Teel’s Family Restaurant has been a landmark in downtown Mentone for more than 30 years

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By: Loren Shaum

Mentone is just east of the Kosciusko-Fulton County line and is a classic rural town that supports the local farm community.

Plotted in 1882, Mentone apparently was named after Menton, France, by the first occupiers. Best known as the birthplace of Lawrence Bell, founder of Bell Aircraft, the town also claims fame as the “Egg Basket of the Midwest.” The Bell Museum is within the town limits and attracts tourists by the busload.

Perhaps more memorable to locals are the days of single-class basketball (Mentone is now consolidated into Tippecanoe Valley). In 1954, the Mentone Bulldogs pulled off one of the greater upsets in local basketball lore when they clobbered the larger and more talented Warsaw Tigers by 20 points to capture their first sectional title since 1940. They won 25 games, but like so many other small schools at that time, they were beat by much larger Elkhart in the regional.

That Elkhart team was one the school’s better teams and included prolific scorer Ray Ball and the unforgettable Erich Barnes. Barnes went on to star in football and basketball at Purdue and spent 13 years in the National Football League. Elkhart went on to the final four where they were beaten by Muncie Central. Remember who beat Muncie in the state finals that year?

With a population hovering around 1,000, the town plays host to the Mentone Egg Festival each year in honor of all the poultry farmers in the area. In the town center is a huge egg to call attention to the town’s claim to fame. This year the festival is will be from June 2 to 4. However, sharing in that town fame, visitors come from near and far throughout the year to taste Karen Clark’s home cooking at Teel’s Family Restaurant.

Teel’s is a Mentone landmark

It was opened some 30 years ago by Mary Teel. The restaurant, located on Main Street in the center of town, was closed for a couple of years sometime back because of a fire. In 2007, Karen saw an opportunity no one else saw. Having worked in the local food scene her entire life (she started car-hopping at 11, claiming she was 16), Karen purchased the property. She revamped the burned-out structure and turned it into a home-cookers paradise. She opened Nov. 4, 2008, and since then has established a reputation which pulls people in from the surrounding communities, as well as tour buses from afar. Often, there are lines to get into restaurant, which seats more than 130 people.

Breakfast is a great starting point

The breakfast menu covers half the four-page menu and, besides the special brunches, is the most popular meal. Passing through Mentone on the way to Purdue recently, we found the restaurant packed at 9 a.m.

The most popular breakfast item is the Teel Special. This dish is a concoction of two farm-fresh eggs, meat (the serving is a full side-plate of bacon — she goes through more than 240 pounds of bacon a week!) hash browns and a half-order of biscuits and gravy. Other popular dishes are the humongous, 9-inch pancakes, three-egg omelets and the breakfast buffet, which is served Friday and Saturday.

Lunch draws locals

There are many call-in orders, especially for the ever popular broasted chicken. Another main draw on the lunch buffet are Karen’s Sage Dressing and any one of the 13 salads Karen makes herself nearly every day. I found her cole slaw and potato salad to be spot on, and the bacon burger is one of the best around. You can order either a 6- or 8-ounce burger with your choice of fixings. Also popular are the melts and the club sandwiches.

Dinner and brunch brings the largest crowds

Dinner is served each Friday and Saturday. Brunch is served on Sunday. For dinner, there are steaks, seafood, pork chops and the broasted chicken, but the most popular is the prime rib, served with Karen’s own spiced brown sauce. She simmers the sauce for four hours to create a thick consistency that smothers the prime rib serving.

Other dinner and brunch favorites are frog legs (eight saddles) and the catfish platter, which is made up of six catfish fillets that are lightly breaded and fried to crisp tenderness. Served on a fish-shaped plate, this huge platter is one folks rave about.

Karen often offers a seafood buffet featuring nine seafood items including crab legs, lobster and crab cakes. As with other meals, Karen’s various salads bring people back to the special buffets for more.

Besides everything else she does, Karen makes all the desserts. Her specialties are cheese cake, bread pudding and cobbler. All recipes used at the restaurant are her own, and the result of spending years in the kitchen.

Make it a point to stop

Teel’s is Karen’s life. She spends 80 hours a week from open to close making sure each serving is cooked to perfection. Karen says, “My reputation is most important, and we try to treat everyone like family.” To that end, she often delivers meals to the elderly.

Teel’s employs 23 folks and is likely the largest employer within the town limits. It is open every day but Monday. Come and check out the delicious home cooking from chefs Chris and Chewy, and sit among the crowd, where you will see everyone from farmers in bib overalls to folks cloaked in hunting garb, and even a shirt and tie or two. Karen will be there to greet you, and Kathy will offer friendly service.

Karen’s motto is: “I love what I do. We are not fancy, just good ’ole home cookin’.” Reservations are always recommended, especially for special-day brunches. Last Easter, Teel’s served more than 400, and had people lining up and down the block to get in.

If you want some of the best home cooking in Lake Country, come and visit Karen. She will always be there to greet you, and she knows most on a first-name basis.

For more dispatches from the dining scene in Kosciusko County from Loren Shaum, subscribe to the Lake Country Escapades email newsletter.
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