By TERRY MATHEWS
Arts/Copy Editor of The Winnsboro News
(From Jan. 29, 2015 column)
When I was growing up, our family celebrated a lot of special occasions at Johnny Cace’s Seafood and Steak House in Longview.
It was so much fun to put on my best Sunday dress, white lacy socks and my Mary Janes, and go to a fancy restaurant, complete with white linen tablecloths and exotic food like raw oysters, shrimp cocktail with Remoulade sauce, Cajun gumbo and crabmeat au gratin. I was 21 before I learned that au gratin was a style of cooking, not something related to a crustacean.
Most Saturday nights, my parents joined a large group of Winnsboro regulars who went to Longview to dine on shrimp in shorts, broiled flounder and of course, the corn relish and pickled okra, and fabulous garlic croutons slathered with the cheese spread.
Last week, the Cace family announced the 66-year-old business will close its doors March 28.
I don’t remember going to Cace’s when it was downtown, but Mom says we were there a lot.
Built in 1949, the original place had 37 seats, according to an article in the Jan. 25 edition of The Longview Morning Journal. Their current location, on Marshall Street (Highway 80) with its 13,000 sq. ft., opened in 1964 with a seating capacity of 450, The Journal noted.
That’s the building that holds all my memories.
I remember being told to behave during dinner so I could get a free toy from the treasure chest located near the front door. The chest was still there last August when we celebrated my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday.
I’m sure I saw my first live lobster in their tank.
Later, I honed my driving skills taking my parents and their friends there on weekends. When I started dating, it was a real treat to have dinner there — like grownups.
As I remember it, Mr. Cace was always at the front door, greeting guests by their first names. He must have left his post from time to time because he wandered through the dining rooms, too, asking if everything was satisfactory and inquiring after everyone’s family.
My dad loved raw oysters with extra horseradish in his red sauce. While I enjoyed watching the guys behind the bar shuck them, I swore I’d never eat one of those slimy, disgusting things.
My dad — and Mr. Cace — had other plans.
During my 16th birthday celebration, Mr. Cace set a dozen right in front of me. I was caught between rock salt and a hard place. I adored Mr. Cace and would have died before disappointing him, so I doctored my sauce, sprinkled lemon over everything and dug in.
It was love at first bite. The oysters were plump, juicy, ice cold and tasted just like the ocean. I’ve had oysters all over the planet, but nothing compares to the ones I ate that night.
Mr. Cace never forgot a face. The last time Mother and I saw him, he called her by name and then turned to me and said, “Is this Terry? Why, she’s all grown up.” I was 45 at the time.
After his death, Cace’s son, Gerard, took the reins. (Son Danny briefly opened a Cace’s on South Broadway in Tyler.) After Gerard’s sudden death in 2012, his wife and daughter began running the place.
My last few visits haven’t been up to Mr. Cace’s standards. The oysters were perfection, but the broiled flounder and snapper were dry and under-seasoned. The place needs a face lift and a good steam cleaning. A door was hanging off one of the stalls in the ladies room, held in place by a single screw. The carpet is dirty and threadbare in places, and there’s stuffing coming out of the seats of some of the red booths in the bar area.
However, when I walk in the front door and see that portrait of Mr. Cace holding the oversized red leather menu hanging on the wall, everything fades and I’m a young girl again, ready for the incredible experience that was Johnny Cace’s Seafood and Steak House.