I've wondered about this hotel and its coffee shop for 15 years. Finally, last week Don and I made the 90 minute trip from Houston so we could experience Miss Helen's delectable home cooking. Since we spent the night, we were able to sample both lunch and breakfast.
J.E. Pierce, the prominent developer who donated land in 1902 wanted to name the town Thank God. Those words were evidently a response to the news of a new railroad intersection that was going to bring big change to the area. However, the town ended up with the name Blessing, when the post office wouldn't okay their first choice. In 1906 Pierce and his son started construction of Hotel Blessing, which looks pretty darn nice today for being 106 years old!
Finding the Dining Room
On a hot July day, we were surprised to find the double doors on the porch propped wide open. We walked inside the old hotel, which proudly showed its age more than the outside. There was no a.c. in the hallway, but a warm breeze blew through. We followed the diamond tile walkway, past screen doors leading into hotel rooms. At the end of the pink hall, we found two more doors...which were closed.
Making Our Entrance
When Don and I walked through the doors, we could feel a wave of cool coming from a window unit. The dining room was packed with a quiet lunch crowd and it seemed like every diner looked up to notice us. It turns out that most locals use the side door, so our entrance through the double doors alerted our fellow diners that some first timers had arrived.
Grabbing a Plate
At least we had done our homework and knew we were expected to grab a plate and serve ourselves. Now if we had come maybe 25 years earlier to Hotel Blessing, we would have marched though yet another set of double doors and served ourselves in the kitchen, like the guy in the cowboy hat. The health department put a stop to that sometime in the 1980's.
Old Stoves in the Dining Room
Luckily we got a taste of the old kitchen, because now they have 2 wood burning stoves in the dining room with the food warming on top. There were 3 kinds of meat and 8 or more vegetables. Another table held salad fixings and beside the window we found the iced tea, peach cobbler and pineapple upside down cake.
Ahh... The Smells!
I wish this photo had scratch and sniff abilities, so I could share the swirling smells coming from these steaming pots and pans.. I wanted to stand and linger and ponder a while, but more diners were lining up behind me.
Where to sit?
With our loaded plates we turned to find a seat. There were about 8 community tables, which were all pretty full at that moment. A lot of the folks seemed to be dining alone, so there wasn't a huge buzz of chatter. I felt like I was the new kid in school searching for a seat in the lunchroom, when I approached the table with 6 men and 2 empty seats.
I quietly set to work on my plate, piled with what I consider ultimate comfort foods, which included two kinds of potatoes and two kinds of dressing! But I almost couldn't enjoy it because it felt awkward to be sharing a table without converstaion. So I braved up and spoke to the large man next to me, wearing a trucker's hat.. Suddenly all was fine.
He told me about coming to eat at the hotel as a boy, when everyone just walked through the doors to the kitchen to serve themselves. "And if there were no more seats in the dining room, we had to take our plates into the hotel to find a place to eat." He described the men coming in from the ranches and how they weren't allowed in till they washed up. I imagine those men probably came in with huge appetites and no time for menu browsing.
When I told my new friend we were staying at the hotel that night, he pointed to the table in the corner where we shouldn't sit for breakfast. "That's where the locals come in to drink their coffee and gossip."
My friend excused himself since he had to head back to work, but Don had struck up a conversation with the man next to him. This gentleman pointed out Miss Helen, who started working at the coffee shop in 1969. "I've been coming almost as long as she's been cooking." the man said. Even though Miss Helen has the help of a cooking staff now, she was plenty busy moving from kitchen to cash register with more energy than I expect to have when I'm a great grandmother. I heard the dining room only closes on Christmas day. When does Miss Helen get a day off?
On Friday morning, things were quite a bit more subdued. Don and I chose a table not too far from the local gossip table and ordered eggs, bacon and potatoes.
Meeting Miss Helen!
At lunch the day before I didn't get a chance to speak with Miss Helen as she rushed about the dining room. I was happy to be greeted by her in the morning, but it was a little early to bombard her with questions about her kitchen. And you could tell she was enjoying the peaceful part of her day as she chatted quietly with the locals. So, Don and I helped ourselves to coffee and sat down to absorb the morning atmosphere.
