A once dark, smoky café on a residential corner just blocks from where south city melts into Maplewood has undergone a six-month transformation that is both epic and quaint. The "Coming Soon!" sign that hung in the window for months was accompanied by bright window decals and potted flowers until, eventually, it was taken down. And with that, the highly anticipated neighborhood diner was open for business.
At Southwest Diner (6803 Southwest Avenue, Maplewood; 314-260-7244), the décor screams casual diner with New Mexico flavor. This coincidence (a Southwestern diner making its home at Southwest Avenue) naturally begs the question: What came first, the location, or the cuisine? Co-owners Jonathan Jones and Anna Sidel assure Gut Check that the food takes precedence -- they happened upon the location listed under its Abbott Place address -- but when they visited the spot and its serendipitous cross-street, there was no hesitation to buy.
Jones and Sidel had been working together for a couple of years, serving up tacos at the Tower Grove Farmers' Market (4256 Magnolia Avenue; 314-771-4410) and sharing the small kitchen at Handlebar (4127 Manchester Avenue; 314-652-2212). It quickly became clear that the pair makes beautiful burritos together, even under stressful circumstances. "We worked together in a very tight space and didn't stab each other once," Jones explains, with a playful grin.
That infamous Fats Pierre (the culinary duo's taco-hawking pseudonym) green chile made marketgoers into believers who'd follow their Southwestern style anywhere. Which explains why, on the diner's fourth day of operation, we found it already packed to capacity with hungry neighbors and friends.
The menu features breakfast specialties such as "Jonathan's Famous Fiery Scramble" ($8), a serving of spicy, cheesy scrambled eggs, choice of breakfast meat, home fries and toast, "Buttermilk Cornmeal Pancakes" ($4 for a half stack, $5.50 for a tall) and "Biscuits and Chorizo Gravy" ($4 for a half order, $6 for a full) as well as a sampling of "New Mexican Platters," including tostadas ($7), "Market Tacos" ($7) and "Red or Green Chile Enchiladas" ($7). Match meat and vegetarian chile can be added to any dish.
Classic diner lunch options are also present, including the "BLTJ" ($6.50), which replaces the classic "T" with tomato jam. Supplemented with extras, like sopapilla "donuts," Kaldi's coffee and freshly squeezed OJ heavy with pulp, Southwest Diner has what you need, whether that's a hangover cure or a friendly place to meet with friends or family for a spicy, memorable brunch.
Southwest Diner is open 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Call 314-260-7244 or visit its Facebook page for more information.