Broasted in Lakeside

Rumble rumble. The little 848 bounces onto Woodside Avenue. It's, like, 1:15 p.m., and as usual, I had to work this morning and no time for cawfee, grub, nuttin'. So when I see a big ol' sign that says "Kopper Kettle" outside a heat-faded, '50s-looking, rock-and-glass place, my stomach walks me toward the bus door. Pull the bell. Jump out at Channel Road.

Whew. Getting roasted. It's so ho-ot. Vacant lots, dirt sidewalk, couple of vultures soaring overhead. It's scrappy not-quite-town, not-quite-country. Not that pretty, but you feel the spaciousness, nature's tentacles reaching in between the clumps of buildings. I like it. Then, outside the place I get curious. They're touting something called "broasted chicken." What da heck is "broasted"?

I swing in through the doors. Brown booths, varnished skirting, cream walls, so many ceiling fans it looks like the chopper attack in Apocalypse Now. Ooh. I'm getting a smell of chicken. That the broasting?

I head for the counter, where Karen the waitress is standing, waiting.

"You guys still doing lunch? Or breakfast?" I ask.

"Breakfast, lunch, and dinner," she says. "As long as you have it now."

"Why now?"

"Because we close at three."

Mark, two stools along, takes delivery of a pretty sizable burger with fries. Turns out to be the half-pound Kopper Kettle burger ($6.80).

"Good?" I ask.

"Yeah. Of course, I have to say that. Karen's listening."

"The guys come here to be verbally abused," Karen says. "I'm just like their wives. It makes them feel at home. They're all used to me. Heck, I've been here 23 years."

Mark says he's pretty new, only been coming for ten. I believe it, despite the wooden sign behind him that says:

"Early to bed

Early to rise

Sit at Kopper Kettle

Tell big lies."

So I get a coffee ($1.30 with refills) and look at the lunch burgers and sandwiches. They all come with fries or potato salad. Most interesting burger may be the Frisco, with two patties and Swiss cheese on sourdough bread ($6.25). Then they have a bunch of sandwiches, from the $3.80 grilled cheese to the $6.50 French dip, and soups (starting at $1.60 cup) and salads. The chicken salad with cheese toast costs most at $7.50.

The dinner menu has more expensive things, though nothing's outrageous. (A $9.95 ten-ounce rib-eye steak about tops the list.) Hmm. Spaghetti sounds interesting. You can get it with a chili sauce ($6.50). Or...aha! Thar she blows, as my great granddaddy Dan the whalerman would've said: "1/2 golden broasted chicken ($6.65)."

"So what's this about 'broasting'?" I ask Karen.

"Just think broiling and roasting," she says. "The broaster's a big pressure cooker. It's great for deep-frying. The chicken retains its moisture, and it's less greasy." She points to the guy cooking in the kitchen. "Bill also wedge-cuts a raw potato, sprinkles it with seasoning flour, and broasts that too. It takes on the chicken's flavors. So-o-o good."

Bill smiles from behind the servery. He can't hear, because of the exhaust fans. He and his brother Mike own the place.

Hmm. Broasted chicken and potato. Sounds great. Plus, I see every dinner dish comes with soup or salad and a choice of potato or cheese toast. That's one heckuva deal. I like that whole idea, except, um, ah, d'agh...but I still wanna have breakfast. I'm thinking the Country Breakfast (two sausage patties, two eggs, biscuits, and gravy, $5.95), or, hey, Kopper Kettle's omelet. Karen says it's three eggs, onions, bell peppers, ham, cheddar cheese, "and our own salsa" melted on top, $6.25.

"Could I have the broasted potato with that?"

"Could he have the broasted potato with that?" Karen shouts to Bill.

Bill nods.

And by gumbo, I'm glad he does. Karen brings me the plate, then fills a small dish with ranch dressing. ("We make our own ranch, and blue cheese, and salsa," she says.) Those steaming, spicy, crunchy-outside-feathery-inside six-inch wedges of potato are totally scrumbo with the dip on their tips. The omelet's good, cheesy, salsa-spicy too, and the peppers chew fresh and crunchy. The wheat toast? Never get to it.

While I chomp, this guy Tom comes up. Settles in with a menu. Been living in Lakeside a while. "This used to be a cowboy town," he says. "But people don't realize it was a resort, too. The Lakeside Inn was like the Hotel Del in Coronado. Huge. Rich people came and stayed for the mountain air. That was over 100 years ago."

"My mom and dad are 92, 94," Karen says. "They're celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary this month. They remember when it took three days to get up here from Mission Beach. Three days!"

Everybody's talking back and forth. Karen, Tom, Mark, and Louisa, who's worked here 18 years. "There're no secrets in Lakeside," Karen says.

Bill comes out and grabs a stool. Turns out he and Mike are originally from Greece. They came from a three-café village named Pialia, near where those incredible mountaintop monasteries are. Does he miss it? "I'll never forget it. But we are Americans now," he says. "We took a chance here. Lakeside has been good to us."

How good? "Show your invite," says Karen. Bill brings out a gold-embossed invitation to a presentation from -- wow! -- Donald Trump. "Don't know how he found me," Bill says, modestly.

Wow. It's three o'clock already. They're closing. Time to get back out into the heat. I can see I'm gonna broast out there.

This restaurant is closed.

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