The workingman's area of town for years was around South Tacoma Way. The Northern Pacific Shops were located just west of South Tacoma Way and South Washington. Many of the men who worked at the roundhouse and kept the engines going and the trucks turning lived in the area and walked to and from work everyday, including my uncle, Randall Whitworth. The Larry Anderson statue of a railroader and his daughter stands on the corner of 56th and South Tacoma Way, just a few blocks from where my uncle and my cousin, his daughter Lindy lived. Within one block from that statue were at least half a dozen diners that provided good food at reasonable prices. Still carrying on that tradition is The Chili Parlor a hundred yards down the street at 5640 S. Tacoma Way.
A week and a half before I had eaten lunch with my friend Jim Harris and now I took my wife and three granddaughters there for breakfast. Everyone had more than they could eat and loved what they ate.
Well, love is a little strong perhaps. I didn't love everything I sampled, but I certainly enjoyed the diner. I wish they served hash browns, which is what most diners expect and want (from my own sampling of breakfast eaters). Instead they have two types of home fries and an upgraded home fry with bacon, peas, and cheese. Although the cook tried to make it crispy she didn't succeed. It was browner, but not crunchy. Perhaps, they are trying to serve healthy food, but if they could just cut down the size of the portion and add some oil fry it up nicely I would be happy.
Two of the girls had apple juice while one had coffee, which may explain how she can talk so fast. Bella, the eighth-grader, had pancakes with bacon and eggs. I had the same with the addition of the upgrade on the potatoes to Kat Fries and coffee. There used to be a hamburger joint on Wakefield Drive (lower South Tacoma Way) that promised "coffee and a smile for 5 cents." At The Chili Parlor it's gone up a little to a quarter, but that is a bargain in today's world . . . even at a diner.
While the kids had been staying with us, we rated each of the three movies from one to ten. I asked Bella her rating of her pancakes. She gave them a nine, which was the same as my score. The were a little hard rather than soft. I prefer soft because it allows the butter and the syrup to soak in a little bit rather than run off. Since I butter my pancakes and then pour syrup before adding my eggs on top of the pancakes this is important. There is nothing like a forkful of buttered pancake with syrup and yolk. Both our "sunny side up" and "medium" fried eggs were perfect.
Laci and Sophia had French toast. Laci had her's with bacon. The bacon seems thin, but like the eggs, it was fried perfectly. Thin bacon might seem like a drawback, but the taste it all there. Sophia ate the whites around her yolks, but not the yolks. I don't know why. I don't recall seeing any left over French toast on anyone's plate, so I'm assuming it was good.
Cooking good bacon is an art . . . especially in a diner. Bacon and eggs is a staple. Most cooking shows on TV drive home the point that frying an egg is a delicate business and many aspiring chefs can't do it. I had to laugh when the girls were ordering. Last year we had eaten at Fergies on McKinley Avenue and the waitress had explained how to order fried eggs and what "over easy," "sunny side up," and "medium" meant. The girls were spot on in their ordering AND in their eating.
A good diner has to serve good bacon and eggs . . . The Chili Parlor delivers!
The big test came with Peg's order. She likes chicken fried steak. She ordered it with the home fries, scrambled eggs, and a buttered muffin. I think Peg used the word perfect five or six times in describing her order.
Peg had ordered her scrambled eggs "slightly loose" and they were. Her buttered muffin was and went well with jam. The chicken fried steak will be ordered again. The potatoes were the only serving that didn't rate a perfect. Again, a lack of crispiness is a problem for us and the food that is expected to be.
I had tried the chicken fried steak before and was disappointed with the gravy. This time I still missed not having sausage in a "country" gravy, but this one was thicker than the gravy I had tried previously. I was still disapointed in no sausage, but it was thicker, which I like.
Even though everyone was full and happy, I asked if anyone wanted try their cakes at The Chili Parlor. There wasn't even a vote. We ordered the Chocolate Mousse Cake and the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Cake. Wayne Wahlen, who used to own the Old General Store in Roy came from Cincinnati, Ohio, which explains his desire to share Cincinnati Chili and perhaps a taste of Bourbon.
Wayne's wife Kathy, who owns the diner served us. She works for a local school district also, which explains how warmly she greeted and chatted with the girls. I think Wayne and Kathy were married sometime in the last year. They celebrated a one year anniversary for the diner earlier this month.
I think the Bourbon cake is imported from Kentucky. Unfortunately, I had switched from coffee to Coke over breakfast, and the cake cries out for coffee . . . maybe even laced with Bourbon or for us, Bailey's Irish Cream. Sitting at Starbuck's of Tully's I'll cut up a piece of pumpkin bread and delicately dunk a forkful into my coffee. Dunking the Bourbon Barrel Cake into Coke seemed a sacrilege. I would order it again.
Laci only had one bite of the Chocolate Mousse Cake and said, "I think we need another order!" She was right to the point, and right in her observation. The Chocolate Mousse Cake is more like a pie, but whatever you call it, it was good. I can see it being ordered after breakfast (if only for the fresh strawberry that comes with it), after lunch, after dinner or just to accompany a twenty-five cent cup of coffee.
Peg promised that we would return the next morning and so we did. While the girls all ordered French Toast with bacon, Peg and I merely nibbled. She was right, the English muffin was toasted and buttered perfectly!
As we left The Chili Parlor, I stopped to read the lettering on the wall by the front door. It gives a brief history of South Tacoma or as it was called in 1891, Edison City )in honor of Thomas A. Edison who was popular because of all of his modern inventions like the electric light bulb. I often wondered why The Chili Parlor space was once called the Edison City Diner. They used to advertise in the local papers and every once in a while I would drive over and see the closed sign. Each time I've driven over to The Chili Parlor they have been open and that's a good thing. I want them to stay around a lot longer and be open for hungry people like our family.