LAKE CHARLES, La. – Every town, it seems, has at least one place that everyone knows about and recommends to all the outsiders. That place in Lake Charles is “Cotten’s Famous Hamburgers.” I had the pleasure of dining there on my last day in the small city in southwestern La.
The first thing you realize when you arrive is that this is not a high-brow establishment. That happens to be just fine by me, and as I suspected, even those with the most selective of palettes would be hard pressed to find something negative about the small hamburger hut. I was met at the cash register by Rolonda, who may have been the most delightful and patient meal-order-taker I have come across. I am not a local and I ordered my food as such, but Rolonda helped me figure out one of the most basic menus around. The difficulty I encountered was the difference between an old fashioned cheeseburger and a cheeseburger. Rolonda explained to me that the old fashioned burgers came with grilled onions, while the regular burgers had plain onions. Based on the information provided, I promptly ordered an old fashioned eggburger.
It came with lettuce, tomato, pickle, grilled onions, mayonnaise, and was topped with a fried egg.
I also ordered a small basket of onion rings, and a half order of fried shrimp.
As I waited for my food to be prepared, I had a look around the joint.
Kenny, the owner, never stopped moving. He worked non-stop, preparing everything that had to be hand-battered and fried. Whether it was onion rings, shrimp or catfish, Kenny was on the job.
Jeannine filled cup after cup and made certain that every order had been plated properly.
Alvin never looked up from the grill as he prepared patty after patty for the hundreds of customers that came by for lunch.
But the person who most stood out to me was Martha. Not to say that Martha worked any harder than anyone else at Cotten’s, but it was immediately evident to me that she possessed the warmest demeanor and the most graceful persona. She worked as the “topper,” ensuring that each burger served was topped appropriately, and that each plate that was put on a tray had all of the required components. It appeared to me that even when she was the busiest, she still had an unmovable smile on her face. She is the type of person that one could always trust to be looked after by.
Now, on to the food. My old fashioned eggburger was tremendous and made me think back to meals I shared with my great-grandfather. The burger itself was fresh cooked, and the grilled onions were terrific. The rest of the toppings were great compliments.
When I ordered the half order of shrimp, I thought it was only shrimp. As it turned out, for $4.99 I was granted several butterflied shrimp, fries, and a salad. The shrimp was as fresh as any I have had, and the fries were crisp.
But the most ridiculous offering I was served may have been the “medium” order of onion rings. When you think of a medium serving, you don’t imagine an eight-inch-tall stack of fresh, hand-battered onion rings. As you may have suspected, I had get a to-go box for my abundance of left-overs.
As for my definitive judgment of Cotten’s: It has the feel of a small town burger joint but has the taste to match any big city establishment in the country. But more importantly, the people who pour their hearts and souls into providing some of the best food along the Gulf Coast are what make Cotten’s such a great, must stop, must-see restaurant.
When I asked Kenny, the owner, what the secret to longevity in the food industry is, he replied, most fittingly, “Keep it simple.”
Thanks to the staff of Cotten’s for the great food and the level of care you have for each and every customer who enters your domain.