“Home cooking” is a catchy phrase that turns our minds back to recollections of childhood, reawakening the aroma of mom's chicken soup after school on a cold January afternoon or warm, fresh-baked bread. But if “home cooking” is still available, it's less so all the while.
All the more precious, then, are eateries where you can truly believe in home cooking, whether or not the sign over the door says so. Today's review is focused on one of this sort, a little restaurant 20 miles or so up the Maumee River, where the cooking is plain, honest, and redolent of a passing era. It's the C&J Family Restaurant in Grand Rapids, a leisurely summer drive across the river a few miles above Waterville.
It won't take more than a minute with the menu to see that the C&J proprietors have not spent much time on management theory. There isn't a section devoted to appetizers, for example, though what we might unhesitatingly call appetizers are scattered here and there: onion rings and mozzarella sticks are among baked or mashed potatoes on the list of a la carte sides. But no matter; sidestepping the extensive breakfast menu on Page 1, the inside pages, headed with sandwiches (a lot of them) on the left and dinners on the right, make mouth-watering reading.
And lest you overlook it among so much to read, the back page is mostly addressed to the older crowd (55 and over), and 12 and under juniors. Be advised, however, that the establishment does not honor senior discount cards.
Perhaps it's a subset of the principle that distance lends enchantment, but I'm slightly bemused that the longest category of dinners is seafood: beer-battered perch and pickerel - each, at $9, a buy - followed by baked cod, farm-raised catfish, and more.
No catfish for me this time, however. I turned instead to the five C&J Favorites, on both occasions opting for pork. Two pan-fried chops were a remarkable success, so thin that I expected them to be dry and overdone, but found instead that they were tender, moist, and lean. The breading is rather heavy, however, which made dissecting one chop, a center cut, needlessly difficult. On another visit, a grilled ham steak was unremarkable, neither spectacular nor disappointing, but closer to the latter.
The guest has the choice of two sides from a list of nine, but I always seem to prefer what other people like. My waitress reported the sauerkraut was already gone, and so was the cole slaw. I should cultivate a taste for rutabaga, maybe. I wound up with a dish of applesauce and some tasty, well-boiled carrots, with an occasional bite of green beans thrown in for good measure.
With all those sandwich possibilities, C&J does a vigorous lunch business, and I had supposed that with lots of practice the sandwich-makers ought to be pretty proficient. They may be, perhaps with the more frequently ordered choices. However, my reuben was tasty but left something to be desired. The dark rye is great, but the slices are small, especially when it comes to holding a generous spoonful of sauerkraut; it was one of those times when I hoped no one was watching me.
Fruit pies are among what the C&J baker does well; the cherry pie was luscious, the crust a real success, even though there might well have been more cherries and less gelatin.
C&J does not have a bar.
Contact Bill of Fare by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.