Earl Abel’s is closed. Read “A fond farewell to Earl Abel’s” by Patricia Sharpe [2006-02-01].

A PLACE WHERE A GREAT-AUNT might take a visiting niece, Earl Abel’s has an interior that the silver-set regulars would have stopped noticing long ago. The dark, red-carpeted color scheme is occasionally interrupted by shiny crests on the walls and beveled windows with soldered panes, giving it a gothic feel offset by wooden placards with pithy slogans such as “Eat Here and Diet Home.”

It’s good advice at Earl’s, where the menu, like the atmosphere, falls somewhere between that of a respectable diner and a cafeteria. Earl’s claims fried chicken as the house-special, and though the hot, crisp, and peppery chicken with mashed potatoes and cracklin’ gravy did come with a side of rustic looking, sweet baby carrots, those were the last to get eaten. At least, that is, before we cheerfully tackled the subject of pie.

To those intending to refrain from dessert, it won’t be your fault when you change your mind. A vast array of homemade pies is strategically reflected onto a portion of the ceiling near the kitchen, so images of lemon meringue, maple pecan, French coconut custard and chocolate ice box pie taunted us throughout our meal. The lightly-browned French Coconut Custard Pie with its flaky, yellowish crust and moist, eggy filling was remarkably good, as was the rich, custard-style rice pudding with vanilla sauce. The vast selection of desserts is novel, but the variety is in keeping with the rest of the menu.

Since they open so early and close late, Earl Abel’s offerings span from steak and eggs to broiled rainbow trout, from huge fresh-roasted turkey clubs to comfortable Salisbury steaks, a special the day we visited. The common denominator in all the menu items is an unpretentious heartiness that distinguishes Earl Abel’s as (a traditional) old-school (establishment).

Further evidence is the conspicuous lack of a recipe to accompany this review. Since it’s an “On the Menu” tradition to supply a recipe, it’s worth noting that Earl Abel’s declined. According to the manager, “We tried something like giving out a recipe once before, but what ended up happening is that it took so long for us to figure out what was in the recipe and then write it down.” In other words, food here is more like something you would get at home than at a restaurant where meals are either mass-produced or cooked according to a strict formula.

In a time when restaurant menus and designs are planned, canned, and orchestrated in exact duplicates around the world, Earl Abel’s is a welcome throwback to individuality.