Farmers Café in downtown Cromwell draws locals and lakers together for filling meals

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By: Loren Shaum

Flavor 574 photo/Loren Shaum

Cromwell is a farm community a few miles south of Ligonier on S.R. 5. With a population of less than 500, residents in and around Cromwell are mostly of German heritage including many Lutheran’s. Strangely, the town was named after English statesman, Oliver Cromwell and was platted in 1853.

Downtown is a short block long and includes a Noble County library branch, Strongbox Spirits (in a building that housed an old bank) and a couple small businesses occupying the circa early 1900s buildings.

Other than the town stores, the annual Cromwell Days Festival and the nearby Stone Trace Festival, which celebrates the history of Stone Tavern (c. 1839), are about the only attractions.

Nestled between the liquor store and the library is Farmers Café, a gathering place for lakers, farmers, local working folk and people passing through.

Taken over in January, manager Eric Alderfer has simplified the menu of the café to include dinner specials, several pizza selections, unusual breakfast dishes and different lunch items.

BREAKFAST DRAWS A DIVERSE CROWD

Open at 7 a.m., local farmers and contractors arrive early. The lake crowd tends to show up later. All enjoy the extensive menu offerings made from scratch each day with fresh ingredients. Many choices are available in eggs (all made to order), meats (Their breakfast ham is delicious) and breads. Then there are biscuits and gravy, French toast and a humongous nine-inch pancake.

Being lake folk, we tend to arrive later, and we have never been disappointed. On the latest visit, the Retired Farmer’s Breakfast was the choice. It is one egg, a meat of choice and hash browns. For me, the test of a good breakfast chef is how well they do poached eggs. With an al dente yolk center, this wad of white goodness was spot on! I ordered the hash browns extra crispy, and indeed they responded in kind with a crispy coating over the shredded soft insides.

Gayle chose a half-order of biscuits and gravy. It filled a 10-inch oblong plate. The house-made pork gravy was adequate and the biscuits were nice and tender.

Breakfast is served all day, with the country skillet being one of the more popular items. Served in an iron skillet, this large portion consists of hash browns, onions, peppers and meat, all covered with gravy. Lastly, it is topped with two eggs cooked to order. At $7.99 this feast is worth every cent!

In all, there are 18 breakfast items to choose from, ranging from omelets (including a vegetarian omelet) to Belgian waffles to slices of mush. Of these, the Denver omelette and pancakes get a lot of attention.

LUNCH CHOICES FOR EVERYONE

There are 16 sandwiches, plus fish and chips and the popular chicken strips and wings. The most popular item is the gigantic, house-made pork tenderloin sandwich. Eric cuts the tenderloin to a selected thickness, pounds it out into a slab of more than a foot wide, then dips it in his seasoning blend, an egg wash and then more seasoning. This beast dwarfs the bun; I could never eat the whole thing. The pork tenderloin is offered fried or grilled.

For the chicken strips, Eric cuts the breast meat into the size he wants and then coats them just as he does the tenderloin. Then they are flash fried for a crisp tenderness.

Alternately, wings are coated with a Cajun seasoning and broasted. They are served with a house-made barbecue sauce. You can order as many as you want for $1 each, or 10 for $8.

FARMER’S PLATTER

The name for the dinner menu at the café is more often served to locals as supper, starting at 5 p.m. Eric has simplified the choices, but includes the mainstays. The most popular item, is broasted chicken, which is marinated for 12 hours then broasted.

Broasted pork chops also go fast. Hand cut in-house, these loins are thick and juicy.

Two entrée salads stand out. The shells for the taco salad are made in-house and are layered with seasoned ground beef or chicken, vegetables, olives, sour cream and salsa. The other is the sesame chicken. The hand-cut strips are coated in a teriyaki and sesame seed mixture, then fried.

Soups are also a specialty. Favorites are the chicken gumbo and the cheesy potato soup. The latter is Eric’s secret recipe, and only he makes this soup from scratch.

Every week there are dinner specials posted, and Eric emails the specials to regular customers. Frequently, the specials are ribs or steak. When the café serves the T-bone steak special, they go fast.

PIZZAS AND SUBS ARE PERFECT FOR A CROWD

The pizzas at the café are outstanding and, being only a short distance from the lake, are available for easy pick-up. The Farmer’s Pizza is the favorite. This pie is a delicious array of the famous Farmer’s Sauce, pepperoni, two sausages, onions, peppers, mushrooms, green and black olives and a house blend of cheeses. There are 11 pizza choices including a gluten-free pie and all are served in four sizes.

For subs, the stromboli served open-face is most popular. It is a combination of the Farmer’s Sauce, vegetables, ground beef and pepperoni.

DESSERTS ALONE ARE WORTH THE TRIP

Homemade pies are available year round. Made with a special crust taught to Eric by a local Amish lady, it is about the same recipe taught to me by my Old Order Mennonite aunts.

In the winter, cream pies are featured with the Chocolate Cream da la Crème being a favorite. The dark and creamy chocolate center with curls of whipped cream on top is so decadent!

When fresh seasonable fruits are available, the shift is to fruit pies, where Eric likes to mix fruits. Creative concoctions like Triple Berry and Cherry-Berry go quickly by the slice, and sometimes by the whole pie.

IF YOU GO

For folks on the east side of the lake, it is an easy drive and you won’t be disappointed. The rustic atmosphere, diverse crowd and a no-nonsense menu is sufficient for anyone’s palate.

Eric says: “We want a relaxed environment. I want to see everyone having fun.” In fulfilling that mantra, Eric has created a space for comfort food, local chatter and great pizzas.

Farmers Café is open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. They are located at 116 N. Jefferson St., Cromwell.

 

AMISH PIE CRUST RECIPE

From Seasons in Lake Country by Loren Shaum

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup pastry flour
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups rendered lard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 5 tablespoons ice water
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, use a pastry cutter to combine pastry flour, all-purpose flour, unsalted butter, lard and salt until crumbly.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together egg, water and vinegar. Pour liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients.
  3. Combine the batter with a dough hook or pastry cutter (Your hands are too warm) until it forms a smooth dough. If too dry add more ice water a tablespoon at a time. The butter and lard should form into small lumps, which melts when baking creating a flaky layer.
  4. Separate dough and form into four 3/4-inch disks. The dough will be sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
  5. When ready, cover a flat cool surface with wax paper large enough for the crust required to cover the bottom of the pan. Flour the paper evenly and roll-out a disk to the desired thickness and sized to fit your pan.
  6. Place the pan upside down on the dough. Gently flip the wax paper over with the pan. The dough should break loose and fall into the pan. If some sticks to the paper, use a floured spatula to scrape free. Form and patch the crust where needed.
  7. Repeat for top crust.

 

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