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Pink Poodle Restaurant
111 West 2nd Street
North Platte, Nebraska
North Platte's Pink Poodle is a trip back in time
by Pam Soreide, Betty Sayers and Phil Soreide
From our point of view, being a Foodie, especially a Rural Foodie, implies a certain adventurousness of spirit — as Jonathan Swift said, “He was a bold man who first ate an oyster.” Not only are we game to try a garlicky escargot or a frosty glass of goat milk, we are always ready to learn something we didn’t know and see something we haven’t seen. Culture, we’re disposed to believe, is good for us.
In that spirit, we planned a trip to North Platte to check out the Pink Poodle, a restaurant we’d heard about as part of the Nebraska Passport program. But since it’s more than a hundred miles each way we decided to make it into an adventure worthy of the trip.
Train buff’s paradise
Although we are not train buffs per se, Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard is the world’s largest train sorting facility and the Golden Spike is a tower and visitors center positioned to give visitors a great view of the entire operation. The gigantic rail yard includes a huge diesel engine repair facility and, most fascinating, the “hump yard”, where individual train cars are released from the top of an elevated area and allowed to roll downhill where they are switched in an intricate dance that allows them to hook up with a train bound for the appropriate destination.
One only needs to wonder aloud at one of the exhibits for a nearby train buff to share deep knowledge of our country’s rail infrastructure. One gentleman — and there were many like him — took great pleasure in helping us understand an intricate map of the Union Pacific system.
One piece of advice if you go: take your GPS or get directions beforehand. There isn’t much signage in North Platte to direct you to the Golden Spike’s out-of-the-way location.
A trip back in time
Ah, but now it is time for lunch. We consulted our smart phone for directions from the rail yard to the Pink Poodle and felt lucky we had that resource.
North Platte has a full complement of chain restaurants, but of course that’s not what we’re about. What we like to find is that relatively rare restaurant where somebody really cares about what they’re doing and the effort shows. We weren’t disappointed in the Pink Poodle.
Crossing the threshold, we felt as though we were on a ride in a time machine back to the 1950s. The first impression of the space is cheery, bright and clean. Photos of 1950 pop stars and movie stars crowd the pink and charcoal painted walls; the chairs and booths are red vinyl; on the sound system, Elvis croons and Jerry Lee Lewis belts out the hits of an earlier era.
We get the inside story
We spoke with Connie Bible, who owns the restaurant along with her husband, Ken, and with her sister Ginger who returned from Missouri to join Connie as restaurant manager. Connie told us the abundance of ‘50s memorabilia was the result of years of personal collecting and that they had more there wasn’t room to display. But, décor notwithstanding, she said that a positive attitude, cleanliness and teamwork are most important aspects of making the Pink Poodle the restaurant it is.
“We keep a clean house,” Connie said. “We have a sign posted that says ‘If there’s time to lean there’s time to clean,’ and my staff tries to please me. One of the Nebraska State Health Inspectors is a regular customer and I take that as a testament to a clean kitchen and premises.”
“The customer is always right at the Pink Poodle and our employees are good at serving our customers,” Connie said, and as proof, a friendly server, smartly dressed in a pink and charcoal waitress uniform typical of the era, brings our menus and water while Ginger tells us about the most popular dishes.
“The most popular food on the menu is our signature dish, chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes with cream gravy,” she said confidently. “Hamburgers and onion rings are favorites, of course, but every item on the menu is delicious.” The choices are many as indicated in the colorful menu, done up in ‘50’s style. Although we were tempted by the hand-dipped ice cream specialties from the authentic soda fountain, we decided to start with our eternal quest for the best onion rings in Nebraska, then try the chicken fried steak, a deluxe hamburger and the tuna salad and tomato lunch plate.
We find a contender
When our obviously hand-dipped onion rings were set before us, all talking ceased as onion rings are serious business to us. We each chose a ring and admired the toasty brown color, then dipped it in the homemade ranch dressing. At first bite we all knew we may have a new contender for best onion rings in the state. The crunchy breading was satisfying, the taste was more savory than sweet as onion rings can sometimes be, and the onions themselves took center stage, not just a limp excuse for the breading.
Our main courses arrived and looked just as a diner plate should. The tomato stuffed with tuna salad was just the right size for a light lunch. The tomato was juicy and the tuna was blended the way I like it with sweet pickle relish. The chicken fried steak and mashed potato dinner was served with a flourish worthy of its credentials. Connie had told us that, “Every steak is pounded and pounded until it’s thin and tender, before it’s breaded and fried.” And we all tasted and agreed it was an exceptional example of the genre.
The deluxe cheese burger was also worthy of comment, a hand-formed patty large enough to cut in quarters and share. The meat was grilled to well-done yet juicy, and served with cheese, pickles, onions, lettuce and a side of hand cut French fries. Perfect ‘50’s fare.
A popular place
Teenagers, children with families, elders, singles and employees in downtown North Platte businesses are all part of the lunch crowd. Even as we were preparing to leave at almost 2:00 o’clock, there were plenty of new diners to take our place.
Connie has positioned the Pink Poodle to take advantage of people who want a date destination as well as those seeking a satisfying meal. Among her marketing ideas are give-away t-shirts for kids with the Pink Poodle logo on the back; basket meal for children are served in a cardboard Corvette; and hamburgers named after the local school mascots. Pink Poodle employees may earn a satin jacket featuring the restaurant logo for quality teamwork and customer service, and they wear the jacket with pride.
A stirring sculpture garden
We had to pass on visiting Buffalo Bill Cody’s home, Scout’s Rest, which is also in North Platte, but we did drop by the 20th Century Veterans Memorial, just off the Interstate. The memorial honors Nebraska veterans from all branches of the armed services and from all wars. Monumental sculptures abound, both in bronze and a large bas relief scene carved in brick. A quote from a plaque on one of them stayed with me…”He survived the war, but battled his memories.” It is always humbling to see name after name of those who have given much in service to us all.
Weary but satisfied, we hit the road for our drive home. I suppose that if we lived in some dense urban area with scores of fascinating restaurants just a subway ride away, we would have more interesting food options — but fewer adventures. On a fine, sunny Saturday, we’re just as happy to do it our way.