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Restaurant review: Find a piece of home at Howard’s
BY KURT RABIN
When people find out I’m a restaurant reviewer, they all tend to ask the same question—I mean, besides the obvious “Could you take me with you?”
They want to know whether I’m allowed to give a place a poor evaluation. “Aren’t your reviews basically just advertisements for local eateries?” they’ll persist. Well, let me set the record straight right here.
Of course we can write less favorable reviews. (Take, for example, the last place my wife and I went for dinner.) But Howard’s Restaurant & Bakery, a beloved King George institution for more than 19 years, does almost everything the right way. Yet I’m sure that if I set my mind to it, I could take them to task for a thing or two.
But the fact is, I’m not going to. And it’s not on account of any policy my employer has me adhere to. It’s because I’d like to stay married for at least a little while longer. It turns out that Howard’s, which offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, happens to remind my wife of every single place her parents took her as a kid—from Country Cookin to church socials to the buffet-style lunch that’s served at Stratford Hall. And not, it would seem, in a bad way.
“This is Virginia cooking to me,” she says, her voice having become a simulacrum of the syrupy-sweet drawl of that other lover of Southern cuisine, the Food Network’s Paula Deen. “It makes me happy!”
With inexpensive prices and plentiful good food, Howard’s has been making kids—and their parents—happy for a very long time. It’s a place that seems to pride itself on being folksy. We’re not referring to the faux folksiness of Cracker Barrel here. We’re talking just plain folksy. That’s because everyone who works at Howard’s—some of whom are original equipment, by the way—and those who frequent it all act like plain folks. At least, that’s the feeling you come away with.
Upon our arrival on St. Patrick’s Day eve, we were greeted warmly by Mary and Teressa, two longtime servers, both of whom would check on us frequently. We ordered that weekend’s specials, corned beef and cabbage ($11.99) and fried oysters ($16.99). With dinner we also received choice of potato, plus admission to Howard’s well-appointed salad bar and a hot vegetable bar that featured, among other things, green beans, stewed tomatoes, squash casserole and baked mac and cheese.
Our food came in a flash. Of her generous portion of corned beef my wife said, “It doesn’t look sexy, but it’s good.” My oysters, lightly battered and fried golden brown and accompanied by cocktail sauce, looked good and tasted even better.
Although we were invited to choose anything for dessert from the bakery cases next door, we again elected to go with the specials. My chocolate fudge cake was rich, moist and satisfying. My partner declared her Irish cream mousse cake “damn near perfect.”
Those cakes—and OK, maybe the baked mac and cheese—are the things that will have us running back to Howard’s. But, truth is, we didn’t make it all the way to the door without first ordering another slice of the mousse cake, this one to go.
However—and this is bound to please a few people—the next time I’m slated to review a buffet-style place I’ll almost certainly have to deputize a new dining partner.
It’s the only way I’ll be able to offer an objective analysis.
What: Howard’s Restaurant & Bakery
Address: 9237 Kings Highway, King George
Hours: Monday–Thursday: 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Friday–Saturday: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Children’s Menu: $3.75
The Scoop: Family-friendly, good service, great value, parking
Payment: Major credit cards are accepted.
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