Comment on a story to join the table talk!
Where: Hill’s Country Store
Address: 7970 State Route 7, Williamsfield
Where can a Yankee go for a genuine down-home Louisiana gator burger and a hearty bowl of gumbo?
The answer is closer than you think.
Hill’s Country Store in Williamsfield in southern Ashtabula County serves up Cajun cuisine that would make a bayou native proud.
That’s because the store’s owner, Leslie Hill, is a bayou native.
“I was born in Florida but lived for many years in Louisiana and also in Texas,” Hill said. “Cooking is a passion that has grown.”
Hill has relocated her Cajun cooking skills north of the Mason Dixon Line, and the response has been overwhelming.
“One of the biggest compliments I’ve received is from a customer who said, ‘Your food is made with love,’‚ä” Hill said.
Hill moved to Northeastern Ohio with her boyfriend, Norm Brakeman, dubbed “Hooker,” formerly of Chagrin Falls, in 2011. The pair opened Hill’s Country Store in October 2011.
The store carries an eclectic mix of basic necessities, grocery items and flea market finds.
The atmosphere is casual, cozy and country, with a house cat lazing near the entrance and a pool table and dining table for hungry patrons.
The steady stream of customers is as eclectic as the inventory and includes area Amish, truck drivers, campers from nearby Pymatuning Lake in Andover and locals who can’t get enough of the tasty vittles.
So far the menu features alligator sandwiches and burgers, jambalaya, gumbo, New Orleans-style roast beef, shrimp po-boy sandwiches, crawfish and muffaletta – a sandwich with generous portions of ham, salami, cappicola, mozzarella and provolone cheeses topped with olive salad.
Breakfast items include a breakfast burrito wrapped in a soft tortilla (invented for truck drivers who need to grab their grub and go), and the “Frenchy,” which is an oversized sausage patty sandwiched in an English muffin that’s been flavored with chocolate milk and cinnamon and dipped in syrup.
“The Frenchy is really unique and really tasty,” Brakeman said. “Once people try one they always come back for more.”
The alligator, gulf shrimp, crawfish and boudin, a type of Cajun sausage — as well as many other items on the menu — are shipped in from the Big Easy.
“Everything is homemade and good quality,” Hill said. “All the salads — the macaroni and pasta and potato salad — are homemade. I don’t cook anything too spicy. The gator burgers come with either a sweet or spicy sauce. Cajun cooking is about flavor, not about spice.”
Many people come for miles just to sample some alligator.
“It’s a rarity here, of course. A lot of people say it tastes like chicken,” Hill said.
The menu says “market price” for a gator burger, but typically you can get a gator sandwich or burger for under $10.
Brakeman helps Hill operate the establishment and helps her invent new recipes.
Eventually the pair would like to expand the building into a restaurant.
“It is a goal down the road. We have some upgrading to do and some renovating and some obstacles to overcome,” she said.
On Saturday mornings, a local Amish woman delivers dozens of delicious homemade doughnuts that sell for $1 each.
“People have commented, ‘A dollar for a doughnut?’ and then they taste one, and they can’t believe how good they are,” Hill said. “Then they come back every weekend for more. They are very tasty.”
Hill and Brakeman often do business with the local Amish.
“Several of the local Amish children gather night crawlers for us to sell for fishing bait, and we sell their locally grown produce and sweet corn,” Brakeman said, adding, “We try to be good stewards in the community, and we have received a lot of community support.”