From the darkest heart of Planet Hee-Haw came the Country Kitchen, a synthesis of the whole post-granola hippie ethos and Waltons / Dukes Of Hazzard celebration of inbred hayseed culture. Even though it began in the late 50s, no chain summed up 70s dining like the Country Kitchen.

The back of the matchbook shows the Country Boy, a Twain-type yokel chewing on straw; his mate, or sister, or perhaps both, was the Country Gal, whose signature sandwich was a a hamburger laden with thousand island dressing, something that looked as if someone had thrown up on a perfectly good meal. The restaurants themselves were decorated with rough unfinished wood, and you leaned up against the wall at your peril - maw! Ah dun gotten me a splinter agin! Better fetch the stingin’ medecine!

There were at least two in Fargo when I was growing up, possibly three - one nestled in a glen next to the Nodak Supply Store and the freeway, and the other was on the North Side. Its proximity to the sewage treatment plant may have contributed to its early demise. The chain had the usual history - newness, ubitiquity, boredom, decline. They came, then they left, and for years after in the midwest you could spot a dead & repurposed Country Kitchen by the shape of its sign - which now heralded the boon of one-shot hash joints with names like Bob's Kitchen or Johnson's Family Haus. (Translation: lots of screaming kids.)

From 1977 to 1997 the chain was part of the Carlson empire - a Minnesota company that began with Gold Bond stamps and later swelled to encompass the Radisson hotel chain, the Country Suites, TGIF, a marketing company and later Wagonlit Travel. (I interviewed Mr. Carlson himself in the 80s, and found him a charming archetype of the self-made man.) The Country Kitchen chain was purchased from Carlson in 1997, and to my surprise still exists and prospers. Last time I drove past one in Fargo it looked completely different - quite nice, if I remember.