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South Park’s Big Kitchen offers food, love, and politics

Before she came to San Diego, Judy was a social worker

Customers dance outside Big Kitchen in South Park.
Customers dance outside Big Kitchen in South Park.
Video:

TIN FORK: South Park’s Big Kitchen offers food, love, and politics


Judy the Beauty on Duty throws her head back and laughs. “Tres bien, tres bien!” She says it with a deliberate accent, partly to annoy perfectionistas, because that’s what she’s been doing for the longest time: annoying the smug and the snobby.

But much more than that, this lady has been helping to turn South Park into the coolest neighborhood in town. Also, a neighborhood that is, well, loving towards everybody. She was a social worker back in the day, back in Detroit, specializing in gangs. Said it was the best education she ever had. And for the last 44 years, she has done much of her work through food. Here, in the Big Kitchen, she has become a magnet for people who care about civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, after-school programs, drug rehab, homeless issues, HIV-positive people’s plights... On and on, she has stuck with it, all through the years she has been running this cafe. Whoopi Goldberg used to wash dishes here.

Judy’s sister Marcia plays sax every Saturday with her group out on the patio. And everybody seems to be laughing along with Judy. “South Park has always been a pleasure,” she’s saying. “Problems? If children acted out, needed attention, if gangs were an issue, I just hired them. It’s what I love about South Park. Businesses here care about people.”

Server from Seattle: Nolan applied to 37 places before landing job here.

She goes off to get a coffee for me. I’m not holding my breath. People will want to waylay her all the way to the kitchen. But Nolan the server comes up with a menu. When he came to apply for a job here a year ago, he didn’t take no for an answer. He’s down from Seattle, studying marketing. “This was the 38th place I applied for a job at,” he says. “Lucky 38!”

Diane joins me. It’s bittersweet. She has to leave for Christchurch, New Zealand tomorrow, to take care of post-earthquake repairs at her and her cousin’s place, a decade after the event. “So I want something very American,” she says. They have a thousand things on the menu — including rules. Things like “Do not deliver your baby in my cafe!” “Do realize, your mind, like a parachute, only works when open,” and “Do use the phrase ‘Tres bien’ often.” Oh, and the back page of the menu is filled by “A Declaration of Sentiments,” written by women in Seneca Falls in 1848, railing against male-made laws designed to force women to lead “a dependent and abject life.” We read it together. “Worth coming here just for this!” says Diane. “Because is still hasn’t been fixed.”

A young Whoopi Goldberg with Judy. She washed dishes here.

She loves the atmosphere Judy has created. “There’s a generous, hippie feel,” she says. “You could sit here all day and just talk with everybody.” Oh yeah, and there’s food. It also feels old-fashioned, in a good way: like, all-traditional American breakfast and lunch. Diane almost goes for “Whoopi’s Breakfast”: two eggs any style, bacon, potatoes, toast, and a large orange juice.” Costs $21. But then — maybe it’s the price — Diane sees biscuits and sausage gravy for $14, and then “One big buttermilk pancake” for $11.50. She goes for that, and she adds blueberries ($4 extra). Me, it’s gotta be the cheese omelet for $13, served with home fries (could have been rice) and toast. I get cheddar for the cheese. Diane’s pancake looks a bit naked, but it’s huge. And with syrup and the blueberries, it’s more than enough. Just like my omelet with the potatoes. I like that the place bakes its own muffins and does its own veggies. But my big moment at the Big Kitchen comes next day, after Diane has flown off and I’m feeling, well, big-time bereft as she heads 6873 miles out over the Pacific. Dang! I need comfort food! And this is when I notice a good deal on Big Bowl Specialties. Lotsa steaming soups in this department, plus black bean chili, black beans with brown rice and tortillas on the side, and “Big Kitchen Chili.” Costs $12.50. Nolan says most people have it in a chile cheese omelet with home fries or rice, for $18.50.

