Each week the Dude Food guys assess the 'masculinity' of Dallas area dives. The more fried meat and junk on the walls, the better the rating...
1123 W. Davis St.
Dude Factor: 10 (June Cleaver) on a scale of 1 (Kate What's-Her-Name, the one in all the tabloids) to 10.
Norma's Cafe makes the kind of food Mom used to make. More specifically, the kind Mom used to make before she went back to school, before she gave up the fight against TV dinners and started letting us chug Dr Pepper straight from the can at the coffee table in front of the television.
Everything about the place exudes a homey vibe, from the friendly seat-yourself policy to the pictures of waitresses' kids tacked on a corkboard by the restrooms to the random memorabilia that's been nailed to the walls for years to the lumpy globs of discolored caulk sealing the bathroom sink. And just like Mom's pre-Hungry Man culinary creations, it's very dude-friendly. Almost without exception, anything on the menu that isn't some shade of yellow or brown is greasy, spicy or salty.
Norma's might just be the best place in Oak Cliff to bring a hangover. The coffee is strong but not bitter, the food is comforting and you're guaranteed to see somebody who looks even worse than you feel. It's nice for languid Saturday mornings with your lady, as the waitresses don't rush you out the door. On the other hand, if you're in a hurry, the servers and short-order cooks aren't going to waste your time.
Though I've enjoyed the joint's chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes and green beans, I usually go with breakfast food at Norma's. There are probably thousands of possible combinations of all the classic breakfast items: eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, biscuits, gravy, grits, hashbrowns.
The food pyramid.
But I decided to try something from the "new items" section of the menu this time; the Belgian waffles, cinnamon buns and huevos rancheros have been listed for at least a couple of years, but I guess "new" is relative for a place that's been open more than 50 years.
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I asked my waitress, a tough-looking old bird in jeans who could probably bounce an unruly patron without ever dropping her ever-present smile, if the huevos rancheros were good.
"Yes," was the phlegm-rattling, single-word reply. I had a flashback to my late grandmother's smoker's rasp, the voice my mom would have inherited if she hadn't given up cigarettes when I was a kid. OK--over-medium with sausage. A couple minutes later they appeared, and were even better than I'd hoped. The eggs were runny, but not too greasy or salty, and the ranchera sauce was extremely spicy--an unexpected kick.
The only complaint is a minor one: paying at the register. If you pay cash and need change to leave a tip, you have to walk back to leave it on your table--which has likely been cleaned in the meantime. It's a guy rule: make sure the waitress knows you care. This policy steals it from you.
Oh, well. What's a visit to Mom's without a little awkwardness?