On several recent research trips to the National Road, I have found myself eating at the Lone Star Restaurant. Located in Markleysburg Pennsylvania, this Lone Star was founded 65 years before the better known chain which bears the same moniker, and is more in the mold of a diner than a steakhouse. I first stopped in for breakfast in the middle of the week and was a bit concerned that there were only two other patrons seated. I prayed the lack of business wasn’t a reflection on the quality of food or service. A menu was presented and I immediately noticed country ham was listed, which is a bit unusual to see this far north. Not having enjoyed that southern specialty recently, I ordered it along with eggs (over easy) and home fries. The only regional specialty I noticed on the breakfast menu was buckwheat cakes which were available seasonally. While waiting for the meal, I took in the interior of the restaurant which had vintage stainless pedestal stools at the counter in alternating black and red tops. The floor tiles were a matching black and red and the red laminate counter showed evidence of the presence of many elbows over the years. The pie safe displayed a tempting array of house baked pies, but it was a bit early in the day for me to get into dessert. The food arrived in a flash, as you would expect with only two other patrons in the restaurant, and I noticed immediately that what they billed as country ham was in fact a thick ham steak. I was a bit disappointed that I was not going to get my country ham fix, but that feeling soon vanished as I dug into the meal. The ham was a REAL steak, nearly ½ inch thick with a nice marrow bone in the center, as opposed to the over process molded products many restaurants use. The eggs were perfectly cooked and exhibited no off-taste from “butter flavored” oil, nor were they marred by extraneous bits of carbonized food from an improperly cleaned grill. The massive mound of home fries filled the rest of the plate, and they were prepared with freshly cooked potatoes. My only complaint was the potatoes were not seasoned. Yes, I can add salt and pepper, but the judicious addition of seasoning in the kitchen is a much better option. As I paid my check, I noticed the restaurant offered fresh-baked sweet rolls for take out sales, but those would have to wait until I drop a few pounds. Overall, a very good breakfast, but I vowed to return to see if the Lone Star could repeat the performance when the restaurant was busier.
I next arrived at noon on a Saturday, and the Lone Star was much busier as I had expected. Every table in the restaurant was taken, but there were still seats at the counter. My goal this time was to determine whether the food was as “home style” as advertised and whether they could crank it out when busy. The second question was answered in the affirmative when my food arrived just as fast as it had on my first visit, even though the restaurant wasnearly full. I started with a cup of chicken noodle soup ($2.45) which was advertised as being made in-house, and it was. Although it was a basic preparation, the broth was well made and seasoned properly. All of the ingredients were well cooked, with my only complaint being that the soup could have been a bit hotter. I also ordered an egg salad sandwich ($2.95) with a side of pickled egg ($.60). I know, a side of egg with an egg sandwich? Well, I didn’t order them because they were complimentary, I ordered then as indicators of how the kitchen works. I confirmed the pickled egg was Amish style, being prepared with beets, and that the kitchen knows how to properly hard boil an egg (not as cut and dried as you think).
The egg salad sandwich was ordered as a test of freshness and service speed. Egg salad easily spoils and also has the property of picking up off odors from a refrigerator when it sits too long. I could tell by looking the salad was fresh, as the kitchen had used red onion in its preparation and there was no evidence of bleeding. This was confirmed by tasting, and I was pleased to notice the toast was warm indicating that the sandwich was served immediately after it was made. It doesn’t take long for cold egg salad to cool down warm toast. I topped the meal with a slice of Coconut Cream Pie ($2.75), long a staple of the diner trade. This version was as good as I’ve eaten, with the impossibly high meringue showing no signs of weeping and the clearly handmade crust exhibiting no sign of sogginess. Although there was nothing terribly interesting on the menu, The Lone Star Restaurant offers up solid comfort food at a fair price. To me it’s no surprise they have been in business for 90 years, and I have no doubt they’ll be there for many more if they just keep doing what they are doing.