Customers were devastated when a fire broke out in the historic building that housed Oakdale Country Kitchen. They even held fundraisers to get owners Bill and Bonnie Gibson back on their feet.
Two years later, the restaurant looks different, but its spirit is alive and well.
“You work all day or do whatever you have to do, and you go there at the end of the day, and it’s like sitting down for a meal with your family,” said customer Deborah Jones, 66, of Okawville, a retired elementary school teacher.
“You’re always greeted with a friendly ‘hi,’ and the food is like Mom used to make. Their pork steaks are excellent. They’re so big, they hang over the plates, and they’re so tender, you can cut them with a fork.”
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Oakdale (population 221) is near Nashville, about 35 miles from Belleville. Bill and Bonnie pride themselves on “real home cooking” with everything made from scratch.
They serve omelets and other breakfasts, pizza, sandwiches, burgers, soups, salads and appetizers. Daily specials range from sloppy Joes to liver and onions, chili mac to shrimp baskets, meatloaf to Jagerschnitzel — a breaded pork cutlet.
The restaurant’s specialty is fried chicken ($8.99 for half a chicken with a side, salad and Texas toast).
“We’ve tried to figure out why people are so crazy about it,” said Bonnie, 60. “We always get fresh chicken. We never get frozen. I think that’s part of it. And then my husband came up with a technique of cooking it without overcooking it. It’s always moist inside.”
Bonnie is known for her fruit, cream and meringue pies ($2.79 a slice). On Friday afternoons, she makes cinnamon rolls and caramel nut rolls that are nearly as big as pie tins ($2.50 to $3.50).
“Usually, they sell faster than I can get them out there,” she said.
In 2015, the Gibsons expanded their horizons by buying a wood-fired pizza oven from Tuscany, Italy, and traveling to California to get trained on how to use it.
Customer Tom Meyer likes the pizza, fried chicken and salad bar, which takes up a whole room.
On Thursday morning, he stopped in for country fried steak with two eggs, hash browns and German fried potatoes with green peppers and onions ($8.49 with toast or biscuit).
“I’m a health nut, but you have to go off your diet every now and then,” said Tom, 64, a retired tire technician who lives in Nashville.
Bill is a former maintenance man at Washington County State Recreation Area. Bonnie worked as a secretary and cooked at other restaurants before the couple bought Oakdale Country Kitchen six years ago.
“I had four kids, so I knew how to cook big,” she said. “When they all left, I didn’t know how to cook small anymore. One Sunday, I made so many ham and beans, I didn’t know what to do with them, so we invited the whole church and had a picnic in our yard.”
Bill, 63, describes the decision to buy a restaurant as “temporary insanity.” He’s only half joking.
The couple’s dreams went up in smoke on June 15, 2015, when a fire started with faulty wiring in the walls. It was a Monday, when they were closed.
“I got a phone call at 8 o’clock in the morning, and when I got there, the president of Oakdale bank (Randy Ruggles) was squirting some water on it,” Bill said. “He actually held the fire back for awhile.”
The storefront had been built in the 1890s as an implement shop and later operated as a general store and appliance dealership.
The Gibsons used the opportunity to expand and renovate, finishing the exterior with white metal and the interior with beadboard and tin. They were able to salvage a massive counter and grocery bins from the mercantile days.
Today, shelves display an extensive collection of antiques, including Coca-Cola items and wooden nutcrackers. A small room contains video-gaming machines.
“Bonnie started (the nutcracker collection) when we were in the Army in Germany,” Bill said. “See that tall one? It had white hair, but it got dark in the fire.”
The Gibsons live in a house behind the restaurant, and Bonnie’s apron seems permanently attached to her body. Help comes from their two sons who live locally, Nathan and Adam, and Adam’s wife, Kim, as well as nephews Andrew and Jo Riley.
Oakdale Country Kitchen is bringing back fried rabbit on the third Thursday of each month in the near future. Lunch and dinner specials are posted monthly on Facebook.
“I have never had a bad meal there yet,” Tom said. “And they make a peanut butter pie that’s just awesome. That’s my downfall.”
At a glance
- What: Oakdale Country Kitchen
- Where: 17 W. Main St. in Oakdale
- Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays
- Seating: 130 people
- Handicap-accessible: Yes
- Party room: Yes (seats 40)
- Information: Call 618-329-5353 or visit the Facebook page
On the menu
- Pop’s Breakfast — Three eggs, hash browns or fried potatoes, bacon or sausage patty and toast or biscuit, $5.99
- Fried Chicken — Half a chicken with two sides (or one side and one trip to salad bar) and Texas toast, $8.99
- Wood Fired Pizza — Handmade crust with choice of six sauces and 17 toppings, $10.99 for 12-inch or $7.99 for 8-inch (after 4 p.m. Fridays through Sundays)
- Pulled Porski — Slow-cooked, seasoned pulled pork with Ski soda marinade on a hoagie roll, served with salsa or barbecue sauce, $3.99
- Daily Lunch Specials — Everything from sloppy Joes to liver and onions, chili mac to shrimp baskets, meatloaf to Jagerschnitzel, $6.59 with two sides and a drink