The Red Byrd restaurant in Keedysville has been a mainstay for home-style cooking in the area since the 1950s.
It closed briefly in 2010, but was reopened after a few weeks with a new owner.
Understanding the love the community had for the restaurant, new owner Bonnie Hawker combined her name and her cooking with long standing traditions. Bonnie’s at The Red Byrd opened in January 2011, keeping much that was good about the former restaurant.
I invited my friend, Pap Ricka, to sample some comfort food with me at Bonnie’s at The Red Byrd. The Red Byrd is located just outside Keedysville in a long, low building that hasn’t changed much over the years.
We entered through the front door into a room with a long counter with stools. We could see into the kitchen just behind the counter as we were greeted and ushered into a dining room off to the right.
The room was bright and cheerful with lots of tables and chairs and booths along the wall. The tables had red-checked plastic cloths on them and red gingham valances hung at the windows.
Large, empty canning jars sat on a shelf and other country knick-knacks decorated the walls. There were also some lovely photographs of Antietam National Battlefield.
Another large dining room was off to the back, cordoned off when we were there.
Our waitress took our drink orders and we checked out the menu. Bonnie’s at the Red Byrd has sandwiches such as homemade chicken and tuna salad, pork barbecue and burgers.
There are also country ham, oyster and crab cake sandwiches. If you want more than just a sandwich, you can order a platter, which includes french fries and coleslaw.
There are plenty of dinner selections such as pork chops, fried chicken and country fried steak. Liver and onions with gravy even makes the menu.
For the seafood lover, there a lots of fried options: clams, shrimp, oysters, scallops and fish. All of the dinners come with two side dishes and rolls and butter.
While the menu provided many options, Bonnie seems to save the very best for the daily specials. These include such old favorites as meatloaf or chicken over waffles on Tuesdays and fried chicken or slippery pot pie on Wednesdays. The day we were there the specials are pork and sauerkraut or fried pork tenderloin.
Pap immediately perked up and ordered the pork and sauerkraut. I was more undecided and asked the waitress for a recommendation.
“Do you like crab cakes?” she asked. “Ours are very good.”
That sounded good to me.
We decided to begin with an appetizer of sweet potato fries. Our waitress brought us a large basket of crinkle-cut fries, still sizzling. They were nicely salted, which really brought out their sweetness. The crinkle made them crispier than an ordinary cut and we ate every single one.
In no time at all we were brought our dinners. Pap had ordered mashed potatoes and gravy with his pork. The gravy was flavorful, but the potatoes had no lumps at all. (Pap and I like to taste those bits in our mashed potatoes so we know they are real.)
Pap dug into the pork and sauerkraut and sighed contentedly.
“This is just like my mother used to make,” he exclaimed.
And so it was. The pork and kraut had been cooked together for a long time, so that the pork was quite tender and the kraut had lost its uncooked astringency. The kraut was also tender and moist. The pork had been shredded into small pieces and tucked into the sauerkraut so that both could be enjoyed together. Pap was happy.
I had two rather large crab cakes that were rustically formed showing large lumps of crab. There was not much filler and they had been fried to a deep golden brown. The flavor was mild. I think crab cakes are a highly individualized taste (some like them spicy, some with a mustard taste, and so forth). These would definitely make a top 10 list for some, if not all people.
My two sides were pickled beets and macaroni salad. The beets were small and round and very soft. They had a nice, but not strong, pickle-y flavor.
The macaroni salad was a slightly different take on an old standby: it had a small amount of mayonnaise with bits of celery, cucumber and green pepper in it. And it wasn’t sweet at all. I don’t much care for sweet macaroni salad, and this version was fresh with a bit of a crunch, so I liked it very much.
Pap and I had passed a dessert display case and asked about their pies. Our waitress said the fruit pies were homemade, so Pap and I selected a slice of strawberry rhubarb to share. Ecstasy!
The crust was thick and flaky. The strawberries popped with sweetness beautifully complimented by the tangy rhubarb. A lovely ending to a very satisfying meal.
Pap and I felt like kids again eating a meal around the supper table. The food was familiar, comforting and best of all delicious. We felt right at home.
Anne Chovey is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail writer who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.