Etching in the Window Glass
Luckily Miss Helen noticed us eyeing old photos and memorabilia on the wall. She could see we were curious and she was eager to share some history of this hotel dining room that hasn't stopped serving food since it first opened.
Miss Helen talked about J. E. Pierce who must have been quite a character. She pointed to the window glass where he used a diamond ring to etch these words years ago. "Forever shall my memory be in the hearts of my people...May God bless the world and have mercy on the sinful man." Hmmmm?
When I asked if any Pierces still live in town, Miss Helen laughed. "Oh Mr. Pierce was already here this mornin'. He comes in and starts up the coffee at 6 every single day." The Pierce family donated the hotel to the Blessing Historical Foundation in 1977, so it was a nice surprise to know their are still members of the family who care about this old place. I'm guessing it was J.E. Pierce's great grandson who was there that morning.
Chairs and Floors
Miss Helen walked us around the dining room showing us the original chairs made from brush that was cleared to build the hotel so many years ago. She showed us the worn floors and where they'd been patched. "That's right where I stand at my cash register! I don't want that fallin' through!" She laughed. Hopefully the floor will get some help soon. We bought a raffle ticket for a quilt that was hanging nearby and wished them good luck with their hotel fundraiser.
Time to Go
We were on our way before 11, full of breakfast and stories.
But 30 minutes later, I was wishing we could turn around and go back. If I could walk back in those doors, I would go straight to the stove to see what's cookin' on Friday. Then I'd dig in and hope for a bit of a lull in the action so I could ask Miss Helen all the questions that were piling up in my brain since leaving. This time I wouldn't need any more hotel history, it's Miss Helen that I've gotten more curious about! "Who taught you to cook? Did you eat here as a child? What's your favorite food to cook? Don't you get tired..."
Abe's Cantina 7 Cocina
While in New Mexico, we got to enjoy some different kinds of southwestern cuisine. For casual dining, we loved Abe's in the Village of Arroyo Seco.
During ski season, the parking lot of this little restaurant/convenience store/bar, may look a little different. We visited in June. Instead of expensive SUVs, (belonging to skiers coming to and from Taos Mountain) we saw mostly weathered cars and trucks belonging to workmen and ranchers in the area. These folks know good food!
Gum, Medicines, Tamales and Burritos
Our table was right next to the counter. We could peek in at Lina who was cooking our tacos and burritos. We didn't get to do much chatting because she was very busy. Lina's father started working here in the 1940's when his aunt and uncle owned the business. He took over at some point and although he is now in his 80s, he still works in the bar which is attached. I would have gotten a photo of the cave-like bar, but the gentleman sipping away at noon did not look like the kind of person who would put up with my camera.
Food on Foil
Don couldn't look much happier about his meal. We had to wait a while for our feast served on foil, but it was worth the wait.
I wish I'd taken a look at the 2 other tables nearby. An old man with faded overalls and beard ate while reading the paper at one table. A father and son (guessing) sat at another table dressed in work clothes with identical sleek braids down their backs. (Almost identical since one braid was black and the other black and gray.) There was something so at home about the other diners who had obviously come in many times before. I'm sure they have their favorites and why didn't I see what they were?
I'm afraid my photo doesn't make my beef and guacamole burrito look exciting at all, but it was. It was also incredibly messy, which was part of the fun. I wanted to reach into one of the nearby freezers for a dessert popsicle or ice cream sandwich, but we had dinner to look forward to in Taos. Maybe next time I'll sample Lina's famous tamales with a freezer dessert!
Dinner at Doc Martin's, in Taos
Luckily we ate early lunch at Abe's and had room for our feast at Doc Martin's. This was by far our best meal in New Mexico. It helps that the restaurant has some history to go along with the good food. The restaurant was once the home of Dr. Thomas Martin who was the only physician in the area for 40 years.
Once Doc's Home
This wonderful restaurant with its unique wood ceiling and colorful chairs and art was once the home and office of Doc Martin and his wife. They arrived in Taos by horse and buggy in 1890. They bought the biggest house in Taos and turned it into their home and doctor's office.
At night the atmosphere was an ideal mix of travelers and locals. There were a few tourists who made me feel okay about pulling out my camera. And there were enough locals greeting the bar tenders and each other that let me know we'd picked a good place. There was an energetic buzz in all of the cozy rooms, yet the feeling was relaxed and almost peaceful. Our waiter was efficient and friendly and even looked pretty festive in his bowler hat and black vest. Wish I'd gotten a photo.
