Thursday, February 3, 2011

Gray Brothers Cafeteria

This place has been on my list for quite a while, and recently I was even scolded a bit for not having been before.   So the other day, I bribed my BFF to make the like 2 ½ hour trip out to Mooresville and back to go to Gray Brothers.  I drove and bought her lunch.  She was a bit dubious… “Erin, there is no cafeteria that can be worth this kind of drive.”  But she is used to me, and knows that once I have my mind on something, well I tend to be a pain in the ass until I make it happen.
When we got there, we were happy to see the line wasn’t too long (although the fence posts in the line area sort of made me feel a little bit like cattle).  I knew I was getting the fried chicken before I walked in the door, and I did. I got one piece of white and one dark (breast and leg)(a little over $5 for both) to give them both a try.  So, in thinking about this review, I realized I need to differentiate again between the types of fried chicken.  There’s the kind that has a sort of breading/batter on it (a la MCL) and then there’s the kind that is just lightly seasoned and floured chicken pieces.  Gray’s is the latter.  Now I like both types when done well, but you have to season it well if you are just going to do the lightly floured kind.  This was my problem with Gray’s—the skin tasted good, but wasn’t amazing because it wasn’t seasoned much.  And the breast piece (as is so often the case) was dry.  The leg was much more tender and all in all tasted better, but I still put Mississippi Belle up there as the best of this genre of fried chicken. And WAY closer to my house.
For my sides I had mac and cheese and mashed potatoes (my stand by fried chicken sides) ($1.80 each) and I got a yeast roll ($0.85).  I liked the roll—super soft and light.  The mashed potatoes were fine, a little drier than I like, but then again, I am not usually a gravy person and maybe they assume you will put gravy on them.  The mac and cheese was pretty disappointing.  Tasted a lot like processed cheese to me—that too smooth, too uniform , with a slight aftertaste flavor.  You know what I mean.
The BFF got the chicken and noodles ($3.99) and commented on the fact that she liked that the noodles were clearly homemade, but she didn’t feel like they were so good that they were worth that kind of drive.
I also got a piece of pie, because everyone who has ever talked about why this place is good, always talks about the homemade pie.  Well, so maybe I was supposed to order the sugar cream pie, but honestly, I generally prefer a fruit pie.  And when I saw they were offering apricot pie, I went for it, because, well, I love apricots ($2.55).  As I ate it, the BFF made a comment about what I was doing as I sort of picked at it—she said exactly what I was thinking. “Are you trying to find a piece of fruit?”  I was looking for a piece of fruit.  Even a teeny bit of fruit.  The pie crust was good and crunchy with a sugary crust, but there was not much fruit to it at all. Now I know fruit pies have their fair share of that gelatinous filling as well, and I realize that this is not the season for apricots (or pretty much any other fruits in the pies) but this one really had little fruit to it.
So, not trying to sound really negative, but I am not getting the desire to make the drive from my house to go back to Gray Brothers.  If I lived nearby, I might go there occasionally.  But if I want cafeteria food, with two locations of MCL within like 7 miles of my house, I think it unlikely I would make that kind of drive.  So I know some of you may want to yell at me, but I’m just being honest. 
Gray Brothers Cafeteria
555 South Indiana
Mooresville, IN 46158

Gray Brothers Cafeteria on Urbanspoon


  1. Jessica in NoblesvilleFebruary 3, 2011 at 7:51 AM

    My stepsons used to live pretty near Gray's, so when picking them up we'd often stop there. It's a real crowd-pleaser, especially if you have 2 boys with man-size appetites. I've always liked the fried chicken for it's great crispy skin, but agree it could use more seasoning. Their pork tenderloin with gravy is my husband's favorite ... pretty much the same fry as on the chicken, but the gravy adds more flavor and moisture. The broccoli/cauliflower side is usually cooked just right, soft but not mushy.

