Saturday, June 6, 2009

Our (kind of) Place

One of the easiest ways to start a conversation with a local is to ask where they go for breakfast, a burger, pizza, etc.

Such was the conversation when we rode the shuttle cart from the parking lot to the Visitors Center at the Buffalo Bill Dam and Reservoir. I asked the driver where in Cody (WY)we should go for a good burger. His response was, “Our place.” I was confused. Was he inviting us to his house for a hamburger?

Then he remarked that you needed to go before 2:00 p.m. I asked for the name again, and he said “Our Place. It’s just down the road next to the Tecumseh Trading Post and Miniature Exhibit. And if you go, ask for Carolyn and tell her that Dean sent you.”

Now, if you are looking for a “locals' place,” Our Place is it. Open for breakfast and lunch, it is small (seats no more than sixty), somewhat cramped, and a restaurant where the staff know all of the regulars, and the regulars all know each other. The area around the cash register is decorated with posters of upcoming Cody events including the Cowboy Music Review, the Annual Plains Indian Museum Pow Wow, the 50’s and 60’s Cruise Night and Sock Hop, and the Dusty Tuckness and Kanin Asay Classic Bullfighting and Bull Riding event.

Someone must like windmills, because the café boasts six windmill photos, four model windmills, and one piece of windmill string art. The clientele ranges from bikers in do-rags to cowboys in hats, boots, and suspenders, to the gentleman with the handlebar mustache and U.S. Navy cap accompanied by a woman in a sequined visor. Most of the patrons will, like us, never see sixty again.

So in we walked on Wednesday. The place was almost full, and we were shown to a table in a small (operative word is small) side room. When our server arrived, we asked if Carolyn was there and explained that Dean at the BB Dam Visitor Center told us to say hello. Well, it happens that Carolyn is the co-owner and Wednesday is her one day off out of seven.

The lunch menu is heavy on sandwiches, burgers (beef and buffalo), and three full lunch plates (hamburger steak, country fried steak, and fried chicken), and includes homemade soups and pies. Since I had asked Dean about hamburgers, I ordered the half pound beef burger cooked medium rare with fries. When our server (I think her name is Joyce) brought my burger, she asked with some trepidation if it looked all right. It looked perfect with small pools of red juice (OK, its blood) dotting the top. I told her that it looked perfect, and so it was. Moist and juicy, with a warm red center, and tasting of good beef, this was a truly fine burger. It was served on a buttered and toasted bun with pickles, onion, lettuce, and tomato. I know when I am served coated fries that they came frozen from a bag, but as I have remarked before, I would rather have crisp frozen fries than limp hand-cut fries.

Chuck decided on the four-ounce country fried steak sandwich with mashed potatoes and Texas toast. He cut his first bite of the steak, sighed, looked to the heavens, and said “This gives Mike (owner of the Hill Country Café in Kerrville, Texas) real competition. They told me that the crust was only seasoned with salt and pepper, but I have a sense that the ever popular “secret ingredient” is at play here."

What gives Mike a slight edge are the stalagmites of batter that erupt from the surface of the meat to add that extra crunch. But Our Place has the better white gravy. Thick, but not starchy, and liberally seasoned with black pepper, it was the perfect gravy for the country fried steak and bland mashed potatoes (I think all mashed potatoes are bland). And these were real mashed potatoes, lumps and all.

As the server was taking away our plates and after we had told her how much we had enjoyed the food, she suggested we come back the next day when Carolyn would be in. We were to look for the woman with the spiked hair. She also mentioned that Our Place does a great breakfast.

So guess where we were the next morning. Give up? We were back at Our Place. And guess who our server was? If you guessed Carolyn you guessed right. So while I was telling her that Dean sent us, Chuck was taking her photo. It’s a good thing he took advantage of this opportunity, because this woman moves at about sixty miles an hour around this café.

I was ready to order the corned beef hash with eggs when I saw the Ranchero breakfast – two eggs over a slice of ham, topped with green chili sauce, and served with hash browns and flour tortillas. The ham (which you cannot see in the photo) was a thin slice of smoky and not salty meat. The eggs were perfectly over easy. No runny white and a lot of runny yolk. And while the green chili sauce was on the mild side, it had the fresh, almost-citrus, almost-green tomato taste that comes from tomatillos. Wonderful. And, while the hash browns (cooked beautifully crisp) probably came from a bag and the tortilla was commercially made, both the hash browns and tortillas tasted wonderful with the green chili sauce.

Before placing his order, Chuck told Carolyn that he had only one complaint about the country fried steak sandwich the previous day. When the look of panic crossed her face, he laughed and told her he had wished for more of it. So his breakfast was the Texan – an eight-ounce country fried steak smothered in white gravy, three scrambled eggs, hash browns, and toast. A workin’ man’s breakfast. The steak and gravy were just as good as the previous day’s. Did he finish? What do you think? But I seem to remember that he came home and napped.

So ends Part One of our experience at Our Place. Tune in tomorrow – or maybe the next day – for the exciting conclusion.

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