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Jimmy’s Santee Stroganoff

“People have been coming in for years. They know what they like.”

Count Pavel Stroganoff. His French chef named his winning stew after him.
Count Pavel Stroganoff. His French chef named his winning stew after him.

I had to travel 20 miles outta town to get my Stroganoff fix. I’m sure some downtown places have it, but it’s only here in Santee that my Stroganoff urge meets its match. We’re talking the winey, sour-cream mess of meat you think of in the same breath as Hungarian goulash. But for a setting, we’re not talking some dark-timbered Mittel-Europ mom and pop cave. My Stroganoff has turned up in a light and airy coffee shop that feels like it’s still in the ’70s, but also somehow modern. Jimmy’s.

Place

Jimmy's

9635 Mission Gorge Road, Santee

Got here thanks to the Green Line. It’s a one-hour, single-ride trip to the end of the line. Except, when you hop off the trolley, you’re still looking at another half-mile to walk, and in way more heat than Downtown.

Erna, longtime employee, beloved server.

But they’ve done something good here. You traipse down a kind of yellow brick road. Okay, path. It curves alongside the Green Line trolley track. And yes, you may think of Santee as a criss-cross of aggressive muscle-car speedways like Mission Gorge Road, but here, right nearby, runs this curvy walking track for sauntering, as quiet as an English country garden. And with barrel cacti lining the path, it also feels like a walk in the Sonoran desert.

The path spits you out where Mission Gorge Road meets Cuyamaca Street, and, a thousand feet west, thar she blows, the classic ’70s coffee-shop/restaurant/sports bar, Jimmy’s of Santee.

“Touching me, touching you,” sings this waitress, Erna, along with Neil Diamond. “Sweet Caroline!”

Jose sits me at the long counter. Glad to get in to the cool, and also I’m stah-ving. He leaves a menu, and, hey hey! Beef Stroganoff is front and center among “Jimmy’s Deluxe Dinners.”

“Tender chunks of beef served over noodles,” it says simply. “Served with garlic toast, $15.99.”

Simple combo, rich century: beef stroganoff was big from the 1860s to the 1960s.

Oh yes. Visions of my childhood. Cold nights, warm fire, smell of paprika, great aunt Nona scooping out chunks of meat and dark sauce from this marmite as she called it, a great cooking pot brimming with Stroganoff, wafting also of brandy and sour cream, not to mention the red wine she had glugged into it. My big bro and I loved it, because it made us giggly, and put our parents in a jolly mood. Specially dunking the bread chunks. Natch, I know nothing’s ever going to match those nights. And besides, still need to skim through whatever else is on the menu. And there’s quite a bit. (Good news upfront: everything’s served all day, at least till they close at three: breakfast, lunch, and dinner, a relic from the good ol’ pre-covid days when they stayed open right into the night.)

The other dinner that gets a special menu plaque is “Jimmy’s Famous Broasted Chicken.” Four pieces of the “finest-quality chicken” plus soup or salad, mashed potatoes and a roll, $15.99.

Everything seems around fifteen bucks. I guess prices have just gone up everywhere since the pandemic hit. Pork chops, liver and onions, grilled cod, all $15.99. A quarter broasted chicken and a Belgian waffle, $14.99. Most breakfast dishes, about $14. A shrimp basket goes for $13.99.

I notice the choices seem super-trad, unchanged from the, well, at a guess, ’50s. “We have a lot of mobile homes nearby,” says Erna. “People have been coming in for years. They know what they like.” She points out some breakfasts that are a couple of bucks cheaper. The Denver omelet goes for $13.49, a Belgian waffle’s $10.49, a short stack’s $8.49, pigs in a blanket are $11.49. Maybe one of the best deals is the Hobo: two bacon, two eggs any style, one French toast for $10.79. Or a half order of biscuits and gravy for $6.99.

Santee’s Riverway Parkway: The pleasant path to Jimmy’s place.

Also I spot a section they call the “Experienced Menu.” For the 55-plus crowd. Omelets are $11.99 instead of $13.49; the “quick snack,” a half sandwich with soup or salad, is $10.99, and a prime rib dinner with soup or salad, potato, vegetable, and dinner roll, costs $15.99.

“So many of my customers have become family,” says Erna. She has worked here since 1977. “During the worst of covid, I got them to give me their phone numbers, and every Saturday, I would call them all, to make sure they were okay. Know what you’re having, hon?”

