Country Boy Café
6160 E. Highway 54,
Chicken Fried Steak, Chicken Fried Chicken, Chicken Fried Athols
“Athol? There’s a restaurant there? For reals?” Q. grumbled into the phone after my urgent Sunday morning breakfast call shattered his peaceful slumber. “Uh yeah,” I shot back. “I googled it. Athol’s got at least three places to eat. It’s positively urban. I’ll pick you and Miss A. up in thirty.” The rain was coming down hard from the brutal grey clouds above and the loud rumbling coming from our food-deprived tummies was a tribute to absent thunder. We weren’t completely sure what to expect on our mini-day-trip.
Our basic familiarity with Athol was limited to bad anatomy jokes and service-station whiz-bys en route to bigger adventures northward. One visit later and Athol will live fondly in our hearts and stomachs forevermore as home to the amazing Country Boy Café on Highway 54. With a tremendously welcoming staff and insanely huge portions of food beamed in straight from Planet Yummy, Athol now has a permanent spot on our breakfast map.
Country Boy co-owner Sue Tickemyer composed a welcome note printed on the back of the menu that recounts the café’s inception. “We came here to visit our daughter a couple of years ago and look what happened,” she writes. “Not only did we fall in love with the area and its people, but we decided to buy a local business and stay here.” Sue’s daughter Roseanne Plaviat and son-in-law Kurt Plaviat agreed to co-pilot the Country Boy along with her husband Steve Tickemeyer, who is, according to her note, “a retired contractor…and I am just plain tired.”
Apparently, so was our waitress. “Mind if I squeeze in and take a load off?” she said as she slid into the booth next to me. “The only chance I get to sit down is when I’m taking orders. What’ll ya have?” In fussier cultures, this could be considered a bit outré, but here at the Country Boy it’s not only normal, but enjoyable and endearing. The Country Boy Café is a farm food fantasyland, like an old episode of Green Acres starring butter queen Paula Deen instead of Eva Gabor. It’s a sitcom version of a home-style breakfast that is too cartoony and perfect to actually style at home. The sign outside lures in passersby with the promise of “Stuffed French Toast” and “Chicken Fried Chicken.”
Sometimes the magic is in the details. Every table in the Country Boy was splayed with the most amazingly complete set of extras I’ve seen. Ketchup and Mustard. Salt and Pepper. Regular and Green Tobasco sauces. Sweet-n-Low, Splenda and Equal in bright pink, yellow and blue packets. An old fashioned glass and steel sugar pourer. Liquid and powdered coffee creamers, both. Three flavors of jelly. Honey packets. All that and a dusty rust fake-flower arrangement. The menu itself is vivid and entertaining, each copy made unique with dozens of crazy little scrapbooking stickers. A big beefy lunch is also an option at the Country Boy Cafe, and the platters full of burgers and fries I saw floating by in the servers’ arms looked fantastic.
When the waitress was taking our order it was like an intense breakfast interrogation. Gravy? Eggs how? Biscuit or toast? What kind of toast? More gravy? Bacon or Sausage? Home Fries or Hash Browns? Peppers and Onions? Cheese? Gravy on the side, just in case?” “Chicken Fried Steak,” I told her.”Final answer.”
To me, the Chicken Fried Steak is the litmus test of any new potential food haunt. If they can’t impress me that way, chances are they never will. I’ve encountered some amazing specimen in my food journeys, both locally and afar, but I have to say the Country Boy does one of the best Chicken Fried Steaks ever to cross my breakfast radar. The cube steak itself was mercilessly pounded out into a thin pulp then prepared in a decadently crunchy coating similar to that of classic Chester Fried style chicken. In fact, my steak resembled a gigantic fried chicken breast that had been lovingly flattened by the hot steamroller of good flavor and then plopped with white gravy. Its reach was beyond the borders of the plate it sat on and made all three of us gasp, then ooh and aah at its golden glory when it landed on the table.
I immediately saw the unmistakable glint of jealousy in the eyes of Q. & A. “Mmm, can I have a bite of that?” they asked rhetorically as both their forks dove in my direction. That was fine since there was likely no way I was going to finish such a monstrosity myself, although it was so incredible I had to at least try. I also had some sunshiny scrambled eggs and home fries to tackle. The potatoes were excellent, fried once, cooled and then tossed in the fryer again prior to serving so they develop a dark, flavorful crispiness on the outside with a soft hollow center. The O’Brien-style smothering of grilled onions and green peppers took them to the next level. Dank.
It must have been the biscuit and gravy that caused me to finally black out since I have no memory of both Q. & A. greedily devouring my remaining portion of Chicken Fried Steak. We left amazed, all three of us as stuffed and satisfied as humanly possible, vowing many returns. With Q. agreeing to drive back to town, I took the opportunity to have a nice, rainy day post-breakfast car nap.