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Photographs by Kris Holland

Marching Orders: Ready to serve 24/7, the Mini Gourmet stands as a San Jose institution.

Counter Revolution (continued)

Diners, by and large, conjure up images of motherly servers and swarthy, tattooed cooks with monosyllabic first names who patrol the kitchen with a half-smoked cigarette dangling from their lips. They're also supposed to be intimate, with the "How's your day going?" conversations and "Anything interesting in the morning news?" queries going back and forth across the counter--patrons who opt for more privacy usually situate themselves at one of the few tables crammed together just beyond the bar. The menu shouldn't be anything fancy, and the prices should be cheap. And bring cash, please; plastic is not preferred.

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Garden City Casino
360 Saratoga Ave., San Jose
408.244.4443
Open 24 hours


Gilley's Coffee Shoppe
47 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos
408.395.3318
7am-3pm daily


Happy Dayz Diner
2638 Union Ave., San Jose
408.377.6531
11am-8:30pm Mon-Sat; noon-8pm Sun.

Mopar Night. VW Night. Harley Davidson Night. These are only some of the special events that take place at Happy Dayz Diner, that classic-car-themed burger joint on the Campbell/San Jose border. True to its moniker, many items on the menu are named things like the Fonzie Burger, the Potsie Burger and the Joanie Burger. (Unfortunately, there's no Joanie Loves Chachi burger.) But the best adventure is the Big Bopper, a ridiculous 1 1/3-pound monstrosity with eight hamburger patties that looks like four Big Macs piled on top of each other. If you can finish the whole thing along with a bag of fries and a Coke in less than 45 minutes, your name will be added to a plaque on the wall, where you'll join the star-studded ranks of chowhounds who've accomplished this task. Talk about a heart-stopping special.

Happy Dayz sits in Maplewood Plaza, along with Walgreens, Kragen Auto Parts, Norm's Barber Shop, Reptile Ranch, ABBA Medical Supplies and a defunct trophy shop--a quintessential suburban strip mall scenario that only intensifies the classic diner experience. At Happy Dayz, you've got indoor and outdoor counters, checkerboard décor, James Dean photos, gum-ball machines, root beer, Vic Damone on the stereo, chili fires and everything else you need for stepping back in time to the 1950s. There's simply no better place to peruse back issues of vintage-car mags while you devour a Mr. C's Steak Sandwich. Look for the Model T's in the parking lot every Thursday night.

Gary Singh


Hard Work Cafe
1620 Almaden Rd., San Jose
408.289.9675
6am-midnight daily; 6am-2am Fri-Sat


Holder's Country Inn
9985 De Anza Blvd., Cupertino
408.244.2798

1424 Saratoga Ave., San Jose
408.378.6022

7am-9pm daily


International House of Pancakes
644 N. First St., San Jose
408.294.4130

5403 Stevens Creek Blvd., Santa Clara
408.996.3393

6am-9pm daily


Jimmy's Restaurant
222 W. Capitol Expwy., San Jose
408.972.5570
Open 24 hours


Just Breakfast
2901 Monterey Road, San Jose
408.225.7631

17415 S. Monterey Road, Morgan Hill
408.779.7044

6am-2pm

In an era of exotic fusion cuisine (Indo-Mexicali-Cambodian sushi crepe wraps coming soon to a restaurant near you), one takes pleasure in culinary single-mindedness wherever it can be found. And it can be found on the Monterey Highway, a couple of miles south of downtown San Jose, at the corner of Pullman Way, home of the bluntly and accurately named Just Breakfast diner.

For those who prefer the universal language of the rebus, a rooster graces Just Breakfast's sign, a beacon to motorists and even the occasional hardy pedestrian. The motif proliferates inside. On the wall behind the counter with its seven padded swivel seats, note the much-larger-than-life-size print of another rooster, with a comb redder than the ink in California's budget. A mono-menagerie of ceramic roosters and chickens (plus one nonplused clay cow) nests on a shelf near the window over the coffee machine.

The diner opens at 6am, about the time that cocks crow the coming of the light, and the thickly laminated triptych menu confirms the obvious. Patrons can choose from a staggering number of omelettes--chorizo, Baja, Acapulco, Supreme, Joe's Special, and even vegetarian--in the sturdy $5 to $8 range. Specials (Italian sausage scramble the day I stopped in) are posted on an easy-erase board.

The requisite "two eggs any style, potatoes and toast" selections can be supplemented by the slightly exotic (to Californians at least) biscuits-and-gravy option. The most intriguing is the Gourmet (back at you, Emeril!) Biscuits and Gravy plate: one buttermilk biscuit on grilled tomato slices (optional) ladled with gravy and topped with two bacon slices. The gravy at Just Breakfasts is surprisingly spicy and not so thick as the glue I've sometimes encountered in the South.

