From Scratch Comfort Food
By Deb Cornwell
Photos By Josh Triggs
Country cooking is synonymous with homemade, from scratch, comfort food. It’s the kind of food you seek out when you want to warm up the old bones on a cold morning, want to relax and let someone else do the cooking, or need comfort on a tough day. It’s best served with a welcoming greeting and friendly smiles and best consumed in the company of loved ones while wearing that favorite comfy shirt. It is also partaken in peaceful solace at a table for one.
Homemade fare in the form of country cooking at The Country Cafe in Bolivar/Harpers Ferry entered a new phase on Friday, September 26, 2014. That’s when Lynn McDonough, her husband, Mark, and her daughter, Mandy Armstrong, re-opened this long-time favorite restaurant. Former owners Russ Nasteff and Lisa Edel decided to retire after owning the business for 25 years. They are particularly pleased to pass the torch to Armstrong who was their employee for 18 years. Before Nasteff and Edel owned The Country Cafe & General Store, the business was founded by Wanda Butts and operated a number years prior so there is a longstanding tradition of good food here.
McDonough was a surgical technician at Jefferson Memorial Hospital for 30 years, and Mark works with super computers. He was transferred to Tennessee, and they have been commuting between Ranson and Knoxville. Wanting to retire early and come home, the McDonoughs were looking to invest in a local business. This coincided with the owners of The Country Cafe looking to retire. McDonough says, “I’ve always loved cooking, and when there is a large family gathering, I’m happy to do the cooking.” This passion for cooking, plus the fact that Armstrong knew the operation, made the decision to buy the restaurant an easy one.
McDonough lived in Southern West Virginia and Maryland before moving to Jefferson County when she was in junior high school. Armstrong started working at The Country Cafe from a young age and has mostly cooked for the restaurant but has also served. “The fast paced pressure of cooking orders never bothered me,” says Armstrong.
Her mother proudly notes, “Mandy was a bit shy, but when she started working here, she really came into her own.”
Between the purchase of the business and the re-opening, the McDonoughs had four days for renovations and changes. “We ripped up the carpet, laid a new floor, and painted,” says McDonough, astonished at the progress in such a short time. “We couldn’t have done it without the help of family–my husband, nephew, kids.” Prior to closing the deal, McDonough worked as a waitress at The Country Cafe to get the hang of things.
“We had a great opening and fall season,” observes McDonough. “It has slowed down for the winter, but we have faithful regulars. A few customers are daily–we’re like a second home to some.” During the other three seasons, The Country Cafe serves quite a few tourists.
“We get referrals from our website, the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, the Town of Bolivar, even Harpers Ferry Park Rangers. One customer told us that the Ranger said we are the best place to eat. That makes us feel great. Our TripAdvisor rating has gone from number four to number two.”
The Country Cafe is a breakfast and lunch restaurant. However, McDonough plans on expanding hours for special events. Located across the street from Harpers Ferry Middle School, The Country Cafe would like to be open before or after theatre performances. Additional hours for seasonal events such as Valentine’s Day, Breakfast with Santa and Old Tyme Christmas are in the works for 2015.
McDonough has kept the favorites of her daily customers, has updated a few recipes, and has added some new menu items. She reports, “My husband ate here a few times previously and never realized how good the food is until he sat down as an owner and tasted it critically. We get compliments all the time.” In addition to good food, the Country Cafe is homey, not corny, and a place where everyone feels comfortable.
McDonough says they are trying to use more local vendors and look forward to the Harpers Ferry Farmers Market in the spring. “We want to support local vendors and hope they will support us,” says McDonough. McDonough and Armstrong also have their own garden and plan to use their tomatoes and green beans at the restaurant.
Several times a week, McDonough drives to a butcher in Hagerstown for fresh hamburger and speciallymade, foot-long all beef hotdogs.
“My brother buys beef at Holsinger’s and recommended it to us. It’s really worth the trip. Our burgers are so much better than a frozen patty, and the hot dogs are very good– you can taste the freshness; the hot dogs do not have any fillers.” McDonough was determined to sell footlong hotdogs like she used to get in Maryland as a kid. “I had a hard time finding the right hot dog and an even harder time finding the bun. The bun is also a custom order.”
McDonough admits The Country Cafe is not fine dining, “We are what we are, and we are good at what we do. The food is made with love.” All their soups are fresh from scratch. “Nothing has a tin can taste. You can tell,” she says. They make their own desserts including cherry and fruit pies plus cakes and cookies. The daily desserts are chef’s whim