Consider the diner: a haven, a warm place to sit enveloped by the atmospheric clink of plates and glasses, the buzz of conversation, the smell of pancakes and drip coffee. Is it just me, or are the best of them at least a half-step out of time? Walk into Loyola’s, for instance, and you could be in any era between the ’60s and the present day. When I’m in the mood to eat at a diner, it’s this limbo I crave.
I chose one—breakfast—and faced quite a selection. Seven “Off the Griddle” options, six “South of the Border” meals, a dozen “Sunrise Specials.” I would have been paralyzed by the choices if I didn’t already have an inkling of what I was after. Buried in the “Off the Griddle” section is a dish that goes by the unassuming name of Santa Fe Pancakes. I’d heard the legend, and I had to have them.
Now, let me tell you about those Santa Fe pancakes. They’re blue corn, obviously. (How could you get away with calling pancakes “Santa Fe” if they weren’t blue corn?) They’re also loaded with piñon nuts. And cheddar jack cheese. And green chile.
By that definition, then, the Santa Fe pancakes are still pancakes. The green chile is hot and tangy, the cheddar-jack cheese gives a savory weight, the piñon nuts are toasted, chewy morsels, and it all comes together in the full-bodied blue corn batter. Add a veneer of syrup and the flavors meld into a salty, spicy, nutty, savory and sweet concoction that is at once a true pancake and unlike any you’ve ever had before.
The fried catfish was a step up from that. Fillets of farm-raised fish are breaded in corn batter, thick and crunchy on the outside, the tender flesh preserved inside. Our server recommended the chicken friend steak as “out of this world,” and I’m happy to report that, separated from the burrito, the steak does emerge as something special. It’s hearty, with the fried batter imparting good crunch. The green chile gravy also makes a reappearance that ensures the dish’s place among the best chicken fried steak in town.
I ventured to ask about desserts, and the server informed me that pumpkin pie and red velvet cake were both available that evening. I pushed my luck and asked if Roper’s baked them in-house. “Oh no, we don’t make any of them here,” he answered.
“Where do you get them?”
“Sam’s Club,” he said.
We skipped dessert but departed full and satisfied. All in all, the dinner was fine in a fry-it-all Midwestern way, but I doubt I’d seek it out again. For the breakfast, on the other hand, I’d cross time and space.