I have a skinny mother. My memories of her as a young woman include her prominent knees, razor-sharp shins and bony elbows. So I loved it as a kid when I found myself in the lap or in the embrace of a soft, fat woman. I loved sinking into the cushiony bosom of a big woman.
That's how I feel when I go into the Corner Caf, a nifty sandwich shop in the former location of Detz Caf; (now east of Nevada on Cucharras Street), right across the street from the El Paso County courthouse. In a world of lean, angular meals and low-carb frenzy, Corner Caf; is a soft, big-bosomed refuge.
Photos of cowboys and beauty queens line the wall leading to the cash register where you place your order with Virginia Smoot, the delightful mother of the place, dressed in a bright apron, her silver hair pulled back into a curled-under ponytail. In the kitchen, her husband Robert Smoot makes the sandwiches. The Smoots ran the Corner Caf; in Clovis, Calif., for 13 years before moving to Colorado Springs, bringing the sandwich shop with them.
Oldies radio plays constantly, sometimes a bit too loudly. This is a hazard found in many restaurants as commercial radio, like commercial television, raises the volume when the ads come on. Nobody likes being blasted in the ear: CALL NOW! 888-875-4321! YOU COULD BE THE LUCKY WINNER! Hint: Turn it down.
I suppose you could stick to your low-carb regimen at Corner Caf; if you wanted. There are several salads on the menu, but I haven't tried them. I am far too drawn to the sandwiches to settle for a pile of cold greens.
A board listing the daily specials stands sentry at the door. On my first visit, I ordered the Grilled Turkey Reuben special ($5.25) -- grilled chewy rye bread, a mountain of thinly sliced turkey, melted Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing, a superb sandwich. Stuffed, I couldn't resist taking a slice of coconut cream pie back to the office for a late-afternoon snack. The sturdy homemade crust resisted weeping and sogginess, and the vanilla custard filling was not too sweet, with just enough shredded coconut -- highly recommended, along with the strawberry pizza, a low-rise pie with a sweetened cream cheese layer topped with sliced strawberries.
Corner Caf; offers six hot sandwiches ($5.25) on the regular menu, including a shredded pork barbecue, a standard corned-beef Reuben, a French dip, the Tuna Melt, "The Uptown," and the Hot Pastrami with peppers and Swiss on a grilled French roll. I tried "The Uptown," a generous portion of roast beef, cheddar cheese and tomato on grilled sourdough and found it completely satisfying.
Among the other sandwiches on the regular menu, I tried the Clovis Club ($5), a triple-layer roast beef, turkey and bacon sandwich on toasted slices of potato bread with shredded lettuce and sliced tomatoes. Tasty but tough to handle, I needed a bib, a fork and a bigger mouth to handle this monster of a sandwich.
Another day, another special -- this time the El Paso Burger ($5.50), a juicy ground chuck burger with melted pepper jack cheese, two big green slices of roasted chilies, lettuce and tomato on a fat potato bun. The burgers at Corner Caf are uniformly good, a plus for a downtown that's surprisingly weak in burger wealth. The signature burger is the Blue Max ($5.50), a patty smothered in crumbled blue cheese dressing, topped with bacon, lettuce and tomato.
You can get a breakfast sandwich ($3.25) at Corner Caf; as early as 7 a.m., with scrambled eggs, cheese and your choice of ham, chorizo, bacon or sausage on grilled sourdough. I tried the chorizo sandwich, a delicious, hot gooey mess. Another morning I tried the breakfast special, a steak burrito smothered with green chili. This was a standout -- lean slivers of seasoned steak, potatoes, eggs and cheese, wrapped and topped with a medium-hot, chunky pork green chili -- filling and tasty.
I couldn't resist trying the ultimate soft, fat food at Corner Caf;, also on the breakfast menu: Biscuits and Gravy with Two Eggs ($5). Would the biscuits pass the down-home test or would they be pasty and flavorless? Would the gravy be the gluey muck they serve everywhere in the West, heavy as wallpaper paste and largely flavorless?
I'm happy to report a no on both counts. The biscuits were golden-crusted and light, hot and butter-flavored. The gravy was creamy but not heavy, laden with chunks of sausage and seasoned with plenty of salt and black pepper. Two eggs cooked over-medium floated on top, the whole concoction served in a big bowl with a spoon and a fork.
I sank back in my chair with a big sigh, happy to once again be embraced in the soft bosom of Corner Caf;.
-- Kathryn Eastburn
7 E. Vermijo Ave. (near Cascade Avenue)
Breakfast served 7-10 a.m., Monday through Friday; Lunch 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday