Town Center Restaurant, located on the west side of downtown's historic City Auditorium, recently got a face-lift. Carpet now covers the floors, and new paint accentuates the plaster-covered wood beams on the ceiling.
Though the once-dingy space has been restored, it still feels like a blank canvas. The bygone-era black-and-white photos don't reflect the personalities of management or customers. But in time, they will.
Radio personality Chuck Baker, former owner of the much-missed East Side Diner near Peterson Air Force Base, leaves Town Center's day-to-day operations to wife Sandy and son Charlie. Carrying on the diner motif, the menu abounds with traditional favorites: for breakfast, omelets, biscuits and gravy and burritos; for lunch, chicken fried steak, burgers, sandwiches and salads.
While I try to give each restaurant its due, the sheer number of comfort-food establishments at which I've recently dined has made it tough to distinguish one thick pile of green chili from another. As long as they're not really screwed up, all chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes start to taste the same.
That said, Town Center has one signature: large portions. At lunch, the chopped steak ($6.99) arrived with a heap of crisp french fries. The beef with mushroom gravy had a tasty char and a juicy center, but trying to cut the meat on foam plates had the fries tumbling onto the table. Sometimes more is just a mess.
In the words of my husband, the Wurlitzer burger ($6.99) was "a whole lotta beef" with two thick, hand-formed patties, cheddar and Swiss cheeses and a pickle. The extra-crispy onion rings delivered.
The breakfast crowd seemed pretty comfortable. One diner walked behind the counter, grabbed the pot of coffee and helped himself, then proceeded to cross the room and top off my guest.
"He used to come to our East Side Diner," said Charlie, proud that many from as far away as Calhan and Falcon now make the trek downtown.
My two biscuits and gravy with hash browns, a bargain at $3.75, came on a proper breakfast platter. The fluffy biscuits and creamy gravy with chopped sausage patty were delicious. Charlie, unnecessarily apologetic, was quick to note that ground pork sausage a biscuits-and-gravy staple will be used once traffic picks up.
The star of the day was the breakfast burrito ($6.99 with gravy, $7.25 with green chili) comprised of four eggs, hash browns and cheese in a tortilla smothered with green chili. Homemade with organic chilies, tomatoes and ground pork, it packed some heat. Though a tad spicy for me, my companion couldn't get enough.
The Bakers, who've scored some valuable parking on the building's west side, have big plans. Making use of the auditorium and Lon Chaney Theatre, they hope to offer "Martini and a Movie" nights in the future. Also, "Yappy Hour" would allow dog owners to bring pets, have a cocktail and hear speakers talk pet care.
As he explained his hope for a large, family-friendly Super Bowl party next year, I couldn't help but be impressed by Charlie Baker. Not just because he works as host, waiter and cook, but because he's only 19 years old.
If Town Center builds the kind of clientele the Bakers enjoyed out east, and even a fraction of its ideas come to fruition, the place could grow to match its historic locale.