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Thursday, February 7,2013

A diner that Jack Reacher would like

By Clay Fong

Long before Tom Cruise portrayed Jack Reacher on film, I had been reading the popular series of novels featuring this ex-military investigator’s suspense-filled adventures. Reacher, a hulking fellow well over six feet tall, (I had always pictured Viggo Mortensen playing him) spends the novels, as my brother puts it, “wandering like Cain.” Part of these books’ considerable appeal is in their unpredictable plotting, although a Reacher tale commonly results in uncovering dastardly small-town doings. Other recurring threads include Reacher’s voracious thirst for coffee, and a fondness for “adequate” diner food.

In Nothing to Lose, Reacher has lousy luck finding a place to eat in our fair state. His attempts to patronize a diner in an Eastern Plains hamlet lead to his arrest and being hustled out of town. If Reacher were to ever return to Colorado and wind up in Boulder, I suspect he’d make a beeline for the Parkway Cafe. This humble eatery is nestled among auto shops and other light industrial businesses; you’ll likely park next to a wrecked vehicle awaiting repair. Both the ambience and menu are basic and inviting. Offerings include such breakfast and lunch classics as basic egg plates, burgers, club sandwiches and tuna and cottage cheese salads. There’s also a smattering of Mexican-inspired dishes like breakfast burritos and enchiladas.

Friend Keith and I settled into a booth, and we were quickly tended to by our amiable server. She recited the daily specials, which included a Friday standby, clam chowder. Intrigued, I ordered a $2.95 cup of this New England-style soup, dusted with a light sprinkling of paprika on top for color and cellophane-wrapped saltines on the side. I was pleasantly surprised by this enjoyable preparation, which had a remarkably pure shellfish taste, not-too-thick texture, and a respectable measure of clams.

For a first course, Keith had a $3.50 standard-issue green salad, which, at first glance, was precisely what you’d expect for this kind of homespun spot. Built on a foundation of iceberg lettuce, it came with such expected ingredients as tomato and cheddar shreds. But it also had a few unexpected touches, including a compellingly crunchy sunflower seed garnish.

Next up was Keith’s $7.50 Denver omelet. However, this egg dish may have been more accurately termed an Arvada or Lakewood omelet, as my friend swapped out the traditional ham for bacon. Regardless of the ingredients, the eggs were of remarkably fluffy texture, an indicator of the chef ’s attentiveness — this main ingredient hadn’t gone rubbery. Diced bell peppers were slightly al dente, and the bacon achieved an ideal level of crispiness. An accompanying side of fruit featured fresh produce, as opposed to canned cocktail, including a wonderfully sweet and juicy pear slice.

My entree was a $7.50 green chile burger with lightly seasoned fries. Generously portioned, this burger was a tad messy due to the copious helping of green chile ladled over it. However, this issue was remedied with the help of several napkins. While the chile itself was mild and the meat wasn’t locavore grass-fed beef (which isn’t exactly the point here), I enjoyed this sandwich as a fine exemplar of American road chow.

I suspect a hungry Jack Reacher would approve of this unpretentious and reasonably priced meal as well.

The Parkway Cafe is located at 4700 Pearl St., Boulder. Call 303-447-1833.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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