Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Cerulean Springs Market and Restaurant

Cerulean Ky.

Cerulean Springs is the old name for this small, very small village in west Kentucky. It is the second largest town in Trigg County, which is still quite small.
Cerulean, by definition a soft shade of blue, had a mineral spring once, back at the earliest years of the twentieth century. Above the smelly, heavy pool of mineral rich ground water a hotel of regional notoriety was constructed. During the decade or so long heyday, which roughly coincided with the bigger, better known spas in Battle Creek Michigan, among others, people flocked to such healing springs for relief from every ailment imaginable.
Mom and Dad's house.
Though such pools and streams were not uncommon geologically, Cerulean Springs boasted an asset that even the county seat of Cadiz itself could not. Cerulean was on a major rail line.
This put it in reach, long before automobiles, buses and airlines, for thousands of people per year. They could spend relaxing and refreshing days alongside the pool, beneath large shady trees, in a quiet, remote part of a quiet and remote state.
My parents bought a house in Cerulean in the seventies. I lived there with them for my last two years of high school. The old Victorian giant was originally built by the town's doctor, by all measure the finest house in town. It was built just a few hundred yards away from the hotel, in the same era.
Since the time of the fires that burned down the various iterations of the resort hotel, Cerulean has long settled into a shadow of it's vaunted past. In my lifetime the town was mainly known for burning down, several old buildings at a time. I recall being at a basketball game in Cadiz once and hearing an announcement over the PA system. "Attention everyone, can I have your attention please. Cerulean is on fire. . ."
The railroad is gone now as well; the tracks were pulled up sometime in the 80's.
No major or even minor road goes through town, Cerulean is a spur of a place, no need to go through it at all unless it is your actual destination. There are several better ways to get to and from anywhere else.
There is a post office and a store, though the store is only erratically open and only ever carried very little of anything a person actually might need. It doesn't even sell gas. In fact, there are no gas stations for probably ten miles in any direction.
There's a couple of churches, attended mostly by an aging membership of long-time locals.
Down the road about a mile or two an Amish community has taken over and rejuvenated several family farms.
On a Saturday night, you can, as I did this past weekend, sit on the front porch for an hour or two and count on one hand the cars going by. By eight o'clock or so the whole community is settled in for the night. Since there is no nearby city, there are plenty of stars to see, and the only noises are the occasional barking and baying of dogs and the squawking of wildlife in the distance.
Most of the population of the area are one of two demographics, middle to lower middle income families and then the less financially successful families whose houses tend to be in one state of decline or another.This is not a wealthy area. There are many retirees, mostly from farm and farm-related endeavors.
Serious crime is all but non-existent, though throughout its history it has not completely escaped trouble.
Mostly the population is older, more or less at peace with the world, just wanting to live  quietly and distantly.
Adam and I were in Cerulean to celebrate my father's eighty sixth birthday. My sister was also there and from time to time my younger, but bigger brother, Jeff would drop in. He lives in Cerulean, about a block away from the folks. 
The Place:
A while back, a year or so, a new restaurant opened just three houses down from my parents' house.
Hardly a fancy place, it is a simple, rectangular metal building, which makes it stand out against the nearly ancient homes around it.
Adam and I walked the distance while my spoiled and pretentious sister Kathy drove dad and mom. Dad's not able to get around much anymore, though he has good intentions to do better.
We arrived well before they did, dad doesn't move very quickly.
We went in together and found a couple of tables abutted in a configuration that fit us all,
Cerulean Springs Market and Restaurant
The building's interior was dimly lit and completely open. The poured concrete floor was textured and unpainted; the walls were rough pine panels, not even stained or painted. Every thing else was shiny, corrugated steel on fresh, unfinished yellow pine, the ceiling, the counter fronts and the partition between the 'market' and the dining area.