Of course I do. It has to be the Stroganoff, $15.99 for salad and a simple dollop of beef chunks piled on pasta between two thick slices of garlic bread. Except, in that dollop, a ton of taste and a load of history.

Basically, we’re talking chopped-up steak, pan-fried on the stove, with mushrooms, onions, and a sauce made of brandy and sour cream. There’s the magic! Oh, and paprika. And Jose says yes, there is some red wine in there too.

Why’s it called “Stroganoff?” The way I heard it, a French chef invented it for a cooking contest in 1891, while he was working for a wealthy family in St. Petersburg, Russia. He named the dish, as was the tradition, after his boss, Count Pavel Alexandrovich Stroganov (yes, with a “V.”). Here, they serve it with oodles of wavy, wide egg noodles. (Traditionalists say it should be on rice.) For moi? No problemo. It’s mild, but still you get the taste of smetana (sour cream), brandy, and Krasnoye vino (red wine). Oh man, I long for a bottle of that wine and ten of my closest friends, plus a few Cossacks to dance on the tabletops. Pah-tee!

Erna says this place changed hands a month ago. “But the deal was, the staff stays or no deal,” she says. “New owners agreed. We’re all relieved.”

As she starts setting things up for tomorrow, she hums along with the tune, “Leader of the pack.”

  • The Place: Jimmy’s of Santee, 9635 Mission Gorge Road, Santee, 619-448-8994
  • Hours: 7am-3pm daily (till 8pm Saturday, Sunday)
  • Prices: “Jimmy’s Famous Broasted Chicken,” four pieces, with soup or salad, mash, $15.99; pork chops, $15.99; liver and onions, $15.99; grilled cod, $15.99; quarter broasted chicken with Belgian waffle, $14.99; shrimp basket, $13.99; Denver omelet, $13.49; Belgian waffle, $10.49; short stack, $8.49; pigs in a blanket, $11.49; Hobo (2 bacon, two eggs, French toast), $10.79; half order biscuits and gravy, $6.99; “Experienced Menu (55 and older)” selected omelets, $11.99; “quick snack” (half sandwich, soup or salad), $10.99; prime rib dinner, $15.99
  • Trolley: Green Line
  • Nearest Trolley: Santee Town Center Station (12 minute walk via Riverview Parkway)
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Count Pavel Stroganoff. His French chef named his winning stew after him.
Count Pavel Stroganoff. His French chef named his winning stew after him.

I had to travel 20 miles outta town to get my Stroganoff fix. I’m sure some downtown places have it, but it’s only here in Santee that my Stroganoff urge meets its match. We’re talking the winey, sour-cream mess of meat you think of in the same breath as Hungarian goulash. But for a setting, we’re not talking some dark-timbered Mittel-Europ mom and pop cave. My Stroganoff has turned up in a light and airy coffee shop that feels like it’s still in the ’70s, but also somehow modern. Jimmy’s.

Place

Jimmy's

9635 Mission Gorge Road, Santee

Got here thanks to the Green Line. It’s a one-hour, single-ride trip to the end of the line. Except, when you hop off the trolley, you’re still looking at another half-mile to walk, and in way more heat than Downtown.

Erna, longtime employee, beloved server.

But they’ve done something good here. You traipse down a kind of yellow brick road. Okay, path. It curves alongside the Green Line trolley track. And yes, you may think of Santee as a criss-cross of aggressive muscle-car speedways like Mission Gorge Road, but here, right nearby, runs this curvy walking track for sauntering, as quiet as an English country garden. And with barrel cacti lining the path, it also feels like a walk in the Sonoran desert.

The path spits you out where Mission Gorge Road meets Cuyamaca Street, and, a thousand feet west, thar she blows, the classic ’70s coffee-shop/restaurant/sports bar, Jimmy’s of Santee.

“Touching me, touching you,” sings this waitress, Erna, along with Neil Diamond. “Sweet Caroline!”

Jose sits me at the long counter. Glad to get in to the cool, and also I’m stah-ving. He leaves a menu, and, hey hey! Beef Stroganoff is front and center among “Jimmy’s Deluxe Dinners.”

“Tender chunks of beef served over noodles,” it says simply. “Served with garlic toast, $15.99.”

Simple combo, rich century: beef stroganoff was big from the 1860s to the 1960s.