Doc Martin's has a tiny bar tucked into the end of the main dining room, as well as the Adobe Bar within the attached Taos Inn.
Both offer 14 margaritas with names like Horny Toad and Baby Buddha. I'm no margarita expert, but I know these do not taste like your syrupy sweet chain restaurant margaritas.
Sometimes, I get so caught up in my surroundings that I forget about the food. Not here! We started with an appetizer of rattlesnake and rabbit sausage with ancho chile dried cherry sauce. I ordered the blue corn beer battered chile relleno with green chile and goat cheese cream, sprinkled with pumpkin seeds. This is the dish they are known for and I see why. It was crunchy and just rich enough. Good pintos and rice as well!
It was too warm to have a fire in the adobe fireplace near our table, but it was perfect weather for dining out in the courtyard. This picture was taken in the morning when all was quiet, but this is where I'd like to sit next time! I do love outdoor dining!
Hope to Return
We will miss this wonderful cluster of buildings that makes up Doc Martin's Restaurant and the Historic Taos Hotel. Nothing like fat walls of adobe surrounding delicious food & drink along with a nightly offering of live music!
Michael's Kitchen was the perfect place to start our first day in Taos. I was pleased to find a place we could walk to from the hotel and a restaurant that was packed with locals.
Beams and Poles
So many of the buildings are old in Taos, but their age is somewhat masked by the painted stucco and adobe. You have to step inside sometimes to see the old ceiling beams or warped floors to feel the age.
It turns out this building was built in 1957 (young for Taos) but I'm a big fan of that year since I was born in it. I loved seeing the log beams on the ceiling. I also loved the way they built a table right around the wood pole that seems to be holding up the building. Cozy. And look at the sweet server with her hair in a braid and her arm resting on the chair. (or shoulder) The folks working here were very friendly.
Breakfast Counter and Bakery
We didn't sit at the counter, but I love a breakfast counter with stools that swivel. Maybe it's just a childhood nostalgia thing, but I'm always tempted to swivel back and forth when I'm eating. These men were politely eating without any motion. They must have had a grandmother who hinted "Honey...don't." when they were small. If I'd been them, I would have spun all the way around every third bite, just to have a quick glimpse of the case of sweets behind them!
If we hadn't stuffed ourselves on monster pancakes, scrambled eggs, hash browns and oatmeal, we could have had room for some of these on the way out.
Las Vegas, New Mexico
Charlie's Spic and Span won my vote for best breakfast spot. I love the silly éclair on the front of the blue and white building. The restaurant is named for the owner Charlie, but the spic and span part refers to the fact that this building once housed a Laundromat! I love it that Charlie honors that piece of history.
We didn't get to meet Charlie, but a chalk drawing of his face is behind the counter. Our server Nicole did point out Charlie to us. He was rushing around quite a bit. I love an owner who pitches in. Nicole by the way was the most delightful, upbeat and efficient server we had on our 13 day trip. I told her that on the way out.
Lots of color and lots of locals. I love the muted pastel walls, pink cushy booths and colorful murals. Even the dishes were multi-colored. You could tell most of the diners in this colorful atmosphere were locals by the way they chatted with servers or each other. Regular diners don't stare at the walls and study the menu for hours. (Like some of us)
The Bikers Arrived
I pretended I was taking a photo of Don as he stood to pay, but really I was capturing a glimpse of the line up of about 20 bikers who had just entered the restaurant. (You can only see the last of them heading into another room) I had to chuckle at the way they paraded in with little fanfare after skillfully backing their bikes up to the curb in a very choreographed manner. Charlie must have been expecting them because minutes earlier, he
opened the doors to a private room, allowing the group in black leather to march in like important VIPS.
Stuffy for Breakfast!
I was planning on eating some oatmeal or something less filling when I sat down. But when I saw stuffy on the menu, I became quite curious. My homemade sopapilla came stuffed with eggs and bacon, smothered with red chiles and cheese and served with papitas!
