There’s more to the menu at Springfield’s College Street Cafe than what’s printed in black and white. In a literal sense, that’s seen through the “slinger” – a bed of hashbrowns layered with a hamburger patty, two eggs, chili, cheese and a dash of hot sauce – which isn’t a typical option, but they make it anyway. 

“They’re the only place in town that makes it for me,” says Charles Estes, who says the dish is popular where he’s from in St. Louis.

After being introduced to the Springfield cafe a couple of years ago, it’s now a place he eats at least once a day, every day that it’s open.

“Every day but Sunday – they close on Sunday,” he says. “I come here when I’m not working. Sometimes I eat here twice a day; I eat breakfast here every day, and then we order lunch probably twice a week. 

While the food is good, “It’s always a fun place to be,” he adds.

College Street Cafe

A moment of calm at the College Street Cafe in the morning storm.

Others come seeking similar moments to savor, found through burgers and breakfasts. They sit in booths near the large windows – a contrast to the tiny cafe – a few tables, and a counter worn by meals and elbows. Others take orders to go. 

And while some leave their mark by signing the walls with a permanent marker or pen that seems to preserve the moment indefinitely, for others the mark on their own lives may be even more indelible.

“I love the people,” says Marylou Meierotto, the cafe’s owner. “And I love to cook.”

College Street Cafe

College Street Cafe Owner Marylou Meierotto puts the finishing touches on some desserts.

The red-and-white checkered cafe has sat along the road from the past to the present for decades.

It’s been in the background of Springfield history since the early ‘50s, even though time has changed its “man-sized hamburgers,” as a faded black and white photo proclaims from the days it was Pat’s Cafe, to juicy classics and car-themed options (you have to, given its place on Route 66).

College Street Cafe Vintage Photo

College Street Cafe Vintage Photo

The cafe, shown in earlier years. (Courtesy of College Street Cafe) 

Along the way, it was also known as Pigg’s Cafe under the ownership of Preston and Minnie Pigg. Later, names included Snappy Service, Gibson’s Cafe and eventually, came to be named for where it’s found: Along College Street, just west of the intersection with Kansas Expressway. 

Meierotto acquired the cafe several years ago. She worked at the cafe before she bought it, and has been in the restaurant industry even longer.

The connections she brings extend to her people, too, like Kim Anthony, one of the cafe’s servers — who drives from Marshfield to work at the cafe — and maker of mile-high meringue pies, who has worked with Meierotto long before she bought the business.

College Street Cafe

Kim Anthony, waitress and baker, and Marylou Meierotto pause during a busy morning with two of the treats available at the case this particular day.

The menus showcase traditional time-capsule cafe fare. There are eggs and bacon and potato combinations in the early hours, and the burgers, which range from classic to those car-themed options (like the Hot Rod with Pepper Jack cheese and Jalapenos, and the Big Wheel with grilled onion, mushrooms and bacon). 

There are hand-breaded chicken tenders, Philly cheese steak and meatloaf, the latter which you can get between slices of bread or open-face style and served on a bed of mashed potatoes.

“We hand-bread everything – our onion rings, our mushrooms, pork tenderloins,” says Meierotto. “They’re all coming in fresh. I go to the grocery store every day and get mushrooms and we slice those and hand-bread them here.”

Pans of brownies, cinnamon rolls and cobblers tempt from that counter where seconds count – both in the service, but also in the fact that you might want another serving. 

A secret fortune teller for taste, diners say? The old screen door out front. 

“They feel like they step back in time – that’s why I can’t get rid of the old screen door,” Meierotto says, noting comments she heard from two diners. “They said, ‘We knew this was going to be good when we saw that old screen door.’”

College Street Cafe

The Old Screen Door at the College Street Cafe

Foot traffic through that door fluctuates depending on the day or the week or the year, some bringing decades of memories with them, like Fred Lorenz and Joe Fischer. 

Lorenz began eating at the cafe decades ago when he owned a business down the street. He’s not in as often since retirement, but came with Fischer to celebrate the latter’s 20th birthday.

“I used to come here every morning about 5 o’clock,” says Lorenz. “I had a small business and Joe worked with me — for 40 years.”

While the clock seems to stop at College Street, it’s still ticking in this case: How Fischer could work for decades yet be only 20 is because he’s a Leap Year baby.

That history also makes the cafe a place where folks may not know each other, but can find connections with those who they meet across the blue vinyl seats.

College Street Cafe

Local folks pause for a visit on a recent Tuesday morning.

Yet it’s also a place where phases of people’s lives tick by in parallel with one another. While some are retired, Ernesto Torres began visiting the cafe on his way to work and was quickly sold on its quality.

“I’m very fond of Waffle House, but when I tried this place — it’s better,” he says. “I come in here like three times in a week.”

Others, especially in summer months, may come from other countries as they travel the Mother Road, of which the cafe offers a front-row seat. 

“We have more locals, but in the summertime we get a tremendous amount off Route 66,” says Meierotto.  “Just last week, we had six people from Brazil. One time we had people in here from France, Germany and Australia all on the same day. 

“Kim – remember when the people from Japan came in?” she says to Anthony, who pauses from serving tables.

She sure did.

“The whole restaurant filled up with people and nobody spoke English,” Anthony continues. “There was one guy who kind of spoke but not really.”

Some of those visitors’ stops are recorded in a notebook on the corner of the counter: “A true piece of Americana. Love the place/the history/the food,” one diner notes. Others are obvious on the walls, reminding of their experience long after the drive has been made and the meal has been savored. It began with a little girl who won a dance competition, Meierotto says.

“I said, ‘You’re going to be famous some day, so you need to sign the wall,'” she recalls.

But if you say yes to one, you need to say yes to everybody.

College Street Cafe

Names and memories fill the walls at College Street Cafe.

She points out names with specific memories in her mind. There was the group of Japanese travelers; another was the name of a Ukrainian man, who came through before the country’s war with Russia began. 

“I wonder what happened to him,” she ponders. “He was here on vacation.”

That care is consistent with something diner Dawn Garner, a relatively new regular, also mentioned before her breakfast plate was delivered.

“They’re really nice here. She reminded me of somebody’s grandmother,” says Gardner. “Like she was a grandmother to everybody.”

Want to eat? 

College Street Cafe is located at 1622 W. College St., Springfield, and may be reached at 417-351-4255. It is open Monday through Saturday for breakfast and lunch.

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