Still, there's a definite charm to the jailhouse-style food service, especially as it's practiced at Hart & Soul, a south Phoenix rib shack.
We know the routine well. Step up to the glassed-off ordering counter. Study a brief listing on the wall -- catfish, chicken, pork chops, maybe a barbecue special. Push a doorbell, and wait for a cook to slide open a tall, narrow security slot crossed with heavy black steel mesh. She takes our order, and the slot slams shut. When our food is ready, it's placed into a black kettle mounted in the wall -- the pot's back half is chopped off so that it spins like a revolving door to deliver our goodies.
Like a life sentence, Hart & Soul's initially daunting service will eventually grow on you. The food sure does -- our fave's a mighty fine fried catfish for less than $6, accompanied by two side dishes and a cornbread muffin.
Besides, this time we're on the right side of the wall. We get to walk away when we're done with dinner.