Keeping Traditional American Meals Alive
The 50’s-style Pin-Up waitress on Mrs. McCracken’s Diner sign sets the tone as it invites you onto Lutz Drive from Edwin Miller Boulevard in Martinsburg. Although it can be hard to spot, it’s worth the effort to find. What is it that really sets this diner apart from others in the area? First of all, unlike many corporate backed dining operations, this local small business is family owned and operated.
Owners Charles and Heather Wallace had long wanted to open their own restaurant, but the timing was never right – until Charles retired from his job as a government employee. Then it was a matter of finding the right place to fit their style and their needs. Once they saw the building on Lutz Drive, they knew they had finally found “the one.”
The building was just the start, and just the right place to do what they needed to do – cook great food for hungry customers. But cooking great food isn’t just a good business model, it’s a deep-rooted passion.
Heather grew up on a large dairy farm in Oregon and remembers summers spent in the kitchen with her mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. They had to cook massive meals for all of the hired hands – Heather reminisced that it was “sometimes sixty or seventy men!”
Throughout her life, Heather has also waited tables, worked in kitchens, and even managed a restaurant in California. Restaurants, cooking, and hospitality have always been a part of her life, and helped to spur her desire to open a restaurant as a family business.
Heather’s daughter Amber, a formally educated and trained chef with 23 years experience, took charge of creating the menu and building the recipe book. Sons Matt, Chris, and Gordon got to work on the renovation and repair of the building and the family was able to open their doors in May of this year. They’ve been gaining a steady crowd of regulars ever since.
Creating or improving recipes and preparing great food is what Amber loves to do. The smile on her face and the twinkle in her eyes betrays the joy she feels when customers appreciate her food. Whether it’s expressed through “mmmm,” “wow,” or the silence which comes with the enjoyment of a great meal, it brings Amber satisfaction and reward for her hard work.
“Cooking is a passion, a love.” Amber says with a wide smile. “This is not a job for me. I don’t go to work every day,” because she gets to do what she loves.
Following high school, Amber attended and completed the Culinary Arts certificate program at James Rumsey Institute, which she considers a great experience. Then she moved to Baltimore, where she decided to further her education at Baltimore International.
She completed a 2-year Culinary Arts program which included an international study program that placed her just outside of Dublin, Ireland.
During the weekdays, her and her fellow students cooked, studied, and learned. On the weekends, they were encouraged and expected to find kitchens to fill in with throughout Europe. These weekend tours brought Amber to kitchens in France, Turkey, Poland, Portugal, Amsterdam, and London.
Her education, international and regional experience brings her food to a higher level, and infuses it with dedication to quality ingredients and delicious food. Combining all of these factors with her family’s background and history of good, wholesome cooking takes it even higher, resulting in a quality, traditional American menu that keeps the spirit of family recipes and home-cooked meals alive.
That passion for making great food is echoed by cook Ben Lamka, a friend of the family who has been on board since the family acquired the building, and who even helped with renovations.
“I come here and I get to cook,” Ben states matter of factly when asked what he likes about working at Mrs. McCracken’s. “It’s not like working because I have a passion for it.”
It’s not just passion that helps set this diner apart from the others – it’s their philosophy of providing quality meals that are cooked fresh on-site as they’re ordered. The delicious mashed potatoes? Mashed and made by hand with whole ingredients – you won’t find powdered potatoes here!
Nearly all of the items on the menu are made from scratch, and by the beginning of the year Amber expects to be baking her own bread too. The dinner rolls are freshly baked onsite, as are all of the pastries and desserts! The burgers are handmade each day. The delicious Pineapple Upside Down cake is made using a special recipe, and the Lemon Meringue pie is hand-whipped.
In addition to making menu item fresh, and on-site every day, Amber works hard with her providers to procure local meat and dairy, plus local produce in season. Most of the beef actually comes from a local farm.
Even the recipes are close to home – the chili and the meatloaf come from Heather’s own family recipe, and the fried chicken is a favorite recipe from a family friend. All of the recipes are carefully-selected favorites handed down through the family, provided by friends and neighbors, or learned and enhanced through Amber’s extensive American and European experience.
There are still more factors which elevate Mrs. McCracken’s above the average American diner. Heather and Amber have launched Grab and Go Lunch Packs for those without the time to sit and order.
They had the local Valley College nursing students and other area students in mind when they devised their plan. For more options but little time, you can call ahead and order for take out, or put in your dine-in order ahead of your arrival.
Unusual but favorite menu items that aren’t typically served at other restaurants include Liver and Onions, and Scrapple – they have regulars who love their Scrapple. Amber has made special orders substituting Scrapple for other meat ingredients for her customers.
That is another aspect that sets the tone for the customer experience – Amber is dedicated to accommodating her customers, whether it’s a matter of taste, or a matter of dietary needs. She has worked hard to develop substitution methods in order to ensure that she can still serve delicious meals to diabetic customers.
Are you looking for something with heat? Try the Dragon’s Breath Wing Challenge. The spices used in these wings include six of the world’s hottest peppers that are legal in the United States, and they’re so hot that you have to sign a waiver to eat them! But if you win the challenge, you’ll get a T-shirt, bragging rights, and your photo on the Wall of Flames.
Heather’s favorite menu item is the Baked Fish – and it’s a customer favorite, too! Amber’s favorite is the Chicken Tenders – their Tenders are fresh cut on-site and handbreaded.
You won’t find frozen processed-chicken composites here! Or try the Big Betty Burger, a special burger named after the chef, Amber.
She also can’t wait for you to try her cakes and pies – they’re among her favorite things to prepare. She also makes cakes for special occasions – from Birthdays to Weddings, she covers it all.
Just in time for the holidays, Mrs. McCracken’s will be offering Holiday Breads and Pies. These specialty items will be available for dine in, carry out, or special order for parties, presents, and family treats.
Want to have a big get together? Mrs. McCracken’s regularly accommodates groups of up to 20, although they do ask for some notice in order to have a space specially prepared for your party.
The Wallace family and the entire Mrs. McCracken’s staff are proud of what they do, and love to make their customers happy. They’re ready to welcome you into a warm, family-friendly environment where you can get a home-style meal for a reasonable price.
Look out for that Pin-Up waitress on the Mrs. McCracken’s Diner sign off of Edwin Miller Boulevard near I-81, and get ready for a real homestyle experience.