I spent some time with my two little nieces recently, and while I love them, I got irritated at their picky dining demands. It’s McDonalds or nothing for them.
When I was growing up, I’d eat anything put in front of me. I also benefited from some competition between my divorced parents. Chow, Daddy hated to cook, so we got to eat out for practically every meal. We had a regular route: Rosebud Café or Montgomery Street Café for breakfast, Massey’s Restaurant for lunch every Sunday, and a carousel of other diner-style restaurants the rest of the time.
I loved those places, but in recent years they’ve somehow fallen off my dining radar. So I decided a couple of weeks ago to take a sentimental journey — a reunion tour. Massey’s, alas, closed its doors last February. Montgomery Street Café and Rosebud Café are still going strong — although, based on the age of their crowds, these places might not be around forever.
Montgomery Street Café is adorably old-fashioned — straight out of the television show Alice. (I’ve always wanted to kiss someone’s grits, but it’s just never come up). The place looks the part of an all-American diner. There is a retro mural, counter with stools, old wooden booths, antique signage, red-and-white checkered tablecloths, and waitresses who will call you “Hon.”
The food is good too. It’s never going to be featured in Gourmet magazine, but it gives you a heckuva bang for your buck. On a recent visit, my guest and I went for two of the daily lunch specials, written on a dry-erase board. You get your choice of main dishes, and three sides (pronounced, “saads” in Texanese). For our main dishes, we chose the chicken-fried steak ($6.25) and meatloaf ($5.75). Our saads were two cups of broccoli soup, a “lettuce salad,” pinto beans, and two orders of mashed potatoes. The veggies were definitely straight out of a can and nothing special. The meal is served with dinner rolls, and you get your very own pitcher of water or iced tea. The highlights were the tender chicken-fried steak and mash, both slathered in cream gravy. Our folksy, charming waitress offered us extra gravy, unsolicited. My guest and I were gravy stoned for the rest of the afternoon.
Rosebud is cut from the same (checkered) cloth. Though the décor is a little less vintage and a little more just plain old, it still works. (There are dusty fake flowers sporadically placed throughout the dining room, as if someone 30 years ago thought “We need to spruce this place up.”) The clientele matched the décor. On a recent visit, I overheard a diner tell our server it was too cold inside. I wanted to tell her, “No ma’am, that’s the icy cold hand of death clutching your shoulder.” But I digress.
The food was almost a carbon copy of Montgomery Street Café’s, but the menu is longer and the prices even cheaper. I went for the turkey lunch special ($7), served with the two saads of my choice, corn and green beans. My guest went for the old standard chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, and okra ($7). Again, it wasn’t ambrosia, but it was hot, filling, and comforting — if a little generic school lunch-y.
I guess Chow, Daddy was on to something. Then again, I might never be able to judge those places critically. They are like mother’s milk to me, practically written into my DNA. One day I’ll take my nieces to both places and others like them — hopefully before I fall into the “elderly” category myself (although they probably think I’m there already).
Contact Chow, Baby at email@example.com.