The Steam Table Special at Country Kitchen

Liver and onions with cabbage and stewed okra
Liver and onions with cabbage and stewed okra
Photos by Katharine Shilcutt

Passing by Country Kitchen on 11th Street in Timbergrove Manor, you could be forgiven for thinking that it's closed and long-abandoned.  The paint is peeling off the 1960s-era sign out front; the lawn plays host to an assortment of wildflowers and weeds; a horde of corrugated metal warehouses makes the small A-frame building seem out of place and time.

But Country Kitchen comes alive at lunchtime during the week and at breakfast on Saturdays, when it bustles with people eager for comfort food at a comforting price.  Most patrons are greeted by name as soon as they walk into the wood-paneled dining room and take their regular seat.  The one waitress is perhaps a bit world-worn but endlessly cheerful and full of kind admonishments: "You aren't drinking your sweet tea!" and "Now, don't you get up! I'll get that for you!" if any attempt at self-service is made.

The steam table is the biggest draw during the week, when $5.99 buys an entree and two sides from an assortment of options like chicken fried steak, smothered pork chops, liver and onions, mashed potatoes, stewed okra and green beans.  Although Country Kitchen is run by a Chinese family, the food is solidly soul-based.

Buttermilk pie with a perfectly thick crust
Buttermilk pie with a perfectly thick crust

As they scoop patrons' choices onto classic cafeteria-style plates that have been compartmentalized into three sections, the Chinese couple that run the place happily inform customers that all the vegetables were cooked fresh that morning.  By the time you get your plate back, your tray weighs nearly a pound -- perhaps more if you got the dinner platter-sized chicken fried steak.  But the icebox pies waiting at the end of the line are too good to pass up, in particular the thick, custardy buttermilk pie made with generous portions of nutmeg and lemon.

The liver and onions at Country Kitchen didn't carry that overwhelming taste associated with low-quality liver, but the familiar metallic tang is still in the background.  The calf's liver had been pounded thin and breaded lightly before being fried into strips that cut easily with a fork, a fact which was only enhanced by the liberal amount of dark gravy poured on top.

The chicken fried steak is quite possibly the best, albeit strangest, menu item offered.  The cube steak seems to have been breaded in a strange flour/cornmeal hybrid and cooked in a cast-iron skillet, some odd amalgamation of cornbread and steak all rolled into one.  Despite its off-putting looks, the Frisbee-sized chicken fried steak was undeniably delicious.  It, too, cuts with only a fork, the peppery cream gravy softly soaking the cornbread exterior and saturating the savory meat inside.

Sides can be iffy; the green beans had an unpleasant taste reminiscent of aspartame and the okra was tough.  But the mashed potatoes were pleasantly buttery and lumpy while the boiled cabbage was toothsome and subtly sweet.

Bonus points: If you like the steam table during the week, you won't want to miss it on Saturdays when two meals are only $7.99.  Breakfast is popular, too, starting at 6:30 a.m. and offering two meals for -- once again -- only $7.99.  The only drawback: it's closed for dinner and on Sundays.

Don't miss: The idiosyncratic spelling of certain menu items, such as "BACONS" on the sign out front and "Pancake" on the menu.

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