The year 1969 was a memorable one for Westerns, in which Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Wild Bunch, and True Grit were all released. Of these, the latter was filmed almost entirely in and around Ridgway. The building where today’s True Grit Café is housed went up in 1986 to honor John Wayne’s portrayal (and only Oscar-winning role) of U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn. The film’s hanging scene took place directly across the street from the Grit in Ridgway’s Town Park, and the restaurant’s walls are lined with posters and other memorabilia from the film.
Don’t be misled by the word café in the Grit’s title: there’s no French food on offer (unless you count French fries or hot, crunchy French-fried onion rings). What you will find in this warm, wood-paneled saloon is hearty, and that applies both to the welcome (the restaurant recently won Best of Ouray County Awards for Best Service and Best Waitress from the Ouray County Plaindealer) and the traditional western fare. The Grit calls its food “cowboy cuisine,” and that’s about right. You won’t see any sissified, city-style entrees here. Instead, you can look forward to an exceptionally well-executed quarter or half-pound burger (for which it also won a BOOC award) of ground chuck, bison or black beans and chipotle, $6.39-$9.99), a huge variety of sandwiches and wraps, and what the menu calls “Tex-Mex Favorites,” which is to say, burritos, tostadas and tacos. The fish tacos ($14.99), billed as Mahi Mahi, are actually wahoo – a flaky, tender whitefish prized by sports fishermen for its fine flavor and fighting ability. They are superb. So are the shrimp tacos, flour tortillas bulging with large, buttery crustaceans; both the wahoo and the shrimp tacos ($14.99) are grilled, not deep-fried.
Like every movie, each restaurant needs a star turn, and the Grit’s is chicken-fried steak ($13.99). It’s as crusty as the Duke’s portrayal of Marshal Cogburn, dredged in seasoned flour not once, but twice, for an extra-thick coating, and served alongside “smashers” with just the right number of lumps and flecks of red potato skin to assure they’re homemade (get the white gravy).
Dessert at the Grit is as straightforward as the rest of the fare. It’s either hot (owner Tammee Tuttle’s homemade bread pudding with rum sauce) or cold (Mud Pie, a towering ice cream-and-Oreo-cookie concoction, topped with whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and toasted almonds). Both are about $4, and worth saving room for. Rent True Grit, and then be glad you are in the cafe, not a movie about the early West – a place where you can enjoy your burger the way you like it, and a shot is the quaff of tequila or whiskey you wash it down with, not the sound of a Marshal’s gunfire.
Breakfast on Sunday: In keeping with the Grit’s low-key, down-home style, it’s not billed as “Brunch” here. It’s Breakfast – and it’s good. It’s served from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Try the huevos rancheros ($8.99) or an omelet with a choice of three fillings ($8.99).
Above it All: Check out the Grit’s second-floor porch on warmer days, where the outside seating gets you a leafy view overlooking Ridgway Park.
Nitty Gritty: To see more locations where True Grit was filmed (the original version, that is; the 2010 remake was shot in Texas and New Mexico), visit coloradovibes.com.
Open Mon.-Sat. from 11 a.m., and Sundays from 9 a.m., until 8:30 p.m. (9:30-10 p.m. in summer).