The Weekly Dish - Old Orange Cafe

The Weekly Dish - Old Orange Cafe

If you’re ever in the Orange area, be sure to stop off at a little slice of heaven called Old Orange Cafe. The restaurant, opened in 1990 by Susan Childers, serves everything from Caesar salads and Cajun grilled shrimp to burgers and BLTs.

David Claybar, the current owner of Old Orange Cafe, began cooking in college with his grandmother and mother.

“We did dinner parties, barbecue cook-offs, chili cook-offs, gumbo cook-offs,” Claybar said. “I had never cooked professionally, but I was a cook at the deer lease and stuff like that. I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do when I graduated from college.”

After receiving his business degree from Sam Houston State University, Claybar attended the Art Institute in Houston and graduated with a culinary arts degree in March 2003. He then began working as a cook for Childers at Old Orange Cafe. “They were in a slow process of closing it down,” Claybar recounted. “The plan was to turn it into a short-stay apartment.”

Claybar, however, saw potential in the Cafe and ended up buying it from Childers in 2004 to keep the restaurant alive.

“I’d never been a boss anywhere,” Claybar said. “Jan. 19, 2004, I became the boss.”

Claybar’s first challenge was to give the restaurant an identity. His cousin Alyson Steakley suggested adorning the restaurant’s walls with old Claybar family photos and historical pictures of Orange.

“All the newspaper articles are … from the ’40s to ’60s,” he said. “The rest of the (photos) came from Howard Williams.”

The late Dr. Howard Williams was a physician, noted historian and community photographer. Williams began collecting Texana when he was young and discovered that Orange’s history had never been recorded. After that, he showed a passion for gathering local photographs, historical documents and history stories. Many of his photos can be seen on Old Orange Cafe’s walls.

Hurricane Ike, a history-making event in itself, rocked the Old Orange Cafe in 2008, causing substantial flooding in the area and 36 inches of water in the restaurant. Signs in the restaurant indicate where the water line could be seen after the flooding.

Claybar was heavily involved in restoration efforts in Orange County.

“We were feeding 250 people three meals a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner – at Little Cypress Junior High. We set up shop there and fed families and contractors, whoever else was here,” he said.

At the same time, however, Claybar had to do a little restoration work of his own.

“We worked 18 hours a day for 30 days to get the restaurant going again,” he said. “We opened it back up on the 31st day (following the hurricane).”

While Old Orange Cafe’s catering to local refineries, one of its biggest pools of business, has slowed a bit with plummeting oil prices, 20 percent of the restaurant’s business is catering and Claybar said he expects refineries to begin ordering more food from him once the oil prices head back up.

What we ate

Enough about the history; let’s get to the food!

There were so many menu items to choose from that looked delicious, but we opted for the daily special — meat loaf, mashed potatoes and brown gravy, green beans, toast and choice of dessert, all for $10.50. The meat loaf was thick and savory. The mashed potatoes were creamy and well complimented by the hearty brown gravy. For dessert, we chose the Chocolate Chess pie. It was sweet and gooey. It was so good, in fact, that it made us want to explore the dessert menu even further. Next, we tried the chocolate chip peanut pie and immediately fell in love.

We also tried the chicken fried steak, fries and cream gravy. To the table came a gorgeous golden brown fried steak. Many restaurants want to use the “we have a big chicken fried steak” gimmick and leave the taste behind. Not at the Old Orange Cafe. It looks as good as it tastes. Thick, easy to cut and plenty of cream gravy — just like we like it.

The verdict

Old Orange Cafe’s wait staff is friendly, and the restaurant has a cozy and unique atmosphere. The photos on the walls are themselves worth the visit alone, but once you try the food you’ll be hooked. David Claybar definitely has something special going in Old Orange.