This article originally appeared in the March 2021 issue

Remember the good old country music and comedy sketch show, Hee Haw, and the bit where the cast asked, “Grandpa, what’s for supper?” Grandpa Jones stopped scrubbing an imaginary window long enough to carefully describe an appetizing menu of made-from-scratch, down-home favorites.

That’s what the menu at Crazy Horse Cafe in Mercer sounds like as proprietor Holly Persell lists what’s for supper or, in this case, what’s on a recent Sunday lunch buffet. First, you’ll want to tuck a napkin under your chin, because here comes the mouthwatering: pan-fried chicken, meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and chicken gravy, vegetables, salad bar, and homemade desserts. And of course, Holly’s secret recipe French dressing is always on the menu. Some diners bring in their own pint jars to fill with this delicacy. The tasty concoction was passed along years ago from a woman who ran a restaurant in Corydon, Iowa. Holly makes the special dressing by the gallon, at least once or twice a week and on request for special orders.

“We’re just a little restaurant with nothing else around,” Holly says. “If anyone comes to the area, this is where they come.” Highway 65 cuts through the west side of the town with less than three hundred people, with nearby Lake Marie attracting travelers with appetites that Crazy Horse Cafe is eager to satisfy. The cafe, on the east side of the Mercer square and five miles from the Iowa border, is the only eatery for thirty miles.

Crazy Horse Cafe is on the square in Mercer, just off of Highway 65. The cafe offers dine-in and curbside pickup.

Whether they come for the all-you-can-eat walleye served with hushpuppies, french fries, cole slaw, or baked beans (only $13.95) or a buffet, the regulars know each other and Holly’s family by name. In fact, Mercer could be the emblem for a charming small town where everyone really does know everyone.

“Everybody looks out for everybody here,” Holly says. “If something bad happens, everybody always pulls together.” For example, a couple of older gentlemen were stricken with COVID-19 and Holly delivered meals to their front porches.

Holly is quick to point out that the farming-oriented community supports her restaurant in return. She was born and raised in Mercer, and her husband, Brian, has been the Mercer school’s maintenance director for twenty-four years. They have three children and four grandchildren all a stone’s throw away in Mercer County.

The cafe was previously known as The Feedlot, with Holly as the manager. She bought it three years ago and changed the name to Crazy Horse Cafe. Holly, Brian, and the family members whom she relies upon for help in the restaurant enjoy being part of the town’s Labor Day festival, carnival, and other community events.

“I like to do things with the community I was born in and would like to keep a restaurant going here,” Holly explains. “I enjoy being out with the public.”

Meanwhile, there’s food to prepare and serve: smoked brisket, frog legs, hot beef with mashed potatoes and homemade gravy, breaded tenderloin and homemade fries, and New York strip with grilled shrimp smothered in garlic Parmesan sauce. And it’s time to whip up another batch of the secret recipe, sweet French dressing.

Open Mondays through Thursdays, 6 am to 8:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays, 6 am to 9 pm, and Sundays 6 am to 2 pm • 14401 State Street, Mercer • Facebook: Crazy Horse Cafe • 660-382-4990

Photos courtesy Crazy Horse Cafe