All-American is a series that looks at beloved, longstanding North Texas eateries and examines their history while exploring how the food has changed — for the good or bad — over the years.
In the corner booth behind me, an elderly man sits by himself and talks to a younger woman at the table across from him. He’s got his iPad out, propped up, and plays a video for her. They’re talking politics. “There was a time when different beliefs could get together,” the man says calmly.
“The truth is, most congressmen like each other,” she says, in agreement. She tells him that political games are what divide people — not the people.
“Oh yeah. I believe it. It’s like when you see two lawyers arguing each other in court, and then they go have lunch,” the man says.
Therein lies the essence of the Gold Rush Cafe in Lakewood: Everyone and anyone sits, talks and comes together here. It’s a full house on a late weekday morning, and, looking around, the restaurant is a diverse slice of Dallas. Local band The O’s are eating breakfast near the entrance. A swole dude, covered in tattoos, sits back with a demolished plate of blueberry pancakes (one of their off-menu items), and there are, of course, elderly folks talking politics.
There are Notre Dame flags on the walls, Elvis gear, a photo of Clint Eastwood holding a pistol. At the register, random trinkets like Big Tex Bobble heads stand next to a single bright red Make America Pancakes Again hat.
Lisette Stewart pours coffee and bounces between tables with energy. She’s been working at Gold Rush for 20 years. I order the John Wayne breakfast.
“Behold,” she says as she sets the plate in front of me. It’s a painting. A flour tortilla is topped with a crispy potato hash, smothered in fresh, tomato-y red salsa, a sunny-side-up egg and shredded cheddar, saddled up next to two slices of good, greasy bacon. One forkful of the salsa, fresh and bright as a garden that’s brimming with cilantro and jalapeños, and I’m filled with the notion: Where the hell has this been all my life? I’m mowing through the John Wayne, turning the plate like a clock to get at that jiggly, sunrise-colored yolk.
Stewart jumps into the booth, sitting across from me, for a moment in between customers. She’s the only one on staff that’s not family.
“Doctors, lawyers, it doesn’t matter how much money you have," she says. "Once you walk through the door, you’re a Gold Rush customer.”
Co-owner George Sanchez’s father, Virgil, and his wife, Esther, opened up a doughnut shop in Lakewood in 1980. When it started, it was just the smaller, rectangular section of the store. Anthony Sanchez, grandson to Virgil, walks me through the history at a table. He’s constantly checking the door for customers. Slowly, Gold Rush began selling sandwiches, then opened up the new room for expanded space in the mid-to-late '90s. Huevos rancheros — with their wonderful, trumpet-bright salsa verde — burgers, pancakes and chicken fried steaks were (and are) staples. Grabbing a table at Gold Rush means you’re set up in Lakewood’s living room.
“We’ve had people come here that were on their deathbed, and the only place they would get out is to the Gold Rush because they’d always come into a hug, or to see George,” Stewart says. “They all gather and sit together and cross-talk. It’s amazing.”
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And then, once again, she bounces away to drop corn tortillas at a table. I order a round of huevos rancheros, another piece of glorious breakfast artwork. Crumbled chorizo is tucked into one quadrant of the plate, refried beans on the other, and then there's the two sunny-side up eggs drenched in green salsa. It’s hot and superb. I spoon everything into hot flour tortillas.
Later, Anthony Sanchez talks to me about the space. He mentions how Matt’s Rancho Martinez was ousted from its Lakewood location to be replaced by a Mi Cocina, implying a concern that the same thing might happen to Gold Rush. I feel a chill inside just thinking about it.
Gold Rush is a place where bright, fresh salsa sits together with lasagna. It’s an irony-free zone where you cross-talk politics and pancakes and huevos rancheros. It’s a place to sit and hold on to.
Gold Rush Cafe, 1913 Skillman St.