24 May 2008
Charlie's Silver Fox Restaurant & Lounge & Mexican-Italian Food (etc, etc.) has dive written all over it. Located on a dark corner next to the Interstate and a vacant lot, one would assume that the inside would be similar: dingy, cold, and filled with up-to-no-good characters that you would assume you'd find hanging out next to the interstate and a vacant lot. The exterior of the building further fails at inspiring much confidence. It looks like a used car lot. Indeed, the first time I went, my neighbor Bryan about decided to stay in the car, but the dark parking lot of The Fox proved to be a less inviting alternative.
I was mildly shocked upon stepping inside. The well lit space was anything but menacing. Booths lined the two exterior walls, the bar was opposite the door, and tables filled the space in between. At the far end of the building was a pool table and a couple of video games. Kitch decorated the walls - old Coca Cola signs, signs for Texaco gas, and those advertising bread for 10 cents or moon pies for a nickel. It was the kind of bland, empty nostalgia you'd find decorating my mother-in-law's house. Only my mother-in-law doesn't have an inflatable Miller Light stock car hanging from the ceiling (I wish she did, it'd make being there much more palatable). The Silver Fox was looking more like grandma's garage than bad guy hideout. The crowd was fairly subdued, other than the guy who was arguing the finer points of Sake with the bartender who looked to be from somewhere in the far east, and thus was obviously an expert about such things. We bellied up to the bar and were given large mugs of draft beer for a couple bucks. After that first sip of beer, I think I overheard Bryan breathing a sigh of relief. I was maybe a bit relieved too, but also perhaps a bit disappointed.
It was only when I returned one morning for food did The Silver Fox make its mark as a notable establishment. The Fox serves Mexican and Italian food, and I typically shy away from bipartisan restaurants like this. There is a Mexican-Italian restaurant by where I used to work called Piccolo's, and the fact they would set out a basket of chips and a basket of rolls for you to munch on while waiting for your food only succeeded in leaving me confused. But for some reason I was curious about The Fox, and had to make a return for breakfast. It was only 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning, but it turns out that I was already late for the party. The tables were full of patrons and full of empty or partially full mugs of drink. This wasn't the 'feeling a bit naughty having a bloody mary with breaakfast' crowd, this was the 'If I am lucky, I won't pass out on the railroad tracks with my pants around my ankles, let's do another shot' crowd. There was definitely a festive air to the place, with loud conversations, music and pool games going on. A tired looking woman gave me an uncomfortable stare through glassy eyes as I moved to an empty booth. As I sat watching the scene, the waitress brought out more rounds and shots. A jukebox pumped out country and western favorites. I checked my watch. Yep, still 9 am. The waitress interrupted my pondering having a beer with breakfast instead of coffee. I asked her for some guidance. Night shift workers, she told me, from the warehouses, UPS, and US Postal facilities that were nearby. This was Friday after work for these people. Why wouldn't they? I ordered a breakfast burrito smothered in green chili, of the sausage/egg/potato variety, and a coffee. The coffee came out first and was absolute rubbish. Not even worthy calling itself coffee, despite the fact that it was a dark, hot, and liquid. The burrito came out shortly after, filling up what looked like a serving platter. I eagerly dug in. A good breakfast burrito is like the perfect storm. A combination of different parts and pieces that alone are nothing exceptional, but together create something worthy of awe. This burrito was the perfect storm. Green chili with flavor that is neither too hot nor too weak. Just the right amounts of sausage, egg, and potato so as not to overpower one or the other. Enough cheese to be lovely, but not so much as to make you want to dip chips. And a tortilla that held everything together, but other than that was only a spectator. Even the coffee became passable for a short time while I reveled. I've had breakfast burritos at fancier restaurants, at restaurants well known for their mexican cuisine, and at places all over the southwest, and The Fox's burrito remains my favorite.
To be sure, Charlie's Silver Fox can just barely be considered a dive. It's not that dirty, it is well lit, and both the finishes and waitstaff have both been updated since the 80's. That's the thing about dives. Often times there are only one or two things that really make a place an exceptionally seedy experience, and often times they are not readily apparent, like that first night at The Fox. It took a 9 a.m. drink fest, a world-class breakfast burrito, and a second visit for Charlie's Silver Fox to make my list of favorite dives.
The Fox's breakfast burrito can be had for a couple bucks. The place is closed on Sunday, so don't bother.