I was lost in Queens, New York. It was dark. I was driving in my Buick Skylark and it was snowing outside. I was famished, or at least my tummy said so. I was scared. Here was I, a happy-go-lucky, white boy, Arizona hick all by himself rolling through the desolate streets of Emherst at midnight. I didn’t pray, but I called out to the universe for a sign that I was going to survive the night.
The sign came. The sign came in two golden arc’s.
This is not to be mistaken with golden arches. Those will be the symbols of McDonald’s. These were the golden arcs, the quintessential symbol of the local fast food franchise, McDowell’s.
There was a familiarity to McDowell’s. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but there was. Heck, I’m just going to say it, the place lived and breathed like a McDonald’s. But a McDonald’s with a twist. And you know what, it’s okay to put a twist on life.
I parked my car in the empty lot. The door was opened for me by an incredibly nice man with an accent that I could only detect from originating off the African coast. I don’t know which African country, seemed to be an amalgamation of sorts.
This man was not the manager, but it didn’t matter. He kept McDowell’s in good, working order.
The menu was simple enough and self-explanatory. I ordered a Big Mic, a Filet O’ Cod, a Third Pounder Royal Queen with Cheese, one order of fries, and a soft drink. The fries and soda pop were Queen Sized.
The Assistant Manager at the register was nice and charming. He pushed the MicRoast sandwich. “It’s only for a limited time,” he said in a deep voice that was too comical to seem scary.
I didn’t go for the offer but did inspect the other options. For the Happy Grub Cuisines for the kid’s you could get one of six identical looking dolls that looked like a black Barbie but in some sort of Miss America Pageant dress. Definitely a nice change from the normal Hot Wheels/action figures you see.
The food took a while. Maybe it was because I frequented the place during the witching hour. The nice man who opened the door for me was called upon to work the kitchen and help wash the lettuce in the back.
He was excited to do so. One could hear him sing the title theme song to, “The Jefferson’s.”
I sat down in a comfortable booth kiddy corner to an onsite General Manager/Owner. Maybe he was appreciative of my business, maybe he was bewildered why a man of my color would come to his restaurant around midnight, but he seemed to be awfully friendly.
In my own personal conspiracy thoughts, I feel he thought I was a nark. He read a McDonald’s Operations Manual right before my eyes.
I didn’t care. I was hungry, and quite frankly every food item was 50 cents to a dollar cheaper than its rival.
“It’s kind of like going to the grocery store cereal aisle and instead of buying Fruit Loops, you buy Fruity O’s,” he said, “and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, people like it. That’s kind of like going to McDowell’s.”
The only other patrons were a few locals. They looked like drifters and vagabonds but wore Mink coats, almost like 1970s pimps but without the whores.
“We’re a family place, but hurry up, we’re going to close in another hour,” the GM said.
My food was served hot in its appropriate plastic no-frills wrapper.
“We fry our fries with kangaroo fat,” the nice man who opened the door for me said.
“Sssh, that’s our secret,” the GM said.
The Big Mic was everything I wanted and hoped. I never realized how much flavor is in a burger like this, reminiscent of the Big Mac, but without the sesame seeds on top of the bun. Yes, some may argue that sesame seeds add flavor, but once you have a Big Mic, you’ll realize that they’re a nuisance, kind of like ketchup.
It was a fresh tasting sandwich. McDowell himself made a deal with the teamsters and port authority to get the best of all the seconds.
“Dirty seconds ain’t bad, because you’re still getting something,” he said.
The Filet O’ Cod was just okay. It was missing the tartar sauce. The Assistant Manager helped me doctor it up by me topping the sandwich with fries and dabbing a couple of droplets of malt vinegar on top. That definitely kicked it up a few notches.
The area of McDowell’s is not scary, but you have to know, it’s not the Upper East Side. I was apprehensive at first because there wasn’t any guard glass protecting the cashier, plus I noticed a lack of security cameras. But the nice man who opened the door for me was the only security McDowell’s needed.
Midway through my Royal Queen with Cheese, three men tried to mug me. They weren’t nihilists. They weren’t thugs. I’m sure they were just some high school drop out, dead end kids trying to get their swerve on.
The man who opened the door for me kicked their ass until they ran away. The GM was afraid I would say something to the people where I was from, so in order to keep me quiet he gave me a McFrozen with pieces of chocolate covered pretzels inside.
Worked for me.
I hope McDowell’s stays in business. It puts a new coat of paint on an area that wouldn’t be looked at twice otherwise. It’s a family business that as of right now doesn’t want to sell out. McDowell’s daughters help run it too and at times he receives endorsements from African American hair product companies and local barbershops.
ATMOSPHERE: One large 250 person main room with plastic booths and tables with bolted down chairs. Has “fast food” written all over it, a get in and get out mentality.
SERVICE: Gracious, kind, apt to go above and beyond the call of duty.
SOUND LEVEL: Quiet and calm for the most part. Windows don’t block outside traffic noise.
RECOMMENDED: Big Mic, Filet O’ Cod (ask for fries on the sandwich and malt vinegar, McFrozen with bits of chocolate pretzels
DRINKS AND WINE: No alcoholic beverages served. Only soft drinks, shakes, juices, water, and coffee beverages.
PRICES Drinks, starters, sides, and desserts range from $1-$4. Main entrees go from $4-$7.
OPEN: All 7 Days, from 6am-3am.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: One Ramp by the two main doors.