Comfort food was never so needed

Thank God for Franco's large menu. It becomes my shield.

Willy's half-order of biscuits and gravy plus home fries and bacon for $6.95
  • Willy's half-order of biscuits and gravy plus home fries and bacon for $6.95

It’s Carla. She’s been ailing. Today, down here in Bonita, in a hospice, her suffering melted away. It was indescribably beautiful. Me, family, nurses, had been in close, talking with her, looking for even nods of recognition. Finally, she and I were alone, sitting next to each other on the bed, legs out like kids, heads on each other’s shoulders, and I talked about every single adventure or moment, or crisis, or laugh we’d had. And she would sometimes jog her head in recognition.

And then her breathing became more even. And then, without even a sigh, no more breathing. Our warm heads stayed together, and I thought of that phrase we had made up one night when we were sucking throat lozenges. “She melted away like a lozenge on the tongue of the Lord.”

It’s morning. Willy comes up. “We’re eating. You need something, we need something.”

Five minutes later, we’re on Bonita Road, heading east. One of those low, dark-woody strip malls comes up. The places all have wood-shingle roofs. One of the names on the list: “Franco’s Flapjack Family restaurant.”

Franco’s Flapjack Family Restaurant

4164 Bonita Road, Bonita

Franco’s is the kind of ’60s coffee shop that looks like it’s been here through the ages. Actually, it’s under two years old (though they’re also in Alpine and Poway). Brown and cream, not that big, but just comfortable. People together but not cheek-by-jowl. Warm buzz of conversation. Coffee carafes doing the refill rounds.

I sit down in a booth and collapse into a shaking flood of tears. Thank God for the large menu. It becomes my shield. I finally get it together and blink the print into focus.

Man, all this food.

“Not sure I can handle it,” I say.

“Buddy, you’ve got to eat. You’re gonna need the strength,” says Willy.

“Carla would not want you to fade away,” says Karen.

So, back to the menu, and, yes, looking at breakfast combos of a country-style place, at diner prices we’ve come to expect: from $8.45 for eggs any style, to $15.45 for steak and eggs. Steak’s eight ounces, New York. But most split the difference. Corned-beef hash and eggs (as with all items, that’s three eggs) goes for $11.45. Sausage and eggs is $10.45. Two pork chops and eggs is $12.45. Country-fried steak’s $11.45. So is ham-steak and eggs. These are all under “Classics.”

Short stack plus three bacon rashers and three sunny-side-up eggs

Short stack plus three bacon rashers and three sunny-side-up eggs

Under “Favorites,” we’re in the land of flapjacks. Short stack of pancakes is $7.45, full stack’s $8.45. But the pancake combo’s only a buck more ($9.45) and includes three eggs plus two bacon, sausage links, sausage patty or Italian sausage. Then they have the three bennies: the straight-up benedict “special;” the florentine, with spinach; or the country, with two of the sausages or bacon and gravy. All $11.45.

Normally, at this point at this time of day, around 11 on a fine crisp morning, I would be salivating. Now, even the thought of pancakes is a struggle.

But, mainly to please Willy and Karen, who are looking at me unblinking, like, You don’t think we’re serious? I ask for the pancake combo, with eggs sunny-side-up, plus the bacon.

Karen asks for a (corned beef) “hash N eggs,” with the three eggs scrambled ($11.45), and Willy gets maybe the best deal. He asks for a half order of B&G — biscuits and gravy — for $4.95, and then adds $2 to make it a combo, which means a plate of home fries and two rashers of bacon.

I also ask for a coffee ($2.50, free refills). Way I feel, I could drain this sucker in one. Don’t know if it’s destiny or just a cruel trick of fate, but it comes in a massive, interestingly irregular cup that says SMILE.

One thing, the prices aren’t bottom basement, but you do get a mighty amount. Willy’s B&G is a mountain of gloopy, peppery, white country gravy blanketing two four-inch-high biscuits on a square white plate, and next to it, another plate, with the home fries and bacon. Lucky for him, he’s a big man. Can’t imagine what the full order would look like.

Karen says her corned-beef hash has plenty of umami; they’re accompanied nicely by the pile of scrambled eggs that look, well, as cheery as a field of daffodils.

Me, I get my short stack of three pancakes with a blob of butter on top, plus the second plate loaded with three rashers of bacon and three sunny-side-up eggs. I’m going all in on this. First I cross-hatch the pancakes with lashings of syrup. Then, what the heck, I slide the three eggs on top of the flapjacks. This is breakfast, ain’t it?

