Coachmans Dinner & Pancake House

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Photo: Talyn Sherer

“We think you will be pleasantly surprised,” reads the marquee outside Coachmans Dinner & Pancake House. Well, sometimes you have to walk on the wild side, and as safe and nice as wild sides go, Coachmans is that. I feel dangerous going in, but once in, I feel pretty good about myself. They take cash only. There is red velvet, and the decor is both clean and straight from a 1962 Vegas lounge. The waitresses are nice and helpful, and, best of all, the food is affordable, just as the sign promises. Coachmans’ food is good and old-style, which means that it’s both healthy and maybe occasionally deliciously unhealthy. The house music is the high school music for kids in the late ’50s, and so I suspect the food, too, is familiar in style and quality for people of that era, which I think is great—any crowd who can get behind Elvis, smoking cigarettes and swing dancing probably knows how to have a cool time and enjoy a hot meal.

People love to eat breakfast from morning till night, and Coachmans serves a great breakfast all day. The classic Three Eggs Any Style is a great deal for just $4.95—three eggs made your way, toast and a pancake or country potatoes. I splurge for my eggs, so the Steak and Eggs ($10.95) fits in my budget. The breakfast steak is the same that comes with the lunch special, and it is better-than–Market Street good, as are the Denver Omelets ($6.95). My food friend, who likes her breakfasts sweet, got the Strawberry Belgian Waffles ($5.95) covered in syrupy but real strawberries. These crunchy confections with powdered sugar fill a big plate, and it was too much food for her. But the Buttermilk Pancake Plate ($4.95), on the other hand—even at five cakes thick (tall as the large-print edition of The Princess Diaries and just as sweet)—got eaten till only syrup and silverware remained.

Lunch Specials are a killer deal here and are served only on weekdays between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Lunch comes with a warm dinner roll and starts with a first-course soup or salad. The salad has the usual suspects (plus frozen peas) but no onion. The Sliced Tomato Topped with Delicious Surimi Crab Salad option is, in fact, delicious and à la Vegas. All the soups are good. The Veal Cutlet on Cheese Sauce ($6.95) is two breaded patties of veal covered in a thin cheese sauce, which is decidedly oddball (like nacho cheese without the sharp flavor or thick body). It appears here and there on the menu, taking the place of hollandaise on the Eggs Benedict, which I did not try (because of the cheese sauce), and on the Cheddar Steak ($7.75), which is the same meal but with a pounded steak instead of veal patties. The vegetables that come on the side of most of the meals and dinners are firstrate and fresh-cooked, and the mashed potatoes are made from scratch. The Sirloin Tips ($6.95) lunch is a light beef stroganoff on egg noodles, and it was the reason I started coming here again. The Liver and Onions ($6.95), too, is right and sentimental in my heart. Tender and fresh, if liver is for you, this is a goto, and the Broiled Halibut ($9.95) and Broiled Salmon ($8.95) plates are good buys. The Fried Chicken ($6.95) is a half chicken in pieces, fried to order, and varied from dry to succulent the times I had it, but still, it’s real, and it’s fried chicken with mashed potatoes, gravy and vegetables.

A few low points: The coffee is bad—not good bad, just bad. The one hamburger I ate was one of the worst I ever had, freezer-burned and fugly. And the spaghetti, which the menu trumpets with praise, is bad, but maybe good-bad. The fries are forgettable and under-salted. The bread pudding could use some raisins or nuts, but that is a quibble, not a gripe.

The dinner menu is largely the same as the weekday lunch menu with some bigger, better options and both soup and salad as well as dessert in the bargain. The Liver and Onions ($8.95) is about the same service as above, but the Roast Beef ($9.75) takes the place of the beef tips, still with light stroganoff gravy and egg noodles, but covered over with generous slices of stacked roast beef. The Roast Turkey ($9.75) dinner is a solid Thanksgiving substitute with real turkey on sage dressing with cranberry and mashed potato. I was told the Lamb Chops ($16.95) were the best ever by an old-timer, but my order was little meat and lots of fat. The 16-oz. Bone-in Rib Eye – Sizzling!!! ($16.95) is the real deal, cooked John Wayne style—burnt but bloody with a baked potato and vegetable, in addition to soup, salad and dessert. There are also meals of lobster, king crab and shrimp.

Coachmans has been a breakfast place for me on infrequent occasion for most of my 30 years in Salt Lake City, and I think that I should probably have been coming more. This is the go-to comfort diner of days gone by, with yesterday’s prices and old-school food quality and choice. I am definitely bringing my family here next time they come to visit. I know that they are going to be wowed by it as much as I continue to be.