    For desserts, it's always a toss up between the strawberry pie and the peanut butter pie. Sometimes I have the strawberry pie while I'm there, and order a slice of PB pie to go, that stuff is so good! You can buy their frozen pies at several small outlets/farms around the outskirts of town.

    I've heard so much about MCL's chicken, I might just have to give them a try ... I was afraid they'd be just another Golden Corral, where it seems the motto is "good food = anything served in unlimited portions which you don't have to cook for yourself."

  2. Thanks for jumping on that grenade - Indianapolis Restaurant Scene: "We eat there so you don't have to"

    The other one that the out of state food writers always rave about is XXX in West Lafayette. I don't get that place at either, mediocre at best.

  3. @Jessica

    MCL is really nothing like Golden Corral. It's not a buffet. It's a cafeteria very similar in style to Gray Brothers, but in my opinion MCL's food is better. I've never been disappointed with anything I've gotten from MCL. My only complaint is that when they charge you for each individual item it can get a little expensive.

  4. Jessica- I saw the broccoli mix and was tempted, but usually veggies at these kind of places are so yuck and flavorless. And yes, as Brent says, MCL is basically just like Gray's--cafeteria style. And I like that you can get a reduced portion plate (the Mayfield) that is one piece of dark meat chicken, 2 sides and a piece of bread for pretty reasonable price. That is what I usually get. It is a very kid pleasing place, so we eat there semi-frequently. I guess I should actually review it, but I feel like I have talked about it enough, I don't really need to I guess. :)

    Chicago Pete, hahahaha! that is funny. Glad to be of service. And actually, I quite like XXX, but there you go.

  5. I think that we shared the same thoughts. My view of a restaurant is that taste of the food accounts for 80% of my underlying decision if I like a place or not.

    If I was the average consumer and went with my grandfather to Gray’s every Saturday for lunch, I would view it through a different lens and probably give the food a “free pass” here and there.

    I think they are trying to be a country cafeteria that offers food from a few generations ago when butter was a seasoning. If that is their goal, I think they are doing a serviceable job.

  6. You're right wibia. If this was a place I frequented with family or lived close to I would probably say it's alright, but I just don't understand the attention it attracts. Why do some people rave so much about it? Why did Man vs Food go there? There are several MCLs around doing exactly the same thing and in my opinion doing it better.

  7. "So, not trying to sound really negative, but I am not getting the desire to make the drive from my house to go back to Gray Brothers."

    Quite the contradiction. I am puzzled why they are sending a girl to do a man's job.

  8. Dear Anon:

    Not sure who you think "they" are, but no one is sending me anywhere.

    And hey, if you only like a male opinion on food (that's kind of sad), there are several other local male bloggers. You should check them out in my blog roll.

  9. Jessica in NoblesvilleFebruary 3, 2011 at 7:35 PM

    Is "Anon" implying that men don't care about the quality, presentation and taste of the food they eat? Or that a woman shouldn't be blogging her opinions about her dining experiences? I just don't understand what he's saying. Guess it's easier to spout bone-headed opinions while hiding behind "anonymous."

  10. I am so happy to see another local food reviewer give a "real" review about Gray Bros. I'll admit, when done right their food is among the best in home-style cooking. But here in recent years, and even more so since the MvF taping, I found their food seriously lacking in flavor or consistency. I "dragged" my wife all the way to it after we saw the episode because she was curious about the "to-die-for" Strawberry Pie. Now, I remember getting these many times over the years when I was growing up and thought they were just the cat's pajamas. However, this time around, we were both very unimpressed. It tasted more like your run-of-the-mill strawberry shortcake than an amazing pie. There was too much strawberry glaze and the strawberries were pathetically small. I was not impressed at all. And my wife had the same issue with the chicken...the breast was way too dry and lacked any real flavor. To be honest I've never liked their macaroni and cheese and always felt it tasted like it was made from a box rather than homemade. I think its taste is on par with Golden Corral's. At any rate, thank you for saying what I think a lot of people are too afraid to say...their food, while good, is not the be-all-end-all of down-home cooking.

