Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Diner reviews: The Country Cousin
Halfway between Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon lies the town of Centralia. In pioneer times, the town was apparently the halfway stopover point for stagecoaches operating between the Columbia River and Seattle and hence the origins of it's name. My grandpa used to tell me about driving in an early Model T packed full of guys from Portland to Seattle for work and how the drive would take eight hours on dirt roads, so it's not hard to imagine the trip by stagecoach taking two days.
These days, the trip between Portland and Seattle along Interstate 5 generally runs 3 to 4 hours depending on traffic. Which still makes Centralia a convenient halfway point to stop at for gas, food or just a break from the road. But since there are now plenty of pit stops along the I-5 corridor, each one tries to have something unique to lure people to their town to spend money. Centralia's main attraction seems to be antique stores if you venture a few miles from the freeway to the proper downtown, as well as one hell of a crazy art house made out of piles of scrap metal. But closer to the freeway, for the casual stop, it's outlet mall stores, a big Safeway, competing gas stations and fast food.
Nestled in-between a Chevron station, Arby's and Denny's, is a gem of a restaurant that's easy to pass as too gimmicky, but is really worth checking out. The Country Cousin opened in 1973 and has been providing delicious comfort food for weary travelers ever since. The goal, claim the owners, is to be much more than just a restaurant, they want it to be an experience. And that experience is supposed to kinda be like visiting grandma's old farmhouse, complete with chickens outside, a barn-like exterior, and more old farm equipment and antiques then you've ever seen assembled into one place. There's even a rooster sound when you walk in the door.
Kitschy and tacky? Hell yes! And they know it and revel in it. The thing is though, they back it up with killer small town diner and comfort food, stiff drinks, and a fun atmosphere. I used to always stop at the Arby's in Centralia on road trips, while I'm generally not a fan of fast food, their Super sandwich always was a secret delight for me. But one year on Thanksgiving, Arby's was closed, so the girl and I decided to check out the nearby Country Cousin. We had turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and all the fixings and it was great. Then on my way to the bathroom I stuck a buck in a pull tab machine and won $100, paying for our dinner and then some. Ever since I've been coming back, exploring the menu, and amazingly winning $100 or $200 at pull tabs here quite a few times, to the point where I think the place is lucky.
It wasn't until the second or third visit to the Country Cousin where we discovered the lounge, now that's the only place we eat here. It's 21+, dark, has fast drink and food service, never has a line for seating like the main restaurant... and it features an incredible painting of Burt Reynolds naked from an old Cosmopolitan photo shoot in the '80s. Damn, check this shit out:
Generally we stop at the Country Cousin for breakfast. They've got great biscuits and gravy, along with about every diner type of breakfast imaginable, they also make a mean Bloody Mary. But for lunch and dinner they have excellent pot roast, pulled pork, sandwiches of every kind, really quite a full menu. And it all tastes homemade, they don't skimp with prepackaged or fake tasting ingredients, everything tastes rich, heavy, cooked just right... just like grandma would do.
You can find the Country Cousin in Centralia, Washington just off Exit 82 from Interstate 5. Head West off the freeway and take your first right, just past the Chevron. You can't miss it, it's the big red barn just a stone's throw from the offramp. Definitely eat in the lounge, buy a few pull tabs, and take a picture next to Burt, but most importantly, enjoy their killer food.