For quaintness, virtually nothing beats heart-adorned window shutters and goose-print lace curtains. Throw in vintage dolls, birdhouses, rural-themed knickknacks, picnic-print tablecloths and a farm-scene wall mural, and you get a space so sincerely small-town, anywhere America, that it charms on sight alone.
You also get Penrose staple the Goose Berry Patch, expanded from 14 seats by Tim and Barbara Martin over two-plus decades to accommodate a small-church-sized congregation of eaters.
Over the past decade, I've passed the roadside restaurant dozens of times on trips southward. I'd often wondered about its offerings while sitting inside Coyote's Coffee Den, a favorite stop across the street. So finally dropping in on a Friday night brought a sense of relief akin to unraveling the plot of a good mystery movie. Fortunately, it also delivered some of the finest pie and cobbler I've ever tasted.
From a wide-ranging menu of mostly comfort foods (sprinkled with a few more uppity items like filet mignon), we started with a plate of eight cream-cheese-filled jalapeño poppers ($5.95). They far surpassed bar renditions of the treat, thanks to a delicious raspberry pepper jelly dip. The Martins make their own jellies and jams in addition to breads, pies and dishes such as their chili ($3.95/cup, $4.95/bowl), which we found hearty and better than most. Served with a diced onion garnish, a sprinkling of grated cheese, crackers and a small school of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, it was generous with the ground beef chunks.
Our friendly waiter, shiny-faced and still out of breath from the evening's rush, had recommended we go for one of the seven specialty burgers ($6.95 to $8.95) along with our trout entrée selection ($15.95). During our short wait, we nibbled a plate of olives and bleu cheese crumbles and a strange-but-good grape, broccoli and sunflower seed salad from the otherwise standard salad bar (free with several dinner menu options).
Next to serviceable french fries, the Ole Burger arrived wearing a few strips of mild green chiles and melted Monterey Jack cheese; the soft, homemade bun, more of a gourmet roll, was truly a highlight on what I'd rate a damn decent burger.
The boneless, skinless trout, described as "stuffed w/baby shrimp, wrapped in bacon" on the menu, showed up next to my baked potato as two filets separated by a handful of sautéed shrimp tails with three strips of crispy bacon lying on top. Lightly sauced with a touch of lemon-herb butter, the shrimp was tasty but the fish itself was just OK, and probably would taste more special were it caught an hour down the road and actually cooked while wrapped in the bacon.
Stuffed, we took a slice of coconut cream pie ($2.95), gooseberry pie and blackberry cobbler (each $3.95) to go. Never having eaten gooseberries before — the Martins buy mass quantities from Kansas — I found them pleasant and not too tart. The pie crust was culinary-school perfect, as was the breading on the cobbler, and the fruit flavors of both were strong and natural-tasting. The coconut cream pie also brought good flavor, with a firm pudding texture under a thick whipped cream layer.
Down the road, I'll likely make the 40-minute drive from Colorado Springs just to pick up a whole pie ($10.95 to $12.95) or two. Pit stops don't come cuter or tastier than the Goose Berry Patch.