Friendly Tin Lizzie Cafe fits customers to a T
Few restaurants feature a motherly, homestyle cook who works right inside the front door.
Count Tin Lizzie Cafe among those few.
The method fits customers to a T.
The downtown business in a Civil War-era building is an easy-going and inexpensive place to eat and meet friends.
Marlene Turner is there at the grill every weekday morning and afternoon to greet customers with her smile and her caring style.
She helps the cafe deliver hugs along with its hamburgers, hotcakes and hot coffee.
The cafe owned by Ron and Rachel Hughes serves widely acclaimed Reubens and biscuits and gravy. It produces boxed lunches by the dozen and will even deliver meals to downtown patrons.
Dozens of regulars drop in daily, though, for the personal touch with their breakfast or lunch.
“I love meeting people and talking to them,” says Turner. “It’s like a big family. With most of them, I know what they are having when they come in.”
That certainly was the case on a recent morning. She reached for eggs before Mark Davis exclaimed, “I’d like the usual,” as he sauntered down the narrow entrance and into the dining room. Davis’ “usual” is two eggs, meat, toast and coffee.
Tin Lizzie customers can count on many usuals: good food, good coffee, good conversation and good prices. The regulars eat them all up. “This is it, the place to be in morning in downtown,” said Davis.
He should know: His business just across East Main Street is the oldest continuously operating jewelry store in Indiana.
Tin Lizzie is a spot for meetings, reunions and community gatherings. Several groups of regulars meet there every morning.
Retirees Dick Pierce, Rod Smalley and Frank Spurlock are often there before the grill opens at 8 a.m. They sit at the first table in the dining area, when they can get it. “Sometimes we compete with the other guys,” Pierce joked.
Smalley’s wife, Kathy, occasionally joins in with the group of retirees from the Johns Manville plant in Richmond.
Pierce is partial to the pancakes on this morning, while another favorite is happily consumed on Tuesdays and Thursdays. “Biscuits and gravy, that’s the attraction,” Rod Smalley said about the popular concoction cooked up by Ron Hughes.
Pierce is in agreement: “The biscuits and gravy are the best, like home cooking,” he said.
“They have the best coffee, too. Marlene makes sure your coffee cup is full.”
His cup and his stomach get full every morning after working out at Family Fitness with Smalley and Spurlock.
“We lose calories, then come over here and gain them back,” Pierce joked. “We’re here before they open.”
It’s likely that their conversation will roll around to other common bonds — their love of antique cars and music from the 1950s and 1960s. The walls at Tin Lizzie — a nickname for the Model T — are adorned with posters, pictures and memorabilia that range back into the early 1900s. Think a cultural marriage of classic cars, Gennett Records, Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe and Mickey Mantle.
Another wall adornment includes information that Tin Lizzie Cafe resides in the Thomas J. Newby Building that was constructed in 1865.
Besides the homey style, Pierce and Davis said, the cafe offers prices that are easy on the wallet. The most expensive item on the menu is a chicken quesadilla at $6.25. The Reuben and Pesto sandwiches are $5.99 apiece.
“It’s a bargain,” Davis said about his breakfast, which costs $4.25. “That’s the joy of being in a small town.”
Tin Lizzie offers at least a dozen more sandwich options, along with soups, salads, side dishes and desserts.
The cafe also brews iced tea, either sweet or unsweetened, that stands up to the best around.
Ron and Rachel Hughes bought the restaurant three years ago. They are happy to be putting their stamp on the historical spot that once housed Tom’s New York Deli and Miller Circus Shop.
“We’re having fun,” Ron Hughes said as he looked back into the dining area that was busy with four full tables and a community meeting with a half-dozen attendees.
“You need to have regulars to form your base,” he said. “Any new customers build on that.”
Tin Lizzie’s base includes a brisk business with catering. “The busier the better,” said Turner, who once cooked behind the scenes at Taste of the Town and Pizza King.
Ron makes sandwiches (the Reuben is the most popular) and cooks the daily specials, which include meatloaf, cabbage rolls and spaghetti and meatballs.
It’s the personal touch that keeps customers coming back. Word of mouth brings more in the door at 820 E. Main Street.
“Ron and Rachel are very good to us,” Pierce said. “Marlene is great. She knows what you need before you ask for it.”
The cafe is open until 3 p.m. Its phone number is (765) 962-4441.