CHESTERTON — The Country Cafe on Broadway was not crowded on a recent Saturday afternoon, but there was a steady flow of customers.
Some of them were curious about the new owner, who was talking in her shy Polish accent as she bustled briskly about the tables and tended the cash register.
The conversation was familiar to anyone who ever tried to explain the leftover food on his plate to a Polish cook.
“I try not to eat too much,” the elderly gentleman apologized.
“You want to take it home with you?” she asked eagerly.
In the two months that Marianna Halina Shedlock has been running the downtown restaurant with the all-you-can-eat-fish Fridays, she’s become one of the most talked-about women in town, something that makes her feel a little uncomfortable as a newcomer twice over.
“I was worried my first day here, will people accept me or not? I was from a different area,” she confessed.
Shedlock was said she was in her 30s when she decided 15 years ago to come to this country by herself from Augustow, a city twice the size of Portage in the northeast corner of Poland.
“I wanted to come. When I go to school, I studied, I learned many things about the United States,” she said.
Like many before her, Shedlock settled in Chicago. She brought her grown children three years later.
“I go to ask for any position in a restaurant. I got the job busing tables and then as a waitress,” she said.
Gaining experience, she was soon running her own bar at Cicero and Armitage, which she then sold and opened a restaurant on the south side of Chicago at Kedzie and Archer.
Shedlock said she had been looking for something in Northwest Indiana for several years while visiting friends near LaPorte, home of a notable citywide celebration of the peculiarly Polish holiday of Dingus Day.
She said that her unfamiliar speech caused her some problems with establishing credit and renting an apartment when she moved to Chesterton after buying the cafe.
“It’s my accent and my language. They know I’m not American,” she said of her second bout of trying to fit in as a newcomer.
But the town had a surprise for her with her new venture.
Among the most frequent questions was, what will be the new name for the place, which she parried with, “Do you have a good name?”
Shyly again, Shedlock said she “has some plans” for the cafe, such as fixing up the kitchen and the basement to make things more comfortable for the staff, who stayed on to work under her.
Meanwhile, the mural of Broadway and its streetcar tracks from Calumet westward stays on the east wall, with the one real change being the addition of her special ethnic fare to the American, Italian, Greek, seafood and breakfast sections of the menu.
More than enough to bring tears of nostalgia for Old World home cooking is the Polish Combo Plate for $7.95: Rich soup that is definitely homemade, a Polish hamburger patty of beef and pork called schnitzel, a generous length of Polish sausage, mashed potatoes and gravy, that unmistakable Polish-style kraut, a half dozen cheese, kraut and potato pierogis (of course!), a cheese blintz, and other trimmings.
“So do you like Chesterton?” another customer asked as she came to clear the first course.
Not for the first time that afternoon, the words “I love it” passed across the table.
The Country Cafe, 213 Broadway, Chesterton, Indiana. Open Tuesday-Saturday 7 a.m.-8 p.m., Sunday 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Phone 929-4567. Takeouts available.
© By Charles M. Bartholomew / Post-Tribune correspondent