8125 Broadway, Lemon Grove
This is ridiculous, sneaking in here like a criminal. But no way could I ask Hank to come along. Mention greasy spoon these days and he's, like, "Get behind me, Satan!"
Me? I was born with a greasy spoon in my mouth. I fwop through the screen door. Swing into the saddle of a counter stool. Middle-aged gal brings the menu. She wears a flag-decked T-shirt that says "Heart of America."
"Something to drink?" she asks.
"Cawfee," I grunt.
"Decided what you want?"
I notice they've got cinnamon rolls for a buck. Why not, for starters?
While I'm waiting, I look 'round this li'l old place I've been hankering after. (Sorry, Hank.) It's a "bin there forever" joint in a cream two-story building just outside of downtown Lemon Grove. The room's long and narrow, cute country pix dotted about, booths down one side, counter down the other.
Sharon brings my cinnamon roll steaming hot. Oh yes. Sweet, sticky, pure goo. And with the endless-refill coffee ($1.10), there's enough buzz to clear the fuzz in my head. On the sound system, Neil Diamond croons "Song Sung Blue." Always liked that title. Sounds kinda Chinese.
But now it's major decision time. Lessee: Two eggs, hash browns, and toast are $3.50. Good country price. Add ham, bacon, or sausage, and it's $5.40. I see one go by. Wow. The damned sausage patty is as big as a lily pad. Five, six inches across. "Half a pound," says Sharon. They have omelets, like the machaca (or Spanish, or hamburger, or nopalitos -- cactus), in any one of six sizes, mini ($5.55), small ($6.00), medium ($6.65), large ($8.45), extra large ($9.25), and jumbo ($11.00). "Don't kid yourself about the sizes," says this guy Joseph in one of the booths. "I'm eating the 'small' machaca omelet. Look at it. I'll be taking half home."
"Go for the steak breakfasts," says this older feller, Larry, at the next booth. "That's their thing."
I see he's worked through most of his own big ol' slab of ham.
He points to a bunch of chalkboard specials. "Homemade Country Steak," $6.00. Ham steak and eggs, $6.45. Pork steak and eggs, $6.45. Plus "Huevos Rancheros," $5.15. Corned-beef hash and eggs, $5.70. Biscuits and gravy with one egg, $4.15.
"How 'bout biscuits and gravy?" I say. "Would it fill you?"
"Darn tootin'," Larry says. "But those steaks..."
I want to agree. I do. But when Sharon shows up, I suddenly remember that loose tooth I've got. One tough steak and I'll be heading TJ way. "Corned-beef hash," I announce, and I can hear what everyone's thinking. "Wimp." Guilty as charged, but better to live to chew another day.
Sharon says has been serving steak breakfasts for nearly 50 years. She's been working here for 22. Jonathan, young guy who appears from the kitchen, says he and his pa, José, just bought it three or four months ago. "My dad called me up one day and said, 'You want to buy a restaurant with me?' "
So they purchased this place from Donna, the daughter of the actual Jane, who opened the doors in 1957.
Ham-steak Larry says, "About the only thing they changed is they took down all the Elvis stuff that had been on the walls forever."
"They didn't change me," Sharon says.
She sets down my plate. The middle is all corned-beef hash, laid out in rows, as if a tractor had plowed it. Two eggs over easy sit on the right. On the left are actual hash browns, but different. They're cut wide, like fettuccine. Huh. Sharon leaves a bowl with lemon quarters to squeeze into your water or iced tea. Nice touch. There's also a plate of pre-buttered wheat toast, strawberry jam, ketchup, and a pitcher -- yes, pitcher -- of homemade salsa to, like, pour on.
That's exactly what I do over the hash-brown snake pit. Then I fist-thump a blob of ketchup -- blurt -- onto the corned-beef hash, and we're rockin'. Oh man. This is breakfast as it should be. Flavorful, the way Grandma used to serve. Except she always had boiled cabbage beside the corned-beef hash. Made us wish the dogs liked cabbage as much as corned beef.
I stick the two toasts under the huevos and -- it's gotta be the food -- soon enough Larry and me and the guys in the booth next door are chewing the fat like old buddies. Turns out Larry's from Texas. His dad was a wildcatter. "He struck oil several times. Trouble was, there was always salt water with it. No good."
Joseph says he's been coming here to Jane's since '76. "I went to Mount Miguel High School. We called this our 'late-night recovery room,' like, where we'd come to sober up. You always got big portions. You knew everyone. And it's still the same. I mean, this omelet. Six bucks, but two of you can split it. They don't mind. Believe me, half will fill you up."
'Course these days closes at 2:00 p.m., but Jonathan says his pop has dreams of opening in the evenings again -- to serve Puerto Rican food. "That's where his family came from," he says.
Sharon packs the second half of Joseph's machaca omelet to go. Then she heads to the back and starts clanking away, washing dishes. By hand.
As I leave, Three Dog Night wails, "Mama told me not to come..."
Hank'd be nodding agreement. But as my grandma used to say, "A little of what you fancy does you good."