Lunch on Main Street's journey back to the past begins with its silhouetted, black-on-cream sign of a child at a table with a puppy underfoot. In the vein of '30s and '40s print advertisements, it recalls a gentler era when ladies wore gloves, gentlemen sported hats and lunch was a respected meal never hurriedly consumed at a desk. Inside, sunshine-yellow walls, green vinyl booths and gingham curtains set a small-town diner scene.
Fill 'er up: Perhaps the eatery owes its atmosphere of sweet nostalgia to the history of its building, which was home to an independently owned gas station in the 1930s. Today, Mercedes Benzes priced only slightly less than houses in the surrounding neighborhoods park next to rusted work trucks in Lunch's lot. Businessmen tuck into meat-and-veg plates at the counter alongside coverall-clad construction workers. No one seems to be in a rush. Guests catch up with each other, linger over slices of homemade pie and, after an adjustment of belts and ties, stroll out to their cars.
Yes Ma'am: Even the menu conjures the past. Printed in a dainty cursive script reminiscent of the kind used in elementary school play programs, it features old-fashioned sides such as Pineapple Whip and Cranberry Surprise: treats, no doubt, from a time when gelatin molds still possessed a measure of dignity. Weekday specials, accompanied by two sides and bread, include fried pork chops on Monday ($5.95 for one chop, $6.95 for two) and fried catfish on Friday ($6.50). The pork chop is a thing of beauty, lightly battered and fried just until it is no longer rare. Green beans are fresh cooked. So are the mashed red potatoes, which are the chunkily smashed and served with a well of gravy. Cornbread is served in muffin form, and is a small, crunchy disk of salty goodness heavily dosed with butter.
Eat your peas and carrots: A raft of sandwiches and salads is available as well. The club sandwich ($5.95) is several inches thick, stacked with turkey, ham and cheese. It requires a certain amount of compression to fit in the mouth. Off-the-grill specials, which change daily, include a solidly beefy cheeseburger cooked perfectly rare in the center and perfumed with smoke ($6.50). The Rueben is chock-a-block with juicy chunks of corned beef enveloped in tangy, crisp sauerkraut, wedged in between heavily buttered, crunchy slices of rye bread ($6.50). Both sandwich plates boast a heap of golden house-made steak fries.
Room must be saved for the desserts, all of which are homemade. Blackberry cobbler is a hot, gooey bowlful of tart fruit and crumbly crust topped with melting scoops of vanilla ice cream ($2.65). Banana pudding ($1.50) is redolent with Nilla wafers and is so satisfyingly smooshy, it barely requires chewing. Pecan pie ($1.65) is flat, flaky, caramel-rich and not too sweet. It's so homely and delicious it looks as if it had been stolen from grandma's pie cupboard.
Except for the signs offering a daily fax of off-the-grill specials, Lunch on Main Street seems as if it were removed whole from another time. When the waitresses wish departing guests a good afternoon, it is genuine, as is diners' reluctance to step outside into a much less carefree, much less friendly world.