Like others, I read with a certain sadness that the Paradise Cafe, a landmark in downtown Lawrence, had closed its kitchen in early December.
For several years the Paradise had more than a local appeal and was a destination point for people taking day trips from all over the region. For example, some friends from Emporia journeyed there routinely, he for the chicken-fried chicken and she for the chicken enchilada.
That's how the Paradise was. It was easy to fall into a rut and order the same thing for years. My favorite was the spinach enchilada, although I once had a flirtation with the Hawaiian burger. The hip diner motif, boasting "good real food," served the Paradise well for a long time.
Word is that a group of employees are trying to scrape together the cash to bring it back to life. I wish them well, but their first order of business, if they do buy the restaurant, is to recapture the magic.
What I'm referring to is the intangible quality that sustains a restaurant over time. It's a combination of things -- a menu, an atmosphere, the people who work there and the people who go there -- that produce a particular mood. This is what restaurant chains try to create with their packaged interiors and menu themes, strange attempts at uniqueness that can be replicated in every city in America.
The Paradise Cafe, on the other hand, was anti-franchise, and that was part of its charm.
As it happens, Santa brought me "Let Us Entertain You," a fund-raiser cookbook published a few years ago by Friends of the Theatre at Kansas University.
Right there on Page 151 is the recipe for a plate full of Paradise magic.
Paradise Spinach Enchiladas
1 pound spinach, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup finely diced onions
2/3 cups sliced mushrooms
1 teaspoon garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons margarine
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
16 ounces sour cream
1 4-ounce can chopped green chilies
1 2-ounce jar diced pimientos, rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco or to taste
1 cup or 4 ounces grated Swiss cheese
12 6-inch blue corn tortillas
1 1/4 cups or 5 ounces grated Swiss cheese
chopped tomatoes and black olives
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Make filling. Saute onions in oil until translucent. Add mushrooms, garlic and oregano. Continue to cook until mushrooms are soft. Add spinach and saute until wilted. Add salt, pepper and Tabasco to taste.
Make cheese sauce. Melt margarine in saucepan. Whisk in flour and cook over medium-low heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in milk a little at a time and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until smooth and thickened. Do not add other ingredients until sauce is thickened. Add sour cream, chilies, pimientos, salt and Tabasco. Heat through but do not boil or the sauce will break apart.
Add Swiss cheese a little at a time, stirring constantly. Remove from heat as soon as the cheese has completely melted.
Heat heavy skillet or griddle until hot. Quickly heat corn tortillas on skillet. Spoon some of the spinach filling down the center of each tortilla. Add some Swiss cheese and 1 to 2 tablespoons cheese sauce. Roll tortilla around filling and place, flap side down, in a shallow casserole. Cover and warm in 375-degree oven until enchiladas are heated through and cheese is melted. Just before serving, pour cheese sauce over tortillas. Garnish with chopped tomatoes and black olives.
Serve with salsa. Makes 12 enchiladas.