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Café 1134

1134 Orange Avenue, Coronado

"Hair today, gone tomorrow," I say. "Very funny," Carla says. "Don't joke. I'm nervous."

It's haircut time in Coronado again. But this time Carla's going radically shorter. Plus she's determined to join the "go brunette" thing. She's been threatening this ever since Cameron Diaz did it at the Oscars. Why Coronado? 'Cause Diane, "the only one who understands me," has her haircut biz here.

We're ambling down Orange Avenue. Carla has my arm (yes, my gutsy gal's walking almost like the leg break never happened). She stops, just before Lamb's Players Theater, outside Cafe 1134.

I balk. "We've been here before," I say. "Let's try someplace new."

"This is new, mushhead. I know, because the gal who works nights is married to the son of the new owner, and my friend's girlfriend..."

I get lost in the Byzantine alleys of Carla's galpal network. But it seems the place changed hands a couple of years back, and, says Carla, the new owners stole a chef from Peohe's, the zillionaires' lair down by Coronado's ferry landing.

That gets my attention. There's a cutting little breeze this side of the avenue, so we bypass the sidewalk tables and go inside. Nice. Butter-yellow walls, huge, elaborate wood backboard, massive wrought-iron and glass-globe chandeliers, and a mezzanine level where you can hit the books or get together with your novia. We sit near the window. Interesting art's for sale on the walls, like one painting with the words, "Insanity is merely an opinion."

"Oh, yes!" I mutter, partly at that five-word message, partly from three magic words I see in the menu.

"Breakfast all day."

Carla's following her nose. I get a whiff too -- cheese. Feta, maybe, or, like, those beautifully smelly cheeses the Europeans love, Camembert, Limburger. Carla leans over, sniffing the plates a waiter is bringing to two gents next door.

"Paninis," says one.

"The Roma," says the other, pointing to his.

"The Tuscany," says the first. "Mine's the one with the blue cheese."

Tuscany Man has a panini sandwich stuffed with roast beef, tomatoes, and lots of crumbled blue cheese, plus a pile of potato salad speckled with, what, chives? Herbs? It all cost him $7.55. Mr. Roma's sandwich is smoked turkey, he says, with bacon, Swiss cheese, tomatoes, and basil. A cup of vegetable soup is part of his $7.55 deal. I see the Porto Fino gives you tuna, cheese, and tomato, same price. The Venice, with eggplant, cheese, and avocado, is ten cents less.

Hmm. We look at wraps: turkey, tuna, veggie, or spinach and cheese, all around the $7.50 range. A chicken pita goes for $8.95. Various sandwiches and salads are all about the same price. The chicken pecan salad, with roasted pecans and "garlic crustinis" for $8.95, sounds tempting, but no. Once again, I fall into the breakfast trap. They have breakfast sandwiches, egg scramblers and egg burritos, and omelets. And the very first omelet I spot hits the spot. The Cortez. Eggs and hey hey! Sautéed shrimp. Plus mushrooms, jack cheese, avocado, and sour cream, with fruit or sautéed potatoes and a slice of baguette, for $7.55. I order that (with spuds) and a medium coffee ($1.75). Carla goes for exactly what I also hankered for, that smelly blue-cheese Tuscany panini with potato salad (she could have had pasta salad, chips, or a cup of soup), and coffee.

The irony is that when it comes, though I get into mine -- love the sautéed potatoes and green peppers and the whole idea of the shrimp-and-cream-stuffed omelet -- even with some of their excellent house salsa, the shrimp feels a little watery, not enough sautéed flavor for me. I'm mulling this when Carla says, "Great panini, except it's too rich. No relief."

No problem. We swap. And man. Love it! Her Tuscany is just howling with flavor...the blue cheese, the beef, infused with artichoke aioli sauce. And the potato salad with -- what? Rosemary? Basil? Nice herby flavor, anyway.

"Good." Carla's into my omelet. "They let you taste the shrimp. They don't drown it with garlic and spices."

Guess that's why we're such a great item.

So it's way past four by the time I walk with Carla down to her hair salon. She takes a deep breath. "Just be there at 1134 when I get back? Please? Here. A sawbuck. Beer on me, okay?"

Wow. Deal going down on Orange. One, I'd forgotten what a sawbuck was till she handed me this $10 note. Two, just as well she did, because brunch bust my bank.

It's the evening crowd when I get back, around five. Hey, it's happy hour. From the conversation, you'd swear every customer's a thespian from Lamb's Players next door. Yana's at the counter. Carla's friend's friend, whatever. Spunky, attractive gal. Her husband Brady's beside her. "Try a Coronado beer," she says. "Remember Rick? The guy who used to own 1134? He started up the brewery down the road."

"How much?"

"Mermaid's Red Ale's $4.75. Happy hour. Dollar off. Great beer, if you like it hoppy, and it's 22 ounces, man."

It goes pretty quick. The hoppy beer and the happy hour.


For a moment I don't recognize her. Ohmygod. Carla.

"What do you think?"

I'm thinking: so Cameron Diaz meets Britney Spears? Guess I'll get used to it. By 2008.

"Great!" I say. "Here, try this beer. 'Course it might make you, uh, lightheaded."

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