One of the highlights of living in (or even visiting) Downtown DeLand is the variety of restaurants.

Most nights, especially on weekends, we find the Boulevard crowded with retirees, young couples and families. It’s one of our signature appeals that delights both newcomers and old-time residents alike.

This was not always the case. Up until the early to mid-1970s, the fare in Downtown DeLand was strictly Southern cooking. The closest thing to ethnic was Tom’s Pizza (still a favorite among locals).

But the food I most remember was lunch-counter food. Lunch counters were dotted throughout Downtown. Paris may have its cafe society, but we had our lunch-counter society. Much business was done, with no end of “politicking,” at these counters.

Drugstores always had a lunch counter. There was the Orange Belt Pharmacy in the 100 block of East New York Avenue (now being renovated to house Collective church).

If you think you have had good home-fried potatoes, you might think again if you tasted the potatoes served here. Owner Tommy Morris was a master at home-fried potatoes and at breakfast food of any type. I had many early breakfasts at his counter.

Sundries Pharmacy was on the northwest corner of West Rich Avenue and Woodland Boulevard. It’s now a hair salon.

The waitresses at Sundries had starched uniforms and stacked hair, and served the best homemade chicken and dumplings I have ever tasted.

In all my years, I have never tasted their equal. In my teens, when I wasn’t thinking about girls, I was thinking about those chicken and dumplings.

On the southwest corner of West New York Avenue and Woodland Boulevard was McIra’s (now South of New York Market). This was probably the oldest lunch counter, with a marble top and a mirror that ran the length of the counter.

Before my time, Volusia Drug Store’s lunch counter was at the southwest corner of West Indiana Avenue and Woodland Boulevard, now the location of my favorite chocolate shop.

Stewart’s was the newest, located in the 600 block of West New York Avenue, where my buddy Tommy Smith got his culinary beginnings by heating Campbell’s soup in an electric pot.

Not to be outdone, Woolworth’s five-and-dime, located in the building that now houses the MainStreet DeLand Association and the Museum of Art - DeLand Downtown Galleries and Museum Store, had the longest counter.

One of Woolworth’s specialties was banana splits. They would have a series of helium balloons with slips of paper inside. On the paper, were numbers from 1 cent to 99 cents.

After you finished your treat, they would pop the balloon of your choice and the paper slip inside would reveal the cost of your sundae.

Direct competition existed across the street at McCrory’s lunch counter, in what is now the Mainstreet Center. McCrory’s was a little more upscale, and did not feel the need to discount their banana splits.

These lunch counters were the real thing. Real ice cream, real sodas and shakes, made before your eyes and served in glass. Cokes were made from Coke syrup and soda water, dispensed from gleaming chrome fixtures. If you asked, they would add vanilla or cherry flavor. The hamburgers were flat things with all the trimmings, including thick raw onions.

As the name implies, lunch counters served only breakfast and lunch, never dinners. No need to do that, since downtown closed at 5:30 p.m.

It was a different time and a special place. I am sure the same was happening in small towns across America.

If you remember lunch counters, the memory may bring to mind a classic Norman Rockwell image.

Did I mention the chicken and dumplings?

— Mancinik is a fifth-generation Floridian and a native of DeLand. He has been an active Realtor for more than 40 years.