This is a little story about a place that no longer exists, but should.
Jetlag had me awake before sunrise on my first day back at home. So I decided to beat the traffic and go for a tour of my childhood neighborhood starting with J’s coffee shop on Highland Ave. in San Bernardino, CA. Now one of the dingiest cities in the IE. It had probably been 20 years since I had past through the doors last. I was duly prepared for it to have changed for the worst. Wide smile, not a single thing had changed since 1973. I am saying 1973 as that is the date of the memory my brain uses when thinking of J’s.
J’s is or was a coffee shop in every sense of the word housed in an A-frame cottage reminiscent of a 1950’s ski lodge. An architectural style in direct contrast to the surrounding stucco architecture synonymous with the dry, chaparral clad valley it was located. The interior was also a perfect example of the 1950’s lodge look with dark woods, heavy ceiling beams and a gas fireplace. As you walked in the door you met a traditional breakfast counter. Behind the counter the walls were clad with thin slices of tree trunks instead of wallpaper and the odd styrofoam blue jay glued on for effect. The breakfast counter and the tables were all equipped with do it yourself toasters. The three year old in me loved this toaster concept. I also loved the idea of sitting at the counter. To my disappointment my parents always opted for a booth. To this day I look at the breakfast counter with longing.
Behind the counter was a woman that was well into her 70’s. Two decades ago I had worked at the Baskin Robbins just up the street. More than one death threat was thrown my way in the line of scooping ice cream duty. Thus, my curiosity was peeked. What on earth was this woman doing here and why wasn’t she retired? Just driving through the neighborhood had me worried. I initiated a conversation with her.
Me: “I used to come here when I was a kid with my parents back in the early 70’s.”
Her: “Well, then I would have been standing behind the counter then too.”
Note: This all happened about 10 years ago. I have since forgotten her name, thus I will call her Frenchy.
Not that you could tell by her accent, but she was French. She came to the US after marrying a G.I. soon after WWII. When that didn’t work out Frenchy moved to California in the 50’s, the decor explained, and opened up J’s. The A-frame coffee shop was a popular spot for decades. Not only did they serve up a good breakfast, but the pies were known for miles around.
Like her compatriots I got the distinct impression this was a woman with determination. We talked a little more and then I fell into observation mode. Yes, there was a reason this woman was still doing business in the hood long after she should have been living the easy life.
In her kitchen was a short order cook that looked as if he earned his street savvy demeanor the hard way. Frenchy seemed to be oblivious to this tough exterior and barked out orders with a sternness you would only expect of your own mother, “Why aren’t those dishes done? Get to it.” I realized there was no sassing Frenchy. She might be older than your grandma, but she’s not taking lip from the likes of anyone. J’s had been her life for more than 50 years and she wasn’t going anywhere until she was good and ready.
I should have been more prepared and brought along my camera for this little trip down memory lane. J’s was nearing it’s end. Four years later I returned to find that retirement did come to this determined woman. She left the restaurant to her niece and nephew who, in the guise of improvement, removed what gave J’s it’s character. As for the food-yikes. As I suspected their reign wasn’t going to last long. Last I was there it belonged to a Middle Eastern man who, though very nice, had made even further changes.
Why did I keep going back? I don’t know really. I am just glad I got to see it one last time before it all disappeared. Next time I think I will just gaze from the outside.
American breakfasts come in all shapes and sizes. Anyone of these in combination will constitute a no-frills diner style breakfast.
Egg sunny side up, over easy, over medium, scrambled or poached.
Sausage link or patty
Pancakes with butter, syrup or both
Hash Browns or Country Fried Potatoes
Maple Syrup this is used on pancakes and waffles.
This isn’t as much a recipe as a definition of terms.
Sunny side up is an egg cracked into the pan and not turned over.
Over easy means you have given them a quick flip and the yolk is still runny.
Over Medium means you have flipped them and allowed the yolk to cook almost all the way through.
Scrambled is a few eggs mixed together with a dash of milk, salt and pepper then poured into the pan and stirred until cooked through. If you want great taste leave some of the bacon fat in the pan when you scramble them. I stay away from scrambled when eating out. Might be powdered. Eeeeeeew
Is an egg boiled without the shell. Don’t ask me how to do this. I have never been successful.
120 gr plain flour (I also use whole wheat flour. More flavor in these babies)
Pinch of salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 TBS Castor Sugar
2 eggs separated.
20 gr butter, melted
200 ml full fat milk
Sift the flour, salt, baking soda and sugar into a bowl, make a well (hole) in the center. Add the egg yolks, melted butter and milk and beat with a whisk until well mixed, no lumps. In another bowl whisk the eggs white until stiff, then stir them into the batter.
Pour into a pan on medium heat. I use a teflon no butter. Keep an eye on the heat if it is too warm they turn dark before the inside is ready. If too low the inside won’t cook through. The pancake is generally ready to turn when bubbles develop on the surface and begin to collapse.
Serve with butter, syrup-only if you like it!, bacon and eggs. You can even serve the pancakes with peanut butter and jam. or why not with a couple of those Danish chocolate wafers they put on toast.
I make the animal shapes by pouring the pancake mix with a measurement pitcher. Just keep it simple. For example a cat face with whiskers or the kids first initials.
Hash Browns-makes 2 servings
The key to hash browns is to wash the starch out of them then squeeze all the water out of them. Otherwise they will be mushy and tasteless.
1 potato medium to large
1 tsp Garlic Salt
Salt and pepper to taste
Shred the potato with the large teeth on your grater. Leave the skins on unless they have turned green from light exposure or are otherwise looking nasty.
Then rinse them under cold water for about 10-15 min. Or Until the water runs clear. This washes away the starch. I put a strainer over the top of the bowl as the water runs over it to keep the potato in the bowl.
Then use one of these Swedish potato fluffer things (see photo), to squeeze the water out of the potatoes. Squeeze small amount at a time. Even better if you squeeze them twice.
Then mix in the egg, garlic salt, salt and pepper. You can use just the egg white if you want, garlic salt, salt and pepper.
In a frying pan add a thin layer of cooking oil to cover the pan. When it is hot and ready to sizzle add spoonfuls of the potatoes and smooth it into a flat layer like a hamburger patty-see photos. Not too thick. Nor to thin. Lagom!
Don’t cook them too fast let them sizzle on medium heat for a few minutes on each side so they get nice and crunchy, but don’t burn. They should still be soft in the middle.
When they are done lay them on a couple layers of paper towels to soak up the unwanted oil.
2-3 potatoes cubed in bite size pieces
1 onion medium chopped roughly
Salt and Pepper
Fresh Herbs or even dried herbs (optional)
In a pot boil the potatoes until you can pierce them with a fork, but they don’t fall to pieces. Your NOT making mash potatoes.
Then in a frying pan saute the onion until translucent in a bit of oil or left over bacon grease. Then add the drained potatoes to the onions and let them fry on medium heat so they get a nice crunchy outer layer. Add salt and lots of pepper. I like to use herb salt to get extra flavor out of the potatoes.
You can also add a bit of parsley. If the parsley is dry add it early on. If it’s fresh wait until the potatoes are almost done to retain the flavor. I like cilantro (coriander) as well. However, some people find that Cilantro tastes soapy.
I think we all know how to fry up bacon. However, if you preheat the pan before you add the bacon it will get crispy easier.
American sausages are impossible to find in Europe. They do have some German Nurnberger sausages at Lidl that are darn close.