Down Home Restaurant 12947 Wisteria Dr., Germantown 540-6303 Hours: Lunch 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily, breakfast 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, brunch 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, dinner 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Prices: Most dinner entrees $6 to 9. Credit cards: Choice, MasterCard, Visa.
This place, an offshoot of Sugarloaf Caterers, is exactly what its name suggests: a restaurant that serves old-fashioned, unfussy food at a reasonable price in a relaxed, homey environment, the kind that's just right for T-shirts, jeans and families.
In fact, the pretty, neat-as-a-pin dining room looks like one of those small, independently owned restaurants you still see on the main streets of small towns in the South and Midwest. But what distinguishes the Down Home isn't simplicity or low prices -- after all, any neighborhood greasy spoon can offer those. What makes this place special is that much of the food is extraordinarily good. It's honest stuff, made from scratch using quality raw ingredients, and even the items that don't quite click deserve high marks for effort.
There are generous sandwiches and salads, a homemade soup and several lunch specials every day; breakfasts, brunch on Sunday and half a dozen or so regular entrees for dinner; plus periodic evening specials -- a seafood buffet, an Italian buffet, for example.
The soups have been what you'd expect: honest, straightforward, delicious. We had a mushroom soup simply made with butter and cream and without thickeners, and a chunky Manhattan clam chowder with lots of flavor (if few actual clams).
Frying is beautifully done here, as exemplified in the outstanding french fries and the unusual onion rings, very thin, lacy filaments of onion fried in a fritter batter.
Dinner entrees come with soup or salad, rolls, potato and vegetables, and, unlike the situation in many inexpensive restaurants, those ancillary items at the Down Home are excellent. The homemade rolls are top-notch, as is the salad, with an excellent mustard-vinaigrette house dressing. (Even the "creamy Italian," usually a sludge in most restaurants, is very good).
Among the entrees, there's a nicely flavorful six-ounce filet mignon and a reliably good baked haddock, nicely firm and flaky, in a thin, crisp batter. The fried chicken is not an immense portion, but it's well prepared, crisp-surfaced, without a lot of heavy batter, and with tender, moist meat.
Sweet and sour chicken is very good, too, with a glaze of tart, smoky sauce that has a nice, barbecue tang.
We found the chicken and dumplings, which ought to be top-notch in a place like this, somewhat disappointing. The chicken and the meaty gravy were flawless, but the dumplings were heavy and doughy.
Don't order Italian food in a country-style restaurant, even this one. The spaghetti and meatballs resemble cafeteria-style pasta mush, with a dark, unpleasantly acidic sauce (although the meatballs are first class), and the vegetarian-style lasagna is burdened with the same sauce.
Be sure to have dessert. Among the highlights are a buttery lemon pound cake with a tart lemon sauce, a dense, intensely flavored chocolate pound cake called mud loaf served with a marvelous raspberry sauce, and a dream of a peanut pie (an occasional special) that will appeal even to nonpeanut types.