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The Omelette Factory

7941 Mission Gorge Road, Santee

"You'll eat eight spiders in your lifetime while you're sleeping," says this guy behind me. "City people have longer nose hairs than country people."

Hey, fella, trying to concentrate on the menu here.

'Cept I can't stop listening. Guy's entertaining his buddy with useless facts. "When you blush," he says, "your stomach lining also goes red."

That's what hits you out here near Santee: people talk. And to people they're with, not someone on the other end of a cell phone. This place is a big old barn I spotted while cruising by with Hank the other day. Reminded me of that legendary Samoa Cookhouse for loggers outside Eureka.

So today, when I passed it again on the 834 bus, I pulled the cord. "Be back in an hour," the driver said. Uh-oh. Turns out this guy does a lonely circuit. Hereabouts, the 834 is it.

The Omelette Factory sits in the kind of stand-alone building you expect to see in a country town. Long, angle-roofed, with a portico dressing up the basic shed structure behind. They say the Swiss of Chula Vista built it as a community hall way back when, then it was shipped up here to sit in glorious isolation until, 11 years ago, the Giforos family came along. And turned it into a big ol' breakfast joint.

So I hop up the stairs to the porch, almost expecting a "Leave your guns at the door" sign. Inside, the sprawling room has industrial carpet, a low acoustic-tile ceiling, and a swath of tables bulging with couples, families, co-workers, and a few old guys with flowing white beards. A painting of a rooster ("Backyard King") and some hot-rod portraits splot the walls.

Gal comes up to me.

"How you doing today?"

Her name's Eleni. Greek background. "I'm Peter's wife," she says. "Pete and Jimmy, his brother, run this place, along with the rest of our family."

They have lunches here, but breakfast is the biggie, especially omelets. Nineteen of them. Three-eggers all, from the cheapest ($5.49, "Just Say Cheese," with Swiss, jack, cheddar, or American cheese) to the most expensive ($7.49, "the Factory Omelette," build your own with up to four meats, veggies, or cheeses). In between you've got the $6.99ers, such as "Highway 52" (ham, green chili, tomato, onions, cheddar); the "Californian" (avocado, bacon, tomato, cheddar); "Pineapple Express" (ham, pineapple, jack cheese); and a couple of Greek ones, like "the Athenian," with gyros meat, tomato, onions, olives, and feta cheese.

Hmm. Also basics like one egg with hash browns and toast ($3.19), or high-livin' items such as top sirloin steak with potatoes and eggs ($8.29). Or a "Southern Breakfast" with biscuits and gravy, two sausage patties, two poached eggs, country gravy and potatoes ($7.49). Or "Mexican" (Huevos Rancheros, $5.99), or the interesting-sounding "Nutty Hotcakes" with walnuts ($4.99).

But hey, this is the Omelette Factory, right? So let's talk "Factory Omelette."

"Good choice," says Eleni. "What do you want to put inside?"

I ask for mushrooms, chorizo, onions, and dollops of feta cheese. Trying to be original here.

"Sure you want the feta? It's kind of strong," says Eleni.

I hesitate. "Uh, yes," I say.

Glad I did. The chorizo and feta are two intense tastes, but they work, and with good home fries, skins and all, plus fresh salsa and English muffins and endless coffee ($1.59), the meal is almost Samoa-size.

Next time I'm gonna go for the "Factory Burger." It costs $7.99 but has two hamburger patties plus gyro meat, two cheeses, and onions. Sounds awesome.

"People said we were nuts to open this place, way out here," Jimmy says as I pay up. "The building was unoccupied back in '94. It was a mess. But we saw it and talked it over at dinner, at Mama's house. Our dad had died not long before, and we knew this would give Mama something to occupy her, and help us, because she's such a great cook. She does all the gravies and soups. I was a waiter, Peter was a sales rep. This was a big leap. But it took off, from day one. We feel like we're living the American dream."

'Course, the inevitable happens. I chew the fat just too long. I walk outside. Zoom! My 834, heading back to downtown Santee. Too far to walk from this, like, semi-countryside. Hell. Hour to fill.

I end up wandering into the Mexican place on the next block. Los Michoacanos. All bright reds and yellows. It has a terrace outside where you can see the bus coming. Result? In two minutes I'm chewing on the most original taco I've had in months. A potato taco. A buck 89.

Luis Gabriel, the owner, first brought me a basket of tortilla chips and salsa, even with this cheapo order. Then out came a hot, crisp-shelled taco bursting with shredded lettuce, two cheeses, and inside, the most scrumptious sautéed potatoes. Toss some salsa in, and oh man. If I didn't have to work I'd get a $1.99 Bud as well.

But oops! There's the 834, heaving into view. One last crunch and I'm down the slope, lickety-split. Food's important, but as they say, a bus in hand is worth two hours in the bush.

Los Michoacanos is closed.

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