November 1, 1997

STEPPING OUT: Memories on Main Street worth drive to Fort Morgan

FORT MORGAN — A high-plains town may not have a choice of coffee houses or a variety of movie theaters, but it should have a decent library, an interesting small museum, and good places where local people and visitors can eat.
Fort Morgan has several attractive restaurants, but many locals and visitors such as Dick Maxwell of Greeley, who travels to Fort Morgan periodically on business, tend to frequent the restaurant called Memories on Main Street, valuing both its food and its atmosphere.
The drive to Fort Morgan from the Front Range, through handsome rolling cattle country and past some striking traditional ranch houses, was long enough to work up my appetite, and I was looking forward to a satisfying meal. Because Memories is known both for home cooking and antiques, its appearance came as a bit of a surprise. As the restaurant attached to the Best Western Park Terrace Inn, the exterior had the typical bright, well-scrubbed look of a motel cafe.
Once I stepped into the gentler light inside, however, my impression completely changed. A fine collection of antiques and old photographs gives Memories a warm ambiance, which is enhanced by construction art and wall murals.
The three dining areas offer a choice of old-time atmospheres, from a room with a children˜s mural and old sports equipment (a sled, skates, baseball mitts and bats) to another decorated with imitation 1890s gas lights and photographs in gilt frames. Even the men˜s room has its own antiques, from a Burma Shave sign to photos of old barber shops.
The 1890s room, with its plush booths, is definitely the most comfortable place to eat. We settled in to peruse a surprisingly extensive menu, ranging from cold and hot sandwiches and several cuts of steaks to a wide choice of dinner salads and various pastas (from primavera to alfredo).
From an appetizer choice that included buffalo wings, shrimp, and a vegetable platter, we chose "Texas toothpicks", a deep-fried jalapeo pepper and onion starter that we really enjoyed. Memories served a good version —lightly-battered, hot without searing the palate, and not too greasy — accompanied by two dipping sauces.
For the main dish, I chose a grilled tuna sandwich with a cup of homemade lentil soup and my wife the buffalo chili in a sourdough bread bowl. Battered fish sandwiches, like you get at fast-food places, do not interest me because they taste generic (if they can be said to taste at all). But I like firm-fleshed fish lightly grilled, and the tuna made a good sandwich, especially on a tasty whole-wheat bun. Sometimes a fish sandwich makes me regret the burger I could have ordered, but not in this case.
My wife was not as pleased with her buffalo chili. She likes buffalo, and was disappointed that the rather strong tomato flavor of the chili masked the natural taste of the meat. On the other hand, this was a generous serving, and the sourdough bread bowl made good eating itself.
Memories has been the long-term project of owner Bev Mackey and manager Stacey Goebel. Since 1980, they have tried to meet the demands of motel guests, day visitors to Fort Morgan and local customers.
By 1995, the original restaurant, which had only 45 places, was overwhelmed by demand, leading to lines of waiting people at every meal.
So Mackey and Goebel embarked on an extensive renovation, which doubled the restaurant˜s capacity and resulted in the pleasing ambiance of the new Memories. Antiques were collected widely (though some were donated by customers), but many of the photographs were copied from originals in the Fort Morgan museum.
In creating the extensive menu, Goebel has tried to combine traditional-style down-home food like the steaks and the pork roast with dishes that would be more unusual to local customers, such as mahi-mahi fish and pasta primavera.
Motel customers will always be there, but she has been concerned about the tendency of many Fort Morgan people to leave town for a night out, to drive to Greeley or even Denver for a restaurant meal. She and Bev Mackey have sought to create a niche for Memories, as a unique restaurant that will keep drawing its customers back.
Over the years, they have developed a loyal clientele, mostly local, including some regulars who eat many or even all of their meals at the restaurant. They have also become a destination restaurant, drawing customers from the communities to the east — Sterling, Akron, Yuma, Holyoke — and even from the Denver area. Memories is now in the guidebooks, and this tends to attract first-time customers, many of whom then return.

FORT MORGAN — A high-plains town may not have a choice of coffee houses or a variety of movie theaters, but it should have a decent library, an interesting small museum, and good places where local people and visitors can eat.
Fort Morgan has several attractive restaurants, but many locals and visitors such as Dick Maxwell of Greeley, who travels to Fort Morgan periodically on business, tend to frequent the restaurant called Memories on Main Street, valuing both its food and its atmosphere.
The drive to Fort Morgan from the Front Range, through handsome rolling cattle country and past some…

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