Thursday, March 4, 2010

MAMA’S ROYAL CAFE - Mama’s in the kitchen and life is good

Date: 2.16.10
Dear Diary,

Today I am a simple girl, seeking simple food. I feel like eating breakfast, even though it is late in the morning and the sun is high...


One afternoon maybe two weeks ago, the BH and I decided to go simple. Breakfast for lunch at Mama’s Royal CafĂ© on Broadway in Oakland. If you haven’t been there, Mama’s is an old Oakland institution, having opened in February of 1974.  At Mama's they serve breakfast all day ~

We got there right at noon, and as luck would have it, the sign-up sheet was empty. At Mama’s there is often a ten-to-fifteen minute wait; they use a sign-up sheet to sort the order of patrons to be seated. It’s a simple method for a simple place. But on this occasion, there was no wait at all for a booth. We were seated immediately and shortly after that each of us placed our order. Although I studied the menu for a moment, I didn’t need to. Today I just wanted breakfast. Poached eggs, fruit and maybe a scone. I could have ordered in my sleep.

I have lived in Oakland all my life, and am fortunate these days to eat at many of its newer restaurants. While these establishments are often upscale in both their ambiance and their menus, they are barely as old as my favorite winter coat.  Mama's is older than both of my kids.

I am remembering today that Oakland has a history. It is a history that for a large part, I was a witness to. As she rises out of the ashes of the past several decades of inertia, closed businesses and empty storefronts, I watch as she shakes off the rising dust resulting from the spoilage of earthquake and fire that has ravaged her businesses and her homes.  I have watched as she rebuilds.  Now, when these things that held her back are at last dimming in the memories of her inhabitants and new businesses are thriving, there are days when I want to remember that history. To celebrate it even. Mama’s has been in the same location for over thirty years. That gives it a certain resonance.

Being at Mama’s reminds me of many of the simpler places I dined at when Oakland and I were much younger. There was Edie’s on Lakeshore Avenue and Biff’s Diner off of Grand. Edie’s, a delightfully fifties-era soda fountain, is long gone, replaced by other establishments — obliterated by the passage of time. Biff’s was a classic diner, serving breakfast round the clock, burgers, chicken fried steak. Biff’s is a car dealership now. There are a few that still exist, like Fenton’s Creamery on Piedmont Avenue, or the re-imagined but still thriving Lakeshore Deli. When I was a kid the Lakeshore was a traditional Italian deli, much like Ratto’s over on Eighth, but now it is a bit glossier and less old-world.

These were some of the food icons of my childhood, and sometimes that’s all I need. To remember them with a visit to a place like Mama’s. There I can imagine the red leather booths and dark smoky bars of my dad’s favorite steak joint; or the shiny chrome and smooth formica-topped tables in the diners my grandparents frequented after church on a Sunday. Dining at Mama’s allows me to remember those things that are gone. Those things that are gone, but not forgotten.

As I am remembering, they bring me my breakfast. Coffee. Hot and aromatic, it is not burnt, but it is good strong diner coffee. On the table they sit a platter with two poached eggs, perfectly cooked, the insides are loose and the whites are cooked nearly through, but still soft so they can be spread on my scone. There is a slice of ham and some home-fries. A little fresh-sliced fruit rounds out the plate. My scone was a maple one, and arrived on it’s own little dish. Fresh baked and flaky.

The other platter has an omelette, a fat, hearty omelette of chicken, avocado and jack cheese. A bit more fruit, some toast on the side.

The prices are good here. In this flailing economy I appreciate a day in which my dollar buys a good portion of my lunch. In today’s Oakland, amid the march to the new and improved, the upscale and the chic, this constant stream of change for the better is appreciated. But it is good to know that sometimes there is a way to appreciate what came before and to savor it.

When you are in one of those moods, check out Mama’s, and Bon Appetit!

Mama's Royal Cafe
4012 Broadway
Oakland, CA 94611-5618
(510) 547-7600

Table size: adequate
Dining time: easily done in less than an hour (absent any wait, of course)
Service: excellent