12212 Woodside Avenue, Lakeside
‘We could see the blizzard coming,” says John. “I was ten. Our school was small. Five students. Winnie, my pony, was waiting outside. This was winter, Wyoming. Had to get home ahead of it. It was so cold I left my saddle at school. That’s because it was warmer riding her bareback. Her body-heat. So I lay down along her, held on to her mane, and let her take me home. That was our life up there.”
John’s telling me this as he demonstrates to kids how you shucked corn back then. Has a genuine ancient corn-shucker. Next to him, Cliff is sitting on a potato-seed slicer from the late 1800s made by the Champion Potato Machinery Company. He sticks a spud on a rack, steps on a pedal like a car brake, and chunk! The blades divide the potato into six blocks that drop into a bucket below. “Make sure each piece has an eye,” he says, “and then it’ll be sure to grow when you plant it in the soil.”
Huh. Cliff’s a farmer. Has a 145-acre spread out in the Pine Valley–Campo region. Raises cows. “My daddy had a 600-acre dairy farm in Santee back in the 1940s,” he says. “He used to herd the cows up to graze on the mesa where SDSU stands now.”
Nearby, John’s got little old gas-engine belt-driven washing machines and water pumps chugging away. And next to that, kids are milking a bunch of “cows,” using artificial udders. Starts off with lots of laughing, but soon they’re concentrating on getting the right pressure with their fingers to make it happen.
“This was how we created food in the old days,” says Janice, the lady who keeps filling up the “udders” with water. “Milk, corn, potatoes, home-churned butter. We do this so kids can learn about how their grandparents survived, before supermarkets.”
I just happened across this “Living History Days” at the Lakeside Historical Society’s old Presbyterian church HQ. Came in to ask if anyone knew where I could find a bit of food myself.
“You want to go just around the corner,” says Cliff. “Lakeside Café. Great for breakfast.”
Actually, it’s quite a walk from Maine, west along Woodside Avenue. But that’s okay. Out here, Lakeside feels country, 1950, wild West. For starters, El Capitan looms as the main backdrop, all granite, like a piece of Yosemite right here in San Diego County. Then there’s the sidewalk. It keeps fading away. Soon you’re walking in tundra, watching for gopher holes, worrying about snakes watching for gophers.
But, country-quiet? Oh, no. Light planes zoom overhead from Gillespie, heavy gravel trucks pound past, right beside you, heading out from the quarries.
So, kind of a relief to get in the sanctuary of this café. Slight dish-mop smell when you come in, but it looks big, bright, and clean, with acoustic tile on the ceiling, a sea of blue booths, and bricky patio outside. Except right now, too danged hot to go back out. Besides, Garth Brooks is honky-tonking it on the sound system, helping build my fantasy of Lakeside, as wild West cowtown.
It’s not all fantasy. The rodeo is alive and well here every year. And ain’t this the place where Barney Oldfield became the world’s first person to beat the 60-second mile? He was driving his Peerless “Green Dragon” race car around Lindo Lake. It was 1907.
Duska the waitress comes over to my booth. “Oh, yes, breakfast all day,” she says when I ask. Great. For starters, I get a coffee. Costs $2.79, with endless refills. I slurp and read.
Menu’s big and offers not the cheapest of grub. Talking thirteen bucks for most omelets. Best deal seems to be the “So Cheesy” at $9.99. Has Swiss, cheddar, and mozzarella. Uh, no. Those cheese combos never deliver, like, three different flavors. Lessee: Mediterranean, $11.49, olives, tomatoes, feta cheese, basil? Naah. Bacon, mushroom and cheese ($11.49)? Sounding better. But why not go for the “Melting Pot,” with bacon, sausage, “real pit ham,” tomatoes and onions? Well, $12.49, for starters. The Benedicts are all $12.49, too. Maybe the most interesting is the pulled pork “in our famous BBQ sauce,” or the corned-beef omelet. Chicken-fried steak is $12.99, and top sirloin steak and eggs cost $14.49. But, let’s come down to earth a little: eggs any style with spuds and toast go for $7.99. Or even better, biscuit and gravy is $3.99, or $4.99 for two biscuits. Should go for that.
But in the end, I decide on a chorizo/scrambled-egg mashup with home fries and buttered wheat toast, even though it’s $11.49. Duska, who’s slim and svelte, says she doesn’t eat this kind of dish so much. Picks and chooses between lean cuts and fresh veggies on the menu. Man, I should, too. But the fact is, every now and then it does a body good just to pig out on all the delicious old bad stuff.
Actually, my biggest fear was that they’d water this chorizo down, but when it comes it delivers a nice tangy flavor. Thing I like best though is the home fries. The green peppers and onions are crispy-fresh, even though they’ve been fried. And, boy, there’s plenty on the plate. Also, they include a pot of good, sharp salsa and another of sour cream. Whole thing’s a fresh-looking, gut-busting breakfast.
I leave full and thankful that I didn’t have to churn the butter for my toast and grow the spuds for my home fries. What’s more, clouds are gathering in the west as I climb aboard the 848 bus. Really glad I don’t have to ride Millie’s naked back through the rain when the storm hits.
Prices: Breakfast: one biscuit and gravy, $3.99; two biscuits, $4.99; eggs any style with home fries, toast, $7.99; thee-cheese omelet, $9.99; Mediterranean (olives, feta cheese, basil), $11.49; Melting Pot omelet (bacon, sausage, ham), $12.49; pulled-pork Benedict, $11.49; corned-beef Benedict, $11.49; chicken-fried steak, $12.99; top sirloin steak and eggs, $14.49; Lunch: hot meatloaf sandwich, $10.99; Dinner: chicken-fried steak, $13.49; spaghetti, meatballs, $10.99; beef stroganoff, $12.99
Hours: 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. daily
Nearest bus stop: Woodside Avenue at Emerald Hill Lane