April 24, 2002


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cheap eats
by dan leone

Wiseacres

TWO LOUSY LITTLE letters separate salad days from sad days, and those two letters, the way I see it, spell Al. I sat across the kitchen table from my wife, Crawdad de la Cooter, and I said, "Who's Al? Who's Al?"

She was thinking: baseball season, American League, AL East, AL West, AL Central, ERA, RBI ...

"Who's Al?" I said. "Who's Al?"

We're fairly symbolical people, me and Crawdad. I'm speaking figuratively, for example. Literally, there are no Als or Eileens, or even baseball seasons, coming between us. The problem is, I may as well tell you, we have to move. They're selling our house out from under us, and our acre out from under our chickens, which bites big time, even though I know we'll find another rental acre around here for probably cheaper. Moving sucks, and having to move, especially when you love where you're living like paradise itself ... well, it's enough to wilt even the happiest couple's salad days.

Crawdad's in grad school learning to be a therapist. She knows, and so I know, that moving is one of the classic bad-ass stressors that fucks with a couple. She knows, and so I know, about processing and talking and all that stuff. My friend Satchel Paige the Pitcher, who's not so much a therapist as a pitcher, says eat lots of fruit and get lots of exercise or else simple sadness can get ugly.

I believe in all of the above, and more. I believe in drinking. I believe in singing, taking a bath, and singing. But mostly I believe in eating, which is why I keep thinking of the late, great Ann's Cafe. That big pile of food at Mariposa last week reminded me of Ann's and made me miss it. This week, reading Calvin Trillin's New Yorker piece on Ken and Eve's made me miss Ann's even more. Sorry to sound obsessed, but in the past, whenever I hit hard times, all it took was a trip to Oakland's Dimond District, a couple of hours at the counter there, and I'd be good to go for weeks ... months ... If you missed it, ask anyone else who didn't, and they'll tell you about the attitude-adjusting effect of five pounds of omelette therapy.

So I'm sitting at the counter at Three Cooks Cafe in Petaluma, trying to find that same sort of magic in an open-face Italian-sausage sandwich smothered in this spicy Spanish-style tomato sauce. Very good, and very big, and it comes with a bowl of beef soup (or salad or home fries) for $7. So I'm packing this all in, and putting it on, leafing through a local rag called the Petaluma Post, a free monthly devoted almost entirely this month to promoting Butter and Egg Days.

That's right, this Saturday, April 27, is the annual Butter and Egg Days parade in Petaluma! I'm not kidding, and if I'm still sad by then, that'll be the end of it. Who needs salad days, I'm thinking, when you have Butter and Egg Days?

I look up from the paper, mouth full of sausage, and I see the guy's got an Ann's-like pile of ingredients piling up on the griddle: spinach, onions, vegetables, sausage, it looks like, and he's just then plopping two more handfuls of stuff on top. It had never even occurred to me to order an omelette. I eat my eggs at home these days, over easy, and they're the freshest and best I've ever eaten, especially sopped up into thickly buttered toast. These are my butter and egg days, and this is Petaluma, the Chicken Capital of California, or Egg Basket of the World, or something like that.

It's hard not to be proud, even though technically I live in Penngrove.

Three Cooks Cafe, Petaluma, is not Ann's Cafe, R.I.P., but it's a friendly and charismatic joint with a counter, a couple of cozy dining room sections with lots of cool pictures to look at, and big, big food for cheap. I don't know who the other two cooks are, but this one's got a good thing going on the griddle. For all I know, his name is Al. He's a character, and he's from New York – Mets fan, hates the Yanks – so who knows? He very well could be Al.

In any case, I'm coming back for an omelette before the big parade Saturday, and I'm bringing Crawdad, and if Al can't make salad out of sad, then there are always other ways of looking at things. There are eggs and butter and parades. Look at the word salad, for crying out loud. It doesn't have to be Al at all. See? It could just as easily be la la la la la la la la la.

Three Cooks Cafe. 841 N. Petaluma Blvd. (at W. Payran), Petaluma. (707) 762-9886. Wed.-Thurs., 6 a.m.-2 p.m.; Fri., 6 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Takeout available. MasterCard, Visa. No alcohol. Wheelchair accessible. Dan Leone is the author of Eat This, San Francisco (Sasquatch Books), a collection of Cheap Eats restaurant reviews, and The Meaning of Lunch (Mammoth Books).