Carol’s is not the charming little cafe it was when we first came across it in 1999 and it was known as Carol’s Calico Kitchen. It is a large operation that includes a country-craftsy gift shop and looks like it was conceived in a corporate boardroom. But nevermind all that. The genuine Midwest comfort food that originally made us love it is as good as ever.
From slow-cooked corned beef hash and banana-pecan-cinnamon French toast in the morning to superb hot turkey (or hot meat loaf) sandwiches with gorgeous mashed potatoes at lunch to a repertoire of blue-ribbon pies and lofty layer cakes for dessert, everything is made from scratch — even the white bread or, better yet, the soft and nutty-sweet Nova Scotia rolls that begin a meal.
Expect no taste-buds pyrotechnics. Carol’s cuisine is all about comfort, not drama. Amish chicken, a signature dish from the beginning, is made from a recipe that Carol found in a self-published cookbook. Long cooking time in a cream bath makes this chicken fall-off-the-bone tender. The gentle bird, lolling in a pool of cream and butter, is accompanied by agreeably lumpy mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, herbed stuffing, cranberry sauce (freshly chopped), and a marvelous mix of cabbage and carrots.
In addition to the town-cafe hot lunch and Sunday-supper classics that make me yearn to return, Carol’s wide ranging menu includes such fusion curiosities as Mexican egg rolls, Thai cashew chicken, and Monte Cristos made on raspberry fritters. Some day, maybe, I will try some of that. But not until I’ve had my fill of Carol’s pies, most notably the rhubarb cream pie on a savory lard crust in which butter and cream are a perfect foil for the tart punch of pie plant.