The Louise and Clark of American vernacular foodstuffs, Jane and Michael Stern, provide a reliable pre-Yelp formula for pre-determining the quality of a pre-locavore local grub in the landmark tome “Roadfood.” Note the number of cop car and/or trucks taking up parking spaces in front of (insert name here) Diner/Restaurant/Café. Your basic probability ratio wherever being there more cops and subcontractors the better being the food (and service).
I put a similar formula to work when foraging for non-Denny’s diner dishes in and around the Greater Phoenix Area’s profusion of retirement communities. Look for golf carts instead of cop cars, and disabled parking spaces (full) in place of Semis to outnumber all other vehicles. While such a crowd adds 30 yards from car to door, consider the lope a warm up for the AARPish pace of such places. Too, the extra exercise justifies bookending any meal with your sole purpose for being so fool-hearted as to drive 45 miles from your neighborhood IHOP or Cocos: homemade pies and desserts and cakes.
Locally owned diners are to the Peoria/Surprise/Glendale/Sun City quadrant as hydroponics shops are to Scottsdale/Mesa/Tempe trinity. While my bull-riding buddy Kevin swears by The Peoria Diner (his Granny’s favorite), my future heart bypasses go out to – or shall be courtesy of – the Royal Café Restaurant on Grand Avenue.
Surprise! Though entering you may feel adrift in a sea of silver pates and blue beehives smell not a single mothball! Be befuddled by the decorative motif: part uncle sticky hands pyrography and awning world, part grandma’s got a new paintbrush, mostly classic street corner Greek Diner.
To the right – facing in towards the kitchen – a cash register and a wall-mounted flat screen TV, ESPN only. Son and mother and sister/daughter/wife owners gather here. A whiteboard stands on the left listing the day’s meat and two-sides, featuring cuts and catches from both the barnyard and the sea, respectively. All dishes are prepared and presented in the style of a Better Homes and Gardens centerfold.
That is: equal parts homey, easy to chew, digest and afford. At the base of the white board are 8 – 10 reasons you passed dozens of IHOPS and Cocoas to get here – homemade pies and desserts and cakes.
There they rise, in a stainless steel, glass and fluorescently lit tower/obelisk. Go ahead, step past the whiteboard up to their luminous display case. Stare. Take a picture. Embrace your inner-bovine; consider the joys of an extra stomach designed specifically for homemade pies and desserts and cakes.
While the menu’s stuffed with classic Greek diner, it’s only a couple pages long – less David Foster Wallace more E. B. White. Your breakfast, lunch and dinner essentials are well represented. Having eaten every meal of the day here over the past 10 years (no, the service isn’t THAT slow – har), I recommend everything. A couple of standouts are the leg of lamb special and an original AzMexataca dish: the Greek Burrito – gyro and cheddar in a tortilla. I repeat: gyro meant and cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion and homemade tzatziki (Greek diner litmus test). Eoite agradable.
The wait staff sports all Johnny Cash black and over 3 million “honey”s are served with every order. Working equally hard to squeeze the tips from the frugal hands of the Greatest Generation, the sweet gals who bus the tables wear flowers in their hair.
The best time to dine at the Royal Cafe Restaurant is after church on Sunday. A full array of gorgeous homemade pies and desserts and cakes and equally fabulous fashions are on display. (I have a soft spot for folks in their Sunday Best.)
I went for something light, your basic two eggs over easy, home fries and toast. Though a shredded hash brown loyalist, the seared, steamed spuds sitting on a griddle a good 3-4 hours come out crunchy and crusty on the outside, soft and steamy within – think mummy – are as rockin as your best scattered, smothered covered.
I ended up smothered and covered, with egg on my face, literally, gawping as a sister/daughter/wife floated past cradling a behemoth cheesecake not named on the whiteboard. I instinctively whipped my head in the direction of the sound her shout into the hearing aid of a regular, “Mar-guh-ri-ta.”
Tequila? For breakfast? On The Lord’s Day, before noon? Along with triple sec, salty caramel, whipped cream, graham cracker crust, lime infused whatever cheese makes up the body of the cake, stacked a good half foot high? Better make it a double.