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  • The "Breakfast in a Bowl" with a side of biscuits from Nick's Junction in Roanoke.

  • Coconut cream pie from Nick's Junctioin in Roanoke.

  • The No. 11 breakfast special with a chopped sirloin at Nick's Junctioin in Roanoke.

  • Nick's Junctioin in Roanoke.

  • Turkey Manhattan from Nick's Junctioin in Roanoke.

  • A bacon double cheeseburger and onion rings from Nick's Junctioin in Roanoke.

  • Broccoli-cheese soup from Nick's Junctioin in Roanoke.

  • The famous breaded tenderloin from Nick's Junctioin in Roanoke.

  • Sugar cream pie from Nick's Junctioin in Roanoke.

  • Nick's Junctioin in Roanoke.

  • Cherry pie from Nick's Junctioin in Roanoke.

  • Owner Jim Drabenstot is almost always working hard in the kitchen of his restaurant, Nick's Junctioin in Roanoke.

  • Fried Mush from Nick's Junction in Roanoke.

Sunday, December 24, 2017 1:00 am

Roanoke staple does breakfast big-time

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

Nick's Junction

***1/2

Out of a possible five

$

If there is one thing I shouldn't have to talk much about when it comes to Nick's Junction in Roanoke, it is the tenderloins.

The Junction does them just right, just like Nick's Kitchen in Huntington, which is sort of its parent store for a family that is basically tenderloin royalty.

Junction owner Jim Drabenstot is the son of Gene and Peggy Drabenstot, who bought the legendary Nick's Kitchen in Huntington in 1969 and later founded Nick's Junction.

His sister Jean Ann Bailey now runs the Kitchen and his other sister, Nancy Bonebrake, runs Nick's Country Cafe, also in Huntington.

Yes, I had a loin and, yes, it was perfect. It had crispy, mealy, cracker-like breading covering a tender and juicy cut of pork that was not at all an afterthought.

But it was another old favorite that made me smile the most at Nick's Junction.

I had not seen fried mush on a breakfast menu in a long time and it immediately took me back to my first kitchen job where we would mix large pots of mush, pour it into loaf pans, let them set and then slice them to go on the flat-top.

If you are not sure what mush is or if you will like it, call it polenta and pretend you are at a fancy Italian restaurant. It's all the same.

Nick's mush was nicely browned around the edges so it had a little crispness, and the cornmeal inside was super creamy and oozing.

With a healthy dose of butter and a little syrup it disappeared quickly.

Another breakfast specialty – Nick's Junction does breakfast as well as it does tenderloins – was probably worth a trip to the Junction even more than the tenderloins.

My server recommended the biscuits because “they are homemade and wonderful.” The two dense, buttery, perfectly made biscuits I had with my Breakfast in a Bowl lived up to the hype.

I got excited as the server approached with them because I could literally smell them from across the room.

I had one with my bowl – a giant serving of fried potatoes, scrambled eggs, cheese, onions, green peppers and chunks of sausage links done garbage-style covered with sausage gravy.

I saved the other for dessert. There were some great pie offerings at Nick's Junction, but none of them were better than one of those magnificent biscuits slathered with butter and strawberry preserves or orange marmalade.

I really want to try the biscuits and gravy now, too. The gravy covering my bowl had a lot of black pepper and sausage bits, and I assume some sausage drippings because of its dirty white color.

I will not get the full bowl next time even though it is just a $1.45 more than the half because I'll put that dollar toward the biscuits, which had to be added a la carte.

There was way more food in the big bowl than I could finish as it was.

If you don't want a tenderloin or breakfast, the bacon double cheeseburger was a fine choice. It had two big, perfectly seared patties slathered, each with a layer of melted American cheese, and thick-cut bacon that stood out amongst the lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and condiments on this sloppy behemoth.

Pair it with the onion rings because they were fantastic. Big and coated with a super-crisp, gritty breading, each bite crunched audibly. I guess I should have figured Nick's knows how to bread something other than tenderloins.

There was no soup available on the Saturday I visited, but on a weekday the chili beat the broccoli-cheese.

The chili was quite meaty and had more kick than I expected. It was a solid version that would be hard to find a flaw with.

The broccoli-cheese was a bit bland even though it had a yellow cheese-laded base.

The chopped sirloin with my No. 11 breakfast special, which included eggs, potatoes, toast and coffee, was also a tad bland, but it was still OK.

What wasn't OK was that the steak was badly overcooked. I was not asked how I wanted it.

The only bad dish was the Turkey Manhattan. Its processed sliced meat made it way too salty; it had a mundane brown gravy and really loose instant mashed potatoes that reminded me of baby food.

When you choose your pie, choose the sugar cream because it is a straightforward Hoosier classic. My first slice arrived hot, which was not the way I wanted my sugar cream pie.

My server said she just assumed I would want it that way and she assumed wrong. But she apologized and quickly fetched me a new cold piece.

The coconut cream was also as good as coconut cream gets and, thankfully, it wasn't warmed up. It was packed with shredded coconut, had a flaky perfect crust and made me quite happy.

My pecan and cherry pies had the same fantastic crust and I was asked during that visit if I wanted them warmed or not. With its tart and sweet filling, the cherry was just a little better than the pecan, which was a bit too hard on top.

They were both worthy desserts, but not better than a jelly-topped biscuit.

Nick's Junction isn't going to wow you with its dazzling decor, but its basic, country-themed look fits perfectly with its basic, country cooking.

It is only marked by some old railroad artwork and a collection of old newspaper articles about it and the original Nick's.

The service was as bubbly and welcoming as it gets but not perfect.

There were some lulls – one during lunch on a weekday when I was glad I wasn't on a break and another at the end of breakfast when the place was dead and my server was chatting with a co-worker behind the register while glued to her cellphone instead of bringing me my bill.

But I forgave her. I had to because if it wasn't for her I would have never tried those biscuits.

Restaurant: Nick's Junction

Address: 4215 E. Station Road, Roanoke

Phone: 260-672-2977

Hours: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: None

Smoking status: Non-smoking

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Tenderloin ($5.75), Breakfast in a Bowl (7.95 full; $6.50 half), mush ($4.50), No. 11 ($10.29), biscuits ($2.95 for 2), bacon double cheeseburger ($8.50), onion rings ($4.50), soup ($2.75 cup; $4.25 bowl), pie ($2.95)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.