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The Potatoes Were Underdone

by | Nov 11, 2013

I only dined once at the Indian Fields Tavern along Route 5 in Charles City County. It was many years ago, and the food was good. I loved the rolling fields and trees all around, and the sure sense that the James River lay just over a rise.

While dining, I could picture a visit to the same site decades before that; the 1800’s farmhouse that housed the restaurant had been abandoned and empty at the time. I had come in a carload of other young people from church to visit newlyweds (and cousins) Anna Jo and Laverne Mumaw who were managing the farm and living in a trailer just a few yards from the old farmhouse.

The only other thing I remember about my lunch at the Indian Fields Tavern–and it made a big impression–was an altercation between a waiter and another dining party in the corner behind us.

The exchange went something like this:

Client: These potatoes aren’t done.

Waiter: Oh, sorry, I’ll take them back to the kitchen.

(In a few minutes, returning with the same potatoes)Waiter: The cook says they are done just right.

Client: (In a huff) Potatoes are not done unless the person who’s eating them thinks they are!

I can’t remember how the altercation was resolved. I only know I have replayed that scenario from time to time wondering who was right. How would a chef decide whether to lightly steam his fresh green beans or boil them with bacon grease into a soft tempting mush? It would seem he should have some say in the matter, but what about the person paying for the meal and hoping for a different presentation? It has been something to mull over in idle moments.

Yesterday I got into the open convertible with Robby to lunch at the very same place, now called Charles City Tavern.


It was a beautiful hour-long ride through fall leaves and crisp air, but, in a lighthearted way, the specter of underdone potatoes lingered.


When we were seated, we whispered our memories of where the “potato-eater” was seated, behind us, and noticed that a couple was finishing up their meal in that same location.

I became alert when I heard the man loudly announce that he would wait till he got home to have coffee, because he wanted it made just right.

The waitress then asked politely, “Was everything all right?”

“Yes,” the man conceded reluctantly, adding, to our shock and amazement, “Except that the potatoes for the potato salad were underdone.”

The waitress apologized, and the man went on cheerfully, “But I always say better underdone than overdone when it comes to potato salad!”

Marveling at the coincidence and at how often the two of us encounter something this crazy, we savored our delicious lunch. There was nothing underdone about roasted beets on mixed greens with bleu cheese, pine nuts and oranges. And the pecan bourbon bread pudding we shared could only be described as decadent, swimming in warm buttery caramel sauce.

If I am so fortunate as to dine at that location in years to come, however, I will ask to be seated in the other dining room. Overhearing a third complaint about underdone potatoes from the very same table would be almost too eerie even for me!