Brenda Asaro says her busiest time hits when the bulls come to town.
“Main rodeo’s April. Bulls-only rodeo, July. This place will be crazy then. We get the cowboys and their families in here to eat. They come over from their motor homes at the rodeo arena. But it’s not noisy. These young men are often kind of solemn as they sit at the tables. Who wouldn’t be, having to ride one of those monsters after your burger?”
Highway 67 at 12381 Mapleview Street, Lakeside
Asaro’s the owner of this Café 67. I came here with an appetite, too. Starving. But now, I wanna complain about the size of my breakfast omelet. Not too little — too big! Way too much for a city boy like me.
Guess that means one thing: we’re not in the land of nuts and twigs...like, East Village. We’re out in the East County. Land of big appetites and comfort food.
Café 67’s right across from Lakeside’s rodeo grounds. Actually, just making it into here has been one heck of a “roadeo” for me. For ten minutes I’ve been trying to get through half a dozen lanes crammed with speeding F-150s and Escalades and cement trucks and a whole raft of stampeding backcountry fire and police and sheriffs’ wagons from Lakeside and Santee and the County, heading up Mapleview Street toward some crisis near San Diego’s own Half Dome, El Capitan mountain.
Then, once you make it across all that traffic craziness, there’s the mud. Meaning, no sidewalk. No paving. You gotta take jumps over puddles to the mini-marsh that is this roadside. This land is your land only if you have wheels. Pedestrians? Disappeared with the dodo.
Guy on the 848 bus told me about this place. “It’s not the cheapest, but you get giant plate-loads. All you’ve got to do is make it across the 67.” He said it like, “All you’ve got to do is make it across the Rockies” to the Donner Party.
So, I finally end up in a parking lot. A low ranch house I hardly notice sits in back under trees, with a little blue corner door.
Inside, chocolate-colored booths line either side of a wood divider strewn with poinsettia and ivy. Folks are sitting four to a table. Music drifts from a sound system. “Patches, I’m depending on you, son.” But it’s quiet enough that you hear people rattle their Sweet’n Low packets, then rip them open to pour into their coffee. Gals at one table are all looking into hand mirrors and laying on fresh batches of lipstick. Big old guy at another grabs a passing waitress and hugs the heck out of her. “How are you?” she says from her chin on his shoulder.
The good news: They have breakfast right through till closing. The bad news: Closing’s at 3 p.m., only half an hour away.
Kendra the waitress arrives with a bi-ig menu. “Our regulars?” she says when I ask what they eat. “Anything with gravy. Lakeside loves gravy.” She points to items like Jimmy’s Homemade Meatloaf Sandwich ($9.25) or Liz’s Smoked Turkey Sandwich (8.75). Both are “smothered in gravy.”
Kendra says tons of people have the Gambler’s Burger, which has ham, bacon, avo, lettuce, tomato, and onions, plus jack and American cheeses. Costs $9.75. Or Mae’s chicken cheese steak ($9), a “thin-sliced chicken breast grilled with sautéed onions and mushrooms, smothered with jack cheese” on an oversized roll, they promise.
But I’m determined to keep it breakfast. An omelet or a scramble. Healthy alternatives? They do have a vegetable scramble: basically, spinach plus bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, and mushrooms in scrambled eggs. Costs $8.75. Or a tofu scramble ($9.25), which is like the vegetable scramble but no eggs.
Pricewise, I should really go for the Eggs No. 5: two eggs, potatoes, and toast, for $6. But, no. Can’t resist the Works Omelette, just because it promises bacon, sausage, ham, bell peppers, onions, tomato, and cheese, for $10.75. I also get a coffee ($2.30 with endless refills).
Kendra brings the coffee. I settle back, check out the ads dotting the menu. “Cash paid: Guns, ammo, knives.” “Custom Leather Work: East County Feed & Supply.” “Bob’s Crane Service.” I notice they have knickknacks everywhere. Cute little old radios, a suspended flying model biplane, kids’ antique scooters and wagons, even signed star photos (“To Brenda @ Café 67. What a great joint! Always laugh! Best, Billy Gardell.” Gardell plays Officer Mike Biggs in Mike & Molly.)
“Most of our artifacts have come from customers,” says Brenda.
Then Kendra brings the omelet. It’s big, swollen like a pregnant armadillo. Evil-looking pieces of sausage, bacon, ham, tomatoes, cheese wedge out through the yellow egg mass. That fills up half the plate. The other half? A rocky mountainside of golden-sautéed large-cut home fries with shredded cheddar strewn over the top. I jump in. Must be four eggs in this omelet. I asked for wheat bread and get two toasted, hot-buttered, brown-and-white slices. And what’s good: Kendra’s here every two minutes with the coffee urn to fill me up again and again.
I love these old-school country coffee-shop eateries. Even if they do encourage you to eat way too much.
“This used to be a Pernicano’s restaurant,” says Brenda, who brings me change after I pay ($14.10, plus tip). “I opened this ten years ago, after I split up with my husband. We had the Antique Row in El Cajon. He still does. But I’m doing fine right here.”
So am I. All I have to do is face that mad motor hell out there, where they forget that some of us humans still come and go on foot. Heck, even the rodeo bullriders can’t have it as bad as this.
Highway 67 at 12381 Mapleview Street, Lakeside
Hours: 6 a.m.–3 p.m., seven days
Prices: Vegetable scramble (spinach and other veggies in egg scramble), $8.75; tofu scramble (similar, but no eggs), $9.25; Eggs No. 5, (two eggs, potatoes, toast), $6; The Works omelet (bacon, sausage, ham, cheese, veggies), $10.75; Gambler’s Burger (ham, bacon, avo), $9.75; Mae’s chicken cheese steak, $9; Sloppy Moe, $8.75
Nearest bus stop: Maine at Laurel