From time to time, charter club member David DeMario has talked about Jim-Denny's, which is a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant in downtown Sacramento that meets two of our club's most important criteria: a) Locally owned and operated, b) Open for breakfast and lunch only. David had mentioned that Jim-Denny's is famous for their gigantic pancakes, which he claimed fill up an entire plate. I'm not a huge fan of pancakes, but the idea of a massive (no pun intended) pancake that fills up a plate... I've never imagined a pancake that big! Friday, May 1, 2009, when it came my turn to choose the club's breakfast destination (and pay for it,) my choice was Jim-Denny's, home of the legendary pancake, as pancake curiosity got the better of me.
Photo: Jim-Denny's has the look of a 1940's diner, both inside and outside. This is the view from across the street, as the gentleman on the bench waits for a trolley to arrive at the station.
Like any larger city, downtown Sacramento is notorious for congestion, and lack of parking spaces. Jim-Denny's is easy to find, as it's located on 12th Street, which doubles as California Highway 160, but parking is scarce and expensive. You have several choices as far as parking is concerned, you can: a) Feed the meters b) Park in a pay parking lot c) Take the trolley, as the restaurant is located across the street from a trolley station. There's a silver lining in the dark parking cloud when you visit Jim-Denny's diner, as they have a small parking lot, and they'll gladly allow you to park for free, while you're enjoying your delicious meal. Parking issues solved...
Photo: Tina takes Brad's order. Photo shows period neon sign, swamp cooler atop the roof of the building, and the outdoor seating that the restaurant offers.
Kevin Lane, the friendly and gracious owner of Jim-Denny's greeted us, and told us that the restaurant has been in business since 1934, and they've been at their current location since the 1940's. The restaurant was founded by a gentleman by the name of Jim Van Nort, who eventually sold the business and retired. Kevin is the fourth owner of the restaurant; do the math, and that's not many owners for a place that's been in business for 75 years, so you know they're doing something right. Since the restaurant has such a rich history, it's listed as a historic building by the City of Sacramento. And historic it is, as it's pure 1940's, from the neon sign outside, to the black and white tiled floor, and the naugahyde breakfast bar stools on the inside.
When you walk into the restaurant, you're immediately placed in a time warp, and you're instantly transported to the 1940's. There is nothing about the place that gives a hint that you're in the 21st century, and I doubt that the decor has been altered since the restaurant moved to its present location. Pure nostalgia is present, including paneled walls, chrome fixtures, cherry red naugahyde bar seats, a breakfast bar, black and white tiles on the floors, ceiling light fixtures, old fashioned photos, and too much more to mention. The electronic cash register and the computer are located in a small alcove near the kitchen, well hidden from view, as not to ruin the period atmosphere.
Photo: Kevin Lane, owner of the restaurant, poses in the kitchen. The clock on the wall shows 08:50 on this Friday morning, the first of May, 2009.
It's fortunate that Jim-Denny's offers outdoor seating, as there isn't much room inside. Inside the diner, there is seating for twelve at the breakfast bar, and that's it. Period. But if you like to observe a diner in action, the breakfast bar is the place to be, as most of the cooking is done from the griddle, located behind the bar, in the front of the restaurant, facing the street. The cook, and the patrons, have a panoramic view of busy 12th street, which can be quite interesting, if you're intrigued by the happenings of contemporary, downtown Sacramento. As you sit at the breakfast bar, you're only a few feet away from the folks cooking the food, making coffee, bussing the counter, and making the workings of the restaurant happen.
Today there were seven members attending this meeting of the Sacramento Breakfast Club, and there was no way that all of could be seated inside, as seating is somewhat limited. Fortunately, like Florence Nightengale, friendly waitress Tina came to our rescue, and seated us outside, at a delightful table, shaded by an awning, where we could enjoy the fresh air, and a view of the busy goings-on in downtown Sacramento. The first question she asked was "What would you like to drink?" and in unison, we replied, "Coffee!" and before we knew it, large cups of delicious, hot coffee were placed on our table, along with lots of cream and sugar. A nice touch from bygone days: The cream comes in a stainless steel creamer, which offers ample cream for seven, is easy to pour, and doesn't spill cream.
Photo: It's difficult to photograph the restaurant inside, as it's so small that a fisheye lens would be helpful. I'm at the rear of the restaurant, looking forward, toward the breakfast counter, and the griddle. A blackboard to the right of the photo advertises daily specials.
Along with the coffee came the menus. Jim-Denny's doesn't have the traditional printed menu, as their menu is printed on little pamphlets that are yours to keep for a souvenir (I collect menus, since I'm a food freak...) and it's a mirror image of their web site. Nostalgia is alive and well at Jim-Denny's, but if you look on the web, you'll find they have a very attractive web site that lists all of the delicious entrées the restaurant offers, along with the current prices. The club members had been surfing their web site for the previous week, so everybody pretty much had made up their minds about what they wanted to order, and in my case, I just had to have one of their legendary pancakes, which would give me something to brag about to my grandchildren.
