Archive for Thursday, April 8, 1999

ANTIQUES RESTAURANT SERVES OLD-FASHIONED FOOD

April 8, 1999

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— Ottawa's downtown antique mall sells collectibles plus tasty American cuisine at its center cafe.

If an ideal weekend afternoon exists, it likely includes a combination of relaxation and home-style food.

This combination is served in generous proportions at Ottawa's Antique Mall and Restaurant, where customers can browse among 100 antique dealers selling antiques, collectibles and furniture. At the mall's center is a cafe that serves hearty American cuisine in a 1950s ambience.

Mitch Rorabaugh, the cafe's owner, opened the larger mall and the restaurant a few months apart in 1995. Although Rorabaugh was a relative newcomer to the antique mall business, he projected that a cafe would complement his shopping area.

"I think that people like the cafe when they can come in here and smell home-cooked food," Rorabaugh said. "It puts them in a good mood for shopping."

Aside from the surrounding antiques, much of the cafe's attraction is built upon cozy Americana and reasonably priced food. The building itself was originally built as the area's Coca-Cola bottling plant in 1941.

Indeed, the cafe reflects a nostalgic American past of bottled Coke, big cars and drive-ins. Its entrance is heralded by a 1960 Cadillac convertible and an old Sinclair gas pump that are for sale. Beneath the dining room's mounted deer heads, old Folger's tins and various 1950s items, the cafe serves a regular clientele.

"I think we created a fun place for good old-style food," Rorabaugh said.

The idea for the American cuisine and nostalgic theme, Rorabaugh said, came from a friend who operates a similar antique mall-cafe concept in Benton, near Wichita.

Similar to that antique mall cafe, Rorabaugh's 14-member staff serves specialties such as broasted chicken that is available family-style on Sundays. Other traditional cafe favorites are hamburgers and french fries, steaks, ham, chicken sandwiches and "bottomless" coffees, teas and sodas. Daily lunch and dinner specials often include popular items.

With such traditional favorites, the overall menu is not for the dietary faint-hearted. The main dishes are tasty and filling, but the ones that are fried are somewhat greasy. However, a "lighter side" menu includes items such as soups; the restaurant also uses a blend of 100 percent vegetable, corn and canola oils for frying.

Although most of these dishes are derived from the Benton menu, the Ottawa mall's menu has also been influenced by dining room manager Patty Brechiesen.

"We fresh-cut our french fries and Patty makes most of our pies," Rorabaugh said.

Homemade pies are a common item in traditional American cuisine, and the cafe's dessert menu fits this image. The dining room's centerpiece is a working soda fountain, complete with 1950s-era mixers and a mirrored back wall. Rorabaugh bought the fountain at a Kansas City antique shop in early 1995 and built the rest of the cafe to complement it.

The dessert menu meets nearly every whim. Standards include cherry limeade, old-fashioned ice cream by the scoop, sundaes, banana splits, homemade pie, cobblers and various malts and shakes. The apple pie à la mode, a concoction covered in cinnamon and creamy ice cream, is a popular item.

Rorabaugh, a Lawrence resident, counts Lawrence-area residents and passersby among his clientele. In addition to antique trade magazines ads, Rorabaugh publicizes the cafe on nearby highway billboards.

"Some of the people who come wouldn't normally go into an antique mall, but they come in here because of the restaurant," Rorabaugh said. "We're a lot closer to Lawrence than people think and it's a good outing for an afternoon."

-- The Mag's phone message number is 832-7146. Send e-mail to jbiles@ljworld.com.

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