DINING REVIEW: Pantry serves up diner food that comforts, satisfies
Restaurant Character: A small, cozy restaurant tucked off the main drag in Green Mountain Falls. Friendly people and great traditional diner food make it worth the wait to get in on crowded weekends.
Rating total: 4 out of 5 stars
Food: 4 out of 5 stars
Ambiance: 4 out of 5 stars
Service: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Address: 6980 Lake St., Green Mountain Falls
Hours: 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m., daily except for Christmas Day
Credit cards: yes
Vegetarian options: yes
What's online as of Feb. 27, 2013:
- 82 percent of 24 voters "liked it" on Urban Spoon
- 4.5 out of 5 stars based on 32 reviews on Yelp
- not on Facebook
How do you judge a good diner? On its breakfast? Presence or absence of blue plate specials? Runniness of over-easy egg yolks? Desserts? The quality of the French fries?
No matter what yardstick you hold up, The Pantry in Green Mountain Falls is homemade, comforting diner food at its best. More than slightly off the beaten track, the Pantry is worth searching out for breakfast or lunch any time you drive up the pass. And I do mean anytime -- the only day they close is Christmas Day.
The dining room at the Pantry is fairly small, probably holding 40 people at a time if they don't mind being friendly. The L-shaped counter in the front of the restaurant seats about 10 more. This is a spot where locals sit and read the morning paper or strike up a conversation with whoever happens to be sitting close by. Beware of sitting there on cold or windy days, however, because you'll be blasted by the elements every time the door opens.
Expect really friendly service. Our waitress happily answered all our questions, telling us we could order off the breakfast or lunch menu at any time. She kept the coffee cups filled, brought more hot water for tea and checked back with us regularly while we were sitting at the counter. On a subsequent trip -- a much slower day for the restaurant -- service did seem to fade after we got our food, and there was a very long wait to get the check, especially considering there was only one other customer in the building.
For hungry carnivores, consider ordering the chicken fried steak and eggs ($10.99). The Black Angus beef is tender and juicy under the crackling golden breading, which is topped with a mantle of creamy, peppery white gravy. You also get two eggs cooked to order on the side, plus a giant pile of home fries or hash browns (either of which can be ordered crunchy, if that's the way you like your breakfast potatoes) and toast.
Eggs and toast are breakfast basics. Here, the eggs are cooked exactly as ordered, and both the sunny side up and over-easy eggs sported high, soft and luminous yolks ready to spill and mingle their goodness across the plate. The toast could rate a review all on its own. The white, wheat and raisin bread are all made on the premises. The golden, chewy toast is so good it doesn't even need jam.
You might think that bread this good would make awesome French toast. But the Pantry makes their French toast by horizontally splitting one of their big, fluffy cinnamon rolls, soaking it in a rich, eggy batter and frying it until golden brown. This will set you back $5.99 on its own, or $9.49 if you add two eggs, bacon and potatoes. And chances are you won't have to eat again for several hours.
The Pantry also offers the usual breakfast suspects: several versions of Eggs Benedict, a pancake the size of a hubcap, biscuits and gravy, a breakfast burrito and several omelets. The Pantry Omelet is described a little vaguely ("an array of vegetables"), but is still delicious. The day we were there, it held ham, cheese, onions, peppers, mushrooms and some roasted green chiles. It's another filling meal for $9.49, and comes with toast and potatoes.
If I see green chili on the menu, I have to order it. The Pantry was no exception. While the texture is on the thin side, more like soup than gravy, it is packed with roasted green chiles, a strong bite of black pepper and flecked with bits of tender pork. It is excellent ladled over the open-faced green chili burger ($9.49). The burger was a little past the medium rare that was ordered, but the beef was tender and obviously griddled by a master. The curly fries on the side were decently crispy.
There are equally delicious dishes waiting for you on the lunch side of the menu. The fillet of fish ($9.99) is so crunchy that I could hear my dining companion across the table bite into it. Still, the fish inside was moist and tender. The coleslaw, an option with any lunch dish, has red and green cabbage with a little grated carrot and a wee bit of onion for bite. The creamy dressing is light with both sweet and sour notes, making it a refreshing choice with anything fried.
Speaking of fried, do yourself a favor and order the fried chicken ($10.99). You will forget that fast-food restaurant chicken even exists. Both the white and dark meat remain absolutely moist and tender. The amber, crispy, salty crust shatters when you bite into it, giving your day a small moment of Nirvana. The chicken came with slaw and totally nondescript French fries. They aren't bad, they aren't good, they are just there, taking up space.
Definitely save room for dessert. The homemade apple pie ($4.29) combines tender chunks of apple with plenty of cinnamon and nutmeg but not too much sugar. The wonderful flavor was marred by the fact it had been heated in a microwave, making the crust soggy instead of flaky. The bread pudding ($4.29), on the other hand, is ridiculously delicious. I generally shy away from bread pudding because I fear the soggy versions that taste and feel like wet bread. The Pantry's version is the champion of all bread pudding everywhere, made with their own cinnamon raisin bread, studded with raisins and redolent with cinnamon. Warm, simple and comforting, this one dessert is the symbol of diner food done right.