3015 Juniper Street, South Park
You meet famous people in the strangest of places.
It’s one of those balmy South Park evenings. Tuesday. You feel anticipation in the air. Musicians are hovering around the doors of Rebecca’s Coffee House, talking quietly, holding on to their long black cases. Other customers sit, playing chess, sipping coffee, watching the sky fade behind the minaret of Brabant’s Belgian pub, where Vagabond used to be.
Huey’s shining the last of his rays straight into us here at Rebecca’s. You can’t help but feel this is one lucky corner. At this time, it even looks a little magical. You’d never guess it started life as San Diego’s first Safeway, back in the 1920s. This corner section, where Rebecca’s is, was where the produce aisles were.
I was drawn here by one thing: Rebecca’s Scottish scones. Looking for something to eat before I start work tonight. The one thing I know: Rebecca bakes the mightiest scones this side of the Rockies.
So, in I go. Big space. There’s a stage on the left side. Two guys are setting up mikes and levels. “Testing, one-two. Testing,” says the man in a Rolling Stones ’05-’06 tour sweatshirt with a big tongue on it. Open-mike night, maybe? Behind them, someone has painted a scene of a cobbled street. And also a bunch of four-foot black-and-white portraits of John, Paul, George, Ringo, Dylan, Springsteen, Cash, Crosby, Elton.
The rest of the space, the part that used to be Safeway’s produce aisle, is an assortment of reclaimed chairs and tables. Studded wingbacks, saddlebacks, wallowy leather sofas. I guess the thing is, nobody’s being organized. No “Please wait to be seated.” People come in and sit down and don’t even think of going to the counter. And nobody seems to mind. Hey, counter culture? Who’s counting?
I go up ’cause now I’m hungry. Madeleine the bright-blonde barista hands me a little menu when I get to the counter. It’s mostly sandwiches and wraps, pastries galore, and specialty drinks. But what grabs my attention is the magic phrase. “Breakfast all day.” Beautiful! It’s just what I need to get my night going.
“You can have it as a sandwich or as a scrambled-egg plate with rosemary potatoes and fruit and toast,” says Madeleine. Natch I go for the plate. Sandwiches make everything seem smaller. It costs $6.75. With extra tomato (50 cents) and a maple sausage ($1.50), $8.75. I ask them to chop up the sausage.
“Anything to drink?” asks Madeleine.
I go for a tea. English Breakfast ($2.25). To honor the fact I’m having breakfast at this time. You know those eccentric English would understand.
But a few minutes later Madeleine says they’ve run out of potatoes for the day. So, instead I go for one of their scones. Yes! They cost $2.25, but they’ll give it to me for $1, by way of compensation.
Long and short: I get this three big-egg scramble with the tomato and sausage chopped in, four triangles of rye bread (buttered), three wedges of melon, two wedges of orange, plus this ginormous craggy-looking walnut scone with butter, all for $9.75. With the medium-sized tea at $2.25, I’m out $12 exactly.
“Gy-ood evening! Welcome to open-mike talent night at Rebecca’s. My name is Charlie California…”
It’s one of the two gents who had been setting up when I came in.
“Each singer will be allowed three songs apiece, and we do ask that you tune your instrument before you come up onstage.”
So, as the singers parade up and sing — their own compositions, mostly — I’m sitting at this antique table feeding my face with breakfast. Bizarre? A little. But that’s serendipity for you. How could I have known, half an hour ago that I’d be having this whole South Park experience?
And delicious? I splot me a little McIlverney’s Tabasco all over the eggs and sausage to zip them up a bit, and voilà, we have ourselves a zappy symphony of tastes. Plus a little added pepper and sweetness comes from that maple sausage. I mean, I’m front row at a concert, eating desayuno, and nobody blinks. Okay, guy named Dan who’s singing Paul Simons’s “Graceland” does keep glancing down and going WTF? Or is that my imagination? Whatever. This scone is the star. So good with butter and the home-made strawberry jam they give you. And tea is the perfect companion to swill it down.
During a break, I leave my half-finished breakfast (there’s a lot) and take my tea outside. The patio is filled with singers, guitarists, chess players, and plain coffee drinkers. One turns out to be Rebecca herself.
“None of my customers match,” she says when we get talking about who-all’s here. “It’s not like other places where they pitch for one, like, demographic. I don’t, and that’s what I like. I had a gent come up to me the other day and say, ‘I can organize your business so you maximize it. We can streamline it, identify your goals….’ He thought it would make a good jazz venue. But I said, ‘No. I don’t have any goals. I just want to keep it as it is.’ He said, ‘Well maybe I can’t help you then,’ and left.”
I met Rebecca seven years ago. She told me then how her mom, from the auld country, taught her how to make scones, Scottish-style, as her own mom had taught her. “By feel, not recipe!” The result is these masterpieces, tough outside, tender inside. “Just like my mom was,” she says.
She has been running Rebecca’s for 23 years now. Rich, her boyfriend (he drives an Über cab), says this is a dangerous liaison. “When I first met her, I weighed 190 pounds. Now I’m 240,” he says.
Clapping and singing come from inside. Gal sings a line, audience answers her back. You can hear she has everybody eating out of her hand.
Which reminds me.
“Guess I’d better go finish my breakfast,” I say.
- The Place: Rebecca’s Coffee House, 3015 Juniper Street, South Park, 619-284-3663
- Prices: Sandwiches, $7.75; 3-egg-scramble breakfast, $6.75 (bacon, sausage, $1.50 extra; tomato, add 50 cents); scones, $2.25
- Hours: Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, 6:00 a.m.–8:00 p.m.; Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, 6:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m. (Friday, Saturday, if no bands, close at 8:00 p.m.)
- Bus: 2
- Nearest bus stop: 30th and Juniper