"Drink this. It’s 9500 years old.”
The lady’s thrusting a glass of what looks like water at me in front of this food truck, “California Braise.” Truck’s new around here. And they serve this Carlsbad water. Ancient, pure, and special, a kind of Perrier of California.
“It’s very alkaline. So-o good for you.”
Seems the water starts as rain in the Cleveland National Forest, 40 miles east, and takes 9500 years to work its way through underground rock seams to reach the wells beneath Carlsbad.
By this time I’m sipping it like it’s liquid gold. Just think: when this glassful fell as rain, the United States was still 9260 years in the future.
The lady and I started talking here beside this truck in the Village area of Carlsbad. I long to stop and eat, except I’ve got to make the Union Bank across the road. Discuss my sorry account.
Next problem: 20 minutes later, by the time I leave the bank, I’ve spotted another place. It’s on the corner of Carlsbad Village Drive and Jefferson.
“Al’s Café in the Village,” reads the sign.
Maybe I’ll get to the truck next time. Right now I need comfort food, and I see Al’s has Hawaiian stuff. Big-time comfort food. Like “Loco Moco,” basically a burger patty with eggs and rice and gravy, a mess that can help you over any hangover...or bank-balance blues. Goes for $9, or, for “sumo style,” meaning you get two patties, $12. Then they have Portuguese sausage and eggs. Sausages “imported from Hawaii.” Also $9. And I see they have that really “Hawaiian” dish, Spam Bennie, “da kine” Spam with potatoes or rice ($10).
So, not the cheapest, but I head in anyway, to a bright room with cream walls, gray skirting, sand-colored leatherette booths, surfing art, and a sit-up counter at back. Place sports rock walls, lots of timber. You’d swear you had time-warped to the ’50s.
It turns out there is an actual Al. He’s the guy making fudge behind the counter. For the local farmers’ market, he explains. Then this vivacious gal comes up. Lori. “Oh, yes, we do breakfast all day,” she says. “Till we close. Three. Half an hour.”
So, okay, need to boogie along here.
Both Al and Lori are from Hawaii. “I had a place like this in Honolulu for 25 years,” Al says. “Two places, actually, and they were both 24-hour. When we came back to the mainland, I promised my wife Barbara that I would be home by four, every afternoon. So, we opened this. Breakfast, lunch, close at three. I’ve been running this one another 25 years.”
“Decided on something?” asks Lori.
“No,” I say. “What’s Al’s favorite?”
“Al’s favorite,” says Al, “is the breakfast fried rice. You want a Hawaiian breakfast? This is it.”
“With Portuguese sausage,” says Lori.
“And we get our Portuguese sausage direct from Hawaii,” says Al.
“From my brother,” says Lori.
“Hawaiian Portuguese sausage is spicier, sweeter than even what they make in the Portuguese community on our East Coast...say, Rhode Island,” says Al.
“Wanna try it?” says Lori.
Wow. Guess I’d better. Unless I indulge my sweet tooth. In the menu’s “Island Style” section I see they have “Coconut French Toast, with egg and choice of meats ($9).” But what about the Portuguese sausage dish? What about the breakfast fried rice? Lordy, don’t want to give up any of these things.
“Well, how about this?” says Lori. “I do half an order of coconut french toast, make your meat choice the Portuguese sausage, and I do another half-order of breakfast fried rice. Yes?”
Ten minutes later she arrives with two plates: one with the rice-egg mixture, the other with the toast, sausages, and a poached egg. Awesome.
The french toast is covered in a snowfall of coconut shreds and surrounded by discs of shining sausage that look like they’re sitting on tomatoes. I cover the toast with a fat smear of butter and then pour syrup all over it. The coconut and the syrup and the slightly sweet saltiness of the Portuguese sausages make for a lush combination.
Then I’ve got the plate of fried rice, too. I spot eggs, bacon, cabbage, carrots, pineapple in there, plus bits of Portuguese sausage as well as green onions and rice. Savory. Great balance for the other plate, and, hey, I got the two together for nine, ten bucks.
Also, slurping back a smooth Kona coffee ($2.75 with endless refills).
“So, what’s with the Portuguese-Hawaiian connection?” I ask.
“Thousands were taken there to work the sugar cane fields. My family has been in Hawaii since the 1880s,” says Lori. “This recipe for the sausage comes from my grandpa, Albert Rego. The secret in the flavor is spices, and lots of fat.”
Lori says the Portuguese influence is big in Hawaii. Their food, for starters. And, turns out, they were the ones who introduced the ukulele. Portuguese brought it to Hawaii in 1879. Hawaiians called it uku-lele, “jumping flea,” because the players’ fingers flew around the strings so fast.
“Do you miss Hawaii, the aloha spirit and all?” I ask Al.
“Actually,” he says, “we’ve found more aloha in Carlsbad. People are just more open and welcoming than in Hawaii. There’s a sort of tension there. This is where I’ve found the real aloha.”
Part of his aloha: mimosas. “We have bottomless mimosas with real champagne for $10 per person,” he says. “Every day.”
Hate to leave.
795 Carlsbad Village Drive, Carlsbad
Hours: 6:30 a.m.–3 p.m. daily
Prices: Breakfast fried rice, $9; omelet with bacon, sausage, ham, burger, or hot link, plus potatoes or fruit and toast, $8.50; “Al’s Locally Famous Hash” (corned beef, grilled potatoes), $9; grilled breakfast quesadilla, $9; Portuguese sausage and eggs, $9; Spam Bennie, with potatoes or rice, $10; hula burger (with pineapple), $8; fish and chips (Pacific cod), $10 (all-you-can eat, $13)
Buses: 101, 325
Nearest bus stops: #325, at Carlsbad Village Drive and Harding; #101, at Coaster station, 2775 State Street at Christiansen Way
Nearest Coaster station: Carlsbad Village, 2775 State Street