For the love of food

Food / June 25, 2018

Digby returns to Oaklawn Track Kitchen for second season

Oaklawn Racing & Gaming has a variety of dining options available to its patrons, including the Oaklawn Track Kitchen, now fully accessible to the public for the 2018 live racing season.

Jana Ford Digby is in her second season as manager of the Track Kitchen, a position that she said she is thrilled to hold. For more than 30 years, her family owned and operated Ed’s Place, a popular restaurant in the Fountain Lake area that closed in 2009. Many of the family’s famous recipes are now being recreated at the Track Kitchen.

Digby, now 46, said she started at Ed’s Place while just 11 years old.

“Growing up in a restaurant meant going to school, coming home from school, putting my backpack in my bedroom and going to work. I started out washing dishes and then mom moved me up to waiting tables, and then I shifted around to cooking so that’s how I learned the whole restaurant business from front to back,” she said.

“I miss it like crazy, but now that I’m back in the community and talking to people, I feel more myself. I was lost without being with people. I just love to talk and meet folks.”

The Track Kitchen is open seven days a week, from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 5 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

Patrons may choose from a buffet or cook-to-order specials.

The breakfast menu boasts everything from eggs, omelets, pancakes, biscuits and gravy, breakfast sandwiches and burritos, and the lunch menu includes daily lunch specials and popular items such as sandwiches, catfish, brisket, meatloaf, cheeseburgers, roast beef sandwiches and chicken quesadillas.

“This year for breakfast, instead of doing your regular shredded hash browns, we have thefried potatoes in the iron skillet like you do at home and everyone is enjoying that. We also do that at lunch. And the mashed potatoes — it’s the real mashed potatoes, not out of the box, and we hand-peel them ourselves,” she said. “The vegetables are country-cooked vegetables, your onions, your ham hocks and your beans. Stuff that sticks to your ribs.”

Her favorites to cook up in the kitchen are the fried chicken, potatoes, and pancakes, “especially our big hubcap pancakes,” she said.

Her grandmother, mother, and older sister were instrumental in teaching her the ins and outs of cooking, as cooking has been in her family for generations.

Digby’s daily routine includes waking up at 2 a.m., having her morning coffee and arriving at the kitchen at 4 a.m. to start setting up for the day. She will begin putting the bacon in the oven, preparing the potatoes and getting the biscuits going before the rest of the crew arrives, sometimes not leaving for the day until after 6 p.m.

“But I love it,” she said. “As long as Oaklawn will keep me, I’ll be here for them. I’ll be frying taters and chicken all the time. I told you I was country!”

The Track Kitchen also gives its diners a way to bet on their favorite horses straight from the dining room with three betting machines just feet from the tables.

“The evening here is mostly beer-drinkers and gambling,” Digby said. “It gets a little exciting; these chairs start scooting across the floor. It’s a cool experience. It’s very entertaining out here. I love Oaklawn — anywhere you go, everybody’s helping everybody and that’s what I like. The people here just welcome you in their arms. It’s a very friendly, friendly atmosphere. I have a lot to learn in the future but I can grow with Oaklawn.”

As of right now, the Track Kitchen is only open during the racing season, though Digby said she would love to see it open year-round.

When asked what she plans to do during the offseason, she said, “Well, I’ll go back home, play with the animals, and I do side jobs until Oaklawn gets ready to go again.”

Digby and her family, which includes her husband of 17 years, 24-year-old son and two stepchildren, live for the outdoors and spend time as a family hunting, fishing, and raising beagles. She said she and her husband also tag-team in the kitchen, her husband doing the grilling and meat-cooking and Digby taking care of the vegetables and sides.

Seeing the friendly faces of the diners and having the ability to talk to them and make them laugh is what Digby said motivates her to get out of bed each day.

“I’m just an outgoing person. I love coming to Oaklawn, putting that smile on and telling everyone, ‘Y’all come on down and get you a bite!’”

Photography by Grace Brown

Lindsey Wells

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