The Mansion on Main Street

Voorhees, New Jersey

When I entered Vanderbilt University School of Law in 1964, Nashville eateries were divided into two categories: "All-You-Can-Eat Chicken" or "All-You-Can-Eat Ribs."

Breaded chicken was the specialty of a Murfreesboro establishment just outside the southern metropolis. Skin still on and sopping in Crisco, the critters dampened a paper plate to opaqueness. One's hands, cheeks and chins contained as much oil as Conway Twitty used to create his pompadour.

Neither fork nor spoon was offered, so slaw was simply pushed onto slices of white bread. No napkins appeared, so the remnants of the bread served in their place. Cheap eats.

"That'd beeuh dahler. Y'all cum back now!"

Rib plates were double the money and, appropriately, twice the intake of fat and grease. Pig "joints" dotted Nashville's landscape, the same way pimples speckled Roy Orbison's teenage face. The patrons who clamored into these pork pits would have been refused entrance to a zoo for the fear animals might feed them too many peanuts.

The patrons always came in with their T-shirts neatly tucked into their underwear, but the absence of napkins caused them to tug at enough cotton below the elastic bands of their boxers to clean their stained fingers. And those were the women.

But it was "all-you-can-eat," so Vandy's Law School Class of '67 went to lectures with bloated bellies, splattered hornbooks and canned casenotes illegible from stuck bits of petrified poultry and permutations of meat.

Paul Wice, now a professor of political science at Drew University in New Jersey, but then from Washington, D.C., was known for oddly colored chest hairs, fits of uncontrollable flatulence and bellicose bouts of hiccuping that came gratis with the meal at these eateries. After a month or so, it was discovered that, if held by his ankles and forced to move forward on his hands, Paul could smell truffles hidden two feet underground.

John Brancato, currently staff judge advocate and a colonel at the 21st Airborne Division at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., started an instrumentless marching band. His lips were too slick to blow trumpets, tubas, or even kazoos, but there was enough gas emanating from his glistened, fatty body to cause a syncopated cacophony. John created the acronym Vandy Alum Most Oddly Oiled or Sauced. "VAMOOS," he proclaimed gleefully, "is my motto."

For our 25th reunion, our Yankee division decided to meet at the finest establishment we could locate that's all-you-can-eat, The Mansion on Main Street. But only after having eaten Sunday brunch, prepared by Peter Gamble, former executive chef of the historic five-star Adolphus Hotel in Dallas, were we whistling Dixie.

As you approach the complex of edifices surrounding the Mansion, your eyes fall on an architectural mixed bag of Chinese pagodas, Japanese ponds, ionic columns and modernistic houses on stilts. It's as if you're on a movie backlot upon which 12 facades are required for different films in progress.

The Mansion is open to the public on Wednesday evening ($21.95 for Grand Buffet) and on Sunday ($18.75 for brunch). Otherwise, the restaurant caters any sort of function, from a salon of 15 people to banquet for the Union League. Wedding receptions are booked through 1994.

My confederates, forgive the expression, and I entered a main dining room bursting with aromas and sounds of hot food. The faces of Andrew Jackson imprinted on the $20 bills in our pockets began to smile. Our limit was two Jacksons, and, to be fair, two Lincolns.

Paul began with made-to-order omelets and raisin French toast with bacon, sausage and hamsteak. John nose-dived for pastries, pies, fruit compotes and sweets to down with coffee. Runways 40 feet long and 8 feet wide, were filled to overflowing with these delights.

I scanned the silver service steamers for hot vegetables. Beside the braised beef was risotto with saffron. Surrounding the chicken fricassee were sugarsnap peas and button mushrooms. Haricot verts and baby yellow squash were delicately placed upon the sautéed shad.

Others gazed at filet mignon sliced into three-quarter-inch thick morsels to cover a six-foot expanse upon which steaks from rare to well-done were displayed. Gazing turned to grazing. The meat was as red and tender as a Tennessee sunset.

A spectacular tray of Nova Scotia salmon appeared, weighing no less than a hundred pounds. The salmon was accompanied by platters of pickled herring, smoked fish, bagels, cheeses, rolls, tomatoes, cucumbers and purple onions.

Ravioli, noodles, mousses and salads claimed yet another even larger table, the legs of which were beginning to strain. Our mouths filled with gnashed eggs and toast, hash browns and fired beignets. We discussed the success of classmates Brad Reynolds, former Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, and Fred Thompson, "the movie star." Our parted lips exposed grilled eggplant and hot roast turkey breast as each of us tried to imitate Fred's words as minority counsel at the Watergate hearing. "Mr. Butterworth, sir, is there a possibility any of these conversations were taped?"

Two and a half hours of constant "nourishment," Bloody Marys and Mimosas, caused the reassemblage of the Hardly Marching Band. A few alums were deftly escorted to a second-floor room where a golden plaque reads, "Vanderbilt Room."

All windows were opened and every door was sealed shut. A beat was established by Paul who slammed a green McCormick on Evidence against a brown Prosser on Torts. John sang a medley of "White Sport Coat and Pink Carnation," "Yellow Rose of Texas" and "Blue Suede Shoes."

We reflected, as we have every anniversary, upon our first class on contracts at Vanderbilt. None of us had set foot in the South before going to law school. During the previous orientation days, most of us had tired to memorize the facts and holdings of the first five decisions in our casebook on the chance we'd be called to recite.

Our professor arrived at 9:00 a.m. wearing boots and a hat measured in gallons. He walked to the podium, the treatise opened on the lectern's stand, and he glanced at the class as if to call on someone. Instead, he quickly closed the casebook and sighed. Peering up at us with a grin, he distinctly said, "In the south, there's only one important thing to know about the law of contracts. Y'all make a promise, y'all keep it."

He strode away from the lectern and out of the room, leaving us with 50 minutes of reflection. We sat at our seats until the buzzer sounded, knowing we were at the beginning of a legal smorgasbord. After 25 years we're all, legally speaking, still hungry.


(This article was written in 1992.)

Copyright 2004 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back