Flat Iron Café
444 Centre St., Middleborough
Hours: Monday-Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Major credit cards accepted
When you’re eating in the big dining room at the Flat Iron Café in Middleborough’s Everett Square, don’t forget to look up. There, running around the perimeter, is a G-scale LGB model train choo-chooing its way through a tunnel and delighting train aficionados of all ages.
“We actually designed the dining room around the train layout,’’ said the restaurant’s owner and resident railroad buff, Tommy Locke, a retired airline mechanic of burly build and quick smile.
“We did that because this was a railroad town. The commuter rail to Boston runs right by here, and this building was a trolley stop back in the early 20th century.’’
Oh, and the food’s pretty good, too - cheap, down-home simple, abundant, fresh and filling.
All that and a small train museum make the Flat Iron popular with local residents and the community-theater crowd. The Alley Theatre is nearby, and the Flat Iron is a hot spot for audience and cast members interested in grabbing some later-night pizzas and beer after a show.
Lunch is big here, literally, with portions that almost guarantee you’ll take some home.
One day, our party of three kicked things off with the broccoli salad ($4), a truly unusual and most refreshing mix of crunchy, cold broccoli, carrots, raisins, chunks of bacon, apples, and walnuts in a creamy dressing, a neat little twist on the Waldorf.
The Flat Iron is big on blackboard specials that change daily, and this day we tried out the beef stroganoff ($6), a mound of a meal. It featured huge amounts of fork-tender beef in a creamy sauce flecked with the usual mushrooms and not-so-usual green pepper, all atop a pile of al dente egg noodles. This became lunch the next day, and heated up just as good as when it was made.
In a comfort-food place like this, they’re big on burgers, and the mushroom burger ($8) we tried was a cut above the usual - thick and cooked well done, as ordered, with fat slices of fresh mushrooms atop, served alongside a giant portion of french fries.
We also tried the meat loaf ($9), another staple here. The big slab of ground beef, dense and tasty, was slathered in a decent, but not overpowering, gravy, and served with creamy mashed potatoes and peas.
Not long ago, I’d also had the beef liver and onions ($8), which isn’t found in enough places and isn’t done well at some places where it is found. But here, it was most worthy, with thick chunks of liver cooked perfectly, moist inside, crunchy layer outside, and topped by a whopping blanket of sautéed onions.
The lunch and dinner menus are the same, and at night, a great option is the pizza; the varieties run the range from basic cheese to the brow-glowing Zac Attack ($7.25), an outrageously tasty and spicy pie loaded with chorizo, garlic, and jalapeño peppers.
To say the pizza here is unusual is putting it mildly. Ever see a mac ‘n’ cheese pizza? You will here. The PJ ($7.75) is spiked high with mac noodles. Also hot is the mashed potato and bacon pizza ($8), the mashed spuds infused with sour cream. Another never-seen-before version was the Little Adam Combo ($6.25), a pizza with hot dogs on it.
Breakfasts are a big draw here as well, again owing to the huge portions and overall decent food quality.
Try the Pete’s Special ($6.55), a mess of scrambled eggs, linguica, jack cheese and onions, served with crunchy deep-fried potatoes and toast. Like many menu items, it was named after someone, in this case a guy who first came to the Flat Iron when it opened six years ago, said Bernie, an ever-smiling and most helpful waitress.
The Flat Iron is in the Farrar building, a historic structure that was built in 1898. It began as a tobacco and candy store during the town’s railroad heyday, later selling newspapers. It most recently had been in ice cream and sandwich shop.
Six years ago, Locke bought and renovated the restaurant space, making it a family-friendly place, a nothing-fancy eatery loaded with pictures of old-time Middleborough on one wall, the model train running above, and another area devoted to a subject near and dear to Locke’s heart.
“There are some photos there of my dad, who’s now 93. He was in the Eighth Air Force in World War II,’’ said Locke, who served in the Air National Guard. “He flew the B-24, and that little area there in the restaurant is dedicated to them, and all veterans.’’
When it comes to comfort food, history, and a sense of reverie, the Flat Iron Café can fit the bill for all three.