If its name, its vintage wood-paneled walls or the Americana decorations weren't enough to tell me The Country Post in Huntington was an old-school throwback, one of the side choices would have hammered it home.
When my wife opted for tapioca pudding with her lunch, I perked up, chuckled a little and my mind immediately flashed back to trips to the cafeteria with my grandmothers.
“I've been here 25 years and it has been on the menu since I started,” my server said. “A ton of people order it.”
The pudding wasn't homemade, but it definitely hit home in terms of nostalgia. There were many other side dishes that hit home as well.
Country Post made excellent potato and macaroni salads – each just sweet enough with a creamy base, boiled egg and a touch of celery – and the pea salad was also a nice seldom-seen treat with the same base, along with shredded cheddar cheese. It would have been much better with frozen, bright-green peas instead of drab canned ones, however.
All of those sides were perfect fits with another regional classic that was one of the restaurant's most popular dishes with good reason. The broasted chicken was simply perfect – crispy with a breading that had just the right amount of seasoning and juices from the tender meat under that breading bursting out with each bite.
“Our not-so-famous breaded pork tenderloin” was not said to have been broasted on the menu, which would have been a logical choice, but the restaurant says it “sold over 10,000 last year alone.” It was a big Frisbee-sized slice of pork that was thinner than I usually like, but it did the job.
The grilled haddock failed. It was served a few minutes later than the rest of my party's meals because, I was told, it needed just a few more minutes to get done. Well, it didn't need those extra minutes because it arrived overcooked and dry. The thickest interior part of the 9- to 12-ounce fillet was OK and I liked that it was just lightly coated in herb butter so it wasn't too indulgent. Had it been taken off the heat sooner, it would have been a real winner.
The breaded cheeseburger, which the menu proudly said is “created by our cooks and guaranteed to amaze you,” did not amaze me, but was worth having again for sure. A quarter-pound patty was topped with pepper jack cheese, breaded and fried until golden brown and crisp. The breading was not too heavy, so the burger and cheese didn't take a back seat. But the breading stood at the forefront as its perfect seasoning is what made the burger so good.
The Country Post offered a variety of fries to go with that burger, but I would pay the extra to have Hog Fries on the side. Listed among the appetizers, many folks, I was told, upgrade to have these waffle fries topped with cheese and bacon. Bacon-cheese fries are pretty common, but these were uncommonly exceptional because of the beautiful way the shredded cheddar melted on the brown, crispy fries and the bacon was of superb quality given The Country Post is a popular breakfast destination.
I had high hopes for the beef Manhattan given it was made with prime rib, and that thinly sliced beef was plenty moist and tender, and of good quality. But the blanket of super dark brown gravy drug it down. The Country Post did not take the time to make a good homemade gravy, and this salty sauce just did not help the prime rib.
And though the side salads were great, the dinner salad was anything but. Iceberg, cheese and two slices of tomato made it as mundane as the Formica tables. Soup was not a better option, either.
The shrimp and corn chowder sounded yummy and the flavor of the sweet – but way too tiny – shrimp and bright yellow corn worked. The potatoes were finely cut to create consistency, which was nice, but the soup was so thick and chunky it looked like the potato salad. I had trouble stomaching it.
The broccoli-cheddar soup on a different visit was also way too thick and pasty, making me wonder if a warmer was set too hot, causing the soups to lose moisture. There was a lot of cheddar in the soup, but its white base was not creamy or buttery and instead tasted like wet flour.
Nothing could dampen the end of my meals at least. In good old-school fashion, there is an ever-changing, ever-diminishing list of pies to choose from. The cream pies are all made on-site and the fruit and sugar cream pie come from Son-Rise Bakery down the road in Warren.
The chocolate-peanut butter among those creams was my favorite. It had a thick, dark base that was nearly black from all the chocolate, but each bite was marked by not only the flavor of the peanut butter, but the somewhat sticky texture of it. It was the perfect marriage of chocolate and peanut butter in a flaky, savory crust.
The sugar cream was also no slouch. It had nutmeg and cinnamon on top, which made the longstanding debate amongst Hoosiers as to which is the proper topping a moot point. Its custard was thick and sturdy but melted in your mouth just like it should.
It was way better than the tapioca pudding with just as much nostalgia behind it.
Restaurant: The Country Post
Address: 65 Commercial Road, Huntington
Hours: 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Smoking status: Non-smoking
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Hog Fries ($7.49), soup ($2.75 cup; $3.25 bowl), broasted chicken ($9.49 for four pieces), tenderloin ($8.49), breaded cheeseburger ($7.75), grilled haddock ($14.99), beef Manhattan ($8.25), pie ($3.25 cream; $2.99 fruit)
Rating breakdown: Food: ★★ (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: ★ 1 (1 maximum)
Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.
The Country Post
Out of a possible five