Country Kitchen: Where cringey meets cute, and the food isn’t terrible either

Figure 1: I was about to use a photo from Yelp, but I also wanted you to click on this article.

I like to joke that no one comes to Prunedale unless they’re on their way to somewhere else.

Here, there are literally more horses than people, and although it’s close enough to Monterey and Carmel to be a tourist destination, our main attractions are a KOA campground, two cheap gas stations, and one very crowded Starbucks with a drive thru.

Like any rural area, Prunedale is trailer trash charmingly undeveloped in parts, and home to the Californians who want to own horses, goats, and chickens, but don’t want to drive two hours away to get groceries. It’s where people randomly develop Texas accents when they’re originally from Washington, and the birthplace of “dress Uggs”– a fashion phenomenon in which “fancy” Uggs are worn when boots and flannel pajamas just won’t cut it. 

Of course, it wouldn’t be Prunedale without the town’s favorite (not to mention, only) diner, Country Kitchen– a barnyard-themed breakfast and lunch place located on the side of Highway 101 at the tail end of town. The place is only open for a few hours each day, but because of its family-friendly atmosphere and consistently good food, the parking lot is always packed with hay-filled Fords and their attached horse trailers. Complete with homestyle comfort foods, and real barn-doors blocking the public’s view of the restrooms, it’s the perfect breakfast date spot to take that one cousin your mom’s still trying to set you up with.

Figure 2. If it wasn’t clear enough already that Prunedale is Monterey and Santa Cruz’s backwoodsy cousin, the restaurant also had to look like a barn.

Inside, Country Kitchen is the 1960s and 70s definition of homey. On your left, take in the wood-paneled walls, complete with cross-stitched, diamond-shaped hangings in totally-fake Navajo patterns. On your right hangs a string of yellow, low-hanging lamps sporting handmade covers in a kitschy chicken and pig print.

Guests can come in and “sit-a-spell” in comfy, worn-in booths and take in the view of the freeway, or can choose to order their coffee and omelettes from the comfort of the small bar. On the windowsill beside each booth is an assortment of board games, making it easy for families to enjoy a relaxing round of pancakes while trying to murder each other over Monopoly.

On the menu, you’ll find your typical diner fare of eggs, pancakes, sandwiches, and burgers– all served with a hefty handful of generic, orange cheese on top. The menu is more or less the same all year with the addition of daily specials, so you’re basically guaranteed to find something tasty with which to clog your arteries. Wear your favorite stretch-waistband pants, and prepare to go running afterwards, because everything at Country Kitchen is also either covered with butter, or gravy, or both. It’s not the healthiest place to eat, and certainly not vegan-friendly, but chances are that if you’re vegan and there, you’re either waiting for the tow truck to pick up your broken-down Prius so you can get back on the road to Carmel, or you came to blog about how you hate this place.

Prunedale, which is alternately called “Prunetucky” or ‘Prune-Tuscany” by the locals, is not a tourist destination. Still, living in a small town has its perks: because the population is small (the last census records 17,600 people) most of the businesses are tiny, old, and family run– and  what it lacks in luxury, it makes up for in quirky, family-friendly charm.

Even though most of us who live here joke about Country Kitchen and it’s old-timeyness, there’s still something special and quaint about eating in a place where you’re likely to see your postwoman and second grade teacher in the same sitting, and where no one has ever thought to put avocado on toast.  

As the quintessential Prunedale dining experience, Country Kitchen is a fun eatery to hit up if you’re driving through. It’s where bikers and actual cowboys can be found playing checkers together on a Saturday morning, and while you’re there, someone in the parking lot will probably let you pet their horse if you ask.

Plus, unlike the Chinese place around the corner, they have free wifi.


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