Even the most ubiquitous of diner deals--the hamburger--makes its way in through the back door in the form of the High-Protein Breakfast: a half-pound hamburger, two poached eggs on toast, cottage cheese (dieters take note) and sliced tomatoes, for only $6.55.

Judging from the jostling parking lot the times I've stopped by Just Breakfast, the diner has acquired a steady clientele for its narrow-cast menu. The service is quick and efficient: my cup of coffee never got past the halfway point before the waitress arrived, as if summoned by ESP, with a refill. People come and go fast enough that there's always an abandoned newspaper in case you forgot to buy your own.

Above all else, a good diner needs to feel lived-in, well used by generations of patrons slurping sturdy black coffee and mopping up egg yolks with slabs of toast. Just Breakfast fulfills that requirement, from the veneer-paneled walls to the utilitarian heating duct snaking across the ceiling. When I asked the waitress how long Just Breakfast had been around, she said simply, "Seems like forever." That's just about right.

Michael S. Gant


Los Gatos Cafe
340 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos
408.354.4647
6am-3pm daily


Mil's Diner
36 Abbott Ave., Milpitas
408.946.4773
5:30pm-9:30pm Tue-Thu; 6:30am-10pm
Fri-Sat; 7:30am-3pm Sun


Mini Gourmet
599 S. Bascom Ave., San Jose
408.275.8973
Open 24 hours

With an interior that defies the very concept of "traffic flow," the Mini Gourmet may be the most confusing mix of remodeling ever to produce 24-hour gravy in the Western United States. Booths? Yes. Counter? Check. Strange and unappetizing open wait station? Certainly.

Decorating aside, the Mini Gourmet probably qualifies as the most authentic diner experience in San Jose. The menu is huge and carbohydrate-heavy; delicious milkshakes come complete with their stainless-steel side shooters; a fantastic and gooey Monte Cristo sandwich waits to stop your heart; and when you've recovered: try the diet plate. Service is alternately grumpy and motherly, which anyone from a dysfunctional family will appreciate, and breakfast perpetuates. Hash browns are the size of a pair of '70s-era sideburns. At night, when the full moon rises, you can almost hear the Old Economy humming at the Mini Gourmet. Everyone knows innovation goes best over omelettes.

Traci Vogel


Mimi's Cafe
1200 El Paseo De Saratoga, San Jose
408.378.0778
7am-11pm daily


Omega Restaurant
90 S. Park Victoria Dr., Milpitas
408.946.8748
7am-9pm daily; 7am-10pm Fri-Sat


Pamela's East Side Cafe
2122 McKee Rd., San Jose
408.254.4000
6:30am-3pm Tue-Sat; 7am-3pm Sun-Mon


Peanuts Deluxe Cafe
275 E. San Fernando St., San Jose
408.998.9778
Flexible hours


Southern Kitchen
3378 Monterey Rd., San Jose
408.225.4391
6am-10pm daily

27 E. Main St., Los Gatos
408.354.7515
Mon-Sat, 6am-3pm; Sun 7am-3pm

Just kitty-corner and down the block from Ferrari of Los Gatos sits a modest little breakfast and lunch nook where meals won't cost you a hood and a bumper. Housed in the same building as the 2wenty 9ine East Main Cafe and A Matter of Taste, the Southern Kitchen has a real following. This place is absolutely packed on weekends--especially on Sundays--with nary a table or a seat at the counter to spare. But on weekdays, it's an excellent spot for a quick getaway and a great homestyle meal.

With exposed brick walls and a two-tone sea-mist and mauve color scheme, the décor is simple and unpretentious. The way the sunlight filters through the diner's cheery lace curtains lends a special charm to the place that makes every day feel like Sunday.

A generous menu of down-home morning fare includes Cajun sausage and eggs, which comes with hash browns or grits and a choice of toast, muffin, cornbread or biscuit. A long list of tantalizing fluffy rolled omelettes (including a create-your-own option) and specialty pancakes (like blueberry banana), waffles (strawberry or blueberry) and French toast (apple cinnamon or apricot) are other menu staples. Lunch items include hot and cold sandwiches piled high with fresh ingredients. The diner brews coffee even a coffee snob can enjoy and offers real diner fare like the lo-cal plate, hot or cold cereal and even a bowl of peaches or prunes. One of the specialties of the house is fried green tomatoes, a seasonal item served in the fall and winter.

Whether due to the restaurant's popularity with the locals or its close proximity to the Ferrari dealership, many celebrities have dined at the Southern Kitchen--among them John Travolta and Dustin Hoffman--and left autographed menus which hang proudly on the wall near the huge antique cash register on the counter.

Sarah Quelland


Sunrise Cafe
6120 Monterey Rd., Gilroy
408.848.1200
6am-9pm daily


Tina's Restaurant
2306 Almaden Rd., San Jose
408.978.8006
6am-9pm daily

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From the January 30-February 5, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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