Cuzin's features 'hillbilly cuisine' at its best

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

By Kevin Jenkins

Special to Business Today

POPLAR BLUFF -- People looking for good, old-fashioned home-cooking need look no further than Cuzin's Hillbilly Kichin at 601 E. Pine St., inside Amoco East. There they will find a menu featuring mouth-watering entrees like "fres (sic) caught catfish" and a 1-pound sandwich called the Jethro Burger.

Owner Steve Johnson believes that Cuzin's folksy atmosphere and good food are just what the public is searching for in a family restaurant today.

"Our food is home-cooked, fresh, served in large portions and reasonably priced," said Johnson.

He is especially proud of the cafe's unique decor, which plays off the fact that the restaurant is located inside what was once the service bays of an old filling station.

"We have uniquely decorated Cuzin's with all kinds of odds and ends -- much of it coming from White Oil Co. -- the company my father-in-law founded 40 years ago."

One of the restaurant's walls is covered by a giant Standard Oil sign, while other decor offers a variety of antiques and old pictures hung on a facade made of a combination of barnwood and tin. Menu items are painted on the wall in "hillbilly" fashion behind the cash register to entice the restaurant's customers.

Johnson came up with the Cuzin's concept and pitched it to his brother-in-law and White Oil Co. owner Herschel Vernon as a perfect fit for one of the company's convenience stores.

Johnson, who grew up in Poplar Bluff and returned to the area after attending college in Springfield, knows what is involved in serving food -- he is in charge of food service at Three Rivers Community College.

Because of his many responsibilities at home and on the job, Johnson describes himself as always being "on the go." Despite the workload, he suspects that Cuzin's may be joined by other eateries in the future.

"Will I start up other restaurants? Who knows? Probably so," said Johnson with a smile.

Cuzin's, which has been open for six months, seats 26 hungry customers and employs 12. Johnson emphasizes that while the restaurant definitely has a novel decor, many diners choose to call ahead and take the food home to eat.

Other items on the menu include chicken tenders, a Sante Fe "Chickn Samich" (sic) and a 1/2-pound Jethro Jr. burger for those who can't quite handle the full-pounder. Appetizers include hot wings, cheese and bacon fries, jalapeno poppers and fried mushrooms.

Diners are encouraged to save room for Cuzin's desserts that include cookies made with real butter, cobbler and ice cream and a "fried ice-cream" house specialty called "The Mudball."

Kevin Jenkins is business editor at the Daily American Republic in Poplar Bluff.

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