Breakfast at Jodie’s

    Friday. Nancy messaged Kristen and me that we should meet up early the next morning for breakfast at Jodie’s. We love breakfast. “How early, though?”, I asked.
    – I could pick you all up… Mai at 7:45, Kristen at 7:50 ish…
    – I have to say, this is insanely early, maybe I would just skip sleeping…
    – Well, it is a TINY place next to a salon, I believe. It only seats eight at a time. The shop opens at 8 AM… There is the possibility of going later – 10 ish – but we would have to wait for “turnover” and wouldn’t be sitting with each other…
    – …
    – They have a table outside… it might be cold… They said they can’t predict if there will be only a few people or a lot… so we could always go a little later, but then we might have to wait for the table, but at least when that happens, we could still all sit together… Shall we try for 8:30 then? A bit of a compromise 😉
    – 7:45 or 8:30 are the same to me, so let’s do 7:45. 🙂

    Now, I’m an astronomer and a student, those two types of creatures don’t wake up early in the morning, they stay up into the morning. Which is exactly what I did. I stayed all until 7:50 when Nancy and her husband Ken picked me up. Then we swung by Kristen’s apartment. Kristen looked wonderfully bright and lively in pink pants (it might have been a salmon color, but after working the whole night, my color perception has reduced to that of a guy). During the drive, the conversation in the car was actually quite lively too, at one point we talked about male favoritism in ancient Chinese culture, but I won’t dwell on that now. The point is, boy was it the right idea to meet at 7:45, because by the time we arrived at Jodie’s (a bit before 8:30), 4 seats appeared filled. We took the remaining 4 seats.

    I felt somewhat bad for the folks who came minutes after us. They were regulars. In fact, everyone there that day was a regular except the four of us. But someone left to wait for someone, 2 seats freed up, they filled in, the conversations started. Nancy and Ken, being long time residents in the Berkeley – Albany area, had no trouble connecting with everyone through stories of local high school principals and colleagues that somehow everyone (but Kristen and me) knew, while Kristen studied the walls of menus and photographs, and I snapped photos of those walls.

    A huge mish mash of color papers, some faded, some laminated, covers the wall facing the customers. On each of those papers prints the description of a dish, its name, its number, and its price. I don’t know how long it would take to really read all of them, I lost track after a few panels and focused on taking pictures instead. There’s a normal menu on the counter behind the fruit preserve jars and sauces, too.

    jodies-cook-preparing-gritsJodie’s has a staff of two: Jodie, and a young guy who works the stove. The young guy hardly spoke. Jodie is a likeable man, he strikes me as a grandpa who would sit at the porch chewing out grandkids and neighborhood kids in a pretending-to-be-mean but loving voice, and no one would ever be afraid of him, he’s someone who makes you feel at home just by saying hello to you. He told us that the stuff in the counter menu are not on the wall, and the stuff on the wall are not on the counter menu. So I stopped reading both altogether.

    Nancy knew what she wanted, and she also ordered for Ken after confirming with Ken that she knew what he wanted. So that went quickly. Kristen was up next. I know grits was involved (Kristen likes grits, and Jodie’s is famous for grits), but Kristen couldn’t decide between so many different delicious-sounding combinations, which she told Jodie, and Jodie chewed her out in his pretending-to-be-mean but loving voice. I heard some gigglings and “I don’t know”s, but I was running circles in my head trying to figure out what to get myself.

    Then it was my turn. Like I said, I had already given up on reading the menus, so I just started listing what I wanted on my plate: hashbrown, pancake, sausage, scramble eggs. I wanted English muffins too, but Jodie stopped me before I said muffin, “then why don’t you get the Jodie’s Special? It has everything you said.” “Oh… okay.”

    Either then or a little before, a lady stepped into the staff area behind the counter, so now Jodie’s has a staff of three. Jodie retreated out of view to prepare portions for each order. The lady took more orders (the line of customers was spewing out the door) and poured coffee. The young cook slapped bacon strips and hashbrown patties onto the sizzling platform. I don’t know how much time passed until we got our food, I alternated between gawking at the bacon and hashbrown browning and scanning the photos that covered the back wall. There were funny quotes, hundreds of pictures of Jodie’s regular customers, some sports photos. Old tattered photos make the place look more run down then it already is, but I can’t imagine decorating this place any other way, they embody too much memories and too many bonds among these people. Jodie’s wouldn’t be Jodie’s without the photos.

    The lady told us to taste our food before adding anything to it. Nancy took a bite of her pancakes and grits, then reached for the salt and pepper (or some kind of condiment). Jodie flew out of his prep station into view, “Have you tasted it?” “Yes… !?” “Okay.” Jodie disappeared into the prep station again. [UPDATE: Nancy explained what actually happened: Nancy was going for the syrup bottle, but she had to move the salt and pepper out the way.]

    I tried a nibble of Ken’s corned beef, more than I should have of Kristen’s “Jodie’s Special with a Y” (I’m sorry Kristen, it was too good and too close to me, and you were too nice), and I wiped clean my plate. Funny though, I’m not a fan of grits and Kristen’s not a fan of pancakes (which is why she ordered grits and I ordered pancakes), but we were both impressed by the other’s dish. The grits was anything but bland, it has an indescribable flavor that possibly comes from the grease on the griddle (or maybe just years of bacon smoke in the air?). The pancake was fluffy and buttery, it didn’t even need syrup. The bacon was thick and crunchy. The scramble eggs were creamy. For Kristen and me, Jodie’s has raised the bar for breakfast.

    For Nancy, Jodie’s changed something else.
    – I’ve been ribbed about having a coffee facebook theme…
    – Why coffee?
    – It kinda came from being at Jodie’s, although I never have coffee at diners… I’m always disappointed… But yeah, every one was having coffee in those diner type cups… made me nostalgic for my youth – going out for breakfast and having coffee. That’s back before any Starbuck’s and there was only one Peet’s in Berkeley. It was hard to get good coffee…

    I think Jodie would be happy if he heard that. 🙂

    At Jodie's, one very early morning in July.

    At Jodie’s, one very early morning in July.

    Jodie’s is located at 902 Masonic Avenue, Albany, CA 94706. (510) 526-1109. They’re open 8 am – 3 pm Wednesday through Friday and 8 am – 4 pm Saturday and Sunday. Visit Jodie’s website.

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