Don's macahaca with shredded roast beef, eggs, tomatoes, green chiles and onion was equally filling. Nicole surprised me with a piping hot tortilla, fresh off the machine. "Here!" she said as she slapped the rising upper layer down with a fork. "You have to at least try one of our tortillas!" I wish I could have taken leftovers with me in the car. There's no way I could even eat half of this crazy feast.
I'm not sure what possessed us to purchase one more thing on the way out, but we bought a giant brownie to go.
Many, many hours later, as we drove into Texas, we fondly dug into our chewy brownie while we reminisced about Charlie's Spic and Span. Hope to go back!
Brown Burro Cafe in Fairplay
This café was a motel in the 1930's. They even had stalls for burros. Burros were a big part of mining life in this area of Colorado, so I guess that came in handy!
Cozy and Friendly
The interior was very comfy with lots of wood and colorful pepper lights.
You have to love the log bench! Maybe not too comfortable, but very sturdy!
Table Top Art
Our table had the word BURRO spelled out in pennies! How fun is that?
This was also a very good test to find out how old this place was. Looks like this table is not all that old since there were some pennies from the 1980's. The restaurant as it turns out wasn't created until the 1980's using a few of the motel rooms.
Tucked on shelves here and there, I found many burros. The pins and map idea was pretty fun, too. They had a world map as well. (a lot of world travelers have visited Brown Burro Café!) As for food...I have no pictures, but it was tasty and cheap. And the owners were very chatty, despite the busy atmosphere! I give 15 points!
Moose Café in Kremmling
This café sits right on the highway that goes through Kremmling. Western Bob's Motel is right next door. I know there's got to be a great history to this place but the young waitresses were clueless. They also were very slow!
Ranchers and Cowboys
There were a lot of boots and hats in our café. I was a little surprised at how patient the locals seemed to be with the slow service. I guess they're used to it. Or maybe they just read the sign on the door before entering. "If you are in a hurry, go down to the deli for food."
You can see Don is waiting for his food. When it finally arrived I wasn't sure it was worth it. Our burger, soup and salad was pretty basic. But we did have a moose above our heads and the people watching was pretty entertaining. Too bad we didn't get to enjoy the lounge in the front of the restaurant...or the ice-cream and coffee bar in the back.
I'll give 10 points to Moose Café.
I love cafes with an animal focus!
Saloons in the West!
My husband, Don and I just returned from a trip to Colorado where we sampled food and drink in about 12 different towns and cities. My most memorable dining experiences seem to involve saloons. They have a lot of saloons in Colorado!
I will compare 6 others...besides this 1879, Leadville beauty pictured left.
1- J-Bar in the Hotel Jerome in Aspen
I will give 10 points for The J-Bar, which was the most un-saloonish and least memorable of all the saloons. Even though the seating was luxurious and the people watching was entertaining, we didn't stay long. The prices were high and vibe was too cool.
There's a great history behind this hotel bar, but the fresh paint, glaring flat screen and dressed down wealthy made it hard for me to envision that past. Our middle aged server saved her chit chat for the locals and seemed pleased to give us the bill before we asked.
2- Gold Pan in Breckenridge
Yes, there's a fresh coat of paint and plastic chairs on the outside of Gold Pan, but the warped floors and wooden bar stools inside feel nice and old.
I give 25 points to Gold Pan for making us feel welcome and for taking us back in time. There's quite a history to this saloon that was also erected around 1879, in the very spot where Long's Saloon first sold whiskey from a tented structure.
Memorable People Encounter
Unlike our eye-rolling server at the J-Bar, Keith was full of smiles and relaxed conversation. Keith told us some good stories, but my favorite was about his name. Shortly before Keith was born, his parents attended a 1986 World Series game. While stressing over the outcome, his parents pronounced they would name their child Keith if Hernandez would just get a hit! I guess he did.
3 - Quarter House Saloon in Kremmling
As you move away from the Aspens and Breckenridges you get a taste of saloon atmosphere created for small town locals. The Quarter House gets 30 points for having a curious, worn-out comfy feel and some darn good food that was practically free!
It is what it is.
It's a little more 1970's than 1870's, but that works for me. I love coming in from a morning hike and sitting down to a vinyl table cloth with a colorful veggie print! That got me hungry for a grilled cheese stuffed with piping hot cheddar and grilled onions and peppers. The side salad came with fresh avocado and cheese. Less than $5.00 for both! Don's burger and fries were just as tasty and well-priced.
