Be Glad there’s one place in the world
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You wanna go where people know
People are all the same
You wanna go where everybody knows your name
I’ve always been a little jealous of people who can walk into a bar or restaurant and are greeted with adulation followed by “you want the usual?” You know, like Norm on Cheers. I don’t know if Norm is a good example – not sure I am exactly jealous of him – but it was pretty sweet that he didn’t even have to ask for a beer, it just appeared in front of him. I recently discovered a place where everybody truly does know your name. Jodie’s Restaurant is a tiny hole-in-the-wall below the BART tracks in the East Bay town of Albany. When I say this place is tiny, I am NOT kidding.
Jodie Royston, originally from Arkansas, opened up his little six-seat restaurant over 20 years ago after a retiring from a career working as a chemist for Chevron. He told me that he is now is doing what he loves. The day that I stopped in to try Jodie’s all but one stool was full and everyone welcomed me to come in and stay a while. I was immediately part of the family. The so-called “breakfast club” was just finishing up the morning meal that they have shared together for almost two decades. These were the hardcore regulars who have pictures of themselves next to their regular spot on the counter. One kind woman immediately took me under her wing and asked if it was my first time. I guess it showed. She offered advice on what to get and gave me a brief history of the place. I was glad she was there because navigating Jodie’s numerous menus can be a bit daunting.
The walls are covered with colorful printouts of different menu items that are named after people that Jodie has known over the years. Most of the menus are breakfast entrees, but there is also fried chicken (served only on the weekends) and sandwiches. There is one dish called “nothing” which is just a bunch of stuff thrown together, it is never the same way twice. You can also get a “nothing with something” but I’m not really sure what that is. And then there is the “other” menu that has things that are just sort of made up or that they have tried once or twice. Don’t forget the actual menu that you can hold in your hand – that one has basic breakfast items. Talk about confusing. My head was spinning.
After some coaching from the breakfast club, I finally found the burgers. Jodie makes a few different ones and the overwhelming consensus was that I should try the “Mike’s Burger” ($11.00 including fries) which was a massive half pounder with bacon and cheese inside the patty and more cheese on top. That sounded good to me.
It took a while for the Mike’s burger to be prepared so I spent some time chatting with the breakfast club, who were in a heated debate about something from the morning news. Jodie’s grandson was working the kitchen while Jodie socialized with his longtime friends. It was like hanging out at the family dinner table and just like at your mom’s house, everyone is encouraged to help out. If you’re close to the coffee pot, you’re going to be pouring it if someone wants a refill. I would frequently find myself straying away from the conversation and become mesmerized by plethora of signs and handwritten notes that adorned the walls of the closet-like space. One that caught my eye said “It’s better to serve 1 person 10 times than 10 persons 1 time”. It was very fitting and I can almost hear Jodie saying it.
The burger finally came out of the kitchen – man, it was big. The peanut gallery had all kinds of comments when I was taking the pictures of it. One finally asked me “are you ever going to try it?” Mike’s burger comes cut in half with each half held together with cocktail toothpicks. The bright yellow cheese contrasted with the colorful tomatoes, lettuce and pickle and a combination of mustard and mayo oozed out of the bun. The first bite was cheese-ageddon followed by a spicy kick. The meat was seasoned with a blend of secret spices that Jodie wouldn’t comment on. It was an interesting flavor, sort of Cajun-y. The same spice or a variation thereof, was also on the fries. There were a lot of flavors going on between the spice, the meat, bacon and condiments – each bite had something new to offer. The bun was meh. It was too bready for my liking and not very toasty.
The more I ate the more napkins I needed. Mike’s burger was a mess. My hands were covered in juice and condiments. I must have burned through 10 napkins. It was a lot of food and I ended up having to take half of the burger home.
I spent close to two hours hanging out with the breakfast club, learning more about the different dishes that are served up. Jodie would describe each one in detail for me and proclaimed each time “It’s all good.” I told him that I really wanted to come back and try his chicken and he quickly quipped “you don’t come to try the chicken, you come to enjoy it.” How can you argue with that? I really like Jodie, so confident.
I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience – I could have stayed all afternoon. The food takes a little while to make and the prices can be a little steep, but the time spent sitting along a cramped counter telling stories and laughing with 6 new friends was priceless.
902 Masonic Avenue
Albany, California 94706
Hours: Wednesday – Sunday 8:00AM – 4:00PM