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DOT COM DINING A Look At San Gabriel Valley Restaurants by SanGabrielValleyMenus.com
Mary’s Market and Café A Hidden Treasure in Historical Heart of Sierra Madre Canyon
by Bill Coburn
The San Gabriel Mountains to the north of Sierra Madre hold a long and storied history, in particular the Mt. Wilson Trail and the canyon along Little Santa Anita Creek. It was in this area that Gabrielino Indians established the first trail to Mt. Wilson to carry timber for the construction of the San Gabriel Mission in 1771. George Ellery Hale first began the establishment of the Mt. Wilson Observatory in 1903, and what was at that time the world’s largest telescope was carried by mule trains up to the top of the hill. From 1906 to the 1950s, there were numerous resort camps along several trails up the mountains, to which thousands would hike on a weekly basis. Several mule packers established camps and assisted hikers in traveling from Sierra Madre, where they arrived by Red Car, up the mountain during the “Great Hiking Era.” Dozens of cabins were built along the Little Santa Anita Creek, and many of these cabins are still in existence and occupied today.
In 1922, in the Sierra Madre Canyon, a small store was established to service the string of cabins along the banks of the creek, and the hiking traffic to and from the camps along the San Gabriel Range. That store is still there today, and is now known as Mary’s Market and Café, in honor of Mary Perkins, an Irish immigrant who was the proprietor for 25 years and who lived until the ripe old age of 92. Mary’s Market and Café is located at 561 Woodland Dr., Sierra Madre. You can reach them by phone at 355-4534.
The store/café is now owned by Denese Leath and Sally Follett, who purchased it a little over a year ago. Neither Sally nor Denese had any experience in the field, but they plunged into it wholeheartedly, and have established a loyalty among the canyon residents that is rarely found in this day and age. But then, places such as Mary’s are, themselves, rarely found nowadays. As you walk into Mary’s you notice that along the walls are numerous photos of Sierra Madre and the canyon in days gone by. But even more striking are the marketing signs and display cases, many of which you might find in a new establishment trying to be hip with antiques that just don’t fit right. But at Mary’s, they fit right in because many of them have been there since they were new. Old Doublemint signs, Grape Nehi, Drink Brownie for a nickel, and many more, adorn the walls of this charming community general store and café.
Mary’s Market provides a service to the residents of the Canyon, providing groceries, and sundry items to the residents who need a flashlight or batteries, quick, or an umbrella, butter, dairy, etc. It also rents videos and DVDS, is an outlet for local newspapers and gossip, and even has a game table where residents can sit and enjoy a game of backgammon, checkers, cards, cribbage and more. But the café is a hidden treasure which deserves to be enjoyed by not just the local canyon residents, but all of Sierra Madre and the surrounding communities.
Mary’s opens early, about 7:30 most days, 8:00 on weekends. Closing time is 7pm, except Saturday and Sunday, when they close at 1pm. They are closed on Mondays. But six days a week, you can stop in for a quick breakfast at the counter, and order from the breakfast menu which includes, among other items, something residents have dubbed a Muffin McMary, which I enjoyed one morning not long ago. Eggs and bacon (or sausage if you prefer) on a muffin (I think I had cheese on mine as well), but one thing you won’t get at the place with the golden arches was the nice fruit garnish I enjoyed with my “muffin”. On the lunch menu are sandwiches, hot and cold, (I’ve enjoyed the roast beef, which was a good sized sandwich, and very reasonably priced), and home made soups. New to Mary’s is a Fixed Plate Special, available Wed. thru Friday, which includes soup or salad; coffee, tea, cocoa or lemonade; a supper plate (tonight they were featuring spaghetti and meatballs or meat loaf and potatoes), and a sweet treat to finish it off. The whole meal costs just $7.45 plus tax, and if you go in between 4:30 and 6pm, you can get an early bird special price of just $5.48 plus tax (that’s 25% off). I enjoyed the meat loaf with gravy, which came with sautéed potatoes with grilled onions, and I chose the salad over the vegetable beef soup of the day.
Mary’s has also just started Taco Night on Tuesday, with tacos for just $1.50, a combo plate with two tacos, rice and beans is $4.62, Taco Salad is just $5.59. For a little more, you can enjoy fish tacos or a fish taco salad. Local resident Patty Bellamy wanted to make sure I knew about Taco Night, and told me that “last night was jamming.” Mary’s also has out door seating, and last night, residents chowed down alongside an outdoor wood-burning stove (not a propane heater, which just wouldn’t seem appropriate in this setting).
Mary’s menu can be found at their web page, www.sangabrielvalleymenus.com/marysmarket.htm and that page has a link to their web page on a local Sierra Madre site, Sierra Madre News Net. This page goes a little more in depth, providing photos of the interior and exterior at Mary’s, which besides serving the local community, has also served as a Hollywood set for at least one feature film. Be sure to click on the link to this page while you’re checking out their menu.
At Mary’s Market and Café, in the historical heart of the Sierra Madre Canyon, surrounded by trees, and within hearing distance of rushing streams (weather permitting), there’s always something good cooking!! Stop by and say hi to Denese and Sally. You’ll be glad you’ve discovered this hidden treasure.
Bill Coburn is owner of SanGabrielValleyMenus.com, a restaurant website featuring dozens of restaurant’s menus, as well as downloadable coupons. He has nearly 20 years experience in the restaurant business, and has been eating for much longer than that.
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