Wagon Wheel Express keeps rolling along in Marion

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Ever wonder why the popular Marion restaurant on the west end of town is called the Wagon Wheel Express?

“My husband likes wagon wheels,” Meier said. “When we first bought the restaurant, we had wheels hanging all over out here.”

After taking down the wheels and adding a dining patio, the Meier’s decided to leave one wheel in front-resting against a split-rail fence. That wheel is a symbol of a restaurant they’ve successfully run for the past seven years.

Meier owned The Coffee Shop-now named Red Barn Cafe- in Durham for 10 years. Prior to that, she worked for her mother-in-law for 10 years in the same spot, when it was named Meier’s Cafe.

“So it’s just in my blood-to be in the restaurant business,” Meier said.

“I sold the restaurant in Durham and three years later, I had the chance to buy this. I just missed doing it.”

The covered patio shelters two picnic tables, but the restaurant is still modeled after the old-fashioned carry-outs of days past. Patrons walk into a small-enclosed area in front of two counters to order their food-to-go.

“Most of the business is call-in and carry-out,” Meier said.

“It can look like we don’t have anything at all going on here, because nobody’s sitting here, and maybe no cars are around. But we can just be busier than all get out-in here cooking.

Although Meier is chief cook, all employees help in the kitchen when needed. The present staff includes four part-time workers.

They serve a variety of carry-out favorites, such as made-to order hand-pressed hamburgers, chicken strips, barbecue beef, cherry limeade and milk shakes.

The restaurant motto-“Food Cooked The Way It Ought To Be”-is a daily credo, Meier said.

“That means we take time to make the hamburger fresh. It’s not a frozen patty that’s thrown on the grill and then left there to cook. We use a little TLC.”

But unusual items are included on the menu as well, such as Olivenos. Olivenos are special black olives cut in half, stuffed with cheese filling, breaded and deep fried. One is salsa flavored, and the other is stuffed with Asiago cheese.

Meier’s cherry limeade has a little extra touch that makes it out of the ordinary-she uses homemade cherry syrup.

“People tell me how good they are,” Meier said. “We always take that with us to festivals, because that’s a really good seller.”

The Meier’s can be found offering their food at a variety of festivals, such as the Lehigh festival on Memorial Day and Marion’s Chingawassa Days in June. These events are all part of a large catering business the couple has developed.

And how many people have they served at one time?

“About 400 people,” Meier said. “We serve whatever anybody wants.”

The Meier’s catered to about 400 hungry diners at an appreciation dinner at the Marion Rock Quarry and also at the Marion Green Acre Race Track.

Four times during the summer, the couple sells food at the race track, located close to the restaurant.

“We can take the smoker with us when we cater,” Meier said. “We catered a wedding at Harvey County Lake and smoked meat for them all day long.”

But patrons don’t have to have a wedding to enjoy the Meiers’ smoked meats.

The smoker, sitting in their parking lot, is fired up to tempt diners with smoked ribs and brisket every other Saturday.

Served with potato salad, beans and slaw, the ribs and brisket are ready by 4 p.m. on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month.

“It takes a good eight hours to smoke the meat,” Meier said. “We get down here at 7 a.m. to get the fire started and the meats cooking.”

Meier said she enjoys cooking and can’t imagine anybody not liking to cook and running a restaurant.

“Even when I’m not here in the kitchen, I’m cooking at home,” she said. “I just like to cook, and I like to eat.”

One of her favorite recipes made in her home kitchen is the following coffee-cake recipe passed down to her by her mother-in-law.

Coffee Cake

2 eggs

1 1/2 C. sugar

1/2 C. shortening

1/2 Tsp. salt

1 C. buttermilk or 1 C. milk + 2 Tsp. vinegar

1 Tsp. vanilla

2 C. flour

1 Tsp. baking soda

1 Tsp. baking powder

Topping:

1/2 C. brown sugar

1/2 C. flour

1/4 C. shortening

1 Tsp. cinnamon

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream sugar, shortening and eggs. Add buttermilk and vanilla. Sift together dry ingredients, and add to batter. Pour into a greased 9-inch by 13-inch pan.

Mix topping ingredients until crumbs form. Spread on top of batter.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes.

Another favorite recipe-Quiche Lorraine- was served at her future daughter-in-law’s bridal shower recently in Whitewater.

“Someone else fixed it, and I thought it was really good, so they passed it along,” Meier said.

Quiche Lorraine

Pastry for one nine-inch one-crust pie

12 slices (about 1/2 pound) of bacon, crisply fried and crumbled

1 C. (about 4 ounces) shredded natural Swiss cheese

1/3 C. minced onion

4 eggs

2 C. whipping cream or light cream

3/4 Tsp. salt

1/4 Tsp. sugar

1/8 Tsp. cayenne red pepper

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.

Prepare pastry shell.

Sprinkle bacon, cheese and onion in pastry-lined pie pan. Beat eggs and beat in remaining ingredients. Pour creamed mixture into pie pan. Bake 15 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees, and bake 30 minute longer, or until knife inserted one inch from edge comes out clean.

Let stand 10 minutes before cutting, and serve in wedges.

Back in her restaurant kitchen, Meier offers the following specials at a special price:

n Monday: third-pound hamburger basket.

n Tuesday: Mexican fare, such as Montereys, taco salad, fried tacos, soft tacos and a double taco.

n Wednesday: homemade bierocks and quarter-pound bacon cheeseburgers.

n Thursday: half-pound cheeseburger basket.

n Friday: pork chili burrito and tacos.

n Saturday: barbecue beef.

But the restaurant offers one more specialty that’s not found on the menu-caring for other people.

“There’s a little old lady who lives about a block down the street here,” Meier said. “She can’t get out, so we take her food down to her.”

Meier can often be seen walking to the elderly lady’s home with her call-in order in hand.

And one winter, an employee even went beyond the expected norm of any restaurant.

“My girl, who works for me most of the time, Bobbie Jo Linder, she shoveled the snow off of her walk,” Meier said.

Maybe it’s special touches like this that keep customers coming back to a restaurant that was home to seven different owners in the seven years before Meier purchased it.

“I feel like I’ve accomplished something to be the one and only owner for the last seven years,” she said.

“I try to do as much as I can from scratch, and I enjoy people. I like to hear people say they like what I’ve cooked.”

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