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Thursday, Oct. 30, 2003 02:20 pm

A treat at the end of a trail

Udosha Baumle, owner of Lost Bridge Café in Rochester

Sometimes life just isn't fair. It's ironic, for example, that the best coconut cream pie I've ever tasted happens to be located at the end of a four-mile exercise trail in Rochester.

I first discovered the Lost Bridge Café because of its location on Route 29 near the Lost Bridge Trail, connecting Springfield to Rochester. I soon decided the pie alone was worth the indulgence, even if I had to hit the trail back to Springfield to work it off.

Owner Udosha Baumle, who is responsible for that heavenly coconut concoction with the thin, flaky crust, says the walking path has brought new customers to her door. The problem is, after exercising, they usually use their willpower and eat a light, healthy menu item like salad or soup. But it's the diner's hearty portions of homemade country-style dishes that those regular customers crave.

Baumle and cafe employee Sherry Lohrenz bake three or four pies each day, including cherry, pumpkin, fresh blueberry and strawberry (when in season), banana cream, German chocolate, apple, butterscotch, and pecan. The two women have been friends and co-workers for many years and now operate the small restaurant along with dishwasher Danny Hill. Baumle, who purchased the restaurant two years ago from Kay Reese, had 13 years of experience in the restaurant business, including working as a server at the New England Lobster House. But this is the first restaurant she has owned and served as the cook. The decision to purchase the restaurant was made at the last minute. "I just dove in," she says. "I hated to see a good thing close. All the customers whined. At the last minute, I decided to do it."

As one of seven children growing up in Paducah, Ky., she says "everything we ate was homemade," and she continued the tradition with her own children.

The café is more than just a place to grab lunch. It's a meeting place for many local groups and a hangout for retired friends. Twice each month, the Rochester Lions Club meets and eats there. Three days a week, a group of 15 local women walk in from a local church and then meet for lunch, while the local Brownie Troop leaders dine every Friday.

"It's a little gathering place," Baumle says. "We have 12 to 15 people who come in every day. They call this the 'Liar's Club.' They each have their own chair and it's like a little social club." Some of the regulars come for breakfast and then sit for several hours to chat and catch up on the local gossip.

Don Sidens is one of the many familiar faces. He says, laughing, that he eats two meals a day at the small restaurant three or four times a week because "I don't have anyone to cook for me." But Sidens also has a fondness for the food.

While the menu offers standard home-cooked fare such as bacon and eggs for breakfast and cheeseburgers for lunch, Sidens says he likes just about everything. "Whatever comes with mashed potatoes and gravy," is what he orders. On a recent Friday, he was enjoying fried walleye, the special of the day, on a lunch outing with his grandson, Mark Staab. "Fish is a definite on Fridays," he says.

The restaurant, tucked in the front of the Rochester Station, is one of two dining options in town since the closing of the Kensington House Tea Room. The other is Subway. So it's not a surprise it's a popular place, but lack of options isn't what keeps local residents and area visitors coming back.

The atmosphere is friendly and the servings are plentiful. The simple décor includes yellow and white checked wallpaper, white wainscoting, a dried flower wreath and floral curtains. The breakfast menu includes pancakes, eggs and bacon, omelets and French toast. Lunch menu includes soups, salads and sandwiches, such as hamburgers, bacon cheeseburgers, grilled and breaded chicken sandwiches, grilled cheese, BLTs and tenderloins. A variety of horseshoes are offered, with hamburger, ham, turkey, bacon, chicken and tenderloins. Customers call the horseshoes "Clydesdales" because of their large size. While the homemade beer cheese sauce is a customer favorite, Baumle says she doesn't eat them and doesn't even like cheese sauce. "I've never had one, but my kids love them."

There are specials each day of the week, which include fried walleye, open face pork loin sandwich with mashed potatoes, chicken fried steak, spaghetti, meat loaf and ham and beans. Chicken livers are available each day, and is a popular item. Plate specials during the winter months include turkey and dressing and corned beef and cabbage. Sandwiches are priced $5 and under, while the specials are $5.99.

"I don't want anyone going away hungry," she says. "I give lots of food." Even if you have to take it home, don't forget to order a slice of pie.

Lost Bridge Café, 201 S. Walnut, Rochester, 62653. (217) 498-8419. Hours: 6:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri. Open Sat. mornings beginning at the end of November. Take-out available. Whole pies can be ordered by special request.

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