powdered sugar. What's not to love? Is it a side? A dessert? Who cares, it's delicious! Connie Ogle for Miami.com writes “it taste like all that is holy and pure about your childhood.” Honestly, I couldn’t have said it better than that.
If you don't live near a Piccadilly and want to try the carrot soufflé yourself, here's a copy cat recipe from our local paper. If you do, August 14th is Free carrot soufflé day. (That last sentence is sponsored by my mother, who told me after I told her about this post.)