The critic admits it: He loves the Village Inn.

It Takes a Village 

The critic admits it: He loves the Village Inn.

Once you understand the difference between a good ol' American coffee shop (a place with a grill that usually serves breakfast all day) and a coffee house (where the focus is on what's brewing rather than what's for breakfast) — unless you think a hard, crumbly scone is food — you can appreciate restaurants that usually get no respect, such as Denny's or Waffle House.

Those chain diners come closest to the kind of hotel or neighborhood coffee shop that I remember from my childhood, something slightly snazzier than a smoky little diner but less formal than a white-tablecloth restaurant.

I have to confess that my favorite 1960s-style coffee shop is the venerable Village Inn in Mission (5800 Broadmoor), which turns 40 this year but frankly doesn't look a day over 39. Laminated menus with color photos and turquoise leatherette booths have never gone out of style here. It may be the only place in town where you can be graciously escorted to your table by a little person (a bit scruffier but much friendlier than the icy women employed at some trendier places) and eat eggs Benedict for dinner.

The Village Inn might not have the faux French flair of the Westin's Brasserie (see review, page 33), but it does offer a few Continental favorites alongside classic diner fare such as pot roast, grilled liver and onions, and pancake sandwiches. Belgian waffles, for example. And three kinds of crepes and — for a limited time, mind you — a "European Truffle Pie" made with whipped chocolate cream and layers of cookie crumbs. Ooh la la! OK, so truffle it's not, but like all of Village Inn's cream pies, it's damned tasty.

On my recent visit, I passed up the "Oriental chicken salad" and the beef stir-fry so I could bite into a thick "All-World Double Cheeseburger," which is a veritable United Nations of flavors: two beef patties topped with Swiss and American cheeses and Thousand Island dressing. Served with french fries, of course.

An All-World Burger isn't the kind of unique international dish you'll find in just any local restaurant, after all. What made me love it more was the price: cheap. That's a lovely word in any language.

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