The Meadowthorpe Cafe and Some Thoughts on Cornbread

Fork and Spoon had a little downtime last week.  Having done our parental duty schlepping beer and dogs at a Legend’s game, we decided to take a weekday off to recuperate.

Our plan was twofold – sleep late and lunch out.

And so, we did just that! We slept until 8am – which is crazy late for Spoon but a reasonable goal in Fork’s estimation. After bumbling around the house for a few hours, drinking coffee and catching up with the news, we headed out to lunch.

We intended to eat a healthy meal, something consisting of whole grains and fresh fruit and veg. We absolutely intended to do that. Then we tossed those plans aside and went to Meadowthorpe Café.

This was our first visit to Meadowthorpe Café.

It is another one of those establishments that we would pass occasionally and remark about how we really miss those old “Mom and Pop” diners, how local restaurants are so much more unique than the franchised eateries you can visit in any town in the 50 contiguous states (and beyond), and how we should support local business owners by frequenting their establishments. We would say all of that.

Then we’d drive right by.

This time, we pulled in, parked and walked inside.

What to say…what to say? We loved this little restaurant. It has pokey little booths and a pokey little buffet line – not the “mega-all-you-care-to-eat-and-more” kind of line, but the old fashioned kind with the steamer warmers with aluminum pans and the glass separating you and your germs from the delicious food. You point and pick and they serve it up to you from the other side of the glass.

There is a breakfast menu, as well as a lunch menu. There are burgers. There are daily specials, with a meat, two sides. There are soup beans and cornbread. Woo doggie! Cornbread!

Fork chose BBQ baked chicken, broccoli casserole and mashed potatoes; Spoon selected the meatloaf, broccoli casserole and mashed potatoes. There was some discussion over the greens and green beans, but why get a vegetable when you can get a scalloped or casseroled vegetable instead?

You also get what is apparently “bottomless” cornbread with the plate meals, as per the sign. Given the portion sizes, one serving of cornbread was sufficient for Fork and Spoon at this visit.

The food was delicious. We took pictures; see above. Admittedly, meatloaf and broccoli casserole are not particularly photogenic, but they are delicious! It seems silly to feel the need to say this, but the meatloaf tasted like meat. It wasn’t mushy or bland or over seasoned. It was just like eating real meat, which made Spoon believe she was actually eating real meat. Spoon was thrilled as, so often, restaurant meatloaf tastes fake, and nothing at all like Mom used to make.

Everything else was just as tasty. The chicken was wonderfully moist but not pink inside and the broccoli casserole was homey. Not fancy, homey. There are no pretensions at the Meadowthorpe Café.

We do need to address the cornbread, however. The minute we saw the little cornbread patties, we were thrilled out of our minds. Still, Spoon was left with the impression that the folks who run the place hail from north of the Ohio River! They certainly aren’t Appalachian and if they are, their Grandmas are going to be none too pleased with their using yellow cornmeal to bake the bread.  Cornbread made with anything but white meal is most decidedly not cornbread.

Spoon remembers growing up in an Appalachian home in Chicago. We were just plain different from other people in the neighborhood with their fish sticks on Friday and Chicken a la King, cubed steaks, navy bean soup and pork chops with applesauce. We were tucking into biscuits and gravy, fried apples, soup beans, greens, cornbread. Like any other ex-pats, we also ate some meals like the natives, but it seems there was always some cornbread in the house, even if just leftovers, sitting on the stove covered with a napkin.

And cornbread, baked or fried, was made with white meal.

My best friend’s mother used to make chili which she served with yellow corn muffins. Oh, how highly I esteemed Mrs. Morris’ yellow cornmeal muffins. Not fried into patties or baked into a larger pone that was cut like a cake into triangular chunks. No, no, no. There were dainty, sunny little muffins. So discreet, so polite.  So middle class and so very “Northern”. How Spoon so desperately wanted her mother to change her ways and make muffins just like Mrs. Morris’.

My mother remained steadfast, however, and would not participate in such an abomination. One would have though the rules to making cornbread were to be found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy with the Old Testament dietary laws, so unswerving was Spoon’s mother. So Spoon continued to nosh on white cornbread, baked and fried, within the home and partook of the glorious yellow cornmeal muffins out in the world, every chance she got. Spoon swore to herself that one day she would grow up and eat nothing but yellow meal cornbread. She was going to be nothing like her old-fashioned mother.

And she did. For years. For years, she made cornbread, not on a daily basis, only occasionally. And for years, she complained about how it didn’t taste like mom’s – was too crumbly, too sweet, and not able crisp and crunch the way she remembered her mother’s. Finally, she gave in and bought a bag of white meal. Mom was right and the cornbread has never tasted better.

The cooks at Meadowthorpe Café could do the same. However, having said that, they are not bad as far as yellow meal cornbread goes, and in all fairness, we saw no claim to Appalachian authenticity, so no harm, no foul.

So in a nutshell, the food is tasty. It is homespun. It is reasonably priced. The food we ate reminded us of diners of old times. No fancy flourishes with garnish, no claims as far as we could tell to organic, or local or green.

The Meadowthorpe Cafe has that somewhat chaotic feel of something real, a feeling that would go unnoticed if everything hasn’t become so staged in our lives, right down to the décor on a restaurant wall and the background music.

If you think only new decor can be clean or worthwhile, you may not like this place. If you think Friday’s or Cracker Barrel décor reflects some kind of authenticity with time and place, you won’t like the looks of the Meadowthorpe Café. If you insist on nothing but a fine dining experience – wow, you need to go downtown. But if you want some tasty food, real people, real food…

The Meadowthorpe Cafe is a hospitable place to eat.

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