The wife and I not so long ago came to Moon Township, after a whirlwind 12 years in Robinson. When you live in Robinson, you functionally live in Robinson, Kennedy, Stowe, and The Rox. And there are a TON of joints there. A ton.
And in that time I found the quintessential joint. The only joint ever to receive the coveted 5 barstool rating...and it didn’t even have a liquor license, although it did have barstools. It was located on Steubenville Pike, across from Burkett Elementary, and for those of you wearing a hat, please remove it and place it over your heart and bow your head and observe a moment of silence for the late, the great, the one and only 5 barstooler that there ever was…Del-Kid.
Now only dilettantes, poseurs, passersby, or people in town for the weekend called it Del-Kid. Most of the regulars called it Gus’s. I called it Del’s…maybe because I was young and anarchistic. But ladies and gentlemen, there…was…a…joint.
You just knew it had potential as you drove up. It looked like a, what’s the word, oh yeah, shack. With lousy paint and an exhaust system that blew the grill grease smell into the parking lot. Gotta love that, no? And the parking lot was unpaved, nicely rutted in the bad-weather months. Obviously, no parking lines. Make your own space. Park by the hedges, the fence, next to the semis, or the cop cars, or anywhere. Only rule is don’t block anybody in. No handicapped spaces, because no spaces. They must have had a downspout or two, but in heavy rain it just poured off the roof. So I’m about half in love with the place before I ever go in there.
Now inside, the joint wonders were rampant. I ate breakfast there every Friday morning, with the rest of The Joint Command, for 12 years.
Go through the door and the first thing you saw was the dirty linoleum floor. On the right were about 5-6 barstools so you could eat at the counter, facing the grill. On the left were about six tables, and then an entry into the middle section, which also housed the bathroom and four tables…you didn’t want a table next to the men’s room…and then the extension in the back…about 8 tables, but that could change depending on the number of poker machines back there. (And yeah, I said earlier that cops were quite often there, but they somehow never made it to the back room.)
The best tables, and this was most of them, rocked back and forth whenever you put your arms on them. You either shimmed the table, or your coffee cups, or you just were extra careful. Ashtrays…what, you think they had smoking/non-smoking sections…were either full or workin’ on it. Tables were semi-sticky, and when "cleaned" generally got the community damp rag approach.
My particular favorite table was the one in the corner of the front room wedged in next to the jukebox and slightly under the pay phone. If you were on the side with the phone you risked the guy on the phone bumping you while he talked. No tablecloths, of course, not even the sticky plastic kind. The chairs…for the longest time no booths…might have rips in the seat and might wobble as well. If you could get all that, and some cig ashes on the table or on the floor, you were truly blessed.
It was open all the time but I only ever ate breakfast there, which you could get all day long. And for the longest time they started you with a complimentary Greek plate…tomatoes, black olives, chunks of feta. And coffee…lots of coffee. Del’s signature food move was that whatever breakfast you ordered you usually got within 3-4 minutes. So don’t linger over the Greek plate. And in Hall of Fame joint fashion you got about five pounds of food for about two bucks…a SLIGHT exaggeration. My "usual" was Breakfast #1, which was three eggs (but they gave you four…always gave you a little extra something), four strips of bacon, and whole pile of home fries, and two pieces of Mancini twist bread toast. And coffee…tons of coffee. (Although occasionally I’d go for the six-egg (really 7) omelet.) When I first hit Del’s that was three bucks. At the end it had skyrocketed up to about … $3.95.
Now personally I would have preferred Breakfast #2, which was Breakfast #1 on steroids. But I couldn’t order it because the tables weren’t very big and since I ate with The Joint Command there just wasn’t room on the table for extra huge platters of bacon that came with Breakfast #2. Yeah, a two-platter breakfast. About 10-12 pieces of crisped pig on those "side" platters. Breakfast #2 was an extra buck.
Because you got the food so fast you could chow down and still have plenty of time to get to work, which was OK because the induced mega-calorie lethargy was counteracted by the caffeine from the five or so cups of coffee.
The people there were the best. They had a guy on the grill who usually had a cig working as he cooked. Place was busy, but he could turn and burn those breakfasts. He had a two-slice toaster that he watched as he cooked, and he always had a huge pile of home fries ready to go. You kinda wanted the middle part of the pile…the bottom was half burned and the top was about 10% raw. But you didn’t really care. And you got home fries with everything. Just shut up and eat them because you were getting some. If a guy came in for directions he got the route and some home fries. Girl Scouts pushing cookies got a few orders and walked out with a merit badge’s worth of home fries.
One time I went through a two-month "pancake period." That’s when the medical types decided that every egg contained a heart attack. They were great…and huge…but one time they were lousy. I couldn’t eat them so I just re-ordered the regular #1. I finish that, and then the grill guy comes back and says, "What’s wrong with the pancakes?" I say, "Usually great, but not today." He says, "Whaddaya mean?" And then he reaches down and picks up my used fork, cuts off a big chunk of pancake, chews, and then says, "Forgot the vanilla." And walks away. Now tell the truth, you ever been anywhere where the help eats your food with your silverware right in front of you? Ah, what a place!
Since The Joint Command were regulars of long standing the angels blessed us by always having the best waitress in the history of short-order places wait on us. Her name, and I’m choking up right now, was Ruth. Ruth was 40ish, and then 50ish, the exact right age for a joint. She knew what you wanted before you did, and she was on top of everything. If she figured she MIGHT not get back fast enough to keep you overly caffeinated, she’d just leave the pot the first time through. If her "order pad" ever comes up on Ebay, I’m buying it. I don’t care what it costs. When she dies I will advance her cause for sainthood with The Church.
When Mrs. J and I were dating I had to take her there for a test drive to see if she were my kind of woman. Instead of running screaming into the night she just said, "Yeah, Breakfast #1 looks good." You have to marry a girl like that.
Toward the end more breakfast eateries presented themselves as the area grew and Del’s attempted to compete. They actually put in booths…which didn’t wobble…a bad move. And they even had wall coverings installed. Sad. Totally wrecked the ambience. But I am nothing if not loyal, so I still went, but it was like seeing your Dad decide to get hair plugs and grow a beard. He’s still Dad, but he isn’t still Dad.
The inevitable happened and Del’s either went under or they just gave up. There have been many different people try to start something on that land…another breakfast place, a hot dog shop, and others. But nothing ever lasted. I find that a fitting tribute to Del’s. Impossible to replace.
Now you might say that it doesn’t sound at all like a 5 barstool worthy establishment. You would be wrong. It was crazy, always fun, generally packed, food was good…never got sick, despite my description of the place…and cheap. Service was just wonderful, and friendly. The kind of place that when you got up Friday morning, half awake and half comatose, and when you remembered what day it was you immediately got a bit cranked up because it was Del’s day. Kind of like visiting your favorite uncle, who’s generally rumpled and sporting a three-day growth, but who makes you feel good every time.
Del’s would close for two weeks every Summer, so The Joint Command took it on the road for two Fridays every year. Tried all different places, but it was no contest. Ever.
And that is the reason for The Joint Report. Mrs. J and I can find plenty of good food and plenty of good restaurants. But that’s not enough.
We want to find a joint.