Comfort Food Series
With a visit this week to Big Train Family Restaurant, the Independent kicks off a three-part series that will review iconic comfort-food destinations in Colorado Springs. Be sure to look for the next two reviews in December and January.
As precursor to visiting Big Train Family Restaurant, a co-worker sent around a YouTube link to Mike Watt's "Big Train" music video, circa 1995. The bass-heavy backbeat and inviting "Come along and ride the big train" chorus quickly became an anthem to the journey, a rally song of anticipation.
This wasn't just going to be just another meal: It was going to be a mystery revealed. For 10 years, I've driven by Big Train's always-populated parking lot and wondered about the fare while remaining a little uneasy over the Anytown diner appearance. Big Train's square building is nondescript (though sporting fresh trim paint), perched near the northwest corner of Fillmore and Nevada avenues.
Upon seating ourselves in the cavernous dining room's southeast corner, with a spectacular panorama of the mountains (over the nearby Kmart building), the seven of us were promptly given water and silverware by friendly staff members.
We opted for a smorgasbord of lunch items: the Slopper, an open-faced hamburger topped in green chili ($6.35); grilled liver and onions ($7.45); a buffalo burger, add blue cheese and mushrooms ($6.35 + $1.15 each); an open-faced turkey sandwich ($6.25); chicken-fried steak ($7.15); fish fillets ($7.55) and meatloaf ($7.15).
Of the large-portioned batch, the buffalo, liver and Slopper made for happy transit, earning nods from all who sampled. The fish fillets and turkey sandwich were average, while the chicken-fried steak "tasted like fat," according to its primary diner.
That artery-clogger was only to be outdone by the meatloaf, which bordered on inedibility due to its own fatty taste and disconcertingly smooth texture. Other downers were the pickle-rich, tart potato-salad side and brown-edged iceberg lettuce that comprised several accompanying side salads.
But redemption came with dessert, where after finally flagging down a waitress (the only service bump over two visits), we ordered an authentic and Hershey's-heavy chocolate milk shake and slices of five different pies. The pumpkin, coconut and chocolate cream were great, each with generous whipped cream on top. The lemon meringue was solid. Only the strawberry rhubarb was disappointing, due to its gelatinous filling.
On a follow-up visit, two of our original crew joined me to sample some all-day breakfast items. Overall, this proved a much more satisfying experience.
A sweet cinnamon roll ($1.95), served warm with butter, acted as an appetizer, followed by the Big Train Omelette ($6.75) of ham, sausage, green peppers, onions, tomatoes, jalapeos and American cheese slices with hash browns; the breakfast burrito ($5.95) of sausage in red chili with home fries; and a ham breakfast sandwich ($3.35) on a muffin with egg and cheese.
The crispy home fries beat the loose hash browns, but all of us were quite pleased with our orders. Sides of grits ($2.15) and a single, plate-sized side pancake ($2.15) were blank canvases, to be judged only by whatever condiments were mixed in. (Butter helped.)
When pondering my two train rides, I was left most with a fondness for Big Train's realness, for lack of a better term. It might remind you of where you ate after church with your grandparents, a place where the portions are huge, the waitresses wear jeans, the food comes up quick and old men saunter in wearing decorated veterans' caps to join each other at community tables.
According to our waitress, some regulars even make it in two to three times a day.
Manager Reva Turner, who bought the restaurant from her aunt last year, says it's been in her family for about 28 years. She doesn't know why the original owners named it Big Train, but she's added some train photographs to play up the motif.
As comfort food goes, Big Train could either deliver you to a happy destination or leave you feeling on the wrong side of the tracks. But the menu's affordable, so with a forgiving attitude, it's quite possible to find a plate worth revisiting when in the mood for home-style eats.
Big Train Family Restaurant
3050 N. Nevada Ave.,473-8218
Hours: Monday-Friday, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.