Oh yes. Visions of my childhood. Cold nights, warm fire, smell of paprika, great aunt Nona scooping out chunks of meat and dark sauce from this marmite as she called it, a great cooking pot brimming with Stroganoff, wafting also of brandy and sour cream, not to mention the red wine she had glugged into it. My big bro and I loved it, because it made us giggly, and put our parents in a jolly mood. Specially dunking the bread chunks. Natch, I know nothing’s ever going to match those nights. And besides, still need to skim through whatever else is on the menu. And there’s quite a bit. (Good news upfront: everything’s served all day, at least till they close at three: breakfast, lunch, and dinner, a relic from the good ol’ pre-covid days when they stayed open right into the night.)

The other dinner that gets a special menu plaque is “Jimmy’s Famous Broasted Chicken.” Four pieces of the “finest-quality chicken” plus soup or salad, mashed potatoes and a roll, $15.99.

Everything seems around fifteen bucks. I guess prices have just gone up everywhere since the pandemic hit. Pork chops, liver and onions, grilled cod, all $15.99. A quarter broasted chicken and a Belgian waffle, $14.99. Most breakfast dishes, about $14. A shrimp basket goes for $13.99.

I notice the choices seem super-trad, unchanged from the, well, at a guess, ’50s. “We have a lot of mobile homes nearby,” says Erna. “People have been coming in for years. They know what they like.” She points out some breakfasts that are a couple of bucks cheaper. The Denver omelet goes for $13.49, a Belgian waffle’s $10.49, a short stack’s $8.49, pigs in a blanket are $11.49. Maybe one of the best deals is the Hobo: two bacon, two eggs any style, one French toast for $10.79. Or a half order of biscuits and gravy for $6.99.

Santee’s Riverway Parkway: The pleasant path to Jimmy’s place.

Also I spot a section they call the “Experienced Menu.” For the 55-plus crowd. Omelets are $11.99 instead of $13.49; the “quick snack,” a half sandwich with soup or salad, is $10.99, and a prime rib dinner with soup or salad, potato, vegetable, and dinner roll, costs $15.99.

“So many of my customers have become family,” says Erna. She has worked here since 1977. “During the worst of covid, I got them to give me their phone numbers, and every Saturday, I would call them all, to make sure they were okay. Know what you’re having, hon?”

Of course I do. It has to be the Stroganoff, $15.99 for salad and a simple dollop of beef chunks piled on pasta between two thick slices of garlic bread. Except, in that dollop, a ton of taste and a load of history.

Basically, we’re talking chopped-up steak, pan-fried on the stove, with mushrooms, onions, and a sauce made of brandy and sour cream. There’s the magic! Oh, and paprika. And Jose says yes, there is some red wine in there too.

Why’s it called “Stroganoff?” The way I heard it, a French chef invented it for a cooking contest in 1891, while he was working for a wealthy family in St. Petersburg, Russia. He named the dish, as was the tradition, after his boss, Count Pavel Alexandrovich Stroganov (yes, with a “V.”). Here, they serve it with oodles of wavy, wide egg noodles. (Traditionalists say it should be on rice.) For moi? No problemo. It’s mild, but still you get the taste of smetana (sour cream), brandy, and Krasnoye vino (red wine). Oh man, I long for a bottle of that wine and ten of my closest friends, plus a few Cossacks to dance on the tabletops. Pah-tee!

Erna says this place changed hands a month ago. “But the deal was, the staff stays or no deal,” she says. “New owners agreed. We’re all relieved.”

As she starts setting things up for tomorrow, she hums along with the tune, “Leader of the pack.”

  • The Place: Jimmy’s of Santee, 9635 Mission Gorge Road, Santee, 619-448-8994
  • Hours: 7am-3pm daily (till 8pm Saturday, Sunday)
  • Prices: “Jimmy’s Famous Broasted Chicken,” four pieces, with soup or salad, mash, $15.99; pork chops, $15.99; liver and onions, $15.99; grilled cod, $15.99; quarter broasted chicken with Belgian waffle, $14.99; shrimp basket, $13.99; Denver omelet, $13.49; Belgian waffle, $10.49; short stack, $8.49; pigs in a blanket, $11.49; Hobo (2 bacon, two eggs, French toast), $10.79; half order biscuits and gravy, $6.99; “Experienced Menu (55 and older)” selected omelets, $11.99; “quick snack” (half sandwich, soup or salad), $10.99; prime rib dinner, $15.99
  • Trolley: Green Line
  • Nearest Trolley: Santee Town Center Station (12 minute walk via Riverview Parkway)
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