Try getting breakfast in this town now
A couple of Saturdays ago, I got my usual ritual going — laundry loaded, the laptop with me to do some blogging while washing the clothes, plus some reading material in case I wanted to peruse something not published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. I figured that maybe I’d saunter over to Jim-Denny’s luncheonette on 12th Street for a leisurely breakfast, and then after a nice omelet with some hash browns, I’d get the clothes washed before noon. A perfect morning, in my humble estimation.
Well, I got there, and something was wrong. First, there was no place to park. Second, large, well-fed people were getting out of big sedans and SUVs and waddling in the direction of my destination. So I parked, and when I got to the door of Jim-Denny’s, every seat was filled, and there was a throng of people waiting. Damn, I thought. “It’s gonna be at least a two-hour wait, Jackson,” said Monica, the woman who usually takes my order.
“What the?” I asked. “Man vs. Food,” she replied, referencing some hot show on the Fat People’s Channel.
So another one of my favorite joints has become the beneficiary of some cable television show (actually, it’s on the Travel Network, whatever that is), and now every glutton within a 100-mile radius is making a pilgrimage there for something called “The Works,” which is an omelet with lots of meat in it — four different kinds. I’d try one, but I stopped eating meat several years ago, and I’ll occasionally eat eggs and cheese, the former not very often.
I took today off, because I’ve felt crummy all week long. It isn’t a stomach thing, though, more just a general sinus-headachy malaise, and I was pretty hungry, so I went over to Jim-Denny’s, which is a dozen blocks from where I live, figuring that it might be easier to get a stool and some chow. Turns out I was right, and when I asked what time it gets busy now on Saturdays, Monica said she tells people to get there at 7 a.m., when the joint opens. “We’re full up right at 7,” Patsy, the current owner, piped in. “But it won’t be a two-hour wait then,” Monica added.
As it were, I had to wait a while for my food, while Patsy cooked several to-go orders. Most of the people there were eating “The Works,” which is kind of a peculiar deal — I mean, this is a brick of an omelet with four meats, four veggies, cheese and of course eggs and grease, plus hash browns and, on a separate plate, a pancake as big as a large frisbee and as thick as a sumo wrestler’s hand, which is to say that this is not casual eating. After knocking that breakfast back, I’d venture that one would be incapacitated for the better part of a day, with the subsequent downloading session resulting from its digestion being of such duration that the sitter would be able to read several sections of the newspaper all the way through, between grunts.
Maybe television is that powerful a medium — if Man vs. Food featured some dive whose specialty grub was a mess of pulled pork, okra, grits and ground-up Toby Keith CDs wrapped in biscuit dough and deep-fried, then slathered in bacon-flavored gravy and Velveeta and served in a red wheelbarrow, I’d guess there would be more than a few people who would hightail it down there just so they could eat what they saw on the teevee. Comedian Dana Carvey used to say that if you put a grapefruit on television for a week and then you put it on display in a shopping mall, people would crowd around it and point and say, “Ooooo, there’s the grapefruit that was on TV.”
Which, well, I don’t want to disparage Patsy — who’s selling the place, because she moved to Montana — and Monica and the rest of the crew, because Jim-Denny’s is an independent business, and if this helps generate profits, I’m all for it. Better that than some foodie-type selling a plate of what’s essentially hors d’oeuvres that costs twice what you’d pay for The Works, or another chain. Or — and if you’re in Sacramento, you’ll know what I’m talking about — another sushi joint.
It’s just that I guess I feel some kind of entitlement, because I used to go there when the late Jim Van Nort owned the place, after my pal Steve Jones turned me on to it in the late 1970s when I first arrived in this town. I got pretty obsessed for a while, rolling in a couple times a week for a cheeseburger, side of chili and a thick malted chocolate shake. I don’t eat that way anymore, but I have a lot of love and respect for places like Jim-Denny’s and Nationwide Freezer Meats and even Ford’s and the Squeeze Inn, where they still take the workingman’s chow seriously.
I don’t want the hoopla to die down for Jim-Denny’s, either — even if I can’t get in there to dine on one of their fine veggie omelets without a long wait. I started going there last year, when I was so broke that R.V. Scheide, then the news editor at the Sacramento News & Review, felt sorry for my newly skeletal state and would slip me coupons to eat there (thanks, R.V.; you and a few others saved my life). So imagine going there when you’re seriously starving, which I did, and I learned to love the place. That love ain’t going away anytime soon, I’m guessing.
And if I choose to hit Jim-Denny’s on a Saturday now, well, I’m used to getting up early. —Jackson Griffith