Place

Big Kitchen

3003 Grape Street, San Diego

Sponsored
Sponsored


But no, I go for the Big Kitchen Chili alone, and am sure glad I did. It is super filling. And comes with a big muffin-scone affair to soak up the tailings, of which there are plenty. You’ve got the chili meat itself, then tomatoes, red chiles, green and red peppers, onions, on and on. And the thing about it is, you can tell this has been slowly bubbling on the stove-top for hours. The flavors have all gotten together and turned into a rich, hot, gooey, scrumbo bowl of goodness. The two home-made buns more than fill any empty corners. The Kona coffee makes a nice counterpoint. What’s also good is that I haven’t had this kind of dish for ages. With all the new foods around town, you forget what came before.

Blueberries add color to Diane’s simple pancake.

Course, I have noticed food prices on the upswing pretty-much everywhere. Here too. “I don’t like doing it,” says Judy when I ask her. “I was the last one [in the area]. But it’s a reality. Suppliers’ prices have gone up and up. I wanted to stay in business.”

She has done that, and how. All around the walls inside are pics of neighborhood gatherings and personalities. Marcia still plays jazz outside among the tables and trees. Right now, a father and his little girl are dancing all around. It’s kinda magic. I’m not surprised that, come to find out, someone’s actually written a musical about the place. Hope they have a song in it that goes “Tres bien, tres bien.”

The Place: Big Kitchen Cafe, 3003 Grape Street, South Park, 619-234-5789

Hours: 8am - 2pm daily (closed Tuesday, Wednesday)

Prices: One egg any style (with home fries or rice, with toast), $9.50; Whoopie’s Breakfast (2 eggs any style, bacon, potatoes, toast, large orange juice), $21; biscuits and sausage gravy, $14; one big buttermilk pancake, $11.50; Damian’s Breakfast Burrito (avocado, cheese, 2 scrambled eggs, potatoes, sour cream), $21; cheese omelet, potatoes, $13; Big Kitchen Chili, $12.50. chile cheese omelet (home fries or rice), $18.50

Bus: 2

Nearest Bus Stop: 30th and Fir

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Customers dance outside Big Kitchen in South Park.
Customers dance outside Big Kitchen in South Park.
Video:

TIN FORK: South Park’s Big Kitchen offers food, love, and politics


Judy the Beauty on Duty throws her head back and laughs. “Tres bien, tres bien!” She says it with a deliberate accent, partly to annoy perfectionistas, because that’s what she’s been doing for the longest time: annoying the smug and the snobby.

But much more than that, this lady has been helping to turn South Park into the coolest neighborhood in town. Also, a neighborhood that is, well, loving towards everybody. She was a social worker back in the day, back in Detroit, specializing in gangs. Said it was the best education she ever had. And for the last 44 years, she has done much of her work through food. Here, in the Big Kitchen, she has become a magnet for people who care about civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, after-school programs, drug rehab, homeless issues, HIV-positive people’s plights... On and on, she has stuck with it, all through the years she has been running this cafe. Whoopi Goldberg used to wash dishes here.

Judy’s sister Marcia plays sax every Saturday with her group out on the patio. And everybody seems to be laughing along with Judy. “South Park has always been a pleasure,” she’s saying. “Problems? If children acted out, needed attention, if gangs were an issue, I just hired them. It’s what I love about South Park. Businesses here care about people.”

Server from Seattle: Nolan applied to 37 places before landing job here.

She goes off to get a coffee for me. I’m not holding my breath. People will want to waylay her all the way to the kitchen. But Nolan the server comes up with a menu. When he came to apply for a job here a year ago, he didn’t take no for an answer. He’s down from Seattle, studying marketing. “This was the 38th place I applied for a job at,” he says. “Lucky 38!”