Jim-Denny's diner offers a full breakfast menu, which features many choices to please any taste. We noted on the menu that all breakfast meals include your choice of home style potatoes or crispy hash browns. You also get your choice of biscuit, white, wheat or sourdough toast, English muffin, or cottage cheese. You can order grilled onions upon request, and chopped bell peppers as well. Heavy emphasis is placed with items that are cooked on the griddle, as the majority of the cooking at the restaurant is performed on the griddle, up front, in full view of the customers. Ah, we love it!
Photo: Here's the griddle, which is used to cook the majority of items offered on the menu. Note the windows looking out to the street and the hash browns, home sytle potatoes, and my single, gigantic pancake cooking.
After taking our orders, Tina cautioned us that our food might take a little time to prepare, as their griddle has limited cooking space, because of the pancake they were cooking for me. I really didn't connect the dots at the time... No problem for us, as we weren't in a hurry, and the wait time gave me ample opportunity to snap a few photos. I wandered inside the restaurant to check out the griddle, and my eyes bugged out when I saw the monster pancake cooking on the griddle -- mine -- what in the world? The thing looked like a doughy, super thick, large pizza, bubbling away on the griddle.. what did I get myself into?
Photo: Tina places David's full order of country ham, along with inch-thick sourdough break, on the table. That's 12th street, in downtown Sacramento, in the background of the photo.
Photo: This is only a full order of country ham 'n' eggs for David? Or is it a full order of ham and eggs for two hungry campers? This is David's breakfast of a full order of ham, home style potatoes, eggs and inch-thick sourdough toast, served at Jim-Denny's in downtown Sacramento, CA.
Considering the magnitude of our orders, we were amazed at how quickly they arrived. Jim-Denny's might be very small inside, but there is nothing small about their breakfasts, as the breakfasts are absolutely enormous; I've never been served such a mountain of food before! For example, both Brad and Dan ordered "The Works Omelette," which consists of three eggs, served with bell peppers, green chilies, sausage, onions, tomatoes, bacon, mushrooms, spinach and chicken apple sausage. Geez! To add the extra touch, both esteemed diners added sour cream and a bowl of sausage gravy on the side! Not to mention a huge helping of home style potatoes, and inch-thick sourdough toast on the side... The menu suggests to bring a friend to help with "The Works," and that's a very helpful suggestion. In the interest of science, David ordered a breakfast of featuring three eggs and a full slice of country ham, along with the toast and potatoes on the side. When the breakfast came, it looked like he was getting TWO slices of country ham, as the plateful of breakfast was that gigantic. Not even Paul Bunyon would leave hungry after enjoying a breakfast at Jim-Denny's!
Photo: My legendary pancake arrives with lots of fanfare, delivered by friendly, and photographic Tina. The large strawberry placed on top of the "single stack" is dwarfed by the sheer size of the pancake.
So what about my legendary pancake? Needless to say, when Tina placed it in front of me, I was taken aback, and my heart almost flatlined. The buttermilk pancake comes on a round plate, which appears to be about a foot in diameter. If it completely fit on the plate, it would be a huge pancake, but it didn't entirely fit on the plate, as when centered, it hung over the edge by at least two inches in all directions. Plus, the pancake was at least an inch thick, and probably more. Honestly, I have never seen, nor have I even imagined a pancake this huge! Huge isn't the right word; it's gigantic. My order of eggs and sausage were placed on a small oval plate, separate from my main course, my monster of a pancake.
A breakfast challenge like my gigantic pancake didn't go unnoticed by my peers, so naturally I had to endure a multitude of verbal challenges, jeers, and catcalls from my dining companions. Talk about my fifteen minutes of fame, as I almost could picture myself as a player in the legendary college football game of Notre Dame vs Army, and my coach, Knute Rockne, asking me to "Win one for the Gipper..." my breakfast teammates egged me on eat the whole pancake. But for me, eating my monster pancake would be about as easy of climbing Mount Everest.
Photo: With a smile, Tina places the pancake on the table, as David starts to enjoy his breakfast.
Photo: My larger-than-life breakfast, with the small plate of two eggs, over easy, and two perfectly cooked, tender, sausage links, and my gigantic pancake, that overflows the plate. Have you ever seen a pancake this huge?
In a few minutes when Tina came by to refill our coffee cups, I asked her a few questions about the larger-than-life pancakes, such as how they came about, how do you flip them over, and do people actually finish these things. She explained that the legendary pancakes came about as an accident; years ago, a cook poured too much batter on the griddle, and Voi
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