Car Wash Cafe offers splash of southern fare
Susan Hill likes to describe the food in her restaurant as “southern, new and fresh.”
They’re fitting adjectives for the dishes at Car Wash Cafe, a blink-and-you-miss-it breakfast and lunch restaurant on North Main Street in Kilmarnock.
The cafe is connected to an automated car wash, which Hill opened many years ago as Fore U Carwash when she purchased the former convenience store building on the outskirts of town. There’s been a lot of changes there since she opened Car Wash Cafe 14 years ago. She’s since sold the building and car wash and is now a tenant. The exterior of the building received a facelift with new paint and a covered seating area three years ago.
The restaurant seats 44 and is typically packed for both breakfast and lunch service. There’s an open-concept kitchen where diners can watch as the cooks put the dishes together.
Hill has no plans to enlarge or move to a bigger location.
“Sometimes you get too big and you lose the atmosphere,” said Hill, who has been working in the restaurant industry on and off most of her life. She started working at 12 in her mother’s seasonal restaurant and owned a restaurant with her sister for eight years.
“I enjoy getting up and coming to work,” said Hill, a hands-on owner.
In fact, she was busy working alongside cook Anthony Kulick the day my daughter and I visited for lunch a few weeks ago.
Soups are a speciality at Car Wash and its she crab is the favorite and a regular menu item. My daughter opted for a cup of that. A cream based soup with crab in every spoonful, it had just enough sherry to taste but not overwhelm.
It’s obvious why it’s a customer favorite. There were two soup specials that day, split pea and the one I opted for, apple butternut squash. It was thick and sweet.
We visited on a Tuesday, which as it happened was Taco Tuesday. One of several specials that day and every Tuesday is a taco salad, chock full of seasoned ground beef, lettuce, black beans, pico de Gallo, cheese and sour cream in a homemade taco shell that was light and buttery. To me, it was the best part of the dish.
My daughter chose the taco salad and I went with a New Jersey Joe, one of 11 items on the sandwich menu. The New Jersey Joe was piled high with turkey, a sweet but tangy cole slaw, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on rye bread. It was so big, it was cut into thirds and one-third was taken home for lunch the next day.
Although I’ve had, and love, Car Wash’s potato salad, I can’t resist an order of the shoestring fries. Steak fries, sweet potato fries, beet salad and cole slaw are also offered as sides.
A must try is Car Wash’s chicken salad with sliced almonds. It comes on a sandwich or with grapes, sliced apples and avocado on a bed of lettuce. There’s also a crab Louis salad, a salad topped with maple glazed salmon or one with a marinated grilled chicken breast.
Cubans, reubens, hamburgers and BLTs are also great picks.
Breakfast lovers need to try Car Wash’s huevos rancheros, two eggs on a warm tortilla with spicy black beans and homemade salsa; or my son’s favorite, blueberry pancakes. There’s also a frittata, omelets and French toast. The customer go-to, according to Hill, is Chesapeake eggs Benedict with a choice of a crab cake, oysters or soft shell crab. Whatever the breakfast choice, pair it with a bowl of creamy stone ground grits.
And although I’ve visited the restaurant for lunch many, many times over the years, I’ve always been way too full for dessert. Well, my daughter and I left some room and went with our waitress Ellen’s recommendation — the “triple C” — a moist, thick carrot cake with a layer of sweetened cream cheese in the middle, which made for a three-layer piece of cake that easily served two. The dessert cake list also includes at various times fresh coconut, triple chocolate and lemon. I’ll go back to try them all.
Car Wash Cafe
481 North Main Street Kilmarnock, VA 22482
Mondays through Saturdays 8 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Sundays 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.