Diane joins me. It’s bittersweet. She has to leave for Christchurch, New Zealand tomorrow, to take care of post-earthquake repairs at her and her cousin’s place, a decade after the event. “So I want something very American,” she says. They have a thousand things on the menu — including rules. Things like “Do not deliver your baby in my cafe!” “Do realize, your mind, like a parachute, only works when open,” and “Do use the phrase ‘Tres bien’ often.” Oh, and the back page of the menu is filled by “A Declaration of Sentiments,” written by women in Seneca Falls in 1848, railing against male-made laws designed to force women to lead “a dependent and abject life.” We read it together. “Worth coming here just for this!” says Diane. “Because is still hasn’t been fixed.”

A young Whoopi Goldberg with Judy. She washed dishes here.

She loves the atmosphere Judy has created. “There’s a generous, hippie feel,” she says. “You could sit here all day and just talk with everybody.” Oh yeah, and there’s food. It also feels old-fashioned, in a good way: like, all-traditional American breakfast and lunch. Diane almost goes for “Whoopi’s Breakfast”: two eggs any style, bacon, potatoes, toast, and a large orange juice.” Costs $21. But then — maybe it’s the price — Diane sees biscuits and sausage gravy for $14, and then “One big buttermilk pancake” for $11.50. She goes for that, and she adds blueberries ($4 extra). Me, it’s gotta be the cheese omelet for $13, served with home fries (could have been rice) and toast. I get cheddar for the cheese. Diane’s pancake looks a bit naked, but it’s huge. And with syrup and the blueberries, it’s more than enough. Just like my omelet with the potatoes. I like that the place bakes its own muffins and does its own veggies. But my big moment at the Big Kitchen comes next day, after Diane has flown off and I’m feeling, well, big-time bereft as she heads 6873 miles out over the Pacific. Dang! I need comfort food! And this is when I notice a good deal on Big Bowl Specialties. Lotsa steaming soups in this department, plus black bean chili, black beans with brown rice and tortillas on the side, and “Big Kitchen Chili.” Costs $12.50. Nolan says most people have it in a chile cheese omelet with home fries or rice, for $18.50.

Place

Big Kitchen

3003 Grape Street, San Diego

Sponsored
Sponsored


But no, I go for the Big Kitchen Chili alone, and am sure glad I did. It is super filling. And comes with a big muffin-scone affair to soak up the tailings, of which there are plenty. You’ve got the chili meat itself, then tomatoes, red chiles, green and red peppers, onions, on and on. And the thing about it is, you can tell this has been slowly bubbling on the stove-top for hours. The flavors have all gotten together and turned into a rich, hot, gooey, scrumbo bowl of goodness. The two home-made buns more than fill any empty corners. The Kona coffee makes a nice counterpoint. What’s also good is that I haven’t had this kind of dish for ages. With all the new foods around town, you forget what came before.

Blueberries add color to Diane’s simple pancake.

Course, I have noticed food prices on the upswing pretty-much everywhere. Here too. “I don’t like doing it,” says Judy when I ask her. “I was the last one [in the area]. But it’s a reality. Suppliers’ prices have gone up and up. I wanted to stay in business.”

She has done that, and how. All around the walls inside are pics of neighborhood gatherings and personalities. Marcia still plays jazz outside among the tables and trees. Right now, a father and his little girl are dancing all around. It’s kinda magic. I’m not surprised that, come to find out, someone’s actually written a musical about the place. Hope they have a song in it that goes “Tres bien, tres bien.”

The Place: Big Kitchen Cafe, 3003 Grape Street, South Park, 619-234-5789

Hours: 8am - 2pm daily (closed Tuesday, Wednesday)

Prices: One egg any style (with home fries or rice, with toast), $9.50; Whoopie’s Breakfast (2 eggs any style, bacon, potatoes, toast, large orange juice), $21; biscuits and sausage gravy, $14; one big buttermilk pancake, $11.50; Damian’s Breakfast Burrito (avocado, cheese, 2 scrambled eggs, potatoes, sour cream), $21; cheese omelet, potatoes, $13; Big Kitchen Chili, $12.50. chile cheese omelet (home fries or rice), $18.50

Bus: 2

Nearest Bus Stop: 30th and Fir

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