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The Journal Gazette

  • The Blue Bird Cafe in Laketon.

  • Biscuits and gravy from the Blue Bird Cafe in Laketon.

  • The chopped steak breakfast with loaded hash browns from the Blue Bird Cafe in Laketon.

  • A cool hand-painted sign at the Blue Bird Cafe in Laketon.

  • Breaded tenderloin from the Blue Bird Cafe in Laketon.

  • Sausage and chese omelet from the Blue Bird Cafe in Laketon.

  • Buffalo wings from the Blue Bird Cafe in Laketon.

  • A sign from the old Laketon railroad station hangs above the door at the Bliue Bird Cafe.

  • A shortcalke-stuffed strawberry was given as a complimentary dessert at the Blue Bird Cafe in Laketon.

  • The Blue Bird Cafe in Laketon.

  • A bite of homemade cole slaw from the Blue Bird Cafe in Laketon.

  • Patty melt and fries from the Blue Bird Cafe in Laketon.

  • Pancakes from the Blue Bird Cafe in Laketon.

  • The decor at the Blue Bird Cafe adds the perfect charm to this small-town restaurant in Laketon.

Sunday, September 02, 2018 1:00 am

Welcomed with open arms at Laketon diner

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

Blue Bird Café

★★★

Out of a possible five

$

Often the reason we frequent restaurants has little to do with the food.

It is the diner the truck driver stops at every week on one of his routes where the waitress knows his name and has his regular order in before she even fills his coffee cup. Or, it is the little eatery in the one-stop town where my father meets his farmer brothers every Friday to shoot the breeze, catch up over the beef and noodles special and a slice of homemade pie.

And in tiny Laketon, just outside North Manchester, it is the Blue Bird Café.

The little building that has been home to a bank, sundry store and even a noodle factory over the years before becoming a restaurant under previous ownership has been owned and operated by Bobby-Marie Giordano and her partner, Cyllan Batchelder, since 2010.

It is clear the ladies have a loyal following as many customers are regulars who made themselves at home by going to the fridge and choosing cans of soda on their own.

And all of those regulars – from summer lake folk to Manchester University employees having a meeting to workers on break from Manchester Inc. across the street – seem to love the real star of the restaurant, its de facto public-relations expert, Maverick, Giordano's and Batchelder's cute-as-can-be son. As is the case with many children of restaurant owners, this friendly 5-year-old spends a lot of time in the café and doesn't know a stranger.

He might just pull up a chair and join your table if you are lucky.

He also might just sneak up to get the basket of candy by the register and share a few Tootsie Rolls or Frooties with you if you are lucky. During one visit, he was even tasked with distributing little shortcake-stuffed strawberries with whipped cream and a blueberry cap that Giordano made as a thank-you dessert for customers. That's the kind of thing special little places like the Blue Bird do.

Maverick was enjoying fried mozzarella cheese sticks the day he sat with us, so I ordered some for my family. And we were given two extra, Batchelder said, “in case he asks you for one.” The cheese sticks were fine as were the breaded Buffalo wings I had as my other appetizer.

The offerings here are pretty basic by design, but Giordano does something special on Sundays, offering baked steak or pork chops. Both come with a heap of homemade mashed potatoes, a roll and some of her fabulous and unique coleslaw, available daily as a side.

Its base was just like your mom's with cabbage, carrots, celery seeds and a sweet, creamy dressing. But Giordano, a restaurant veteran with experience at places such as Maria's House of Pancakes, Bob Evans and TGI Fridays, adds green peppers and onions to give it a little flair. It was delicious.

It would be the perfect side for Blue Bird's fried pork tenderloin sandwich or burgers. The tenderloin was surprisingly good. It was somewhat thick and meaty, had a gritty, super-crunchy breading and had a lot of inherit flavor. It would stand up pretty well even to that famous tenderloin down the road in North Manchester.

My patty melt followed suit. I could not find a flaw in it. It's oblong patty was cooked nicely and seasoned well by the buttery grilled onions on top. Its rye bread was also heavily buttered and grilled well to give it crunch, and there was oozing American cheese on the top and bottom of the burger.

A similar patty marked my favorite morning selection, the Chopped Steak Breakfast. This patty was flanked by two eggs and hash browns, which I asked to have loaded with onions, green peppers, mushrooms and cheddar cheese. The restaurant offers a Birdsnest breakfast with those ingredients in its potatoes, so it wasn't a stretch.

The patty was fine and the eggs were cooked as requested, but the potatoes stole the show. They were dark brown and super crispy around the edges; there was no shortage of the vegetables or cheese on top. The only thing I might add to it next time is a cup of sausage gravy, which I tried with biscuits during another visit.

The gravy was somewhat loose, but it was nicely made and had a lot of flavor. Its sausage was finely chopped and spread throughout, but I might ask for a side of sausage with it next time because I like bigger chunks.

The sausage and cheese omelet had no shortage of sausage and could be had with cheddar, American or Swiss cheese. It had chopped-up links in it so I got those big bites I wanted.

The omelets came with just toast, but hash browns could be added for $1.50. I had a side of fried mush with mine. I probably would not add pancakes, though, because they were a little crumbly for my liking.

But that was really the only thing I found fault with at the Blue Bird Café. Not only does the building have a long history, its atmosphere exudes that history beautifully. It is charming country design done to perfection.

There are decorative tin pie plates lining the top of the walls, a rustic, hand-painted Blue Bird sign and plenty of bluebird photos and prints spread throughout. The coolest detail, though, was the wooden Laketon sign hanging over the door, a sign resurrected from the town's old train station built in 1910.

Giordano and Batchelder are also about the most gracious hosts you will find, and that clearly has rubbed off on their son. Maverick will probably be sad to see you go and he will likely tell you so. And because of him, you will never forget the Blue Bird Café.

And you'll probably find a reason to go back.

Restaurant: Blue Bird Café

Address: 15 N. Main St., Laketon

Phone: 260-306-0162

Hours: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: None

Smoking status: Non-smoking

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Mozzarella sticks ($3.99), wings ($7.50), tenderloin (7.25), patty melt ($7.25), sausage and cheese omelet ($4.95), chopped steak breakfast ($7.95), Sunday special ($7.95)

Rating breakdown: Food: ★ (3-star maximum); atmosphere: ★ (1 max.); service: ★ (1 max.)

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.