We went to the Red Rooster restaurant up in Alma because 1) we love the name and 2) a friend told us it changed her life. Namely, her life of pie.
The Rooster can be found in a one-story metal building next to McDonald's in Alma, just off the interstate. It is unprepossessing in architectural terms; one big room decorated in, what else, rooster art. Its most dramatic aspect is the wall behind the cash register, on which hundreds of diners have signed their names.
But you don't go to the Rooster for the scene or to be seen with the swells, though it's likely that's where they're eating. No, you go there for great home cooking and great pie.
Like Nana's Apple Pie, Aunt Fran's Pecan Cream Cheese, Aunt Freddy's Cherry, Cousin Gay's Chocolate, Mamaw Mattox's Japanese Fruit Pie and so forth — made from recipes contributed by the real-life relatives of owner Nicole Palmer.
“I thought, when I opened up the Rooster, it would be a nice tribute to all of the women in my family,” Palmer said, to match pie to pie-maker. It was Jan Owens, Palmer's mother and the owner of the Kettle Smokehouse in Van Buren for 25 years, who gathered up the pie recipes.
So let's start our meal with pie. There were 16 offerings on the two wall-sized chalkboards the day we dropped in, varieties ranging from the familiar to the aforementioned Japanese Fruit Pie, which includes raisins, coconut and pecans.
We chose the straight-up pecan pie, and it was the best pecan pie we have ever been privileged to consume, revelatory in fact: It came with whipped cream, and not ice cream, and because of that it stayed warm and melt-in-the mouth to the last bite. We love pie a la mode, but ice cream will, by virtue of chill, make those final bites of a pecan pie hard and less flavorful than the first. It was real whipped cream on top, too. This may be blasphemy, but there it is.
The pie was our second detour from our normal foodway; ordering barbecued brisket was our first. We're a pork person, but on the recommendation of our young waiter, we went for the brisket on Rooster bread, and we're glad we did. The Rooster's roots in the Smokehouse show here: the brisket is slow-cooked for about seven hours to tender perfection and served slathered in a slightly sweet sauce.
The army we lunched with made their own march through the menu, choosing the patty melt on rye with grilled onions, the cheeseburger, the frito pie and a grilled turkey special. The patty melt and the burger were outstanding, and that's probably because Palmer gets her beef fresh-ground daily from the local butcher and makes every patty by hand, 80 pounds worth as a rule. She makes baked beans, and she makes the barbecue sauce that goes in the baked beans. The potato salad is homemade. The Rooster even makes its own spicy mustard, and Palmer turns out Rooster buns by the ton.
The lemon in the lemon meringue and the coconut in the coconut cream were fresh from the fruit, no pudding mixes here, friends. What more do you want?
The Rooster is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. It will make you crow.