Kountry Kitchen: Dishing out hearty southern soul 

Park a block or two away and the smell of sweet-frying, trans fat-free canola oil will lead the way. Don't be intimidated by the "No Trespassing" sign on the front door. And don't mind the crooked doorjambs and tilting floor. One taste of Kountry Kitchen's baked cornbread and all bets are off. There's a reason this Indianapolis institution has 2,500 Facebook fans.

Since 1988, Kountry Kitchen's been dishing out hearty southern soul in the King Park neighborhood. Inside at the counter, families hang out while waiting for take out. ESPN hums in the background. One wall is jammed with framed pics of Barack, Babyface and Dungy, posing with owners Isaac and Cynthia Wilson. It's the kind of place that's never cold.

We made the quick drive from downtown, once for breakfast and once for dinner. Both visits featured speedy service, an affordable bill and drinks served in a glass jar — a humble country touch.

For breakfast, Kountry Kitchen passed the pancake test. If a pancake is rubbery, chewy or cooked on a griddle with meat, that pancake fails. KK's cakes were tender and fluffy. The biscuits, with a pasteboard flavor and rough texture, didn't fare as well. But KK does potatoes right. These spuds were clearly cut on site, salted and expertly fried with slow-cooked onions. The bacon had a sweet touch. We were in and out in 30 minutes, with a bill under $15 for two.

Dinner was equally efficient, since the KK staff is schooled in crowd pleasing. Dad got the combo meal ($11.99), with a choice of two meats and two sides. His fried pork chop tasted like a tenderloin, but less greasy; the cube steak was tender. The fried corn contained still-crunchy kernels coddled in a sweet creamy sauce; the mashed red potatoes with skins still on — a pleasant surprise — were topped with light-as-a-cloud brown gravy. Somebody in the kitchen has major gravy mojo.

Mom had the meatloaf dinner ($10.50). Less dense than most, and topped with a sweetish red sauce (sweet is a theme at Kountry Kitchen), this delectable stuff caused mom to abandon her plan to save a slice for the next day's lunch. Though touted as a specialty on the restaurant's website, the mac 'n cheese felt unremarkable: creamy, but without a crunchy top or other flourish. My white fish dinner (also $10.50) came with a slice of also-grilled lemon and sturdy mustard greens that I wish had been a bit greener.

Husband's BBQ Tips dinner (also $10.50) looked sexy in its velvety burgundy BBQ sauce with sweet/hot notes. But he left a few tips uneaten, calling them "less than great cuts of meat." His side of yams was handcut, and sweet enough to double as dessert — good thing, since there was no banana pudding or chess pie to be had, our server said. Hence the peach cobbler ($2.99), a rustic treat awash in a nutmeg-infused broth.

But the piece-de-resistance at Kounty Kitchen, its vernacular genius, is cornbread. You can get two types: a little fried griddlecake, or a square hunk of baked. The baked was the bomb: light and tall, yellow as a canary, with a kiss of sugar. They say Indiana is the northernmost southern state; Kountry Kitchen proves that's true, in a good way.

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