We went driving down Highway 27 today, to do some exploring in Polk County, and came upon Lake Wales and this restaurant. Before finding Lake Wales, I had asked myself, “Can anything good come from Polk County?” The answer, having explored Davenport and Haines City previously, had always been, “No.” But today, I have to revise that to, “Yes, if you are in Lake Wales.”
Lake Wales is a very cute little city, with a historic downtown that actually looked interesting. There was a spa, a home decor shop, a jewelry store, and a Mexican restaurant that looked like our kind of place. What drew our eyes, though, was the dilapidated Hotel Grand, a very interesting building that is on the National Historic Register. I think that, if someone were to invest money into this building, it would pay off big time. The bottom two floors could be a boutique hotel, while the upper floors could be turned into luxury lofts. All the infrastructure is there in Lake Wales: cute downtown, nice lake, large park, biking trails, and a decent commute for those who work for Disney or on the west side of Orlando.
Here is the Hotel Grand:
Our path to the Hotel Grand led us past a restaurant on the corner of 27 and 60, called the Country House Restaurant. We weren’t looking for any restaurant in particular, and this was obviously a non-chain place, so we decided to stop in and give it a whirl:
We entered the restaurant around 11:30 on a Saturday morning, and were seated immediately, at a booth right by a window. Our server, Dana, was very friendly and helpful, though she threw us a bit for a loop when she began by asking, “Can I bring you anything to start with? Cornbread or rolls maybe?” We weren’t sure whether she was offering us a free basket of bread, or whether she was offering to charge us for a basket of bread, in which case we wouldn’t have wanted it! Turned out, the bread was, indeed, free. We opted for the “rolls,” which turned out to be two small, rather dry biscuits:
We each had a sweet tea to drink, and my husband ordered the fried grouper sandwich, which was a bargain at $4.50. For an extra $.75 he also got a side of fries. These prices compared favorably with those of last week’s restaurant, the Tiki Bar, at which sandwiches cost $8.70 and the side of fries was an extra $3! The taste of the sandwich here also compared favorably to the fish sandwiches at the Tiki Bar.
My husband’s grouper sandwich was flavorful and not too fishy. The patty was hot, freshly fried when he got it. Though the presentation of the tartar sauce was lacking: a small container of Ken’s Tartar Sauce, he enjoyed the fact that it WAS tartar sauce, not like the mayonnaise at the Tiki Bar.
It came with two tomato slices, lettuce, onion, and pickles, which he appreciated. The bun was pre-mayonnaised, which was a bit odd, but he takes forever to assemble a sandwich anyway, so I appreciated this time saver.
The seasoning on the seasoned fries was slightly strange, also. There was a sweetness to it that was unusual. The fries themselves were so-so: some crispy, some not, good sized, but nothing outstanding.
I ordered one of the All-Day Specials, the Fried Catfish Fingers for $6.75. There are several All-Day Specials: fried whole catfish, fried grouper fingers, fried chicken fingers, grilled chicken breast, 1/4 country fried chicken, ham steak with pineapple, baby beef liver, chopped steak, country fried steak, hot open-faced roast beef or turkey with gravy, spaghetti, lasagna, and manicotti. All of these sides cost $6.75, and all but the last 3 Italian choices include any 3 sides. I chose cole slaw, french fries, and black eyed peas.
Since I don’t eat meat, when I ordered the black eyed peas, I asked whether they were cooked with meat or not. The waitress’ response to this was that it depended on who was cooking that day, and she went back to the kitchen to ask. I was in luck: no meat today! We thought it was strange that the way an item was cooked would depend on which cook was in the back, since most restaurants strive for consistency in ingredients, portion sizes, and presentation.
My fried catfish fingers were pretty good. The breading was a flour & cornmeal mix, but it was surprisingly well seasoned. Many places (notably the House of Blues!) offer fried catfish and then don’t bother to season the batter. I appreciated the flavor that the seasoning added to the catfish. The catfish itself was nothing special. It had obviously been frozen, and was a bit slimy, though not disgustingly so. I’m from Louisiana, and am always trying to recapture the taste of the lovely, flaky, fresh cornmeal-fried catfish that I used to have there as a kid. We’ve found one restaurant in New Orleans that does this beautifully, but pretty much everywhere else that we’ve eaten, the catfish is a very slimy fish indeed. The fish pieces weren’t overly greasy, which is another concern when eating fried fish, but they’d done a good job of draining them after frying the “fingers.”
My side of black-eyed peas was okay, but not remarkable in any way. The coleslaw, however, was not good at all. It didn’t have any flavor at all, and wasn’t well dressed. I’d just as soon have gnawed on a piece of raw cabbage, for all the flavor this dish contained.
In all, this meal was fairly average, with nothing to disgust us, but nothing to call us back, either. The prices are very reasonable, and the menu has a wide range of items. All are reasonably priced, from the sandwiches ranging from $2.99-$4.50, to the subs from $3.50-$4.99, to the entrees that run the gamut from Chicken Hawaiian at $6.99 to a full rack of baby back ribs for $10.99.