By MARINA WATERS
Years ago when Tammy Eldridge was busy raising her kids, she realized just how much she missed interacting with people on a daily basis. Now, four months after opening her Appalachian-style eatery, The Kitchen, people are regularly flocking to the sprawling farm on John France Road to enjoy the farm and share a meal with loved ones, just as she always imagined.
“We can really feel the farm coming alive with all the people here,” Eldridge said on a quiet Thursday morning, hours before The Kitchen prepares for dinner. “It’s nice on the days there aren’t a lot of people, but the days all the people are here, it’s really exciting. You see kids running up and down the yard. You see couples holding hands walking around the pond. You see people looking at the tractors out front.”
The Eldridges are accustomed to people on their farm for weddings or a Sunday-morning church service in the barn on the back portion of the site. But Eldridge said when they launched The Kitchen, she and her husband, Dan, were ready to share their farm and beloved Southern-style food with local folks.
“Danny just loves the peace and the beauty, just God’s creation here,” Eldridge said. “And he just kept saying, ‘This would be a great place for people to sit out and eat.’ I think we both just have the spirit of hospitality. We really wanted to highlight the Appalachian cuisine that we grew up on and our family recipes.”
Eldridge said perfecting The Kitchen’s menu was the top priority.
The family and The Kitchen staff spent days working on the perfect fried chicken recipe and constructing a cream corn side dish of which even Dan’s mother would (hopefully) approve.
“It’s imperative that we have it just right,” Eldridge said. “I feel like we’re representing the region. One of the guests said it’s like grandma’s cooking, but it’s a little more gourmet. We want it seasoned just the way our grandmother would be proud of. We want to represent this area and our family well.”
That home-style cooking requires more than just planning though. Eldridge said she’s constantly in awe of how much work — and how many staff members with potato peelers in hand — it takes to keep up the quality of the country menu items.
“I’m always amazed. It’s either four or six (large pots) of mashed potatoes we usually do on a Saturday night. Like, they cut them and boil them and mash them. I’m usually back there buttering rolls and I’m like, ‘They’re making more potatoes? Oh my gosh. How many more people (ordered potatoes)?’” Eldridge said laughing.
While they were imagining the families coming to The Kitchen to gather around a table for a meal, the Eldridges kept the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in mind as they revamped the biggest barn on the property.
The large main room in the restaurant is now separated into mini rooms to keep guests in a more private, separated setting that was designed to help with social distancing.
“We set it up specifically (for COVID-19),” Eldridge said. “We put all these walls up specifically because we said, ‘People are not going to feel comfortable being out together.’ Each little room in there has about four tables each.”
Serving dinner and also breakfast on Saturdays (with the best waffles Eldridge said she has ever had) isn’t all she has in mind for the future of The Kitchen. Eldridge said she hopes to implement an ice cream and a coffee spot on the property while also encouraging guests to enjoy the beauty of the farm with a walking trail and other small outdoor attractions.
“We definitely want an ice cream and desert place for people to meet,” Eldridge said. “We want a walking trail, live music occasionally, tractor rides. We are putting picnic tables along the lake and the creek, animals for kids to look at, a coffee shop down in the valley. My whole picture is young moms come and let their kids play out there while they eat breakfast and drink coffee.”
Eldridge said she and her family also enjoy sharing what she calls an “idealized” version of farm life with local people — whether that includes helping prepare food in the back, or cranking up an old John Deere for a couple of tractor enthusiasts to enjoy.
“We ate out here yesterday because it was my son-in-law’s birthday,” Eldridge said. “There were these little old men out here studying every little detail of the tractors. My son-in-law, even though it was his birthday, went out there and started one up for them. It’s just getting people to experience it and remember what it was like back in the day. This is kind of an idealized farm experience.”
But at the heart of it all is the people.
As the staff continues to prepare for the dinner rush ahead, Eldridge mentions that they’ll be serving a World War II veteran for his 95th birthday that evening. Of all the menu items he could choose, he only wants soup beans and cornbread.
“So we’re making it for him,” Eldridge said.
The Kitchen is open Wednesday through Friday from 4 to 8:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and 4 to 8:30 p.m. For more information, go to https://thekitchenatgracemeadows.com/.