This column offers a sampling of dining experiences in the area. It is not intended as a review of the restaurant other than to provide the reader with one diner's experience. It also appears in The Herald's Friday entertainment section, "Ticket."
Location: 1349 Fire Tower Road, Rock Hill
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday and 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday
Ambiance: Southern-homestyle diner café
I had a craving for fried green tomatoes. I'd only ever had them once before (loved the sweetness of the green tomato) and wasn't sure where to go to try more. After making several calls down the yellow pages, Mary's Café, off S.C. 5 in Rock Hill, came highly recommended to satisfy my need for the greens and any other Southern-style cooking I could want.
Though it was a packed out weekday lunch hour, I quickly found a parking space and easily found my friend seated in the large, open dining area. There's also a small room to the right (like a bar area with tables and a diner counter with several stools) and a private room. The building feels wide open with many windows, and not much wall space for anything else. So the Budweiser signs over the diner counter stood out, noticing on the menu that Mary's also serves a full line of beer and wines.
Under glass on our booth table was the two-page menu laid out with eight appetizers like chicken strips and wings ($1.35-$3.65) and four salads - tossed, chef's, grilled chicken and garden ($1.35-$5.25). Sandwiches ($1.45 for a hot dog to $4.25 for a double cheeseburger) included a house special (basically, a "special" club for $5.25) of the usual turkey, ham, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and mayo - plus roast beef - as well as barbecue and a fish sandwich.
My eyes detoured to the "Homestyle" offerings with a choice of one meat, 3 (or 2) vegetables and a dinner roll or corn bread for $5.75. The 14 meat choices include beef stew, chicken and dumplings, pot roast , pork chop, and two that tugged me - salmon patty or country style steak. The veggie list runs 12-long with Southern favorites like fried okra, fried squash and the reason I was here - fried green tomatoes.
Upon the waitress' pick that the country style steak is a favorite of diners, that's what I decided on to go with my green maters and my first time ever trying collard greens. My friend had the tuna salad sandwich and a salad, with fries, too, of course.
Her salad hit the table quick, and not long after my meat and veggie plate was served, still steaming. After I explained that I'd never had collard greens before, she hooked me up - with a small plate for trying some with vinegar. I can't say collard greens are my favorite now, but I do like them and much better with vinegar.
The gravy covering my country-style steak and rice was fabulously thick and seasoned tastily. I also liked the texture and thickness of the country style steak. In fact, everything was delicious, even the soft and fresh roll I couldn't resist taking a few bites of.
But oh, those fried green tomatoes are worth writing home about (or naming a movie after). Even my friend just had to order herself a side of them after trying them for her first time.
Other menu items include a spaghetti dinner for $5.75, ribeye with Mary's marinade for $11.99, fish, shrimp and clam strip dishes ($4.75-$9.45) and Mary's Plate of chicken wings with shrimp or fish and fries and slaw ($7.50).
Among all the wonderful Southern cuisine is something I didn't expect -- three Chinese dishes ($5.75) for chicken or beef Lo Mein and green pepper steak.
I also saved room because I knew this place had to have some savory dessert options. I was right. There was "one piece left" of vanilla cheese cake, pecan, strawberry shortcake and more. The strawberry shortcake came served in a little bowl - the perfect amount for sharing after our big meals.
Mary's is a great place for relaxing to meet up with a friend, fuel up on great Southern homecooked meals and the right price. And, the staff is quick and hospitable, naturally.
Mary's Cafe is a great place for trying firsts, seconds, ...
(Who serves fried green tomatoes in York County? Let me know who dishes up great Southern menu items. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.)
FOR RESTAURANT INSPECTION RATINGS: In Mecklenburg County, visit mecklenburg.digitalhealthdepart-ment.com. In York County, visit scdhec.net/health/envhlth/food_protection/scores.htm. In Gaston County, visit www.co.gaston.nc.us/HealthDept/index.HTM.