Pulling up to Dot Coffee Shop off I-45 will remind you of middle-of-the-night bathroom trips at Howard Johnson's during marathon road trips (even if watching Chevy Chase movies is as close as you've come to touring the country via highway). The oh-so-'70s neon sign on the building reads "Steaks, Shakes, and Pancakes." Yes, please.
Inside, the restaurant is narrow but bright and clean, and something of a mystery. It's obvious that the place was decorated in the '70s, with wood paneling, amazing eight-sided hanging light fixtures and the pièce de résistance, a mallard-duck-themed faux-stained-glass window. And yet, the overstuffed vinyl booths are unblemished: no holes, no tears, no cigarette burns. Booths at Chili's are more worn down than these, which means either a) the booths are magically self-healing, like that girl on Heroes, or b) somewhere, there still exists a plant producing and selling '70s-style booths. Both possibilities are equally frightening.
We take all signs written in neon very seriously, so we order the chicken fried steak and the pecan pancakes, but before they come we dive into the complimentary rolls. They aren't anything special, but they're warm, fluffy and buttery, and thus inhaled. The meal shows up a minute later: The steak, thin and smothered in bland gravy, is undeniably tasty, but the fries are so greasy, they're virtually inedible without a protective coat of gravy. Gravy, if you didn't know, makes everything better. The pancakes have a heavy nut essence even before you biting into the plentiful pecan pieces both inside and topping the short stack. Whether a pancake should ever be this crunchy is a matter for debate, but if you like pancakes and you like pecans, there's not a lot to complain about.
The restaurant isn't packed at midnight but has a steady flow of customers: black-clad waiters off their shifts, college students and even a few families with small children who apparently have never heard of bedtimes. Our waitress is adorable and keeps teasing my highly gullible friend by suggesting the kitchen is out of everything she asks for (syrup, to-go boxes, water). Messing with drunk people has got to be one of the highlights of the job, and we are full and happy to oblige.