House spicy sausage patty and omelet with American cheese slices, on an English muffin
In the nearly 80-year history of Clayton’s Coffee Shop, it’s never seen times like these. Coronado’s vintage diner was made to be a place where people gathered not just for food, but to listen to recorded music together: there’s still has a retro jukebox and cute, corresponding wallboxes at its counters and booths.
979 Orange Avenue, Coronado
Despite the pump bottle of hand sanitizer stationed at the door, I’m not sure anybody feels like punching old jukebox buttons right now. Since re-opening to diners, Clayton’s still has the look of nostalgic Americana, and its staff doesn’t let the masks they wear interrupt their regularly scheduled friendly banter. But the diners themselves are more cautious, spread out in every other booth, or every fourth chair at its U-shaped counter.
The nostalgic diner vibe remains strong at Clayton's Coffee Shop, despite the masks and hand sanitizer.
Truth is, Clayton’s already had a well-established mechanism for take-out. The Orange Avenue corner restaurant has a window counter on its 10th Street side, and this weekday morning far more customers lined up there than stepped inside. Most line up — at six-foot distances marked on the sidewalk — for coffee, smoothies, and donuts, but anything you want to order from the restaurant can be picked up there, to go.
That includes a truncated menu of Clayton’s burgers, sandwiches, and a litany comfort food items paired with mashed potatoes for dinner: think prime rib, fried chicken, and meat loaf.
Customers in Coronado line up for take-out at Clayton's winder counter.
It almost makes you wonder if we need dine-in service here right now. Almost. Because there’s one type of dish I do only want to order for dine-in: eggs. In the past three months I’ve opted for take-out BBQ, tacos, even sushi. But despite the number of PR reps encouraging me to try their clients’ take-out brunches, I haven’t been able to get behind the idea of breakfast to-go.
Simply put, because eggs don’t travel well. Over easy, sunny side up, scrambled, folded into an omelet — any preparation short of hard boiled isn’t likely to taste as good after five or ten minutes inside a box during the ride home.
For nearly 80 years, what is now called Clayton's Coffee Shop has preserved nostalgic Americana.
Conversely, without consciously planning it, eggy breakfasts have been my top target since dining rooms re-opened. I got corned beef hash and eggs at D.Z. Akin’s last week, and a few days later made it to Great Maple for a brisket hash and eggs.
And here I sat at Clayton’s at ten in the morning, poring over the breakfast menu. I was thinking omelet, or maybe biscuits and gravy. But Clayton’s takes breakfast sandwiches more seriously than a most nostalgia diners, and I keep coming back to the menu subsection devoted to them. For $10-13, there are fried eggs and bacon on a croissant, ham and eggs on a bagel, or a special concoction called the French toast stacker, which pairs eggs and Swiss cheese with your choice of breakfast meat between powdered sugared slices of French toast.
A box of donuts for the ride home
But I settled on a simple favorite: the spicy house sausage patty, with omelet and American cheese, served on an English muffin.
At first glance, breakfast sandwiches might seem like the exception to my egg take-out rule. Admittedly, when I’m in a rush, I will order a breakfast sandwich to go. However, that’s when I know I’m going to eat it in my car, like immediately.
At Clayton’s, that spicy sausage patty is paired with a beautiful, fluffy omelet. Could it travel? Yes, better than most egg breakfasts. But should it? The texture of those eggs is only going to get worse with each passing minute. The American slices actively melting over it and the sumptuous sausage patty are only going to congeal in my passenger seat if I attempt to take it home.
No. The current status of dine-in service may keep us from wanting to linger in most restaurants, but even a half capacity Clayton’s is an ideal spot to sit for a spell, when the goal is enjoying freshly prepared eggs, cooked to perfection. Is this the best breakfast sandwich I’ve ever eaten, or have I just been missing breakfast service this much? It’s a fair question, but honestly, I enjoyed the experience too much to worry about the answer.
Also, I picked out a few donuts for the ride home.