BY EMILY THOMPSON
WOODS CROSS — Sliding onto a swivel stool at the front counter of Kitty Pappas Steak House feels a little like stepping back into time at a 40’s diner.
Kitty Pappas at 2300 S. Main Street is best known for its big steaks and hearty hamburgers, but the two-sided vintage typography menu is quite varied. That may not seem extraordinary in a chain steak house with multiple prep and line cooks, but Kitty is the only cook.
Her ability to work her way through hand-written tickets from the two lone servers, son George Pappas and employee JoLayne Thompson, would be a task shied away from by cooks half her age. But Pappas only shies away from interviews and self-boasting. Hard work is all she knows.
The woman has been on the job for 65 years, and her namesake restaurant recently celebrated 65 years in business.
Pappas started in the dining businesses as the young wife of a Greek entrepreneur who bought The Scenic Inn, an old diner on Highway 89, in 1947. She was the waitress, and he the cook.
Pappas took the reins when her husband Johnny Pappas passed away in 1963, all while raising her children alone in the living quarters behind the restaurant.
One of her children is now as much a part of the dining experience at Kitty Pappas as the signature steaks. Known as “Crazy George”, George Pappas manages all the tables in the back dining room. Patrons who mistakenly ask for steak sauce will get a tongue lashing for the implied insult towards his momma’s cooking skills, and George is known for saying just what he thinks of any other offenses a customer might commit.
This behavior is not only accepted but welcomed by many regular diners, and George thrives on providing the abusive entertainment.
Front counter server Thompson, a 25-year veteran of the diner, is as calm and sweet to the patrons as George is rough and abrasive.
While Thompson’s front counter has a light-hearted feel with lots of vintage charm and plenty of natural daylight, the back dining room is dark and slightly ominous. Tall backed-booths there line the walls, and a cluster of tables fills the center. A shrine to skiing lines the front wall, and Thompson said that George’s ski-bum reputation is well-deserved in the winter months: He practices pagan-like rituals for the snow gods. Plastic flowers on each table are the only relief from the den-like room.
In the front counter area, the original 1950’s cash register stands proudly next to the kitchen entrance. The walls juxtapose the old and new, as vintage glasses are stacked next to Led Zepplin posters, and co-ed softball trophies claim space next to a new LED Coors Beer sign. A small wall-mounted flat screen TV at the far end of the counter seems anachronistic, as do two modern digital pinball machines placed on either side of the door.
Back in the kitchen, Kitty is always hard at work. She said repeatedly that she doesn’t have time to talk about her restaurant because she is too busy working. She arrives in the kitchen at 6 a.m. five days a week and stays there until after closing each night, usually around 10 p.m.
Before the grilling and frying begins, Pappas creates her signature cakes and cheesecakes each day. Patrons who to stop in during the holiday season and find that Kitty’s Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese frosting is available will thank their good fortune indeed.
And if it snows soon, one might want to thank Crazy George for opening the heavens.