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Ricky's Restaurant

2181 Hotel Circle South, Mission Valley




Let's see. It's been, oh, 238 years since the soldiers of the Sacred Expedition, the first Europeans in California, first struggled around these bluffs below the presidio, heading for Mission Valley. Dust, brambles, mud, and no sidewalks, of course.

That was 1769, right? Today, I'm trying to walk that same route from Old Town: up Taylor Street to Mission Valley. What do I get? Dust, brambles, mud, and, oh, by the way, still no sidewalk. Cars zing by a millimeter from my left shoulder. Bushes push you out into the roadway itself. At the base of crumbling cliffs, you have to make like a crab, so you can see behind and ahead. I did this once before, a couple of years ago. Today, I swear, it's worse.

All this for food? Well, yes. Carla's friend Judy had given me the hots for this one item she claims comes unchanged from the nation's colonial days. "All our forefathers ate apple pancake," she said. "Ricky's is as near as you'll get to what the founding fathers ate."

Huh. Must try that, I thought. But by the time I make it, it's ten minutes before two o'clock and, dammit, the place closes at two.

It stands beside this big '60s Comfort Inn building, with a French-style roof that dips over the windows. The restaurant itself is even more '60s-style, all wood-shake roof and shale-rock frontage and cream stucco with maroon highlights around the windows. "World Famous Apple Pancake," says the sign outside.

I climb up the steps and go in through the rocky entrance. It's light, airy, a big room with a bar at the back, and a floor-to-ceiling mural of downtown San Diego's waterfront at night covering a side wall, and lots of booths and tables, all with teal-blue cushions and gray Formica tables. You expect James Dean to enter from stage right.

Instead, Josette the waitress walks in, shepherds me to a table. "Not too late for the apple pancake?" I ask.

"I'll have to check," she says. "It takes 20 minutes to cook." At the same time, I'm relieved to see a husband and wife come in and take the booth behind me. That means I'm not the last.

I do a quick scan of the menu, in case the cooks say no to apple pancake. Apart from "Ricky's world famous apple pancake," ($9.95), at the top of the page, they have items like pork chops and eggs ($9.95), New York steak and eggs ($12.95), eggs Benedict ($8.95), and chicken breast and two eggs ($8.95). Cheapest thing I see is eggs, hash browns, and toast for $6.95.

Of course, they have omelets, from the plain ($6.95), through a chicken omelet ($9.95), to bacon and mushroom ($8.95), and the "San Diego," with ham, bell peppers, onions, cheese, and green chiles ($8.95).

Alvy Gonzalez comes by to pour water.

"Any news yet?" I ask.

"No news," he says.

"I had the apple pancake yesterday," says the lady in the booth behind me, Barbara. She and Dale are Wisconsin transplants to Arizona. "I'm vegetarian, and it was so great to have a star item that wasn't meat. Except it was too much for me. They always give you a lot here."

"Ah," says Dale. "News."

It's Josette coming out from the kitchen. "They can do it," she says.

All right! All I've got to do now is wait 20 minutes. In the meantime, I order a coffee ($1.85 with refills).

"So, come on, Josette, what makes this apple pancake so special?" I ask, while she pours the coffee. "What's in it?"

"I don't know," she says. "The cooks don't tell me, and I've never tried it, because I don't like apples."

"It's fabulous," says Alvy, a little later, as he sets out pink sweetener packets, getting the tables ready for tomorrow. " 'Specially if you put a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the middle."

Right on cue Josette brings out a red, yellow, and blue plate covered by a steaming, golden mound, with slices of golden apples splotted all over the top.

"Careful, it's just out of the oven," says Josette. "It's very, very hot."

And so it is.

"How much for the scoop of vanilla?" I ask.

Alvy says it's $1.50. I order it. Better be good.

By golly, it is, with apple and cinnamon and brown sugar. Although, as Barbara and I agree, the pancake batter is like bread pudding, and I'm not too keen on bread pudding. But the top part, with all the gunk and apples, is certainly scrumbo.

Josette says this place has been going 40 years, and yes, there is a Ricky, and his nephew runs things now. It's sort of like Denny's, but it's a family, not a franchise. Most of their business comes from tourists in hotels up and down this southern strip of Mission Valley. Captive audience: without wheels, you're pretty much stuck on this side of the 8.

We talk and I chow till I can chow no more. This is breakfast and I was starving. But I can't finish more than half of this thing.

On the way back, I find a little park and track that leads me up to the top of the presidio. Anything to escape that Taylor Street. Man, climbing through a forest here. Just like the leatherjacket soldiers of 1769.

Note to self. Remind City Hall they've had ample time to create a sidewalk for one of the city's oldest streets. I mean, I've heard of slow government, but...238 years?

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