Dining with Dan

Eat & Greet at the County Seat

 

by Daniel M. Walker, Contributing Writer

 

Dan Walker

If you are cooking “Southern country,” it helps to have a grandma in the kitchen. At County Seat Restaurant in Powhatan, Va., you often have two — the mother-and-daughter team of Mattie Clayton and Janie Dean. At 90-plus years of age, Mattie brings a wealth of experience to the table. “My mom and grandma have always been great cooks,” says Tracy Cifers, restaurant manager and the third generation behind County Seat. “Mom wants a gathering place where everybody knows your name and you can enjoy down-home country cooking.” Janie shares, “Even when I’m in the kitchen, I can tell if my diners are happy by the sounds I hear. I want to hear happy sounds!”

Janie recalls that when she was 56 years young, her mother hinted that she should get a job. That was 20 years ago. “Cooking was what I did the best, so it was natural for me to open a restaurant. We thought this would be a good location since it’s close to the courthouse. We don’t want to be fancy. We just want to be good. Mom makes the cakes and pies,” explains Janie. In fact, today, her blackberry cobblers and fruitcakes are legendary. “Grandma will make hundreds of fruitcakes during the holiday season, which are often reserved weeks before the holidays,” says Tracy. 

The menu is full of tempting country favorites such as fried chicken, meat loaf, catfish, and a variety of daily specials. On the night I visited County Seat, I tried a daily special of tilapia, which was lightly seasoned and topped with a Caribbean shrimp sauce.  My vegetable was mashed potatoes with cheddar cheese. While tilapia isn’t your typical country dish, it was full of down-home flavor. This does raise a question: Is Southern country cooking limited to just traditional  dishes? Janie feels it’s the flavor that makes it “country.” Other dishes that carried me back to my Southern roots were the smothered chicken sautéed in onions and mushrooms and the meat loaf topped with a tangy sauce.   

Often there’s a particular dish that be­comes the trademark for a restaurant, and judging from the many, many plates coming from the kitchen laden with fried chicken, I would have to say it must be County Seat’s most requested entree. With this observation, I felt I just had to sample it along with my other entrees. It was, without question, a remarkable piece of fried chicken — golden brown, tender and juicy. Janie says she believes one of the reasons people like the taste of her chicken is that each piece is hand-floured. And one can’t fail to notice the divine fragrance of homemade bread that wafts throughout the restaurant. 

A country meal just isn’t complete without dessert, so Tracy brought me two of her patrons’ favorites. First — the chocolate chess pie. I can certainly understand why it’s so popular — it’s delicious ... oh, so chocolatey! The second confection was buttermilk pie. I hadn’t had buttermilk pie since my grandmother prepared it for our family Christmas dinners during my childhood years, so this was more than just a dessert — it was a heavenly stroll down memory lane. If you’ve never tried buttermilk pie, the County Seat is a great place to indulge your taste buds for the first time. Other signature desserts crafted by Mattie include a caramel cake, an apple cake, and both a coconut cake and pie. At some restaurants, dessert can be an afterthought, but at the County Seat, it would be tempting to make them the main course. 

This was not my first visit to County Seat.  I had actually enjoyed a tasty breakfast there before deciding to write about the restaurant. I ordered the “Courthouse Breakfast,” with eggs over medium, sausage, and grits with a short stack. While some people say, “It’s hard to mess up breakfast,” I say, “County Seat gets breakfast right!”

At both breakfast and dinner, I observed an abundance of “good cheer,” with people just having a good time visiting from table to table.  Tracy sums up the quality of their restaurant with the following remark, “We have some diners that eat with us at every meal we are open.” The restaurant is open for three meals each day except Sunday, when only breakfast and lunch buffets are served.   

On many Saturday nights the restaurant hosts live music, so the County Seat is not just a place for delightful home cooking, but a comfortable gathering spot for fun with friends and family as well.

 Do you have a favorite restaurant? Please email your suggestions to: dwalker123@comcast.net

 3883 Old Buckingham Road, Powhatan, VA 23139    804-598-5000    www.thecountyseat.com 

 

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