  11. We do live close enough to Gray brothers to go frequently, but have not found them compelling enough to go frequently. My husband does love their pies..but you can get them frozen at a local market around here and bake them yourself.

  12. Oh, this is painful. First, I started going to Gray's when I was in junior high when this building first opened. This was before the additions that provide carry-out, longer indoor service lines and a couple of extra dining rooms. The lines ALWAYS were out the door and into the parking lot. The brothers were always there, too. Over the years some things have changed. The "swiss steak" is spicier and lately I've noticed an off putting flavor in the seasoning of the green beans.

    I've never been a fan of the strawberry pie, but their butterscotch (da Momma's favorite) tastes like the one my Grandma used to make. The sugar-free apple and cherry are better than I've had elsewhere, too.

    I have to agree that the quality is not up to the past, but I've yet, in my entire life, to have a decent meal at MCL. That place reminds me of school cafeteria food.

    Another word of warning about Gray's is that one needs to eat there during the rush periods or the food really tastes warmed-over. The mac&cheese is dreadful. I'm a mashed potato w/ cream gravy person. I'm a little perplexed about the complaint of lack of seasoning on the fried chicken. It's a simple recipe and rather traditional, but I've always found it to be adequate. If I want spicy, I'll make my own Cajun version (buttermilk, salt & hotsauce marinade, Spicehouse Cajun seasoning - identical to Emeril's - and salt & pepper seasoned flour - double dipped).

    Sorry you don't "get it" but then you don't have the institutional memory of eating there with family for over 30 years. It was the meeting place for one whole side of my family spread between Indy, B-town & Lafayette. It is an emotional bond more than a culinary one.

  13. So full disclosure, I work for MCL, actually, it is my family business.

    Anyways, we were excited to come across this blog post and see that there are some like minded people in the blogosphere. Although we couldn't me more biased, we have to agree with Erin's and Brent's sentiments about MCL vs. Gray Bros. We think we take quality more seriously than they do and the result is much better tasting food.

    I could go on and on but we'd like to invite anyone who has made a comment on this post to find out for themselves, or rediscover MCL (Victor, let's see if we can't change your mind about us).

    So, if you've commented on this post already, send us an email to, put Erin in Indy in the subject line and give us your mailing address, we'll send you $30 worth of free dining at MCL (please include "attention Casey).

    Hope to hear from you soon. Keep up the good work Erin.

  14. Casey- that is very cool of you and I hope you all take advantage (obviously, I will not personally be taking advantage in order to follow my own rules, but you all should!)


  15. Bummer, I'm too late for a gift card, but I will say that I've been to Grays a few times in my life and always came away with it being just okay. I don't understand why the lines are so long except for tradition for some people. At the same time, I haven't returned to MCL for about 15 years because it always tasted like hospital food. I'm not sure there is any good cafeteria-type places. Shapiro's Deli is pretty good I suppose.

    Anyways, I do somewhat like Gray's pies, but I would agree with Erin that one shouldn't drive out of their way to eat at Gray's. Plenty of better options out there!

  16. 2 and a half hour drive? Was your friend coming from Fort Wayne?

    Gray's draw for a lot of people is memories of their childhood. I think they have slid some over the past 10-15 years. Their tenderloin is delicious -- more a schnitzel than a "breaded pork tenderloin", which brings to mind the official Hoosier sandwich. There is a smaller place down the road a bit further called Poe's Cafeteria. My wife says that their chicken and noodles are better. Their prices are about $1 less on the entrees since they don't have the big brand name.

    Next time you get the urge to drive out to Mooresville for a meal, go to Zydeco's.

