One of the advantages of living in Denver is the abundance of road trip destinations for an easy weekend getaway. Some people hop in the car to head to their favorite camping site, while others are looking for the perfect hike. But year after year, I make my way to Salida, dreaming of a certain place for breakfast – a place that may not be around for much longer.
Over the past decade, there have been a lot of changes in this mountain town, which is located on the Arkansas River and is surrounded by fourteen people. The downtown creative district, founded in 2012, has boosted the area’s vitality and attracted new business, including breweries, bars, distilleries, and restaurants.
But there is one place that has been comfortably consistent for decades: Patio Pancake Place (or more commonly, just Patio Pancake). Although there’s no actual patio at the 58-year-old Salida, there are actually plenty of pancakes—along with the best chicken-fried steak I’ve found in the state.
Located along Interstate 50, away from the Creative District on a strip still dotted with 1960s-style roadside motels that may have opened around the same time that Patio Pancake debuted as a car in 1964, the area is a retro throwback (except for the Best Western Across the street and McDonald’s a block away).
If you’re looking for a place to stay, the Circle R Hotel, with its vintage sign and huge pink lawn flamingos out front, is a great choice for several reasons: it’s affordable, there’s a hot tub, the rooms were remodeled in 2018, and most importantly, it’s Only a six-minute walk from Patio Pancake, where you can refuel for whatever adventure awaits you that day, whether it’s white water kayaking, catching a concert or festival in town, or going to a hot spring pool for a relaxing soak.
The Edwards family purchased the restaurant in 1976. It is now run by their children and grandchildren, making it the oldest continuously owned and operated restaurant in Chaffee County. But that offer will soon expire: The family brought the restaurant to market earlier this year. Now sale is on hold and Patio Pancake’s future is uncertain.
Currently, the parking lot is still packed with cars daily – mostly locals who come for low priced comfort food. Although tables have been spaced a bit since the outbreak, nothing else has changed within the relatively exposed and wood-paneled dining area since my first visit, sometime around 2006.
Any good dinner requires at least one pie for the table, and this is definitely not to be skipped at a place that has “pie” in the name. The milk-based recipe hasn’t changed since 1964, and it’s available in several options, including the Mini Silver Dollar Cake ($7) and the classic-style cheesecake ($8.50 each). You can also opt for flavored fillings, including chocolate, strawberry, coconut, banana, and walnut, but I prefer to choose one plain cake ($6) with ample whipped butter from those small tin foil containers and a generous pour of syrup.
Other local favorites include green peppers, a recipe developed by the founders’ son, Tim Edwards, and homemade German and Italian sausages. Besides breakfast staples like omelets, huevos rancheros, biscuits and gravy (all served during normal business hours, 7am-2pm) there are lunch options that include sandwiches, chicken nuggets, and an open-faced burger.
While many of these classic comfort foods may be tempting, I don’t miss the opportunity to order chicken-fried steak. At $16 (or $17.50 with brown retail), it’s the most expensive item on the menu, but worth every penny.
First of all, it is huge, covering more than half of the large oval dish it is served on. The diced steak is thick and meaty enough not to get lost in the thick, coarse bread that somehow remains crunchy even under a generous blanket of rich, creamy, peppery country broth. Two eggs, any way you like, with toast or pancake. And yes, you should pay $1.50 extra for the golden brown, made here with sliced potatoes.
Patio Pancake, like many diners, caters largely to older customers – which means it tends to focus on salt. I can’t fault the place with that, and there’s no shame in adding a bit of spice to make the food here stand out. I go for a few dashes of Cholula, too.
I’ll be back soon for what might be my last taste of chicken fried steak. Like the now-closed major Denver restaurants Tom’s Diner, Annie’s Cafe, and Breakfast King, this throwback could just become a memory in the coming months — and yet another reminder to visit the restaurants you love while you can, and visit often.