18 Hampshire Street, Methuen
Hours: 6 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, 5 a.m. to noon Saturday, 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday
The Dude’s Score: 96
The Dude loves food. I love anyone with the courage to make food their business, so you won’t be seeing negative reviews in this space. If I don’t have anything nice to say about a place, you won’t see them reviewed any time soon. I make anonymous stop-ins, but if I find something egregiously wrong, I will try to talk to the owner so that in the future, hopefully it’s an experience I would want to write about.
Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. So when I moved to Methuen, my To-Dude list began with those brave souls willing to get up early and show off their culinary masterpieces even before the sun comes up in some cases.
I found The Country Kitchen quite by accident, as I was in pursuit of a classic vinyl at the record store next door. But I was famished after my audio victory, so I stopped by for a late breakfast.
What I discovered was a family business that even after 41 years, is still striving to improve with every dish they put out for their customers.
I had heard that the breakfast and lunch diner had some of the best omelettes in town, so of course, this is what I zoned in on. I love recommendations, but The Dude always needs to taste things first-hand. And wow, were those recommendations spot on. My ham and cheese omelette was oversized for the price I paid, perfectly cooked, moist but cooked and packed with tasty ham and melty American cheese. The home fries and bacon were equally outstanding.
Mother Lynn is the head chef for breakfast and has been at the helm for 41 years in downtown Methuen. The team at The Country Kitchen is constantly offering up unique tastes as specials, including blackberry pancakes and the most recent delectable delight, crepes that you’d swear are from a Paris café.
More recently, son Eric and his wife, Darby, have come back to the family business after Eric was a chef at such eateries as The Sweetheart Inn. Eric and Darby run the lunch menu, with all the diner mainstays like burgers and a full array of sandwiches. But what really struck The Dude was when Eric told me I should come back for the haddock.
Oh, you don’t say? The Dude has a severe bias toward this delicacy of the sea, having traveled from Presque Isle to Key West to find the best of this eastern seaboard catch. So when Eric said Friday was fish fry day, it brought me back to my days of mooching off my sister’s tab when she was a waitress at a New England diner famous for their Friday fish fry and fried bread balls.
I was nervous for Eric as I came during one Lent Friday, fearful that he didn’t know what he was up against with The Dude’s haddock palette. I have never been so glad to be wrong.
The Country Kitchen offers a full array of fish plates until 7 p.m. on Fridays, including scallops, clam chowder and shrimp. But the haddock was hands down the best that I have had in decades, just a taste sensation from first to last ultra-enjoyable bite. Just to be sure this wasn’t a fluke, I have been back six times and it is better with every visit (The Dude is nothing if not thorough). At $10.99 for a huge piece, fries and homemade cole slaw, this is an epic bargain compared to other local seafood-focused eateries.
I have heard from other trusted foodies that the meatloaf and chicken barbs are worthy of a visit as well. But I have yet to have even a mediocre meal. It’s clear that Lynn, Eric, Darby and the entire staff at The Country Kitchen are not resting on decades of reputation. They value every dollar you spend with them and make every experience a masterpiece.