The New Year begins! From Kumeyaay observation ledge, sun appears split
  • The New Year begins! From Kumeyaay observation ledge, sun appears split
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The Trails Eatery

7389 Jackson Drive, San Carlos

Just came off the mountain. Been dreaming of sitting down, taking a load off, slurping the first gulp of cawfee. Got a mountainous appetite.

On the other hand, this morning has been totally exhilarating, climbing before dawn, watching the bobbing of flashlights all the way up to the summit of Cowles Mountain.

“But where do we turn off?” says Eva as we were humping our way up. This is at the solstice. We’ve just passed a sign that says “Halfway,” or “half mile.” Hard to see in the dark.

Then I notice an elderly woman with white hair, a skinny climber’s body, and a pro-looking mountaineer’s stick. “I’ve been coming up here for thirty years,” she says, “but I still confuse the spot which leads to the Kumeyaay Lookout.”

Me, I’m heaving, bleeding from a stumble, and desperate for a cheap cuppa joe. So when I see this dad lead his family and dogs around a fence with a sign about “sensitive habitat,” I give Eva a nudge, and we follow them through.

A hop, skip, and a jump among the sage bushes and we come over a ridge that yawns out over the El Cajon valley and up to the mountains on the other side. Sky there’s pulsing with a peachy, pregnant glow.

I’m sticking close to this guy Kevin, the father of most of this tribe. “We’ve been coming up ever since Katelyn was three months old,” says Kevin. “I’m 22 now,” says Katelyn.

“This is the Kumeyaay Ledge,” says Kevin. “Watch that little outcrop right of the peak. If we’re lucky, the moment the sun appears, it will look like it’s splitting in two. This is what the Kumeyaay have been coming here for, over thousands of years. It only happens at the winter solstice.”

“It’s coming!” whispers someone.

Kevin (3rd left), family, friends, dogs cheer moment of sun’s return from depths

Kevin (3rd left), family, friends, dogs cheer moment of sun’s return from depths

“Here we go,” says Kevin.

And lo and behold the molten sun rises up, hits some snag, and splits. It sends two shafts of light boiling into the sky.

“See it? See it!?”

We all kind of breathe.

“That,” Eva says, “was something.”

So now, whew! We’re sitting at one of the few spare tables at Trails Eatery, this busy joint not far from the car park at the bottom of Cowles Mountain. Comfort food, nice and steaming hot from the plates that pass us by.

Maria brings candy cane pancakes

Maria brings candy cane pancakes

Waitress with like total jungle scene tattoos on her arms comes up with menus. “They took 37 hours. Cost $4K,” she says. Maria. Talking about the tats. Me, I’m more interested in the food right now. First time I’ve eaten in San Carlos.

Turns out it’s the neighborhood cafe alright.

Not super cheap, but, like, a two-egg breakfast (plus home fries, fruit or sliced tomatoes, and toast) goes for $8.99. Bacon and eggs, $11.39. The basic meat lovers’ omelet goes for $12.99, the San Diego omelet (bacon, avo, tomatoes, mushrooms and jack cheese, plus home fries, fruit or sliced tomatoes, plus toast), is $12.29.

Then they have specials, like whoa: Candy cane pancakes. “White candy chips and crushed candy cane pancakes, topped with a drizzle of chocolate ganache, whipped cream and more crushed candy canes, $8.99.” You can add eggs and bacon or sausage for $2.99 more.

Lunch items are about the same. Cobb sandwich is $12.99, hippie sandwich (veggie patty, avo, mash potato) costs $11.99, and a Brie chicken sandwich (grilled chicken breast, “melty” Brie, cranberry sauce and arugula on a brioche bun, served with fries, fruit, or salad, is $10.99. Or a carne hash (chorizo, potatoes, bell pepper, onion, tomato, green onion hash “topped with carne asada and cilantro crema”) goes for $14.99. Or go bonkers and add two eggs for $1.99; plus half an avocado, $2.99.

Eva’s Benedict

Eva’s Benedict

Eva knows what she wants: Eggs Benedict ($10.29). Then I see what I shoulda seen from the start: a breakfast sandwich with eggs, cheese, bacon or ham for $5.99. Or a breakfast burrito (bacon, potatoes, eggs, cheese, avo) for $7.99.

‘Course I think I’m getting a cheap deal with the Brie omelet with mushrooms ($10.79), except then have to order a side of bacon ($3.59 more). But it’s the filling machine we needed, helped down by our $2.75 coffees. Flavorwise, we agree, not always a volcano of taste, but quantity wise, home run. The really good news for gluten sufferers is they have a whole page of GF choices.

This is when I meet Stacey Poon-Kinney. She looks far too young, but turns out she’s the owner, along with her dad. Everybody seems to know her. She tours through the room like a celeb. And turns it she kind of is. “I’ve been working in restaurants all my life. I was peeling shrimp at age two. When I took over here I was in my early twenties. But at one point in 2010, with the hangover from the financial crisis, we got almost to the point I was going to have to give up,” she says. This is when her connections to the stage made the difference. “I had been dancing on television and other locations since high school.” She took a risk and entered her joint in the Restaurant Impossible TV series, which rescues restaurants in trouble.

If you’re gonna sin, sin big

If you’re gonna sin, sin big

“That show was our big turning point,” she says. “We’ve never looked back.” She has since appeared in pilots for shows on the Food Network and hints at other shows to come.

So heck, what with Stacey, and having climbed the mountain and all, we celebrate with that crazy plate of candy. And pancakes, and they are sweet and funky as they should be.

“Yeah, I’d do this again,” says Eva. “But next time, maybe ditch the mountain part?”

Prices: two-egg breakfast (plus home fries, fruit or sliced tomatoes, and toast), $8.99. bacon and eggs, $11.39; meat lovers’ omelet, $12.99; San Diego omelet (bacon, avo, tomatoes, mushrooms and jack cheese) $12.29; candy cane pancakes, $8.99; Cobb sandwich, $12.99; hippie sandwich (veggie patty, avo, mash potato), $11.99; eggs Benedict, $10.29; breakfast sandwich (eggs, cheese, bacon or ham), $5.99; breakfast burrito (bacon, potatoes, eggs, cheese, avo), $7.99; Brie omelet with mushrooms, $10.79.

Hours: 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. daily

Bus: 115

Nearest bus stops: Jackson Drive and Hyde Park Drive (westbound); Jackson Drive and Navajo Road (eastbound)

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