There are times, for those plying our trades near Leesburg, when we want a little more coddling than fast-food joints offer but also want our cheapskate $5 to $7 lunch budget to include a table and wait service. That rules out the chains like TGIF, Ruby Tuesday, Friendly's and Applebees (more on them another time), but leaves a solid core of independently owned diner-type restaurants such as the Leesburg Restaurant in, yes, Leesburg, and Cate's Restaurant and Take Out and the White Palace in Purcellville. Here's the lowdown on Cate's.
Cate's is on Business Route 7 on the western outskirts of Purcellville in a modern building of glass and steel, belying its heritage as a car dealership and, sometime before that, a Tastee Freeze. Opened in late 1997 by Evelyn Comanduras, the restaurant is an incongruous blend of contemporary and country craft, the new red and gray linoleum and expansive windows contrasting with checked curtains, framed Grandma Moses-like prints and a white picket fence (really!) running down the middle of the place.
The menu, though a tad confusing--with separate listings for "appetizers" and "starters"--has something for everyone. Starters range from wings, nachos, mozzarella sticks and beer-battered onion rings to soup, chili and three different salads, with prices running from $1.25 to $5.95. Sandwiches include the usual selection: roast beef, chicken and tuna salads, ham and Swiss and grilled cheese, as well as pork barbecue, hot dogs and burgers. (Re burgers: The menu warns that medium well takes 10 minutes, well done 15.) Prices start at $2.50 for the grilled cheese and run up to $5.25 for the bacon cheeseburger. All sandwiches are served with french fries.
The entrees run from the mundane--meatloaf with mashed potatoes and a vegetable ($4.95)--to shrimp Florentine ($8.95). Diners the world over boast menus with similarly ambitious entrees--veal piccata, tuna steaks, shrimp fra diavolo--and although I'm sure there may be some exceptional exceptions, I think it usually pays to remind yourself that you are in a diner.
Nonetheless I felt safe ordering the "old style pot roast" ($5.95, add $1 at dinner time), described as "slow roasted until tender, marinated in its own juices and served with our mashed potatoes, gravy and fresh vegetables." The vegetable was carrots, but our agreeable waitress was happy to substitute coleslaw for me. My 5-year-olds, Will and Daniel, opted for a grilled cheese and cheeseburger.
Our round of Sprites came quickly, but the food, ordered at 12:15 p.m. on a weekday when the place was a little over half full, lagged by some 25 minutes. By that time I had been forced to make all sorts of complex promises involving candy and Pokemon cards to my increasingly loutish dining companions. I also began wishing I'd ordered the aromatic chili and beer battereds that I saw delivered to a nearby table of people who had arrived after we did.
The food finally appeared, and Will and Daniel were pleased with their choices. The burger is a solid contender, with a nice charbroiled taste and thick slices of fresh lettuce, tomato and onion. The grilled cheese was decent: American cheese toasted in Italian bread. The accompanying fries were crisp and hot.
When my pot roast arrived, however, I get a sinking feeling as the waitress said: "If those mashed potatoes or the pot roast is cold, tell me and we'll microwave it." Now we all know that diners sometimes reheat stuff, that the cook at Cate's didn't come in at 4 a.m. that morning to slow-roast this pot roast for that day's lunch crowd. Still, when a waitress essentially reminds you that the leftovers have arrived--well, it's just not a good sign.
And so the waitress slid before me a plate with two thin slices of pot roast and a mound of mashed potatoes with a generous dollop of gravy. I dug in, thinking of the menu's promise. But the meat, predictably now, was cool and tasted neither "tender" nor "marinated"; a better term might be "gristly."
I kicked myself for ignoring my own rule of thumb. Still, the gravy, mashed potatoes and coleslaw were fine, and with a bite or two off the boys' plates, I made a meal of it. We leave, fairly sated, at about $5 a head, plus tip.
The pot roast notwithstanding, I plan to return to Cate's soon. After all, we did pretty well on two out of three orders, and I want to find out whether the salads, pork barbecue sandwich, chili and beer-battered onion rings are as good as they looked on this visit.
William W. Horne's e-mail address is email@example.com
Cate's Restaurant And Take Out
* Address: 620 W. Main St., Purcellville, 540-338-7072.
* Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday.
* Breakfast: 8-11 a.m. Saturday only. Eggs, waffles and pancakes.
* Prices: Appetizers, $3.50-$4.95; starters, $1.25-$5.95; sandwiches, $2.50-$5.25; entrees, $5.95-$11.95 (plus $1 at dinner time).
* Miscellaneous: Take out or dine in. Credit cards not accepted.