Dutch Pantry in Chouteau dishes up simple life
BY BRANDI BALL World Scene Writer
Saturday, January 29, 2011
6/06/11 at 3:59 PM
CHOUTEAU - With a wink and a smile, Gentry Moore gives a "come on over" nod.
"These are good eats," he said.
His name, he jokes, is unique because, "My folks said they was drunk when they came up with it."
Now he's drunk with delight over The Dutch Pantry's creamy mashed potatoes, country gravy and all the fixings.
Moore heads to the Chouteau restaurant five to six times a week. He lines up at the buffet and loads up his plate with Amish recipes that have been served in the restaurant since 1986. His heap of potatoes looks like a kid was just told it was all-you-can eat ice cream night at the Dairy Queen.
"I love coming here," Moore said. "I was very spoiled as a child. Man, my grandmother lived with us, greatest cook in the whole wide world. And this is real, real close."
Moore moved from Claremore to Chouteau about 10 years ago to care for his dad. He stocks up his belly before working the graveyard shift, then stops back home to deliver a to-go box to his father.
Their favorite night? Catfish and meatloaf Fridays.
Chouteau is a small town of about 1,900, nestled near the junction of Highway 412 and Oklahoma 69. At the town's center, there is a constant hum from passing 18-wheelers.
"We don't rely so much on locals," said Eugene Detweiler, who owns The Dutch Pantry with his wife, Louise. "We have quite a few locals, but since we are right off a major highway, most of our business comes from surrounding areas, RVers, truckers."
From either coast to those who just live on other side of the state, folks cross the railroad tracks to invade the diner sitting next to the water tower.
"Two weeks ago, people called from Oklahoma City, flew into the airport and came here to eat. Then they went back home," Detweiler said. "That's all that they wanted."
Chouteau's streets have just a few businesses, but they are quintessential Americana storefronts, proudly displaying names like Marvin's Discount Foods, Gail's Beauty Shop, Nancy's Flowers and Billy Jack's Muffler Shop.
Churches - tiny ones, medium ones and a couple of big ones - stand on nearly every corner, serving as identity markers for the small town. A quick check with Cherry Dry, the town clerk, reveals there are "at least a dozen." For a place that has yet to top out at 2,000 residents, that's a lot.
"I don't know anyone, really, that doesn't go to church," Dry said.
It's a simple town with friendly people. To citizens in Chouteau, it's just how life should be; it's what they know. To a visitor, it is a lovely time capsule, partly because the Amish have found a niche in Mayes County. The county embraces them with open arms, Dry said. And so do the out-of-towners.
"I've been all over the country, driving all my life," said Gary McHenry, a long-haul trucker from Jacksonville, Fla. "I have stopped by a few dozen times over the years. I just like driving through because it is a nice break to see the slower pace of life."
It's nice, even when he turns off the highway onto Main Street and gets stuck behind an Amish family on a tractor.
"Don't bother me none," he said. "Does nothing but make me wish I was them. Sometimes I wonder why we all don't live like that."
The Dutch Pantry was started by Detweiler's parents, who are Amish. Detweiler and his wife are Mennonites.
"We have a few more modern conveniences (than the Amish), but ... you could say we are kind of like the old-timey Southern Baptists," he said.
With a porch that stretches the length of the modest building, The Dutch Pantry has a familiar feel. Amid the train's howl, an Amish woman greets customers and points the way to the buffet.
The dishes are mismatched prints, reminiscent of an old farmhouse kitchen. The no-frills, country buffet - the only thing on the menu - seems ordinary. The food, however, is anything but. The employees, including some who have worked there more than 10 years, fry the chicken in cast-iron skillets, creating a slice of Southern heaven. The family's Amish recipes are still used for all the food.
Every day the meat changes, but six days a week, the buffet overflows. From salad to the entree to dessert. And, boy, is there dessert. Cobblers and pies line the cart. Cherry, blackberry, peach, pecan, chocolate, apricot, apple, rhubarb - and Moore's favorite, pineapple-coconut - are just a glimpse of the extensive pie list. Whole pies can be ordered for takeout, any kind you want. Detweiler estimates they easily sold more than 500 made-from-scratch pies during Thanksgiving week.
The rolls, made daily in the back room, are literally part of the dive's bread and butter.
"These aren't just ordinary rolls," McHenry said with a chuckle. "They got some kind of magic in them."
It's that magic that keeps bringing back Bob Smith, who migrated from Tulsa 12 years ago. He dines there nearly every day.
After Smith's wife died, he traded in his nine-room metro home and moved into a cozy two-bedroom at the edge of Rogers County. The quiet country life agrees with him. But so does the country dessert at The Dutch Pantry.
"They see me coming, and they know to put out some fresh pecan pie and cherry cobbler," he said, raising his cup of coffee with a smile of approval. "I'd rather eat here any day than a fancy ol' steakhouse."
The Dutch Pantry
Where: 10 W. Main St., Chouteau (918) 476-6441
Hours: Mon.-Wed. 8 a.m.- 8 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat. 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
Price: All-you-can-eat lunch $9.12; or supper $9.69 (tax included)
Original Print Headline: Heavy on tradition (and the gluten, too)
Brandi Ball 581-8369
The Dutch Pantry at 10 W. Main St. in Chouteau has served Amish specialties since 1986. SHERRY BROWN/Tulsa World