The market consisted of little more than a couple of glass fronted coolers full of pop, and a few shelves along one wall with candy, cigarettes and prepackaged pastries.
Though the county finally went wet a couple of years back, the availability of beer, wine and whiskey has not arrived in Cerulean yet. As with gasoline, if you want booze you have to drive a dozen miles to get your fix.
There were a few people there leisurely sipping coffee and enjoying some pie. The openness and the raw material construction created echoes for every sound. One doesn't have to shout in this place, like the small town itself everyone around is aware of you.
The Food:
We were presented menus and asked about drinks. Mom, dad and Kathy asked for water, Adam for sweet tea, and myself, unsweetened tea. Mom helped dad figure out what to order, it was steak night and the waitress had rattled off a litany of available steaks, and ended the spiel with what also fits in the steak family in this hog-rich area, pork chops.
Mom, Kathy and dad finally settled for the chops, a plate that came with Texas toast, a baked potato, and a salad.
Kathy refused all dressing choices, as did mom. For dad she asked for some dressing on the side. I assumed mom declined dressing because of some dietary requirement, she had serious surgery recently, I wasn’t sure about Kathy’s decision though.
I decided to go a little lighter, a BLT and the onion rings which Kathy told me were quite good. Adam picked the chicken strip plate with fries.
Pretty soon the three salads were delivered in bowls. Nothing fancy, iceberg lettuce, cucumber slices and a wedge of tomato. The waitress said that since the bowls were a bit crowded that they could bring out plates for anyone that wanted one. Mom and dad accepted the offer. I asked if I could have my BLT in a bowl instead of a plate to test the limits of their willingness to accommodate. Unfortunately the waitress had already left the table.
Kathy pulled the lemon wedge off the edge of her large tumbler of water and squeezed it over her salad.
"That's it?" Adam asked her. "No dressing, just a squeeze of lemon?"
She looked at us like we were annoying inferiors that had just entered the room.
"I don't like dressing, any dressing, the very sight and smell of it sickens me."
This was among the first of many peculiar culinary declarations, delivered with the surety and confidence of superiority that could only be described as pontificating.
"I don't put sour cream on my baked potato or anything else!" She later decreed, as if sour cream was offal or innards, fit only for meager peasants.
Kathy is considered by many people as a sweet, pleasant person. I know better. I lived under her tyrannical reign when I was a small child. She can be cold, cruel and vicious. She has a very high sense of self importance and issues orders and edicts to those around her as though they were mere livestock who should consider themselves fortunate that she has allowed them to escape the cruel industrial slaughter for one more day.
I was polite though, no need to make a scene in front of the parents, they’d just take her side anyhow, that’s partially how she got that way in the first place.
I insisted timidly that she at least pass the pepper shaker over her salad so it wouldn't look so much like raw lawn rakings.
She plucked the cucumbers out and passed them around to mom and Adam.
"I like the smell of cucumbers, but not the taste." She said, as if that were a perfectly normal and natural position.
The plates arrived at roughly the same time. Their pork chops looked quite good. Juicy, char marks, still sizzling. The baked potatoes were foil wrapped. The Texas toast was only slightly thicker than store bought sliced white bread. I am accustomed to much thicker bread when it comes under the moniker ‘Texas toast’. This qualified more as Oklahoma toast maybe, same, exact same makeup, just not as big.
They busied themselves carving the large slabs of pork. I forked a chunk off Kathy's plate and tasted it. I was quite impressed, it was smoky and juicy. It's very easy to overcook a chop, they're thin and they dry out very quickly. This place had figured it out though, it was beautifully cooked, tender and juicy.
My little sandwich was dwarfed by the thick onion rings. The BlT (notice the lower case 'L', there wasn't very much lettuce.) was constructed on plain white bread with a few, maybe four slices of bacon. It was excellent quality bacon though, cooked crisp but not burnt.
A BLT can be easily over-thought. Many places around St. Louis brag about how much bacon they can put between two slices of bread. In my mind that's like bragging about how many gallons of paint you have on your fancy sports car. It's not really about the quantity at all, it's about the quality. Ten extra gallons of red paint on a Camaro doesn't make it redder or sportier than a much thinner, quality driven amount. A little bacon goes a long way, you simply don't need a lot.