Who is your audience?
You have to love the decorated walls with deer heads, rodeo posters and framed photos of children with their prize pigs. The bar top had a nice thick clear coating over a snazzy collage of bar photos...locals I'm guessing. I think it's clear who this bar/restaurant is catering to.
History Out Back
I do love getting the inside scoop and our young waitress had a few tidbits for us. The saloon once had a brothel upstairs. (that's actually not surprising) She also pointed out back to what she said had been a slaughter house. We got curious and wandered down the alley later. At the end of the red building was an open window with fluttering curtains. We heard the sounds of a TV and an electric fan ...making us realize someone was living in that old slaughterhouse!
4- Pastime Saloon in Leadville
Leadville caters to some tourists, but not like Aspen. We spent almost 24 hours in Leadville, trying to figure out what this town was all about. We sampled 2 saloons, a Mexican restaurant and a diner specializing in cookies and we still weren't sure. But we did give Pastime Saloon our vote for most memorable. 40 points to Pastime for being a part of Leadville History and allowing us a people encounter with a Leadville native.
History Highlight: Pastime is off the main street, on what was once State Street...the Red Light District...where there were once 64 saloons!
Lorinda grew up in Leadville. That was exciting news to learn, because during our 10 days in Colorado I asked about 25 locals where they were from and not one was originally from the town we were in. Lorinda grew up around this saloon.
Her grandfather cooked there as a young man and bought the business in 1938. Her parents own the saloon now and she pointed out their portraits above the unusual bamboo bar. She told us the odd bamboo piece came from a bar that had once served the residents in a nearby Chinese community. "The Chinese who came to work on the railroads had to live in their own area." Lorinda informed us. That got me pretty curious about the story behind the Chinese immigrants. I was also a little curious about the odd malt shop style bar stools. But I didn't ask.
I had promised Don I wouldn't get silly with the camera before we entered Pastime. We heard this was a local hangout, that could be a little rough. (There was a stabbing a few months earlier) It was still early that Friday, so we braved it. Don agreed to this photo when we decided the place seemed very friendly.
And what are those things on the ceiling behind Don's head?
I still don't get it. Lorinda said something about the Superbowl and people using tacs and a powerful arm to shoot these folded bills up to the ceiling.
5- Saloon at Old Western Hotel in Ouray
I give this crazy place 50 points for being the most unique, authentic and friendly of all the saloons. And the food was pretty amazing.
Ouray was our last night in Colorado and we spent it well. We wandered the cozy little town nestled into the San Juans, then checked into our Blue Room at the hotel. At 8:00 we took a seat at the ornate bar beside the stained glass windows and took a look at the menu.
There's quite a history of Ma Flor, the proprietor and cook who took care of miners as well as high paying guests during the richest days of the silver boom. She was known for using her shotgun to handle unruly guests!
There are lots of stories, like the one about this painting on the floor. Years ago, an artist named Herndon stopped by the Saloon and painted this image of his beloved Juniata on the floor...for some beer.
I can't remember the story about the woman behind this painting at the other end of the bar. It's not Juanita, though.
I don't have a photo of Rosemarie either. She is the woman who cooked our incredible meal. She was far too busy to trouble for a photograph.
This really was amazing food to be eating at a bar. I had the spicy elk burger with grilled peppers and monster fries. Don had trout amandine with Beurre Blanc sauce.
As surprising as the food, was the story of our cook. Rosemarie and her husband have owned this hotel and restaurant for 10 years. She grew up in the Netherlands where her father made Gouda cheese. She began cooking for her family when she was 12 and went on to become an award winning chef.
Talking With People
Sometimes the people you meet on dining adventures are as memorable as the food. While Don and I devoured our meal we chatted with a few others at the bar. One couple was so intrigued that we were staying at this funny hotel with its original wallpaper and tales of haunting that we finally invited them upstairs to just peek at our scary room.
In the morning we met Gregg, Rosemarie's husband. He was from Iowa which made me instantly adore him. (I grew up in Grinnell) Gregg filled our brains with about 10 more incredible stories about the saloon and hotel. His giddy enthusiasm made us eager to get back and have another meal and one of his private jeep tours in the future!
Hooray for Colorado Saloons!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.