  17. Joe-
    Not a 2 1/2 drive one way, 2 1/2 hour trip altogether. 45 minutes there, 45 minutes back with time built in to eat. Ok, so it was more like 2 hours... :)

  18. Jessica in NoblesvilleMarch 10, 2011 at 2:26 PM

    Erin, just wanted to let you know I took advantage of MCL's Casey McCaug's offer and just used the gift certificates he sent me. Of course, I ordered the fried chicken (white meat) with a side of sweet potatoes. I ordered to go, and reheated it in the oven just a little when I got home.

    The coating is great, salty crispy, just the way I like it. If they made a spicy version then it might become my favorite chicken skin. As it is, I still have to make the long drive to Popeye's for that craving. The meat itself was ok, a little dry on the outside, more moist by the bone. Perhaps it's my fault for re-heating it, but it wasn't for more than 5 minutes.

    The sweet potatoes were also excellent, rich but not too sweet.

    I also have to compliment the service staff. Everyone was very friendly and helpful. Everyone made eye contact with me as they helped me, which I feel strongly is a valuable part of good service. I'll definitely be back with the family.

  19. Jessica- Glad you had a good meal--and now you know what I mean about their fried chicken. I do agree, the one bad thing is that sometimes, the meat can be a bit dry. I tend to go with dark meat for that reason.

  20. Gray's is okay, nothing special. MCL, not bad if you like to eat cardboard....

  21. Jessica in NoblesvilleMarch 26, 2011 at 2:30 PM

    Ok Anon, who do you recommend, and why? Always looking for great fried chicken and other comfort food classics.

  22. Jonathan Byrd's has the best fried chicken I've had at a cafeteria. Ultra moist and seasoned just right. Prior to opening Jonathan Byrd's, Mr.Byrd owned Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants (his parents were original franchisees), so he clearly knew something about fried chicken and put a lot of work into perfecting the recipe.

  23. It has been a few years since I have been to Gray's. We used to live in Mooresville but have since moved. The fried chicken reminds me of my grandmother's fried chicken. That's a good thing. I loved the swiss steak. Gray's is one of the few places that serves rhubarb pie. Yummy!

  24. How funny, I'm sitting down to write a review on the same topic and I found your site. Great job!

  25. I can't believe that the posters who didn't like Gray's actually went to the same restaurant that I did.. We were in Indy for the weekend and having lived in Indy years before knew we had to go to Grays... It hadn't changed and still had food that was much superior to MCL... Unless MCL had changed in the years that I'd been gone, their food was always bland and just not up to par with Gray's. The original poster, just didn't get the right food... I got the roast beef (excellent), harvard beets(hadn't had them in years and they were great, yeast roll (light and yummy. I splurged on two pieces of pie one for now and one for later, they were sugar cream and coconut cream, both were excellent... The original poster should go and use my menu and she certainly won't be disappointed...It's still the best cafeteria in Indy, bar none... And I've eaten in many restaurants all over the eastern half of the country.

    Phyllis Blum

  26. There is probably no restaurant that I would drive 2 1/2 Hours to reach. I did do that once though, I was working in Chicago and found Portillos. I knew my wife would like the place so one day we drove from Indianapolis to Merrillville, IN to go to Portillos. But now I limit my trips to when I am in the Chicago area.

    I go to Grays when I can. It is about a 20 mile drive for me so I only eat there when I am in Mooresville for some other reason. I really like the food at Grays. For those who don't understand the rave reviews I can only say everybodys taster is different. Look at the reviews of the popular chefs on tv. Nobody is 100%,
    Gray's popularity should tell you something, I eat at MCL also, both at Speedway and 86th st. I like thenm both but I like 86th street better because it is larger and open. Dome of you know and some may not know but before MCL was located on 86th Shapiros Deli was in that building and I really like Shapiros but they moved to Carmel where they became a small mediocre restaurant and I saw on tv new the other day that they are now out of business.

    My mother was a way above average cook, Anybody who ate at our house always raved about how good the food was. My mother did not cook fancy food just cooked simple food really well, and that is the food I grew up eating.

    Enjoyed the blog and reading the comments