Piccadilly was a popular destination for all sorts of people. You never knew who you might pass as you made your way from the front door and headed left to the beginning of the cafeteria’s two serving lines. In recent years I had not witnessed the “rear” line in operation. Either way, as you headed to the beginning, you not only got a chance to give that day’s menu selections a once-over, you also faced the strong possibility of seeing someone you knew coming down the line, picking what would go on their tray.
It was the same way once you reached the large dining area. People of all walks of life mingled, or at least sat nearby one another, inside those dining rooms for more than four decades. Workers from stores in the mall ate at Piccadilly. So did store owners. Several years ago, probably more than I realize, the restaurant had a makeover which included a multi-level fountain inside a planter that divided a section of the main “front” dining room. Utensils were still being rolled in cloth napkins. Noting the fountain, new carpet and other additions to the decor, a local restaurateur commented to me that a cafeteria in the mall had become “the nicest restaurant in town.”
The socializing and the homeyness was comforting, I’ll admit. But the food remained the main attraction for me. In my last two columns I mentioned several of my favorite dishes. Here are recipes that I’ve found to approximate some of those favorites when I’m in the mood for an edible memory.
Congealed Lime, Pineapple, and Cottage Cheese Salad
Large box lime Jello.
1 ½ cups boiling water.
1 cup crushed pineapple, drained (reserve juice).
1 cup chopped pecans.
16 oz. cottage cheese.
12 oz. Cool Whip, thawed.
Dissolve Jello in water. Add reserved pineapple juice, stir and let partially set. Stir in remaining ingredients and refrigerate until completely set. (May be made in a bundt type pan, ring mold, or casserole dish.)
Piccadilly offered a dish from the cold-salad section of their serving lines that was labeled Broccoli Madeline. It was a favorite choice of mine and also my friend Tyler Colbaugh’s for many years. Over the years, like my tale of “cracker pie,” I stumbled on various recipes for “broccoli salad” that seemed similar. I worked to perfect my own variation, which usually solicits requests for the recipe every time I take it to a potluck, family picnic, or dinner on the ground. Here it is, as I make it:
Wash well a bunch of fresh broccoli, cut florets from stalk and discard stalk. Chop florets. Dice one half of a medium red onion. Dice ½ cup celery. Mix broccoli, onion and celery in a large bowl. Add ½ cup raisins. Toss in 2.8 ounces of Oscar Mayer real bacon bits. In a smaller bowl combine 1 cup Duke’s mayonnaise, ¼ cup sugar, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon ground white pepper. Beat together until smooth and pour over vegetable/bacon/raisin mixture.Stir until dressing is evenly distributed. Fold in 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Refrigerate. Is best if made a day ahead. (Notes: how finely you chop, or don’t chop the broccoli florets is up to you; ground black pepper can be used if that’s all you’ve got; and “a bunch” of broccoli as used here refers to what is usually two to three “heads” of broccoli sold together, bound by a large rubber band.)
My sister Pamela introduced me to broccoli casserole not long after she married my brother-in-law, Larry Fagans. Pam and some of her friends who were also either recently married or soon to go to the alter sometimes got together to swap recipes, writing them on 3 x 5 recipe cards. She’s not sure where she got the broccoli casserole recipe. It might have been a Cheez Whiz ad torn from a magazine. Cheez Whiz was what made those 1970s broccoli casseroles cheesy ... or would that be Cheezee? The other main ingredients were chopped frozen broccoli, Minute Rice, milk and Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup. By the early 1980s, Pam and Larry had moved to Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Cheez Whiz had been replaced by shredded cheddar cheese.
Eventually broccoli casserole passed from our regular home cooking. But it became a favorite at Piccadilly. Time passed. I moved back home myself to help care for Dad in 2007. One of my main contributions became grocery shopping and cooking. Broccoli casserole sounded good. I’m not sure why I didn’t just call and ask Pam for the recipe. Instead, I began to experiment. Most recipes I found in cookbooks called for either cooked rice or Cheez Whiz and some even called for crackers. None sounded “right.” Ultimately I came up with a version Mom, Dad and I all liked and agreed was much like Pam used to make and also similar to Piccadilly’s. According to a note on the 3 x 5 index card I wrote the final draft on, I settled on this version on January 9, 2008. I’ve been making it ever since.
Preheat oven to 350°.
Cook one box of frozen chopped broccoli and drain well. Combine 1 can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup (we use the Heart Healthy variety) and 1 can of Campbell’s Cream of Chicken soup (again, the Heart Health Variety) in a large bowl. Add two scant soup cans of Minute Rice (straight from the box, not cooked) and one soup can of whole milk (I once used buttermilk instead and added half a pack of ranch dressing mix, to somewhat satisfactory results). Stir well and season with salt and white pepper to taste. Fold in 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese. Pour mixture into a casserole dish that has been prepared with baking spray. I use a square Corning Ware casserole that has a glass lid. If your casserole dish doesn’t have a lid, cover with aluminum foil. Bake in oven at 350° for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 250° and bake for another 45 minutes. Turn oven off and leave casserole inside another 30 minutes.
Piccadilly: a mainstay of my dining out options for 44 years
Piccadilly: more memories and a tribute recipe for a favorite dessert