You don’t have to be a train lover to enjoy eating at the Red Caboose Cafe, a rural Clovis restaurant with loads of railroad memorabilia, plenty of home cooking and a friendly country atmosphere.
But if you love trains — like I do — then the paintings, photos and other representations of railroading at the Red Caboose are like dessert before you order the real thing.
“People had a lot of these things tucked away in their closets, and they gave them to us so we can share them with other people,” Richard Claborn said of the memorabilia. He and his wife, Teresa, are the owners of the Red Caboose.
People who probably know better ask Richard whether he works in the kitchen at the cafe, located at Shaw and Academy avenues, about 9 miles east of Shaw and Clovis avenues.
“I tell them I don’t cook. I’m in charge of personality,” he said with laughter.
The cafe’s main cooks are Jorge Sanchez and Jesus Valencia, and the Claborns credit all their staff — cooks and servers — for good work, loyalty and attention to customers.
“People can go anywhere to eat,” Richard Claborn said. “They have to like your service and how they feel in your restaurant.”
Teresa’s sister, Anita Downs, is one of those servers who make customers feel at home with a warm smile and easygoing manner.
The food is equally noteworthy at the Red Caboose, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Prime rib is always in demand. Available on Friday and Saturday nights, it’s 10 ounces of certified Angus prime rib slow cooked with choice of side dishes.
Other dinner choices include, but aren’t limited to, Black Angus Country Fried Steak, Rib Eye Steak, Honey Fried Chicken, Mom’s Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, Fajitas and Pot Roast Dinner. Entrees ranged between $10.69 to $25.99. (Prices at the Red Caboose recently changed, and new ones weren’t available before the deadline for this article.)
Coconut Shrimp also is popular with dinner guests. Shrimp is hand battered in tempura mixed with Fat Tire beer. It’s rolled in coconut and then fried. The shrimp can be ordered as an appetizer with orange marmalade or as dinner with pilaf and steamed vegetables.
“We’re proud of our food,” Richard said.
His favorite breakfast dish is biscuits and gravy with a side of bacon. “And it shows,” Richard said, with more laughter. The bacon-flavored gravy is made from scratch every day.
“Everybody loves it,” Teresa said.
She likes Teresa’s omelet, named for her. It’s made with egg whites, spinach, broccoli, zucchini, tomatoes, feta cheese and topped with fresh avocado.
Breakfast selections include a variety of omelets, egg combinations, pancakes, waffles and French toast. The pancake choices include Chocolate Chip Pancakes, topped with whipped cream and chocolate syrup.
In keeping with the railroad theme, the Train Wreck is another breakfast choice. It’s two scrambled eggs with hash browns, bell peppers, onions, tortilla chips, jack and cheddar cheese, two choices of meat and two additional vegetables.
Other breakfast dishes are named for friends and associates. Take, for example, Sue’s omelet, a combination of broccoli, mushrooms, tomatoes and jack cheese topped with avocado that’s named for Sue Simmons, the cafe’s bookkeeper.
Lunch choices include nine Lunch Box Sandwiches served with a choice of sides (crinkle fries, homemade soup, green salad, macaroni salad or potato salad) and available in half sandwiches.
The sandwiches include the Super Chief (turkey, avocado, lettuce and tomato on sourdough), the B & A Express (bacon, avocado, lettuce, tomato on toasted white or wheat) and the Engineer (ham, Swiss cheese, lettuce and tomato on white or wheat).
The Red Caboose also serves burgers, all of them Black Angus beef. The burgers come with the side choices available with the sandwiches.
The Red Caboose opened at Shaw and Academy in April 2009 and was at Bullard and Minnewawa avenues in Clovis for 15 years before that.
“We always had a vision for a country cafe, but everybody thought we were crazy coming out here,” Richard said.
Other restaurants had tried the Shaw and Academy location but failed, Teresa added.
The Claborns found that customers followed them from their town location, and today the Red Caboose draws people from Clovis, Reedley, Squaw Valley and other Valley communities.
Ann Pipes lives about one mile from the cafe and is a regular.
“We have always enjoyed going there,” she said. “The convenience. The food. There is no other restaurant in the vicinity. We have enjoyed every feature.”
Pipes’ favorite dish is the Coconut Shrimp.
In June 2010, the Claborns opened Box Car Pizza next door to the Red Caboose Cafe. The pizzeria features a double-deck oven and homemade dough and sauces. Calzones also are served.
As I said earlier, the cafe is a train lover’s delight. A figure-eight track is at ceiling height, and model trains glide over the rails. Of the railroad memorabilia on the walls, my favorite is a painting of an Indian woman and child watching a red, yellow and silver Santa Fe passenger train streak across the New Mexico desert.
One of the Claborns’ favorites is a framed puzzle that shows an engineer with his locomotive looming behind him. He’s looking at a little boy — a wannabe engineer — seated in his toy pedal engine.
The toy conjures up memories for Richard.
“As kids growing up, we all had something like that,” he said, “or we dreamed of having it.”
The Red Caboose is at 5054 N. Academy Ave. and the phone number is (559) 297-9545. Hours are 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. Box Car Pizza opens at 11 a.m. daily and closes when the cafe does. The website is www.redcaboosecafe.com