Food Three stars
Service Three stars
Ambience Three stars
Address: 829 Main St., Suite 5, Longmont
Contact: 303-678-8034, facebook.com/hiddencafeco
Hours: 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday, Wednesday-Friday (closed Tuesday) and 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
Fare: Traditional American diner breakfast and lunches, with limited gluten-free and vegetarian choices.
Noise Level: Low to moderate. Most folks during our visit were pretty low key as they were likely gearing up for the day and waiting for the coffee to kick in.
Contrary to its name, Longmont's Hidden Cafe is actually easy enough to find. This humble establishment is located just of North Main Street and an obvious sign as well as a window painting touting the availability of blue plate specials marked the spot.
Inside you'll find all the trappings of an authentic American diner. Efficient service, an unpretentious, down-home vibe and a timeless menu are all part of the experience. Breakfast is served all day, and includes such offerings as breakfast burritos, ham steak plates and three-egg omelets. Lunch fare includes cold and hot sandwiches, including green chile hot dogs and half-pound burgers.
At a weekend breakfast, my friends and I were quickly seated and within moments were sipping on restorative diner java. Besides the reasonably expansive menu, there's numerous specials, and we couldn't resist ordering one of them, the Captain Crunch French toast, at $4.25 for a half order.
While it's only January, this selection is already a contender for guilty pleasure of the year. This toast with a semi-nautical twist comes battered with crushed cereal that's fried to a crisp. From an appearance standpoint, it initially looks like a nicely toasted piece of bread sliced on the diagonal and dusted with powdered sugar. But closer examination revealed flecks of cereal on the exterior, and despite the addition of this ingredient, we were pleasantly surprised that it wasn't tooth-shatteringly sweet.
While this preparation doesn't fall on the overly eggy side of the French toast equation as other versions do, the overall impression is akin to a freshly made donut hot from the fryer. It also didn't require such adornment as syrup, or even the included butter, and nothing more was needed to fully enjoy this treat than a cup of this cafe's straightforward diner coffee as an accompaniment.
My dining companions both selected dishes with a Mexico by way of the American Southwest sensibility. These included an $8.25 tamale and eggs, which came with a choice of toast and potatoes. The tamales were generously doused with a pleasingly potent green chile with a kick. Topped with loads of grated cheese, the chile had a full and balanced flavor, unlike some that are merely spicy hot. The tamales themselves were sizable, with a substantial masa texture and a fine ration of tender pork. For my friend, who hadn't had a decent tamale in a while, they were just what the doctor ordered.
The $7.85 Huevos Rancheros shared many of the same virtues and ingredients as the tamales and eggs, including the home fries and green chile. In this instance, the huevos were served atop a platter-sized flour tortilla, and adorned with cheese, diced tomatoes and sour cream. As was the case with the tamales and eggs, this was the sort of sizable and simply satisfying breakfast that made lunch, and possibly dinner later in the day unnecessary.
There's a handful of dishes that I allow myself to indulge in only once or twice a year, and chicken fried steak is one of them. This is a dish most commonly associated with the South and Texas, where it's said to have been influenced by German immigrants' schnitzel. Born out of a need to economize, this preparation originated as a way of making less tender cuts of beef palatable.
The Hidden Cafe's $8.25 approach, which comes with two eggs, choice of toast or biscuit, and potatoes, hit the mark. The eggs were properly prepared, perfectly hitting the sweet spot between overly runny and firm, and the home fries were comforting classic cafe fare. My requested biscuit was decent with a near cake-like texture, although it probably wouldn't hold up to a Southern family's version, which probably isn't a fair comparison.
What was darn near hard to fault was the chicken fried steak. The meat was flavorful and perfectly seasoned, as a surplus of salt all too often sets this dish back. Breading was also top-notch and unexpectedly light, with a consistency that was crisp without being too thick. A white cream gravy dotted with sausage was balanced in flavor, but not without a bit of pep. Usually, I'll feel it necessary to doctor white gravy with a few drops of hot sauce, but that wasn't the case here.
Despite its mysterious name, the Hidden Cafe is a what you see is what you get kind of place. Namely, its a spot for traditional diner breakfasts and lunches, priced reasonably, portioned generously and served efficiently. For fans of straight up diner fare, it's worth a visit.