Earlier this year, the newish owner of Mother Hubbard's Café told the Tucson Weekly's Adam Borowitz that she was putting a slightly different spin on the longtime Tucson diner.
"It's still a breakfast-and-lunch joint, but I've taken some of the greasiness out of the spoon," said Kelzi Bartholomaei.
Hmm ... from the shelves of insane knickknacks, to the smell of food grease that permeates your clothing long after you've left, to the fans running at full blast due to the apparent lack of air conditioning, it's clear: Despite the owner's claim, the current Mother Hubbard's is still a greasy spoon all the way.
This menu note, I think, says it all: "So, 'V' (on the menu) means vegetarian here, and it also means just no meat or meat products are used. However, I have a nondiscriminatory grill. Though we will try our best to segregate our ingredients, all foods have an opportunity to co-mingle on the flat top griddle."
The Ritz, this ain't. And I am completely OK with that.
The huge menu offers numerous classic breakfasts, three-egg omelets, burros, burgers, sandwiches and the like. Most of the offerings are normal diner fare, including Mother Hubbard's famous early-bird special, offered from 6 to 8 a.m. only on weekdays: $1.99 will get you two eggs, hash browns and toast. Don't think about asking for substitutions.
However, look a little closer, and you'll start to see little, atypical flourishes on the menu ... perhaps these are what the owner was talking about. For example, among the "breads and cakes" offerings, you'll find the corn bread waffle ($4.25). "Yeah, I know! But it's really good!" the writing on the menu says.
And guess what? The menu's right: The waffle was moist, with a nice texture and just enough corn flavor to make it unique. But lest you forget that you're in a greasy spoon, the little packages of margarine and the plastic squeeze bottle of faux maple syrup are there to remind you.
On the sandwich side, the reuben ($8) sounds appealing, and it sure was: The brined-in-house corned beef had a fantastic flavor, although the meat on our sandwich was a bit gristly. The accompanying fries (you can pick coleslaw instead if you so choose) were crisp and hot.
Be sure to look at the placards on each of the tables, as well as the specials board, where you'll find descriptions of dishes featuring chiles and peppers used in intriguing ways. On one of our weekend visits, the special was too good to pass up: a poblano relleno stuffed with beef and nopales, then topped with avocado hollandaise and tortilla strips, and served alongside beans. (I think it cost $8.95, but there are no itemized receipts given here.) The meal was delayed slightly, because the kitchen ran out of hollandaise, and more needed to be made, but it was worth the wait: The relleno was delicious, even if the pepper itself was just a tad undercooked and a bit tough.
Ma's half-pound burger ($6.50) with pepper-jack cheese (add $1) and bacon (add $1.50) was prepared just how we wanted it; the server didn't even charge us for the side of gravy, seeing as we ordered the burger sans-bun. It was a nice touch typical of the friendly staffers, who are always zooming around, seeming just on the verge of overwhelmed as they take orders, deliver plates and refill cups of coffee.
The ultimate omelet ($8.25)—with sausage, ham, bacon, mushrooms, broccoli, tomatoes, spinach and cheese; we asked them to hold the onions and peppers—was an omelet, and not a mutant scramble concoction like those things called "omelets" at too many places these days. On the plate was a folded sheet of egg, with the delicious ingredients inside. It was a little soggy due to the wet tomatoes, but that was a minor complaint.
Of course, since Mother Hubbard's is indeed a greasy spoon, the true test of the joint's quality has to be the chicken fried steak (and eggs, $8.25). The verdict? While it wasn't the best I've ever had, it was above average, thanks to the crisp batter, the delicious sausage gravy, and the pounded-into-submission tenderloin. Good stuff.
The food here will not ever make the pages of Bon Appetit, and, yes, the floor looks like it last got a deep cleaning sometime back in the early '80s. But for a tasty, filling and inexpensive breakfast or lunch—with a nice culinary twist here and there—Mother Hubbard's is heartily recommended.