Closed Forever

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
Fifty years of delectable southern meals, that even Elvis Presley and Festus of Gunsmoke enjoyed.

Submitted: October 30, 2018

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Submitted: October 30, 2018



Beneath sunny Florida skies, in the vicinity of Plant City, once existed a beacon of great home cooking—the Branch Ranch Restaurant.  Opening for business in 1956, it was a pleasant low slung building set down in an orange grove.  Easily accessed from a major highway, it fit easily into the more rural, agrarian geography found a bit north of Tampa.

Visiting this establishment in the early 1970s as a college girl, I knew I'd found a source of delicious, simply prepared, fresh southern cuisine.  At that time, Mrs. Branch, owner and operator, was hosting.  A slender, older woman with her dark hair in a tidy bun, I sensed she may have begun the operation as a widow.  It seems doubtful to me now, she ever expected the place to become so popular and remain in business almost 50 years!

Once seated in one of the paneled dining areas, and placing a meat order of either ham, fried chicken, or steak, the family style platters started arriving—salad tray, homemade biscuits, Mrs. Branch's own sweet pickle and beets, baked yellow squash, candied yams, eggplant casserole, chicken pot pie, and fresh pole beans with ham hock and potato.  Are you hungry yet??  Completed with fresh iced tea or coffee and a piece of coconut cake, I always left completely happy and satiated, as I exited an environment that hummed with the enjoyment of a great meal and good company.

Imagine this gem a pleasant drive out from your city suburban life, and a time capsule trip to old, rural, Florida.  Like all great things, it eventually came to an end.  Mrs. Branch died, her MBA grandson faithfully continuing the traditions in casual dining for a number of more years.

Ever the faithful customer, one day in 2005, I called when I learned they were closing.  I heard the dreaded message, "This is the Branch Ranch.  We have closed forever."  It doesn't get more stark and too the point than that.

Like all such institutions and habits, it covered a swath of my life, from early adulthood into my middle years.  Visits assuaged losses and sorrows, and celebrated happiness and good times.  This place and those times represented some of what I loved best about the area around Tampa, and the central Florida corridor of the state.  

It was about more down to earth, everyday folks getting on with the business of life.  Why, even Elvis Presley and Festus from Gunsmoke days, are said to have dined happily there.  Mrs. Branch contributed her gifts with grace and dedication.  Her cuisine lifted a great many hearts, spirits, and saw many satisfied customers return again and again.  I'm grateful to have been one of them!

(Do you have a restaurant that has served as a lodestar in your own life?  If so, why?  Was it the food, location, the people who dined there with you?  Could it be a story?)

(Note:  Located near the yearly Florida State Fair grounds, the Branch Ranch drew visitors and performers.  The BR still comes up on Google searching, and a Facebook page shows some old photos.  The dining rooms were an addition off the home Mr. and Mrs. Branch lived in, located in a fragrant orange grove.)






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