Lure of country cooking drawing folks to Durham

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Wendel Wedel of Durham wears a green ball cap with the following advertisement across the crown: “Main Street Cafe, Durham, Kansas, Good Ole Country Cooking.”

Is the lure of country cooking the reason people from towns such as Hillsboro, Newton, McPherson, Hesston and Abilene travel to Durham to eat at his restaurant?

“People just like a unique little setting where they can get home-cooked food,” Wedel said.

“Most restaurants, if you ask them where they get their food, they’d say, ‘Off the truck.'”

The list of items made from scratch includes potato and macaroni salads on the salad bar, fresh-baked pies for dessert and Wedel’s own homemade German sausage.

“That’s my specialty, because it’s made right here on the premises,” Wedel said.

For the cook who wants to prepare the sausage at home, Wedel sells it for $2.49 a pound and keeps it in a freezer at the front of his restaurant.

“The sausage, we have on the menu almost every day of the week,” Wedel said.

In addition to the sausage, other specials find their way onto the Main Street Cafe dining tables.

Mexican food is featured on Saturday, which Wedel calls Monterey Day.

Customers can look forward to a fried-flour tortilla filled with refried beans, taco meat, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes that day. That’s priced at $5, which includes the salad bar.

Monterey Day is also offered as a special on the first Monday and third Thursday of the month.

“The rest of the Mondays and Thursdays are variable,” Wedel said.

“We can have anything from ham to roast beef, ham loaf or barbecue meatballs. Or in season, we’ll have turkey.”

Pan-fried or baked chicken is prepared on Tuesdays, bierrocks can be ordered on Wednesdays and chicken-fried steak is the Friday option.

“Once in a while, we won’t have baked sausage, and then we’ll have sausage and potato casserole,” he said.

The restaurant comfortably seats 45 people at one time. But on opening day of the new Friday-night buffet, 104 customers came through the doors.

“I’m real happy with the way it’s been going,” Wedel said. “We started that May 24, and we heard lots and lots of positive comments about the food being very good.”

Among the items finding their way onto the buffet menu are baked sausage, barbecue pork, cherry moos, verenika, sauerkraut or baked potatoes. Wedel recently added fried catfish, hush puppies, marinated grilled chicken and grilled sausage to the buffet list.

“And then I make what I call graham-cracker fluff-it’s a Mennonite tradition,” Wedel said. “We call it a salad, but some use it as a dessert.”

The buffet also offers the all-you-can-eat salad bar, drinks and dessert for about $9.50, including tax, Wedel said.

Breakfast is served from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Favorite items on that menu are biscuits and gravy, a plate of sausage, eggs and hash-browns, and pancakes served with maple or homemade syrup.

“Cheryl Jost, who writes for the Free Press, she has bugged me real hard and heavy about my homemade syrup recipe,” Wedel said. “But I’m not sure I’m ready to turn loose of it yet.”

But Wedel said he and Linda were ready to share the following two recipes:

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Sausage Potato Casserole

1 lb. bulk pork sausage

1 can (10 3/4 oz.) condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted

3/4 cup milk

1/4 cup chopped onion

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

3 cup thinly sliced peeled potatoes (about 1 1/4 lb.)

1 cup (4 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese

In a large skillet, cook sausage until no longer pink; drain. In a bowl, combine soup, milk, onion, salt and pepper. In an ungreased 11x7x2-inch baking dish, layer one-half the potatoes, soup mix and sausage; repeat. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours or until potatoes are tender. Uncover and sprinkle with cheese. Return to oven until cheese is melted, about five minutes.

******

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

1/2 cup butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 cup flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup (dairy) sour cream

1 tsp. vanilla

Topping:

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1 /4 cup sugar

1/2 cup chopped nuts

Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs. Stir in flour, soda, baking powder and salt. Add sour cream and vanilla. Pour one half of the batter in a 12×9-inch greased and floured pan. Sprinkle with half of topping. Add rest of batter, and cover with remaining topping. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

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Cooking has always been a part of Wedel’s life “from little on up,” he said.

“I’ve always enjoyed grilling outside. I was a welder back at Hillsboro Industries, so I made my own grill before we even started the cafe.”

His venture into sausage making began in his mother’s garage.

“Sales got good enough then that I thought it was time to make a business out of it,” Wedel said. “I got into this (restaurant), and I was able to offer my sausage to the public.”

At Main Street Cafe, Wedel and a baker share duties making such pies as Hershey almond, chocolate meringue, lemon meringue, coconut, pecan, pumpkin, raisin cream and peanut butter.

But Linda also cooks at the restaurant and bakes such favorites as cherry moos, homemade cinnamon rolls and butterhorns.

“My wife’s got certain things she makes that I don’t even know how to do,” Wedel said.

But he does have some cooking tips he’s learned throughout his culinary career.

One of his waitresses told him the best way to determine if a cucumber is bitter is to cut a small slice off the end, and rub the two cut ends together.

“If it foams and turns white, you know it’s bitter,” Wedel said. “That way you don’t have to taste it.”

Another cooking suggestion is to put salt and/or vinegar in the water when hard boiling fresh eggs-so they will peel easier.

“To make that better yet-so they don’t split open-put the eggs in cold or warm water and bring them to a boil,” Wedel said. “Put a lid on them, leave them on the burner, but turn the burner off, and let them sit there for 10 minutes.”

He then pours the water off, puts ice on the cooked eggs for 10 to 15 minutes and then peels them.

Looking to the future, Wedel said he’s hired an assistant manger, Lisa Redger, to begin the first of August.

“I hope the customers come down and say ‘Hi’ to her and get acquainted,” Wedel said.

“She’s going to be a fill-in because she has experience in waitressing and cooking. She has some recipes we think will be very excellent here.

“And we just need some back-up help when we want off.”

Other plans include the installation of a pop machine outside the restaurant, promotions on buying Wedel’s sausage and drawings for free meals during the Friday-night buffet.

And is business good?

“This morning, we had 40 for breakfast, so it was very busy,” Wedel said.

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