Hanan, a persuasive grandma, started with a coffee cart.
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Calypso Cafe

507 Grand Caribe Causeway, Coronado

Only rich people and felons live behind walls, right? Society’s afraid of felons, and rich people are afraid of society. So, back to Medieval days! Walled cities! Uh, except now we call them gated communities.

But, guess what... Seems some places let us barbarians in. Like the Coronado Cays.

I’ve just discovered this. Here I was, around sunset, puffing like a steam train on my bike along ye olde Silver Strand. (Gotta do something before I start taking up two bus seats.) I was at the point where you’re five miles from IB, five miles from Coronado, and, man, you’ve gotta take five. Butt, thighs, calves are screaming like kids in the backseat — “Are we there yet?!”

I decide to ask the guard at the gate how far to the nearest eatery. Drinkery. Anythingery.

“Matter of fact, we have a little café right in here,” he says. “First right, second left, first left.”

Who knew? So I ride on in, past expensive houses and cars. Midnight-blue Bentley slows at the stop sign beside me. A yellow Beemer lets out two teens at the tennis courts. At fields where kids are playing evening soccer, I make the left and suddenly it’s water on either side. Houses and condos, each with their own boat slip. And, sure enough, a sign. “Calypso Cafe. Coffee, bagels, sandwiches, and more.”

In a jiffy, I’m standing in front of two palapa-style palm-frond umbrellas. They shade a fenced café terrace with flower pots, a giant Mexican ceramic frog, and a little wooden arrow that says: “Welcome to Paradise.”

Maybe it’s the time of day, dusk, but paradise is how it feels. Light’s golden, colors are luminous. Inside’s all wine-reds and browns. Brass horns hang on the walls. The counter’s at the other end — over by an entrance from the other side. It has a patio, too, which must catch the morning sun.

Lady appears from behind a display case. “Can I help you?”

She sure can. ’Cause I’ve just spotted the dinner menu on the counter. Dishes start with a rack of lamb for, uh, $28. Chicken kabob’s $16. Best deal looks like a teriyaki salmon wrap for $13.95.

“You still doing lunch?” I ask, because, hey, sun’s setting, but lamb’s not on my horizon. Need more options.

“Oh, yes, certainly,” the lady says. “Breakfast ended at 11:00 a.m. But you can have any of the lunch items.”

Her name’s Hanan. Born in Jordan, brought up here. Lives in the Cays. Is a grandma now. This is her place. She hauls out another menu from behind the counter.

Lunch. This I can do. Salads, like the Asian chicken, are all $7.95. “Café sandwiches,” where you choose your own meat, bread, cheese, and veggie, go for $5.95. Cheeseburger and fries is $5.95, a Mediterranean chicken wrap is $6.95, a gyro with lamb and beef costs $7.95. Fish and chips, with three fish and “a tangy coleslaw,” $8.99. Can’t resist glancing at the breakfast menu, too. Some real bargains there. Sunrise muffin, with egg, cheese, and bacon or ham, $2.95. Biscuits and gravy, $4.75. Breakfast plate (two eggs, potatoes, bacon, ham or sausage, toast), $5.95. Sigh.

That Asian salad looks tempting. It’s got chicken breast, cabbage, shredded carrots, crispy wontons, and Asian dressing — meaning ginger, for sure. But now I’m wondering if they have happy-hour specials.

“Yes,” says Hanan. “We have sautéed shrimp for $5.95 tonight.”

I could go with that, but at the last second decide on a baba ganoush ($6). They have wines, like a chard for $5 a glass, or imported beers for $3.50. Not bad, but I’ve still got to ride five muscle-crunching miles to get back to town. So I ask for a coffee ($1.75) instead.

I take my cup of joe out to the patio (to the sunny Cays side, natch). It’s country-quiet. All you hear is halyards slapping against masts. See they have their own dock below.

Hanan arrives with the food loaded on plates. The baba ganoush has golden rivulets of olive oil snaking through the mushed eggplant. I scoop a couple of pita bread loads. Ooh…Love eggplant. Cerveza would be so good here. I turn to the fish. It’s cracklin’ hot, battered, extra fresh. Cod, I bet. I toss extra salt on and gouge the pieces through the lumpy tartar sauce. The coleslaw is tart and acts as a mouth freshener. Dee-lish.

Hanan had to fight to get this restaurant up and running. “For 42 years, you couldn’t even get a coffee in the Cays,” she says. “Finally, I persuaded the homeowners’ association to let me open a coffee cart.”

Then she convinced them to let her start this full-on eatery. Opened last July (she says the first anniversary, this coming July 8, is gonna be big, with wine tastings, food, music...). So, how much have Cays people adopted this place? “You should come by in the morning,” she says. “Some turn up for coffee in their robes.”

But why so cheap, in this zillionaires’ haven?

“This is a gated community, but, actually, most everybody’s living on a budget.”

Hanan’s two grandkids, Elias and Gianna, come and hang around her knees. Sun’s dipping behind Grand Caribe Cay. It’s suddenly cooling. Guess I’d better get back to the world before they lock me in for the night.

“I’ll be back for breakfast,” I say. Kidding, though I would love to try her $5 “choose your own filling” omelet.

“Wear your pajamas,” she says. ■

The Place: Calypso Cafe, 507 Grand Caribe Causeway, Coronado Cays, 619-423-5144
Type of Food: American
Prices: Sunrise muffin, with egg, cheese, and bacon or ham, $2.95; biscuits and gravy, $4.75; breakfast plate (two eggs, potatoes, bacon, ham or sausage, toast), $5.95; Asian chicken salad, $7.95; café sandwich (your choice of meat, bread, cheese, veggie), $5.95; cheeseburger, fries, $5.95; Mediterranean chicken wrap, $6.95, fish and chips, $8.99
Hours: 7:30 a.m.–9:00 p.m., daily (Saturday–Sunday, from 8:00 a.m.)
Bus: 901
Nearest Bus Stop: Entrance to Coronado Cays, Silver Strand (half-mile walk)

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