Fun with Mary Jane
Coors Cafe is classic
For the past 17 years, I've lived less than 4 miles away from the Coors Cafe; I've driven past it literally hundreds of times, but for some weird reason I never went in. Maybe the giant metal sculpture of a rearing stallion outside was intimidating, maybe the plain red-and-white sign was uninspiring. I can't say what had been stopping me, but on a sleepy Wednesday morning I recently took a chance on the place and can now say I've seen the error of my ways, because this little brown café is awesome.
Upon my first visit to this South Valley staple, I gently pushed open the door to discover the archetype of a New Mexican diner. The light brown booths and wooden tables were weathered and well-loved; there were murals on the walls of hot air balloons, the Sandias and colorful birds; Tombstone and A Fistful of Dollars posters adorned the walls alongside Native American art; miniature trains ran along the wooden beams of the roof, steaming past a bright green ristra made of plastic shotgun shells. It had that comforting and quirky “grandma's house” feel to it. I noted a “Beware of Attack Waitress” sign but was relieved of my fear when a friendly woman bustled out of the kitchen and told me to sit wherever I wanted.
I chose a worn booth in a puddle of sunlight surrounded by happy houseplants and quickly put in my order. Then I sat quietly and observed the other customers. A table of older men and women sat in the back advising a nearby young family on how to make a marriage last and how to keep their love alive. The couple's little barefooted toddler, whom the waitress affectionately called “jita,” waddled past me as my order arrived.
I was immediately distracted from my surroundings by the excellent scents wafting up from my plates. Along with a cuppa joe, I'd requested the #3: chicken-fried steak with creamy gravy, two over-easy eggs, hash browns and two pancakes ($9.95). Classic diner fare. The steak was crispy on the outside and delicious with the buttery gravy. The eggs were perfectly cooked. (Read: No gooey eggwhite “boogers.”) The golden potatoes were firm, moist and—again—sinfully buttery. The vanilla perfume of the fluffy pancakes mixed sweetly with the coffee. I was full about halfway through the massive portion of food, but I kept going because it was so tasty.
As I horked down my breakfast, a young Hispanic man strode in and took the booth to my right. The waitress, Mary Jane—I later learned—was her name, went to his table and said, “Hey! Chorizo skillet, eggs sunny-side up, light green chile?” The man smiled and nodded, and Mary Jane walked back to the kitchen cackling, “Not bad for an old lady!” Minutes later, a tall man in overalls—whom the waitress later addressed playfully as “Earl the Squirrel/
My dad accompanied me on my next visit. He was even more delighted by the character of the place: smiling at the viejitos grumbling in the corner booth, blushing when Mary Jane called him handsome and chatting with Earl. (They don't call 'em “regulars” for nothing.) This time I ordered raspberry sweet tea and an Indian taco ($9.25) with red chile, chopped onions and a fried egg on top. My dad went basic with a green chile cheeseburger and French fries ($7.95).
Be warned: When they say “sweet” tea, they mean it. Southerners would love this beverage, but it was too strong for me so I watered it down. Our meals came out quickly, and mine was delivered by the chef himself, sporting a neon yellow hat and a big smile. The chile was spicy enough to avoid being ho-hum but not so much that it overpowered the other flavors. That ubiquitous butter flavor was present and made the meat and egg richer, while the crisp lettuce and juicy tomato kept the dish from becoming too heavy.
I managed to snatch a taste of the nearby cheeseburger before it disappeared. It was … wait for it … buttery. The cook must've learned his art from Paula Deen, and in my opinion he's a hero. Butter is life. The green chile was flavorful and the patty was thin à la Lotaburger.
We spent our meal gabbing with Mary Jane and were entertained with everything from tips on how to detect fraudulent money to the stories she makes up in her head about the singular people who come in for a bite. We finished our repast with a surprisingly good piece of pie topped with whipped cream ($2.75). The cherries were nice and tart, steering clear of the overly sweet mush that many places serve. I paid my bill and bid adieu to Mary Jane. Walking out into the intense March heat, my dad laughed, “What a place! That was fun!”
4300 Coors SW
Hours: Sun-Sat 8am-3pm
Vibe: Diner straight out of a movie where everyone is a regular
Alibi Recommends: #3 Chicken-fried steak with eggs, hashbrowns, pancakes; Indian taco; chatting with the waitress