Monday, November 5, 2012

It’s Just Like Mom’s

In fact, it is Mom’s. Mom’s Diner in Pahrump, NV.

My investigation of restaurants in Pahrump lead me to two conclusions. Most of them are either national chains or are located in one of the many casinos that line route 160. But there were two interesting possibilities, Mom’s and a local Thai place.

We decided to start with Mom’s using reviews like this one from Tanya S. at “So if you take your Mom, her kitchen, home cooked yummy food and roll it into a restaurant and your Mom then charges you for dinner you would be a Mom's family diner in Pahrump. We (were) greeted with big smiles and fast service. You can tell this is a locals’ favorite, since many tables were filled with people that seemed to know each other....
"If we had not been stuffed we would have gotten some dessert. I love places that handwrite the dessert of the day on the wall (this place). Bumbleberry pie...sounds so friendly! Just the thing to hit the spot.... Thanks Mom!”

Mom’s is owned by Larry and Diane Chumley. (Yes, I asked. And no, they are no relation to the doofus Chumley on Pawn Stars.) “It’s been two years since Mom’s Diner opened under new ownership, and since then, the restaurant’s business has tripled; the floor space and seating capacity has doubled. At one time, Larry Chumley believed he was retired…

“…Larry’s oldest son, Brett, (previously) an executive chef in Las Vegas, has decided to move to Pahrump and help out with the family business….’The long range plan was eventually that our son would take over and we could retire…’ said Diane.

“Larry is a hands-on owner, who arrives every day at 4 a.m. to start food preparation. He makes the sauces, gravies and soups fresh daily, and the meat is never prepared in advance. After Larry is finished with his chores, he spends his time watching his crew perform. The big thing he controls is being consistent. He wants his food to always go out the same way.

“While Larry takes care of the kitchen, Diane takes care of the front end…. They work as a team. Larry’s knowledge of what customers want comes from more than 21 years as an executive chef to major properties in Las Vegas like Harrah’s, Gold Coast and the New Orleans. He and Diane have been working restaurants all their lives. Now, both of them enjoy
their time working together in their so-called retirement years. ‘We use to work together very well in Las Vegas. That is how we met. She worked the front end and I worked the back. We have been married for 45 years’” (Vern Hee--Special to the Pahrump Valley Times).

The space was decorated in a style that you might expect—diner kitch. But I say that in a homey complimentary way. A mobile fashioned from old utensils coexisted with a display of knives, handcuffs, guns, and horseshoes.
One wall held an array of rooster items,

while next to the cash register was a display of fall and Halloween pieces.

While 50’s music played on the sound system ("Silhouettes on the Shade" by The Rays, "To Know Him is to Love Him" by the Teddy Bears), we quickly reviewed the short menu. Chuck’s choice was the chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes—and he ascertained from our server that this would come with a generous portion of said potatoes. On the side were two slices of garlic Texas toast.
This is scratch cooking at its finest. The potatoes were the kind that your mom would make and not something that came from a box or off a food vendor truck. The steak was juicy and tender and the coating was nicely crisp.

But it was the sausage gravy that covered the potatoes and steak that set this apart. This was sausage gravy made the way it should be made. You could immediately tell that the white sauce had been made by cooking the flour with the drippings from the sausage. I so dislike cream chipped beef on toast or sausage gravy when the béchamel is made first and the meat then dumped into it.

I toyed with ordering the “Mom-ster” burger—a half-pound burger topped with the kitchen sink. But my attention kept being drawn to the specials’ board that listed the Chili Verde Skillet. Even though it was well past breakfast, our server assured me that I could still order it and, in a totally unbiased fashion, noted that it was very good.

But it wasn’t “very good”. It was wonderful. On the bottom of the skillet sat a layer of potatoes O’Brien—cubed skin-on potato cubes browned with green peppers and onions. On top of the potatoes was the chili verde—made with roasted chilies from Hatch, NM—that
contained large chunks of tender pork and just the right degree of heat. I gave Chuck a taste—a small taste—and he proclaimed that the green chili was “just about perfect.”

We thought that we were too full for dessert, but when our server suggested the Razzleberry Pie, warmed and with ice cream, our resistance quickly faded. The filling was a mix of blackberries and raspberries and was neither too sweet nor too thickened with cornstarch.
And somewhere in the baking process a sprinkling of sugar had been applied to the top crust so that each bite had a slight crunch.

As we were paying our bill, we had the chance to talk with Brett Chumley. The conversation ranged from the right way to make a sausage gravy, our mutual assessment of a Mexican restaurant based on its chili relleno, the profusion of tats found on many diner cooks and employees, and his friend that had attended culinary school at UNLV with Guy Fieri. (Is this an almost “brush with greatness?”)

When asked if Chuck could take his picture, Brett answered, "Sure. Give me that little guy."

But, in a rare burst of discretion, I didn’t ask why, on the quilted banner along one wall, he was depicted as a poodle in a chef’s hat.

As I said earlier, Mom’s serves made-from-scratch food at its finest. Nothing fancy. Nothing gourmet. Just honest comfort food. And is worthy of a 5.0 Addie rating.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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