Carla’s country, oozy Benedict at Clayton’s

A non-Hollandaise sauce on Christmas

Country Benedict — with peppery gravy
  • Country Benedict — with peppery gravy

"Benedict?” says Carla.

“Actually, the name’s Ed.”

Clayton's Coffee Shop

979 Orange Avenue, Coronado

“I know, you... But I have this insane desire for Benedict. Oh darling, please. For moi?”

Bob, an ex-Navy pilot, and Katie, his granddaughter. She’s home from Arizona State.

Bob, an ex-Navy pilot, and Katie, his granddaughter. She’s home from Arizona State.

I know what she’s talking about. Eggs Benedict. She’s officially addicted. Especially on holidays. Problem? This was Christmas day.

“Nothing’ll be open!” I say. “No way!”

3 p.m. closing time, Christmas Day; chefs celebrate.

3 p.m. closing time, Christmas Day; chefs celebrate.

Sigh. Half an hour later: Clayton’s Coffee Shop, Coronado. Totally crowded. Also, about to close. At 3 p.m. Fifteen minutes. I sit up to the U-shaped counter, grab the last of the seats, ask Katie the waitress for change for a dollar for the jukebox (you get two songs for a quarter), hit H3 (Chuck Berry, “No Particular Place to Go”) and H7 (Petula Clark, “Downtown”) and then I hunker down with the menu.

Cheryl, the head waitress

Cheryl, the head waitress

Whole page of Breakfast All Day here. And all day usually goes to 10 at night. But not this day. So, none of the usual dithering around. Eyes clang onto “Scrambles & Benedicts.” Ooh. Chorizo scramble, with cheese, beans, and a flour tortilla, $10.95. About as cheap as it gets in this high-rent ville. But, okay, Eggs Benedict, $10.95 with hash browns?

Meat Lover omelet. Sausages rule!

Meat Lover omelet. Sausages rule!

Should’ve just gone for that, except they also have Eggs Florentine Benedict, with spinach, tomato, smoked bacon, plus hash browns, $11.95. And then, for $14.95, Country Benedict, with spicy sausage, thick-cut bacon, two poached eggs, country gravy on a toasted biscuit, with hash browns.

Clayton's at 10th and Orange, Coronado

Clayton's at 10th and Orange, Coronado

In for a penny, in for a pound, as they say. And, to stop me from picking at Carla’s Benedict, I order a Meat Lover omelet, with bacon, sausage, ham, and cheddar for me. Costs $12.95. It’s only after Cheryl, the head waitress, is up handing my order slip to the cooks that I see I could’ve had a poached egg with toast and hash browns for $7.95.

This is when Bob sits down next door, where a couple has just left. He asks for a Coke. “Nothing,” he says when Katie asks what he wants to eat. “You know me. Chili, if anything.”

Turns out Bob’s an ex-Navy pilot. Katie’s his granddaughter. She’s home from Arizona State, studying politics there. Is working at Clayton’s during her vacation.

Bob’s wearing a cap. U.S. Naval Academy. Class of ’62. “Flew S2’s, S3’s,” he says. “I’ve been coming here to Clayton’s since 1972. Ever since the start, I pretty much order chili. Cup or bowl. That’s it. Most dishes are way too loaded for one person these days. I don’t know how people get through their orders.”

’Course, this is when Katie comes up with my two crammed dishes, Carla’s Country Benedict on a plate, my omelet to go. Oh, lord. Needed to have Benedict to go, too. Shouldn’t touch it, but it looks so good. Moral crisis on Orange Avenue! I’m starved, so I’m thinking: they have two eggs in the Benedict. If I give Carla half the omelet, she might not even miss the second egg. I stare at the white gloop all over the eggs with chunky bacon underneath and a nicely burned lava of hash browns. It would be cruel and unusual to not just take a taste.

But why’s the sauce white? Oh, now I get it: there is no hollandaise. Country Benedict means the sauce is country gravy. It’s the hollandaise Carla gets this dish for. She is definitely going to kill me now.

So, what the heck? I take a mouthful of egg, country gravy, bacon, and biscuit. Suddenly I’m beyond guilt. It’s so crunchy, so oozy, so scrumbo — and hot! Real peppery country gravy. I add some hash browns to temper the pepper. And now that I know what I’m dealing with and stop looking for any hollandaise, I realize this is supercalifragilistically good.

Can’t help noticing Bob next door, sipping his Coke. He’s been coming here since 1972 and eating mostly chili? Certainly makes pocketbook sense. Even now, 45 years later, a cup only costs $3.95, and a bowl’s $5.95. And while self-indulgent, pasty-faced schmucks like me eat way too much and then complain about being too full, Bob looks mighty trim for his age.

Hmm... And I think Bob may not be alone. Throughout last year, I noticed similar trends. Like, Burgerim, the Israeli chain that I found down in the park at Horton Plaza. They make a big deal about smaller burgers. Theirs aren’t sliders, but they’re on the way to slider scale. Then, look at the whole happy-hour revolution. The three-slider plates you usually get on happy-hour menus are enough for any man-jack. More and more people are making a meal out of happy hour. Less is more!

But is this just a hiccup, a burp in trends? Or the start of something big here in San Diego: small is cool? You can see the restaurant boardroom argument: if people eat less, you make less, but they live longer. Ergo, longer-lasting customers!

’Course, these deep thoughts last exactly 16 seconds. Then it’s ’scuse me while I plunge back into my — uh, Carla’s — eggs non-Benedict.

I do have the decency to eat only one of the eggs. And I’ll offer her my entire Meat-Lover’s omelet by way of compensation. I taste it just to make sure it’s good enough for her. Mmm. Sausagey and substantial, I’d say.

“Sorry, guys, we’re closed.” Cheryl’s up front telling this to folks trying to come in. Lordy. Nearly 3:30. Carla will be starving. I didn’t even notice how the place emptied out. Bob and I are the last customers.

I pick up the boxes and make a solemn New Year’s resolution: stop stealing Carla’s food.

Clayton's Coffee Shop

979 Orange Avenue, Coronado

Prices: Oatmeal bowl, $6.50; one egg with hash browns, toast, $7.95; cheese omelet, $9.95; meat-lover’s omelet (bacon, sausage, ham, cheddar), $12.50; chorizo scramble (cheese, beans, flour tortilla), $10.95; eggs Benedict with hash browns, $10.95; eggs Florentine Benedict (spinach, bacon, hash browns), $11.95; Country Benedict (spicy sausage, bacon, two poached eggs, country gravy, hash browns), $14.95; strawberry shortcake waffle, $10.95; short stack, $6.95; Clayton’s Stacker hamburger, with onion rings, Swiss, bacon, BBQ sauce, $12.95; border dog (bacon-wrapped, grilled onions, jalapeños), $9.95

Buses: 901, 904

Nearest Bus Stop: Orange at 10th

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