The slow life in Show Low, AZ got under my skin. There is just something in the cold, pine scented mountain air that stirred the great granny spirit that has been living and sleeping inside of me all this time. My taut skin and wrinkled soul had to have its daily post-hotel carb fest breakfast walk to the corner East Deuce of Clubs and White Mountain Road (the town’s two main streets), basking in the clear blue skies and bright yellow sunshine in 40ish F (that is around 4 C) temperatures and reveling in the simple small town sights: moseying through the empty highway, listening to the rustle of the tall grass dancing in the breeze, admiring the tree leaves’ rainbow colors, window shopping through aisles of cowboy boots and saddles, farmer jumpsuits and hunting camouflage gear and flitting in and out of owner run establishments, a rarity in the big cities I’ve lived in.
With my hands and feet cold and my tummy grumbling, it was time to keep warm inside and sit down for a lunch (Yes, my walks took that long). So instead of just dashing in and out of Sweetheart Café, one of the small restaurants in town, I chose to linger.
The Sweetheart Café, its distraught wooden panels and faux concrete tiles accented with candy red and cotton white colors, stuck out like a yellow daisy in the middle of a desolate field, a pop of freshness and amidst the dry and decrepit. But behind the façade of youth and vitality, inside the café, were tables among tables of silver haired, hunched and wrinkled ones, bundled up in layers of clothing, enjoying mugs of hot beverage and the listening to the crackly trumpet fanfare and barking of the radio announcer. I was the youngest (and tiniest) customer they had, apart from the burly policemen, who I think were definitely a decade older than I was.
Service was at a snail’s pace. But what do you expect in a small town where the waitress knew her customers, who seem to be regulars, indulging them in 5-minute casual yet genuine conversation apart from getting their orders? I would’ve loved to be one of those regulars, whom the waitress knew: how my dog was, what my favorite dessert was, what book I was reading, how I liked my coffee. I sighed, because, sadly, I wasn’t one of those customers. I wished I had a regular go-to restaurant, where the waitress and the owners know me well. I wished that the big cities had small places with big heart like Sweetheart Café. And so I waited with bated breath for my order of country-fried steak. I delighted in the neon-colored scrawls of the daily specials, the Marilyn Monroe, I Love Lucy, old tin coffee cans and other vintage kitsch, the clear blue skies (again) and eavesdropping on conversations about the Red Sox winning the World Series (in which the world isn’t involved…Why call it the “World Series” then?), while jotting down thoughts on my wee notebook.
The waitress then put down my behemoth country fried steak platter in front of me, smiled and chirped “Enjoy!” with a twinkle in her tired eyes. I dived in, head first, and sliced off a bit from the cream gravy-drowned, crispy golden panko crusted fried steak. Panko crumbs dredged country steak in the mountains? Who would’ve thought? I took another bite of the steak with a slice of sourdough bread (sadly not homemade – I should’ve ordered the bread that was) slathered with Show Low made strawberry jam and a bit of the runny fried egg. A perfect bite: crispy steak, creamy and salty gravy and eggs and sweet jam. I plowed through the platter, spoonful after spoonful of those perfect bites, and then stopped myself from devouring every bit of country-fried steak. Now this is downright home cooking – filling and comforting down to the last bite!
I packed my clamshell of leftovers (which I ravaged that evening), read a few pages off my Kindle, paid the bill and asked how much the bottles of homemade jam were. The strawberry jam was packed with the punch of fresh, mountain sunshine: pure, sweet and refreshing, which I knew I should bring back home to Texas. “I will be back for the jam. Tomorrow” I told the other waitress / cashier (They only had two.) as she handed me my receipt.
The next day, I went on my customary Show Low slow life morning walk and stopped by Sweetheart Café as promised. “You’re back!” the waitress chirped in pleasant surprise. The tiny me inside my heart did a little cartwheel, which probably showed in my wide Cheshire cat grin. She remembered me. Sweetheart Café remembered me!
The next day, the day we embarked on our journey back to Texas, we dropped by again to pick up some more jam to bring home to our friends. “You’re here again!” the waitress greeted me. They really remembered! I smiled, picked up the bottles of jam to go and smiled again. Maybe I can consider myself a regular.
Sweetheart Café, you truly are one sweetheart of a restaurant.
1201 E Deuce of Clubs
Show Low, AZ 85901
Closed on Mondays
Tuesdays to Sunday, 7AM to 3PM
Except Fridays, 7AM to 8PM
+1 (928) 537-0300
Delirious about delicious,