WILSON – We made another trip to the lakeshore recently in our time machine, all the way back to the days of nickel stamps, quarter gas and friendly neighbors.
I really didn’t expect Aunt Bea at the griddle or Thelma Lou wearing the server’s apron when we entered Nelson Hollow Restaurant, but it did have a kind of throwback feel to it. What clinched it, however, was the relaxed atmosphere and pace we encountered, reminiscent of a trip earlier this summer to another nearby restaurant.
That pit stop turned into a virtual all-nighter when it took us almost two hours to get our dinner. Little did we know that was considered “fast food” in this neck of the woods.
Nelson Hollow, it turned out, offered more of the same: meals in a Mayberry mindset.
The food was good, for the most part, but for all we know it could have been delivered via Pony Express. Instead of listing prices on the menu, they could have specified expiration dates.
And we’re not talking about full-course meals here, either. We’re talking sandwiches, soups and salads – the kind of stuff you can throw together in five minutes in your own kitchen.
All of which made me wonder, is it something in the breeze off the lake? Or did somebody break the button on the Wayback Machine and it got stuck in 1956?
To be fair, there were seven in our party when we invaded the little, nondescript restaurant at Roosevelt Beach early one Saturday evening. We were the only ones in the place at the time, prompting a query as to whether they were getting ready to close.
We were assured they would be open for another couple hours, so we plopped down at a big table and started perusing the menu. It literally screamed “Comfort food!,” which made our selections all the more difficult.
Beer-battered, deep-fried hot dog or pulled pork sandwich? Homemade soup or loaded chili?
Sweet potato fries or mashed sweet taters? All tough calls.
While we debated the merits of those choices and more, a woman we took to be the owner came out and offered a complimentary sampler of several side dishes: mushroom soup, lima bean and ham soup, chili, chicken cacciatore, those thick, sweet fries and a dollop of macaroni and cheese.
Talk about hospitality! We were sufficiently impressed and ordered the “five-for-$5” appetizer, which also had several other interesting options for consumption. It turned out to be a popular starter.
We then launched an all-out assault on the menu, picking off selections like shooting fish in a barrel: the pulled pork ($6.99), the roast beef ($7.25), souvlaki salad ($6.99), the Killer Miller (that battered hot dog – $6.49), a Hollow tender sandwich ($6.49), a Reuben, a Patti Mae melt and more.
The five-for-$5 we chose included onion rings, mac and cheese, and the mashed sweet potatoes. The onion rings were the size of fried cakes (plain donuts to you city folk). Huge, hot and greasy, just the way rings should be.
The mac and cheese wasn’t overly gooey but had a good flavor. Everyone loved the mashed sweets and the fried sweets, which were so thick that a few made it through on the chewy side.
The main problem was that the food came out piecemeal, which left some of us eating and others wondering whether their meals had absconded. We saw sandwiches sitting on the counter for several minutes, which were then delivered cold.
A good hot sandwich needs to be consumed while hot; however, the pulled pork and the roast beef weren’t, which resulted in demerits. In all, it took most of two hours to get and consume our entire meal, during which time several of us craved drink refills that were either slow in coming or nonexistent.
The consensus was a “3” (on a scale of 4) for food quality and a “1” for service, unfortunately.
The Reuben was quite good, the patty melt a little marginal, but the Killer Miller (a battered Sahlen’s dog deep-fried and slathered with bacon, chili, cheddar and onion) was one of the highlights. Served on a thick, toasted bun, it was a bit on the dry side, despite all the accompaniments, but still tasty. It probably would have been fine offered up sans bun, but then where to put all that luscious chili, cheese and stuff?
Opinions varied on the Hollow tender sandwiches, which consisted of a skinless grilled chicken breast topped with red onion, lettuce, tomato and bacon mayo on a hard roll. One person ordered it with Montreal seasoning, the other Cajun; neither seemed to notice any presence of spice, however.
The mayo was applied lightly, leaving the sandwiches a bit on the dry side, but I thought they were still tasty enough. One daughter gave it thumbs up, the other thumbs down.
Other quick observations:
• The loaded chili came to the table unloaded, a problem which was quickly corrected once brought to the server’s attention. Chili itself was on the mellow side, nothing adventurous. The soups, though, were thick, rich and yummy.
• The lengthy wait prompted us to take advantage of a pool table in the adjoining bar area, but none of the cue sticks had tips on them. Made for an interesting game. It was even more difficult to play darts, since there were no darts.
• The souvlaki salad had to be scratched for lack of lettuce … although there was lettuce on the chicken sandwiches. Go figure.
Another fairly large group came in during our visit, and the sheer volume may have overwhelmed the few workers we saw. It did seem that they were willing to go out of their way to accommodate, although the results weren’t always obvious.
I will say this: If it’s a leisurely meal that you desire, fire up the Model T and by all means, head out to the lake. Mr. Peabody can drive. Taking a change of clothes is optional.