103 Galena Street
Big Rock, IL 60511
October 26, 2006
If you want the same old, standard list of diners and pancake houses, go check Metromix. But if you want some under-recognized, below-the-radar recommendations, you’ve got to dig a little deeper. We went ahead and dug straight to the bottom of the barrel and found a review of the Country Café in the local community college newspaper. Nothing against college newspapers, though. It's just hard to wade through the painful editorial rhetoric found in the Waubonsee Community College Insight, penned primarily by one faithful student of the Rush Limbaugh/Michael Savage school of balanced, empathetic journalism, who was somehow appointed to the position of editor in chief. So finding the restaurant review means sifting through not just page-length tirades on illegal immigrants and liberals, but also self-congratulatory reminders of how his controversial "freedom fries" article really got everyone talking last fall. Thankfully, the restaurant review was left to a different student, but her description of it still seemed a bit embellished. Could it possibly be as homely and old-fashioned as she described it?
And yet, when we walked into the Country Cafe, I was suddenly struck by how right she was. With just seven booths, six tables, and a lengthy bar where the regulars congregated over coffees, the tiny, one-room restaurant was a lot smaller than we'd expected, and the arrival of any newcomers through the door (especially any younger than 40) seemed to grab everyone's attention. We were free to seat ourselves whereever we wanted, so we picked a booth and waited for our server. She was incredibly friendly and brought the coffee around to us about a half-dozen times before we left, so we never came close to running out.
I ordered the regular stack of three pancakes, and though I hardly ever order meat on the side, the pancakes were only $4.25, so I added bacon for a dollar extra. Ayinsan ordered a breakfast called the 2x4, which consisted of two pancakes, scrambled eggs, and one piece of sausage and bacon. I don't know what kind of math they used to come up with that name, but the eggs were just right, and the bacon was good and crispy.
I hate to have to say anything negative about The Country Cafe. Our waitress was nice, our food was good, and the prices were extremely affordable. Then again, I know I was seeing apartments listed for $400 in Big Rock when I was combing through the papers for a place to live this past spring, so maybe everything in Big Rock is just cheaper than it is in the suburbs. No, I hate to say anything negative at all about this humble little restaurant, but I must. The water was terrible. I don't know what could have been in it, or if the glasses just hadn't been washed correctly or if the water in Big Rock is just naturally bad but still tolerated and consumed by the locals. If you decide to give it a shot, bring bottled water if you can.
It was a cold and rainy day as we pulled into the parking lot of the tiny, remote pancake house. In the distance, I heard the haunting sound of a cow's moo from across the barren, lonely cornfields as we left our car and crossed the parking lot, braving the icy, wet winds. We had driven for miles to find this place, and here it was, the holy grail, the end of our quest: The Country Cafe.
Country Cafe is indeed out of the way, patronized mostly by locals, or so it would seem. When we entered, an old man at the front counter looked up and eyed me suspiciously, and I half-expected him to drawl, "We don't cotton to you city-folk around here," or something adorably "local" like that. Okay, so Big Rock is not actually way out in the country and no one actually talks like that anyway, but my point is, this is about as far from IHOP as you can get.
So, what is the verdict, you ask? It's worth checking out. The food was all pretty good, nothing stellar, but tasty, nonetheless, and all very reasonably priced. Service was quick and friendly.
As previously mentioned, however, there was one significant blight on our experience. The meal was fine right up until we got our check and I finally took a sip of my water. It tasted sort of like a bucket of seawater that someone had wrung out their dirty mop in. I'm not exaggerating. To be fair, that may not be the restaurant's fault. Maybe it was a one-time occurence caused by a freak accident involving dirty laundry and salt blocks at the water plant. And we were about to leave so I didn't say anything about it. What's strange is that I remember thinking that the coffee there was exceptionally good, but presumably they had to brew it with the same rancid tapwater, so I don't know how that's possible. It's all part of the mystery that is Country Cafe.