By Lorna Hart
POMEROY, Ohio — What would be nicer than finding a place for lunch that serves home-cooked food, and where everyone treats you like family, whether you’re a first-time guest or a regular?
Welcome to Mulberry Country Kitchen, “The place where everyone eats.”
Unless you’re a resident of the Pomeroy area, you may have some difficulty locating the Kitchen. The village, built on the Ohio River, expanded into the nearby hills, where winding streets lead past houses and businesses scattered among the trees and rocks in the area.
But the Kitchen is worth looking for, and locals will just tell you to turn left at the T where the road dead ends at the courthouse and take the next right, which is Mulberry Avenue.
The building that houses the Kitchen was once the Pomeroy grade school.The structure was purchased in 2003 by the Meigs Cooperative Parish, and now provides a space for numerous ministries, including a thrift store and food pantry. What was once the school’s cafeteria has become Mulberry Country Kitchen.
The cooperative, which operates the facility, is an organization made up of people within the churches of Meigs County who have come together to provide assistance to anyone in need. They are especially focused on those with poverty lifestyles.
According to Linda Lukasik, the smiling face of the Kitchen, her dream was to have a community dinning room, a place where people could come together and eat from all segments of the neighborhood, regardless of their ability to pay.
“I wanted to have a place where people could sit together and have lunch,” Lukasik said. “People could come in for lunch and make a friend. It would be a place where there was no distinction between those who could pay and those who needed a free lunch.”
Her dream became a reality when the Mulberry Country Kitchen opened its doors for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Upon entering the dinning room, guest are greeted with tables draped in red-checkered clothes, flowers grace each table and a salad buffet sits off to one side. A line has already formed at the lunch counter and the aroma of home-cooked food wafts from the kitchen.
The menu varies each day and is dependent on the variety of donated foods and meats that have the best prices at the grocery store. On a recent Tuesday, the menu featured pork chops, mashed potatoes, peas, biscuits and dessert, as well as the salad bar. Drinks are included and customers can choose from tea, water, lemonade or coffee. Volunteers were busy serving food to almost 60 people.
Lukasik said in the beginning there were on average 50 people served each day, but as word has spread the numbers have increased.
“Our record recently was around 100,” she said. “My goal is to to see the Kitchen continue to grow.”
Because it’s difficult to predict exactly how many people will come to lunch on a given day, she uses her experience in deciding how much to prepare. On some days, there may be leftovers but, on most days, the food is gone before the end of serving time.
“No one is ever turned away,” she said. ”Sometimes we have to scramble to come up with a few more plates of food, but no one leaves hungry.”
As with the diners, there are different numbers of volunteers each day; one day there may be seven, the next day 10.
Some of the volunteers, like Samuel Rayburn, are in the kitchen all three days. Others volunteer as their schedules allow.
During summer break, middle school volunteer Sylvia Klein was helping out in the kitchen. The next day she brought her sister and a friend to help.
That’s the way the Kitchen operates, people just show up to volunteer, to eat and to donate; and Lukasik says everyone has something to offer.
Lukasik never knows from one day to the next what food will be available or from where it will come.
In a very literal sense, the Kitchen operates on “a wing and a prayer.”
She said, “People may come in for the food, but they come back for the community; and they know they are always welcome.”
Mulberry Country Kitchen Recipes
Linda Lukasik says she likes these two recipes because they are easy to make whether you’re serving 10 or 100.
Baked Potato Soup
With this recipe, you can make as much as you like.
Butter or margarine
Potatoes, chopped and peeled or unpeeled
1-3 packages cream cheese
Sour cream, optional
Green onions, chopped
Cook onions until soft. Add potatoes. Add water to cover and cook until potatoes are soft.
Add milk until it is almost the amount of soup you want. Heat to almost boiling, then add cream cheese. Add sour cream, if desired.
Add salt, pepper and garlic to taste.
This makes it special: serve with cheese, green onions and bacon.
Mulberry Country Kitchen Apple Caramel Dump Cake
2 cans apple pie fillings
1/2 cup caramel sauce
1 box yellow cake mix
2 sticks butter, melted
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans
Whipped cream, optional
In a greased 9×13 pan, spread the apple pie filling evenly and top with caramel sauce.
Sprinkle dry cake mix directly on top of pie filling. Top with melted butter and nuts.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes or until top is golden brown and apple filling is bubbly.
Drizzle with more caramel sauce. Add whipped cream to serve.
Lorna is a reporter for Ohio Valley Press. She recently moved back to her hometown in southeastern Ohio with her husband, Bruce. She has two sons, Jonathan and Michael, and two Maine Coon cats. She enjoys gardening, scrapbooking, hiking and antique glass collecting. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 740-992-2155, ext.2551.