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Holdrege Country Club Restaurant is hard to find but worth the effort
by Pam Soreide and Phil Soreide
Not all restaurants worth finding are easy to find. Take, for example, one of our favorite spots for good steak or seafood, generous drinks, a friendly atmosphere and great ribs on Friday nights.
This is the restaurant where people in Holdrege take visitors they want to impress and where the high-powered business lunches take place; it’s where people in town go for celebrations like birthdays or anniversaries; and if you need a place for an intimate, romantic dinner for two, it’s hard to do better.
And yet, if you weren’t among the cognoscenti who live here you probably wouldn’t even know it existed. There’s no signage on the street and none in the parking lot; there is a sign on the door, but it’s subtle.
We don’t know exactly why the Holdrege Country Club dining room hides its light under a basket, as Mother used to say, but we’re kind of glad they do.
An artistic sacrifice
We have resisted reporting on the Holdrege Country Club dining room in the past because it just didn’t seem to be in the spirit of the Rural Foodies. It wasn’t a discovery and it wasn’t recommended by a reader; it’s a place we go a few times a month to eat, and maybe we felt kind of proprietary about it. But a rack of ribs on a Friday night shook our resolve.
“You know, Chef Ed really does a great job on these,” said one.
“He does,” said the other, “and this salad is about as good as any we get anywhere.”
“The view is great, especially in the summer — it’s like a park. You know, this is really a nicer restaurant experience than a lot we’ve had farther from home. We ought to interview Chef Ed and write up the HCC,” said the first.
“You think? But what if it got discovered? What if everybody started coming here? It would never be the same for us.”
“That’s the sacrifice we make for our art.”
A recent experience
To be as fair and objective as possible, we decided to treat it just as a regular Rural Foodies experience. We gathered up our notebook and camera and drove to the County Club. As our drive to Burwell last month was almost two hours each way, the five minutes it took to reach HCC hardly warmed up the engine.
As we came in, Chef Edward Massey — Chef Ed to us — was standing near the entrance, so we chatted a moment and asked if we could take his picture. He happily obliged and agreed to speak with us later.
The dining room is spacious and bright with white linen tablecloths. A fireplace is flanked by enormous banks of windows on both sides overlooking a second floor deck and a spacious view of the wide fairways and stately trees of the country club, now stark and snow-covered.
Service, as always, is prompt and professional.
In addition to the drinks, which are generous, we ordered onion rings, as is our tradition. We were at first a little disappointed that they were actually onion chips, but after having a few, decided maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea after all. The batter was tasty and because all the chips were essentially the same size, they were perfectly cooked.
We peruse the menu
The Holdrege County Club menu is neither fancy nor extensive, but it offers a nice array of burgers, sandwiches and salads for lunch and the appetizers are pleasant and include bacon-wrapped shrimp, mussels in wine sauce and spinach-artichoke dip. Entrees include standbys like the chicken fried steak and breaded shrimp, but also include a grilled salmon tapenade with a Mediterranean olive relish and top-butt sirloin.
We decided on the rib eye steak with an herb reduction butter and an order of Prince Edward Island steamed mussels.
The meal started with a fresh, garden salad with a house-made bleu cheese dressing that’s as good as it gets. We give extra points for restaurants that don’t use bottle dressing, so we were pleased when our waitress told us Chef Ed also makes the Italian and Thousand Island dressings in-house as well.
A chef’s story
Ed Massey’s culinary journey is probably not typical. He told us he grew up on a farm near Holdrege, having been adopted along with his two brothers as a child. Men didn’t do cooking in that world and his first introduction to the kitchen didn’t happen until after he was out of the Navy, working in a packing plant and living behind a family restaurant.
“One night the kitchen manager came up and said they needed help. I said I didn’t know anything about cooking and he said that didn’t matter, he wanted help plating,” Ed told us. “That was my first kitchen experience.”
He was offered a job and learned kitchen basics until he saw an article in the Omaha World Herald about a famous French chef at the Omaha Country Club.
“I said, ‘That’s what I want to do,’ and I went and asked him for a job,” Ed said. “He gave me a job, and I’m still in touch with him to this day.”
From there he went to stints at the Buffalo Country Club in NY and the Horseshoe Bay resort in Austin, TX. Then a serious car accident took him out of the game. After three or four years or rehabilitation, he told himself, “I’ve got to get back.”
To do that, he decided to go to the Cordon Bleu in Las Vegas where he received his AA in culinary arts as well as a medallion from the Cordon Bleu in Paris.
He was working at the Echo Bay resort on Lake Mead when the opportunity to return to Holdrege came up.
“My parents were getting older; my dad passed last year,” he said. “It seemed like a way I could keep my hand in the kitchen and remain close to family.”
Lucky for Holdrege is all we can say.
A pleasant end
Needless to say, there are not many places in Holdrege to buy a plate of steamed mussels of any description. When mine arrived, although I knew it wouldn’t be the same experience as at Mussel Shoals, I was pleased it wasn’t that far off. The shellfish were plump and tender and swimming in a sauce of mussel juice, wine and butter that, with a loaf of good bread, would have been enough on its own.
The steak was buttery, tender and well crusted with pepper and spices. We chose the baked potato as an accompaniment, but know from past experience that both the fries and the baked sweet potato are also great sides.
All in all, we had what we always have: a pleasant meal of predictable quality in a relaxed, clubby kind of atmosphere, among people we know and like. I guess there’s no point saying we’ll be back. It’s kind of a foregone conclusion.
The Holdrege Country Club dining room isn’t easy to find and their hours are definitely limited, but for a Class A meal in our neck of the woods, they’re hard to beat.
Who to Contact
Holdrege Country Club
Chef Edward Massey
314 West 18th Avenue
Holdrege, NE 68949
Lunches served Tuesday-Friday 11:00-1:30
Dinners served Wednesday-Saturday, 5:30-9:00