- CROSSROADS CUISINE: Mammoth chicken fried steaks, good po-boys.
While a big part of the newspaper business is beating the bushes and seeing what birds rise up, there's also the time-honored tradition of the tip. We get a lot of those around here, some small and some not so small. Sometimes — and these are the tips that we wait for with particular glee — we get a heads-up about food.
We've been at this long enough that we've learned to listen to those onion-scented whispers. By and large, if the food is good enough to come trickling back to us from our friends and relatives who live Afar, it's probably gonna be good.
Case in point: The Hayestack Cafe, out in the wilds of Ferndale.
We've been hearing about The Hayestack for a while now, first because of its mammoth chicken fried steaks, later because of its hearty breakfast fare. When the fourth unsolicited and uncompensated reviewer raved to us about the joint, we knew it was time to take a ride.
Open since last April — it's owned and operated by a young husband and wife team; he's the fry cook, she's the very friendly waitress — the cafe is situated at the crossroads of Kanis Road and Ferndale Cutoff, surrounded by green mountains. Though there's a rumor that Ol' Splitfoot likes to hang out at crossroads, vexing travelers and trading souls for guitar pickin' skill, we found only greasy spoon heaven at the Hayestack. The decor is just the way we like it, which is to say modest but spic and span, with none of the faux-country bric-a-brac that too many places try to substitute for character. The menu is fairly modest as well, filled with burgers, pasta, po-boys and the like.
On our first visit, we tried the Hayestack Burger ($7.95), a handmade patty topped with two onion rings and barbecue sauce, served on grilled Texas toast. As a side, we tried Hayestack's homemade potato chips. Our companion, meanwhile, tried the catfish po-boy ($9.95), with a side of shoestring fries.
Our dishes arrived quick and hot, and the portions were big enough to make us think again about the devil hanging out at the crossroads. The catfish po-boy, for example, was huge: a nearly foot-long torpedo of soft French bread, topped with loads of perfect catfish, onions, lettuce and mayo. After one bite, our companion — who lived in Lafayette, La., for two years and knows what a good po-boy should taste like — pronounced it easily the best she's had since she left Cajun country. The fries were a real treat as well: a drift of sweet, starchy goodness, almost angel hair thin, cooked to golden brown perfection. For fans of more-crispy-less-potato French fries, these would definitely be a find.
The burger was similarly fine; a large, handmade patty, stacked with toppings to the point of being sloppy. The best surprise, however, was the homemade chips. We've had homemade chips before and never have quite developed a taste for them. These, however, were something special: sliced razor thin, then fried to the point you could hold them up to the light and see through them like a hazy chunk of amber. The cook skimped on the salt, but that was quickly remedied and the chips were quickly polished off.
We'd heard good things about the chicken fried steak ($12.95 for a platter-sized monster at dinner; $8.95 for a more petite serving size at lunch), so on a return visit, we had to have one. Our companions, meanwhile, indulged their breakfast joneses with selections from The Hayestack's big list of pancakes, omelets and other morning fare. This reviewer has been searching for a great local chicken fried steak for years (our current favorite, which ain't exactly local, is to be found at Shorty Small's). The one at Hayestack is a definite contender. Coated in thick, crispy, well-seasoned breading, it's a big chunk of meat even at lunch, pounded out thin and then expertly fried. Smothered in white gravy and served with two sides, it will probably take a few months off your life, but it's very likely worth it. Companions, meanwhile, found a lot to like on the breakfast menu. You can't go wrong with bacon, cheese and eggs, and The Hayestack serves it up just as big as they do dinner and lunch. The low point, however, was the pancakes ($4.25 for a short stack, 5.25 for a tall). We'd heard great things about the pancakes, so we know there are those out there who would love the nearly three-quarter-inch thick griddle cakes. This reviewer, however, just found them too dense. A good pancake, by our measure, should be light and almost spongy; ready to soak up the melted butter and maple syrup. These, by comparison, were more like bread.
Still, that one dim spot wasn't enough to quell our enthusiasm for The Hayestack Cafe. With prodigious portion sizes, a very friendly staff, and great food, it's definitely worth the trip.
The Hayestack Cafe
27024 Kanis Road, Ferndale
We were pleased to see that at dinner, you can order up an urban Southern favorite that you don't see much around these parts: chicken and waffles ($10.95). The platter comes with a big ol' homemade waffle, paired with six chicken wings in your choice of barbecue, sweet chili or home-style flavor.
8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Other info: All credit cards accepted.