It wasn't a very big sandwich but it was quite a good sandwich. The onion rings were indeed good and searing hot. The first bite burned my lips and sprayed lava-hot juices. I let the rest cool down a bit.
Mom, Kathy and dad struggled with their chops, not with the eating of them but with the carving. Mom and dad are in their eighties and are not as physically strong as they once were, Kathy is just a delicate, fragile weakling since she’s never had to actually do anything. Dad was determined though, he finished his chop completely.
 In the distance I saw a hand drawn sign. Much of it was illegible from that far away, but one thing stood out: Chess Pie. (It’s a southern thing.) I wanted it.
Mom and Kathy told about how they always shared a slice of coconut cream pie, I was thrilled with that, since that meant I could safely ask for the Chess.  Chess pie, for those not familiar with it, is a custard pie, not very much unlike what is known in the St. Louis area as Gooey Butter Cake . Eggs, sugar, eggs, eggs, sugar and eggs. It’s dense and very rich.
I asked for coffee with mine. Dad did not get any pie since he has to tightly monitor his sugary input.
The coffee was dark and fresh, the pie insanely sweet and custard-y. Adam tried a little piece and didn’t seem to care for it and went back to his chocolate cream pie. He’s never really been in close touch with his southern ancestral heritage.
We sat back for a few minutes, glowing in the satisfaction and comfort of a good meal.
Cerulean Springs Market and Restaurant is the most expensive eatery in town. It is at the same time, the cheapest, it's the only game in town.  Mom showed me the ticket, but it hadn’t been summed up yet and though I can normally do simple math in my head I was at the time quite jittery from the pie and coffee double-jolt. Looking at the menu though, the entrees were all under ten bucks, the sandwiches five or less, even the ‘Larry Dale Special’ (a hamburger with a fried hotdog on top) was not unreasonable. Mom grumbled a bit about it being expensive but she doesn’t get out into the real world very often.
The food we had was all pretty good and in my opinion reasonably priced. The wait staff was dutiful, attentive and accommodating. Mom said that occasionally she and dad will call in their order ahead of time and it will be ready to set on the table by the time they get there.
Since mom and dad don’t get around very well, and cooking has always been a ‘chore’ for mom, this is quite a bonus. It’s about three hundred feet short of a food delivery service.
The place is primarily for the locals.The menu is fairly sparse and they appear to serve certain things only on certain days,  Friday fish, etc. That's pretty  smart if you ask me. A restaurant's perishable inventory must be managed carefully. A small place like this in a small town like Cerulean is a very risky endeavor, anything that can be done to mitigate waste is a must.
On most days though you'll find burgers, hot sandwiches, cold cut sandwiches even a fried bologna sandwich (only $2.00!) that will live up to your appetite and tastes and fill you up just fine. I doubt that CSM&R will ever be featured in a fancy food magazine, or on TV, or be the gastronomic destination of choice for Western Kentucky, but it is fine at what it is, a small, inexpensive local eatery that lives up to and in some cases exceeds the needs and expectations of the local population.
If you do happen to dine there,  please try the Larry Dale Special and let me know how it is. I'm dying to know.

* My brother Jeff made breakfast and lunch on Sunday. Ridiculously fluffy and tasty pancakes in the morning and ham, potato casserole, green beans and the best homemade rolls I've ever had for the midday meal.
This was followed up with a 'Dina Cake', named for his lovely, tall and powerful wife. Basically a made-from-scratch chocolate cake baked in a bundt cake pan, then topped with a rich and thick cream cheese frosting. When served there is no hole in the middle of the cake. Dina fills the entire bundt-hole with even more frosting, a lot of frosting. Don't give me that look, you know you want some.
As we headed back to 'civilization', we stopped at a convenience store to fill up the gas tank. I went inside for drinks and a small snack for the tedious four hour drive.
Back in the car I twisted the cap off of my RC Cola and poured in a handful of the salted peanuts.
"What are you doing?" Adam asked.
"You wouldn't understand." Is all I said. 

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1 comment:

  1. I don't get the peanuts in the soda, either...but then again, I'm a damn Yankee.

    I can only assume your sister does not read your blog.