Cooking up a down-home atmosphere

Country Kettle owners aim to create feel of `Grandma's house'

Restaurant profile

March 01, 2001|By Jody Vilschick | Jody Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In February, the modest sign proclaiming Country Kettle's opening brought immediate results, owner and co-chef Amy Crooks says.

"We filled up immediately. And people around here said, `Thank God it's not another pizza and subs place,'" she says. "That sign's been our only advertising. We're really depending on word of mouth."

Crooks acknowledges, however, that she is going to have to overcome the local concern that Country Kettle might resemble the bar that was previously in the building. "It's just the opposite of some rough-and-tumble place," she says with a laugh. "We're about as family-friendly as they come."

The other chef is her husband, Jim. With Amy Crooks' experience ranging from dishwasher to culinary school student to chef at the Olney Ale House in Montgomery County, and her husband's experience as day chef at the Inn at Glen Echo, the couple hope to make Country Kettle the "community's restaurant."

The search for the right place took five years, says Amy Crooks.

"We wanted to find an old-home look that made it seem like you were coming to Grandma's house," she says. "When we saw this place, it had that down-home feeling, and we knew immediately it was right for what we wanted. Kids can get a better meal here than McDonald's, but less expensive. And their parents can eat salmon or prime rib instead of a Big Mac and fries."

At the entrance, you're greeted with crayons and coloring books for children and a board announcing the daily specials, among them meat loaf with roasted potatoes and pulled pork barbecue sandwiches, filet mignon wrapped in bacon (served with mashed potato pancakes), shrimp and scallop ravioli with lobster sauce, baked salmon with light rock shrimp sauce or fried catfish in etouffee sauce.

On the regular menu are sandwiches such as San Antonio turkey (on wheat bread with brie, jalapenos, red peppers and onions), Reuben, teriyaki salmon (on a baguette with coleslaw and ginger mayo), backyard burger or ham and Swiss (on rye bread with mustard and onions).

If you're interested in a full-course meal, try entrees such as the baked salmon (in roasted red pepper sauce), shrimp and scallop scampi, ham steak (cooked in a soy-ginger marinade and served with pineapple relish and sweet potato fries) or vegetable lasagna.

Local ingredients - from farms in the area and the Chesapeake Bay - are key to Country Kettle's menu.

"People aren't always aware of the great food available from the Chesapeake or the East Coast, like rockfish and rock shrimp, which is almost like lobster and shrimp combined, it's so good," Amy Crooks says.

"We plan on doing what we've always done as chefs: go to the pick-your-own farms and bring fresh vegetables and fruit to the restaurant and serve them that night."

In the spring, she and her husband plan to install an herb garden that not only will "greet our customers with wonderful aromas" but also will provide the restaurant with fresh herbs for its entrees.

The down-home atmosphere is enhanced by the collections of cast-iron and Depression-era glass - all handed down from Amy and Jim Crooks' families - old family photos on the walls and the authentic mason canning jars that water and beverages are served in.

"There's a painting of the farm house I grew up in," Amy Crooks says. "I really wanted to make this place feel like somebody's home."

Country Kettle

Where: 17004 Frederick Road, Mount Airy; 410-489-5611.

Prices: Appetizers, $4.95 to $6.75; entrees, $4.95 to $13.95; children's entrees, $2.95.

Hours: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard

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