Early one morning, my Fort Worth, Texas friend announced she was taking me to one of Fort Worth's best breakfast places. Located on the south side of town in what is known as the ‘hospital district’; nevertheless, I was a bit leery about the prospects as some of the buildings looked rather 'forgotten'.
She tells me to trust her because we’re heading for the famous Paris Coffee Shop. “But don’t expect any Paris there,” she warns because it’s really a disguised diner. “Oh great,” I’m thinking as I briefly reminisce about Mel’s Diner – a fictional roadside diner in the 1976-1985 American TV series Alice. I’m secretly hoping that the service and food will be better than that delivered by the acerbic Flo at Mel’s Diner.
A Fort Worth institution
Considered a Fort Worth institution since 1930, the Paris Coffee Shop is the oldest family-owned restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas. These days it operates from a building that was originally a beauty shop. Constructed around 1927, it is a rather nondescript white building with a blue sign that now marks the Paris Coffee Shop. (Prior to being the home of the Paris Coffee Shop, it was a Safeway in 1941, whereupon it was eventually remodeled with a Moderne façade.) As of 1975, it became home to Paris – the Paris Coffee Shop that is. And these days the diner in disguise has a booming business for breakfast and lunch, since they aren’t open for dinner.
The Paris Coffee Shop is owned by Mike Smith and his wife Ginger. As you walk through the door of this 1970’s “throw-back” diner, more than likely it will be Mike Smith you encounter. A big man with a big smile and warm embrace, he arrives Monday-Saturday before sunrise so as to make his signature pies from scratch. “The classic coconut meringue and chocolate meringue are our best-sellers,” he proclaims. “But the cobblers are great, too!”
Breakfast as the star
But I’m here for breakfast, and no matter how hard I try to convince myself, I’m not ready yet for that slice of pie. Besides pies, they are also known for their down-home breakfast fare of biscuits and gravy, grits, omelets, and pancakes. Service is classic Southern hospitality, and our waitress is everything a top waitress should be: cordial, efficient, friendly, and willing to engage in conversation with a most genuine, neighborly smile.
I order one of the newer, lighter specialties – a Greek omelet with spinach, mushrooms and feta while my friend stays with the familiar biscuits and gravy. After sampling her fare, I wished I had ordered the same because it was so sinfully good. Still, I very much enjoyed my healthier alternative. Plus, I enjoyed my endless cup of coffee that was aromatic, full-bodied, and satisfying.
Where John Denver dined
Smith (owner) soon approaches our table to greet us, whereupon I asked him about the John Denver blurb on the back of his menu. (I‘ll admit that John Denver was one of my all-time favorite musicians back in the 1970’s. Think I bought every record he ever produced.) It turns out that Smith knew Denver very well, long before he became famous as a folk singer, back when his name was actually Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. and when he was attending Arlington Heights High School.
In a strange twist of fate, Denver paid a visit to see Smith at his coffee shop after a quick stop in town. This was after his last show in Fort Worth at the Will Rogers Auditorium in October, 1997. Denver ordered a breakfast of eggs, hash browns, and flour tortillas. Less than two weeks later, he would perish in a single-engine plane crash off the coast of California. Denver was only 53 year old at the time.
Accolades keep coming
But that’s not the only brush with fame for the gregarious yet humble Smith: Bon Appetite ranked the Paris Coffee Shop among the top 10 in the country for 2012 – honoring his pies that, unfortunately, I had yet to taste. In the same year, Food Network’s Sugar High praised Smith’s coconut meringue pie. (Lost opportunity: Maybe I should have ordered pie for breakfast?)
As if that isn’t enough, Smith was recently honored for saving the life of a Fort Worth police officer who happened to be dining in his restaurant. When the officer found he was unable to breathe, desperately gasping for air, Smith stepped in when nobody else did. He promptly administered the Heimlich maneuver to the astonishment of acquiescent diners.
Smith received a plaque from a grateful police department that reads: "For providing extraordinary service and effort to save the life of a Fort Worth Police Officer, T. York, on August 7, 2013." It is now hanging on the restaurant's wall, along with dozens of photographs of celebrities and athletes who have dined at Paris Coffee Shop.
For a slice of Fort Worth hospitality, some of the best home-style cooking, along with an encounter with a real hero, check out the Paris Coffee Shop. Open 6:00 am - 2:30 pm weekdays; 6:00 – 11:00 am Saturdays (breakfast only). Closed Sundays.
704 W. Magnolia Avenue
Fort Worth, TX 76104
Phone: (817) 335-2041