And somehow it works. The broken yolks ooze all over the pancakes. The bacon strips sit on top like crabs clawing their way in for a nibble. It makes for a beautiful mess. A Filipino-style taste combo of sweet and savory.

Big Dude Burger with two half-pound chunks of chuck

Big Dude Burger with two half-pound chunks of chuck

On a whim, I spend another chunk of change to get a different breakfast special, the Big Dude Burger. It costs $12.75, is loaded with sautéed onions, cheese, and an egg, but its thing is this double patty — like, one pound total — two uber-thick chunks with drooling cheddar under an egg hat.

I realize, with a heart thud, it’s not to take to the beautiful Carla like usual, but to keep me going, through this bizarre, surreal, way-long day.

I’m thankful, though. Because, when I think about it, it’s comfort food. And was comfort food ever so needed, so comforting?

Franco’s Flapjack Family Restaurant

Franco’s Flapjack Family Restaurant

4164 Bonita Road, Bonita

Also in Alpine and Poway

Hours: 7 a.m.–8 p.m. Monday to Saturday; 7 a.m.–3 p.m. Sundays

Prices: Three eggs any style, home fries, toast, $8.45; 8-oz steak and (3) eggs, $15.45; corned-beef hash, eggs, $11.45; sausage and eggs, $10.45; two pork chops and eggs, $12.45; country-fried steak, $11.45; flapjack short stack, $7.45; full stack, $8.45; as pancake combo (with 3 eggs, bacon or sausage), $9.45; eggs benedict, $11.45; florentine, $11.45; Country (with sausages or bacon, and gravy), $11.45; biscuits and gravy, $4.95; Flaming Frittata (with jalapeño, green chile, red pepper, bacon, shredded cheese), $10.95; Big Dude Burger, (double patty, egg), $12.75; roast-beef melt, $10.75

Bus: 705

Nearest Bus Stop: Bonita Road and Willow Street

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Thank you, sd. Never known something so hard. Of course, Carla went through far more. I was lucky to have such a gutsy, loving partner. I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Ed, I'm so sorry for your loss. I've been reading Tin Fork since (could it be?) 1992, and it's so sad to think of your articles not including a to-go order for Carla. I can only imagine what you're going through, but I hope sharing some of it here helps. I appreciate you sharing it, and wish you all the best.

Bee: That's it: suddenly not having someone to share thoughts, laughs, food with. But yes, it really does help to share, with you, and others. Thank you for taking this trouble. I too can't believe 1992! That's a lot of chewing. Thanks again my friend.

Ed, I have enjoyed reading your reviews here for years. I am sorry for your loss. How you inserted the final moments with Carla in this story is an example of your unique talent as a writer.

Dear Ponzi, thank you so much. I just felt Carla was so part of our weekly community, I needed to share it. And it really does help me. I can't help thinking, if she hadn't been so much larger than life, at least to me, the sudden vacuum would be easier to bear. But talking about it really does help.

The company at a restaurant meal is usually more important than the food, just as it should be.

That's it, exactly, dwbat. It's why I've never been too good at doing the anal-retentive food critic thing. Same with wine, beer. After the first two slurps, you forget the whole mental gymnastics you went through in choosing the drink in the first place. The company, you don't forget.

Uh, shouldn't the company at any meal be more important than the food?? Just sayin. Just my opinion.

Opinions vary.

Yes, but the subject here is restaurant reviews (not home-cooked meals). ;-)

Hi, Ed - After all these years of reading The Tin Fork, it feels like you, and the beautiful Carla , have become my close friends. I can't believe there will be no more trips to the hair-dresser in Coronado. I just know that she is now in that special place that has a rating of infinite stars. May God bless you.

Joe: Thank you. It means the world that you feel as I do about her. And Coronado without the visit to the shearing shed, as grandma would say, won't be the same. Stars? Oh yes.

Ed, man, I’m sorry she’s not here and I’m sorry my condolences are so late. Read “Beautiful” in the paper Reader only just last night and spent the whole time since in the grips of the clutch. The one in the heart and throat that floods and burns in the eyes. I got it from your words which I read over and over, and then realized that I had only ever known her through your words, read over decades of your column, fragments of her accumulating over the years into this clear notion of a person fiercely alive, to be treasured, fed, maybe a little feared even. Your words enthrone her. Anyone with a heart reading them can glimpse her, enthroned.

Neil: Thank you for your beautiful, poetic words. I have read and reread them. Been in the grips of the clutch since.

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