It’s Friday evening in Downtown Flushing. Purple “Welcome” banners and baskets overflowing with pink flowers line the city’s charming Main Street as diners at Kathy’s Restaurant & Lounge gather for a meal on the outdoor patio. Sipping refreshing strawberry-pomegranate coolers and savoring avocado and basil grilled chicken … life is good!
Owners Kathy Birchmeier and her brother, Ron, have run the popular dining destination for the last 28 years. The 100-year-old building, with its original tin ceiling and simple elegance, has housed numerous restaurants, an A&P and a Beef and Barley store. Kathy and Ron were working at area eateries when the building became available in 1986. “We were 30 years old and wanted to work for ourselves,” Kathy remembers. Now, Kathy’s serves a wide variety of dishes made with fresh ingredients, many of which are purchased locally. “We really have a strong sense of community,” says Kathy. “The businesses here all support each other.”
And it is truly all about the food at Kathy’s. “Nothing is pre-made and everything is made to order,” says Kathy, adding that the sauces are made right on the spot. “We only use premium ingredients and because we make our food to order, we’re able to adjust some of our menu items to meet different dietary needs such as gluten- and wheat-free.” Soups are made from scratch every day, including Ron’s signature chicken dumpling soup. The menu changes with the seasons, and patrons recently enjoyed summer fare such as Lolla Rosa strawberry chicken salad and Napa Valley turkey lettuce wraps. In the fall, the diners will discover roasted butternut squash ravioli, Tandoori chicken (char-grilled and served with Tamarind chutney sauce and yogurt) and a roasted butternut squash salad, to name a few. The most popular dish served at Kathy’s is the famous, slightly sweet chicken-walnut salad, made with a pineapple cream cheese dressing. The recipe has been perfected over the years, and many patrons have tried to pry the secret from Kathy. “That’s not going to happen,” she laughs.
A selection of lighter fare is also very popular, Kathy says. Lighter options include creative dishes such as the June Bug – a variety of fresh fruit and a mini blueberry-pomegranate spinach salad served alongside a grilled turkey BLT, blanketed in Swiss cheese and Bistro Sauce on marbled rye. Diners craving comfort food find house-made meatloaf, slow-cooked beef pot roast, liver & onions, and prime beef tips, to name a few. The restaurant is also well known for Thursday “all you can eat” crab legs. Fresh fish & chips are dipped in Kathy’s own beer batter, and pan-fried walleye with a creamy artichoke sauce is another crowd-pleaser. Kathy says the tilapia almondine is fabulous, garnished with raspberry Melba sauce and served with Thai coleslaw. She is always coming up with new menu ideas, and recently added a wheat- and gluten-free muffin made with carrots, cinnamon, pumpkins, cloves and chocolate chips. “They’ve been very popular,” she announced happily.
An upstairs banquet room is ideal for private parties with seating for 40 guests, and many longtime customers use it for family gatherings such as wedding rehearsal dinners and baby showers. “We are small, and I can make a party special by personalizing it with a signature drink, a special dessert and unique favors, things that chain restaurants don’t do,” Kathy says. The lounge at Kathy’s is also popular and offers a laid-back atmosphere where guests can watch a game and order from the full menu. The libation selection includes a wide variety of wine, beer and cocktails, including many Michigan-made wines and craft beers. “The strawberry-pomegranate cooler is so delicious that some customers ask for a fork to eat the fruit!” Kathy exclaims.
But for all its casual charm, Kathy’s regular patrons all comment on the quality of the culinary creations. “It makes me feel so good when my regular customers bring their family and friends from out of town to enjoy our quaint little restaurant,” says Kathy, “And it makes us feel proud.” Satisfied customer Chanda Hutton raves about Kathy’s on Facebook. “Hands down Five Stars all around. The dishes are prepared FRESH to each guest. The staff makes you feel like a guest in Kathy’s own kitchen when you treat yourself and loved ones to the deliciously fabulous cuisine at Kathy’s Restaurant!” A 40-member staff keeps the operation running as smooth as silk. “You are nothing without a team, and we’re very proud of ours,” Kathy says.
As a way to thank the community that supports her business, Kathy’s Restaurant & Lounge is highly involved in the annual Flushing Red Hat Day, which draws hundreds of visitors to town from all over. “This is one way of giving back,” Kathy says. “We have such a great little town.” ♦
Photography by Mike Naddeo