In his book, Blue Highways, William Least Heat-Moon fronts an interesting theory when it comes to local diners. He holds that the more out-of-date calendars (preferably from insurance companies or tractor dealerships) on the walls of a diner, the better the food.
It was a theory I once tested on a road trip around New Mexico with mixed results. On a whole, greasy spoons are a great way to soak in a little local flavor while indulging in the kind of basic home cooking that screams Americana.
The Chef's Hut is just such a way station along an interstate of mass-produced, homogenized restaurants trying to pass themselves off as mom-and-pop diners.
It's doubtful that anyone will ever use the word "fancy" or "gourmet" to describe this out-of-the-way diner. But there's something to be said for familiarity. It's also highly unlikely anyone perusing The Chef's Hut condensed menu will find himself or herself faced with an unrecognizable item.
Serving only breakfast and lunch, The Chef's Hut offers food ranging from the tried-and-true to the traditional with basics like eggs, French toast, pancakes, and biscuits and gravy presented in various combinations with sides like hash browns, toast, bacon and sausage.
A full plate of two eggs cooked to order, hash browns (the shredded kind that get that wonderful crispy crust on the outside when cooked on a large grill) and toast ($4.95) is nothing special, but it is good, basic fare, and diners will know what to expect when ordering.
Even portions on the section of the menu devoted to light appetites are more than enough to fill the majority of diners. Two full pieces of French toast, one egg and sausage ($4.95) are enough to leave you feeling a little sluggish, but pleasantly full. The sausage patties get bonus points for appearing to be handmade, although they could use a little more seasoning and a little less gristle.
But one of the best things about The Chef's Hut, especially when we're all watching our pennies, is the staggering affordablity. The majority of items on the breakfast menu are roughly $5, and nothing is more than $9. A particularly joyous discovery is finding a place where a simple cup of coffee is still less than $1.
The food might not be reason enough to seek out the small eatery tucked well into the Franklin Business Park at the intersection of Franklin and Cole roads, but the atmosphere is.
The word "classic" jumps to mind upon entering the diner, not because of an array of antiques or shabby-chic country-style furnishings covered in ducks and gingham, but because of the exact opposite. The dining area is filled with well-worn laminate tables and 1980s faux-brass chairs, and art on the walls consists of a few photographs and a SPAM advertisement.
A low counter offers additional seating and is home to the cash register and stacks of assorted papers. The kitchen is visible through a pass-through window behind the register, where diners can see the cook working over the hooded grill.
Customers are greeted warmly, with a big "Hey there, mornin'," and a smile while they are waved in the general direction of a table like they are regulars. The waitstaff is on its game and stands ready with a fresh refill for your coffee before you even realize you need one.
The only real challenge to The Chef's Hut is the location. The restaurant has been around for years and has a dedicated clientele, which often packs in at lunch, but it's doubtful more than a handful of customers have ever spotted the place just driving by. The Chef's Hut has little to give away its location except a well-placed sidewalk sign.
It might be tough to find, but The Chef's Hut is worth the little extra effort, if for no other reason than to feel like a small-town local in the middle of the city.
—Deanna Darr thinks every restaurant should have a John Deere calendar.