Al’s Breakfast

On the street you’d miss it if you weren’t careful. Not more than four steps wide, it should have been an alley, but instead it’s my favorite restaurant.

Through two doorways into the darkness, it takes a minute for my eyes to adjust. I breathe air thick with the smells of cast iron and butter. I hear the sizzle of the grill.

A row of stools emerges, a counter and enough room for customers and staff to move down either side – a grill by the front window, a kitchen in back. We take our places at the counter. Today’s waiter tosses silverware at us, eyes a cup of coffee he hasn’t cleared and asks with a smirk, “You want coffee?” We laugh. We order. We settle in – close, warm, not alone.

My short wheat wally blues come first. I drench them in syrup. My two-eyed scramble with hashbrowns and toast comes later. I always eat too much – a whole day’s food in one sitting.

Marlene Dietrich crackles sultry and sad over ancient speakers. Cajun zydeco follows soon after.

Al presides over it all from a black-and-white photo high on a shelf. I met him once, at their 40th anniversary party back in 1990, but he’s always here, silhouetted against the window at his stove.

I feel well-seasoned when we leave. I can’t wait to go back.