If you visited my Oklahoma grandmother back in the day, you were likely to dine on ham loaf, potatoes Romanoff and some sort of funky Jell-O salad.
The Food House, located at the former food-court entrance in Eastgate Town Center, bills itself as "A Return to Grandma's Kitchen."
Convenient to businesses in Eastgate, the restaurant offers an alternative to the area's fern bars, Chinese buffets and takeouts, a melange of Mexican diners and fast-food joints offering up chicken, burgers and sandwiches.
Indeed, The Food House's website bills it as "the only home-style cooking in the Brainerd area."
However, a recent lunch visit to the restaurant made me miss my late grandmother.
Where: The Food House, Eastgate Town Center (Food Court entrance).
Hours: 7 a.m.-10:30 a.m. (breakfast) Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. (lunch) Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday.
Price range: 65 cents (one egg)-$11.25 (Big Breakfast).
The breakfast menu -- probably quite popular for early Eastgate office workers -- affords various biscuits, omelets, pancakes, French toast, meat-and-egg plates and build-your-own hash browns or home fries. The array ranges from one biscuit (69 cents) to a Big Breakfast of eggs, two meats each of sausage, bacon and ham, hash browns and two biscuits with gravy ($11.25).
The lunch offers a good variety of appetizers ($4.99-$6.50), sandwiches ($3.99-$7.75) and salads ($3.50-$9.25), plus burgers, wraps and a build-your-own hot dog. Most sandwiches come with chips and a pickle, and chicken can be added to a couple of the salads.
There also are regular fries, sweet potato fries and fried pickles, jalapeno poppers and corn nuggets.
When it comes to a place that advertises itself as the home of home-style cooking, though, the daily plate lunch ($5.75 for a meat and two sides or $5.20 for four veggies) is likely to tell the tale.
I'm a sucker for meatloaf -- my wife's, for instance, is good -- so I opted for meatloaf with okra and coleslaw on my plate lunch. I left off the included roll or cornbread because I'm not much of a bread guy.
My younger brother chose turkey with gravy, dressing (as a side), macaroni and cheese, and roll.
The meatloaf appeared to be underdone and had the consistency of browned raw hamburger -- a little past the patted-together stage. It was chewy and had little flavor.
The okra was fried, but barely, and was lacking any cornmeal breading or spices that distinguished it. The slaw, said to be homemade, was of the creamy variety but was soupy, slightly sweet and not to my liking.
The slice of chocolate cake I added to my meal was small for the price ($2) and dry to the taste.
My brother, on the hand, enjoyed his meal. The turkey, he said, was a little odd, but he liked the dressing and the mac and cheese. I sampled both sides and found them passable. He took one bite of the roll and proclaimed it as hard as a basketball. I also tried the brownie that he added to his meal, and it was the best of everything I tasted.
You order at a front counter, give your name, and your order is delivered to your table in a foam container with plasticware. The drinks are self-serve. We were told it would be "two or three minutes" before our meals were up, but it was considerably longer than that. Mine also was missing a side, a problem I remedied by returning to the counter.
The Food House has both an outside-mall wall and inside entrance, so it enjoys as much of a presence as anything in the middle of the mall would (it's on the Brainerd Village side). Inside, seating is available at seven white wooden tables. Additional seating is also available in the mall corridor. The yellow-painted and dark paneled walls, large plants, lacelike curtains, filled china cabinet and wall-mounted kitchen items give the place the home-style look it apparently desires. A wall-mounted television was turned up a bit too loud to make conversation pleasant.
My meat-and-two plate was not tasty enough to make me go out of my way to go again, but if I was in the area to meet someone, I'd give their breakfast or one of their sandwiches a try. For now, I'm going to try to find my grandmother's recipe for ham loaf.