Red or Green?
Seasonal, quirky and way off the beaten path, The Purple Onion Café in Mogollon serves eclectic fare and "famous" pie.
The Purple Onion Café is as quirky as its name. Located in the semi-resurrected ghost town of Mogollon (pronounced Muggy-OWN) approximately 11 harrowing but scenic miles east of Glenwood, the little restaurant is seasonal and part-time, open from mid-May to mid-October on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only. Owners Tom and Amy Miller also open for all the holidays that fall on a Monday during that period.
In its heyday during the 1890s and early 1900s, the mining town of Mogollon reportedly had a population that fluctuated between 3,000 and 6,000 as miners came and went. It also had seven saloons, four stores, two hotels, two red light districts, a theater, a school and two restaurants.
Nowadays, very little of that thriving town remains. The buildings that have survived have been artistically restored and house a museum, a theater in which dances are occasionally held, an antique and curio store, an art gallery, a natural cosmetics business, a bed and breakfast, the cemetery archives and, of course, The Purple Onion — the only eatery in town.
The building in which the café is located was reportedly used originally as the town's Post Office. It is tiny. "Like a dollhouse," a friend told me — just large enough to hold a kitchen and a single table for customers. But there are other tables scattered around the property — one on the porch, one in front of the building under a tree, one in the middle of a little garden area, two in a small pavilion with three walls, two more on a deck adjoining that pavilion, and two under a nearby L-shaped open-air pavilion with a roof but no sides.
The café hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the menu is eclectic and flexible, ranging from old standbys like breakfast burritos and burgers to somewhat more trendy items like veggie melts and pita pockets filled with fresh vegetables and guacamole. Beverages likewise run the gamut from iced tea and soda pop to root beer floats, milkshakes and lattés.
Side dishes include homemade potato salad, homemade pasta salad, fresh garden salad and watermelon.
"Kids tend to go for the watermelon," Amy Miller says. Potato chips are served, but no French fries. Prices are reasonable, with most meals falling between $6 (for the breakfast burrito) and $8.50 (for the bacon cheeseburger).
Breakfast is served all day on Saturdays and Sundays, and up to 11:30 a.m. on Fridays. Breakfast options include chile omelets, veggie omelets, breakfast burritos, pancakes and any combination of bacon, sausage and eggs you care to name.
The Millers — Tom, Amy and daughter Brittanie — take turns cooking and they are all perfectly willing to customize orders.
"We don't mind people saying, 'Yes, I'd like the breakfast burrito, but I don't want that particular thing in it. I'd rather have this ingredient instead.' We can customize almost any item," Amy says. "We've got some customers who are allergic to gluten, so they bring their own bread. We're fine with that. Bacon in the Veggie Melt? Sure. Why not? Sometimes customers give us an idea for an interesting new combination. We're always open to that."
Desserts include The Purple Onion's famous homemade pies — and therein lies a tale.
"There was an article in a magazine that came out some years ago and proclaimed that The Purple Onion was famous for its pies," Tom Miller recounts. "At the time, we weren't making pies and we really had no interest in doing that. But people read the article and started showing up asking for our famous pies. So we decided we better start making some."
Though their reputation preceded their existence, The Purple Onion's pies have lived up to it.
The Purple Onion is not the Millers' first venture into the restaurant business. Amy had already established her own restaurant when she and Tom met in 1995. It was located in Alma, just up the road from Glenwood, and it was called the Red Hen Café. It didn't take long for Tom to get involved in the business.
"The hours were really long: 6 a.m. to 8 or 9 at night," Tom says. "When we closed the restaurant in 2000, we swore never again."
The decision never to get involved in a restaurant again lasted about a year. Then the owner of the building in which The Purple Onion is located approached them.
"He made us an offer that was pretty creamy, so we decided to do it, and it's been fun," Tom says. "I've never regretted it."
Both Amy and Tom do other work besides the café. Amy is site manager for the Glenwood Senior Center, and Tom does construction and landscaping.
"The café is our business when we're doing well, and our hobby when we're not," Tom laughs.
The Millers inherited the name of the café, incidentally. It originated with the Texan who occupied the premises before the Millers. Why he chose to call it The Purple Onion is a mystery, since he intended to make and sell ice cream. The Millers, however, have taken the name to heart, and use only red onions in their cooking.
The Purple Onion Café can accommodate groups. For more information, please call (575) 539-2710.