December 24, 2:19 PM (PT)
By The Salmon
2000 De La Vina
Santa Barbara, CA 93105
“What is she picking at?” I asked. The waitress is using the edge of her pink fingernail to scrape at a utensil on the table next to me. The creosote board creaks underfoot as she throws some additional weight into her assault on the spoon. Our server arrives and stares at us expectantly. We stare back. We are the only people in the restaurant.
“Would you like to see a menu?” He inquires.
“No, why don’t you just whip up something you think we’ll like…”
The menus arrive and because it is only late morning, we order breakfast. We are at Derf’s Café, located on the bustling and recently-overhauled corner of Mission and De La Vina, not too far from Edhat’s global command center. It was ten years into my tenure in Santa Barbara before being clued-up to the hip fact that “Derf’s” is actually “Fred’s” spelled backwards. Sort of.
The beverages showed up about thirty minutes after the menus and I complimented my lunch buddy on the nice head his ice tea came with. Apparently they brew it frothy at this twice-converted filling station. The back of the menu chronicles the pendulum swing the site has undergone since 1911 from automotive service pavilion to dining establishment. At a few heady points in its glorious past, it has been both.
Derf’s has always been a drinking place for me, as I always had the sneaking suspicion that food borne illness was just a bite away, when consumed without the sterilizing properties of alcohol. Sometimes I even worry about the ale, as it is typically served at ambient temperature.
The breakfast burrito arrives on a chipped white plate without any garnish. She sits alone on the plate like an abandoned fuselage on the desert floor. Breakfast burritos are often time bombs waiting to happen, as they typically dump their secret payload of egg/bacon juice into your lap within the second bite. This is not the case with Derf’s Breakfast Burrito, as there is a complete lack of moisture in the tortilla tube. Nothing but egg and cheese, both as dry as they come.
The egg mass that my partner was sawing his way through was called the Spanish Omelet. The “Spanish” part is the lone green chile draped over the top and the little plastic specimen cup of salsa on the side.
However, as we sat on the patio enjoying one of those glorious Santa Barbara December mornings that makes you call East Coast relatives and gloat, I realized I was missing the point. A young couple cooed in the corner, a transient called from the sidewalk to no one in particular, Santa Barbarians raced about in their silver Jettas and black Yukons playing the De La Vina speed shuffle, and a few undeveloped chicken embryos wrestled pleasantly in our bellies. We were content and recognized that the patio is why we keep coming back to Derf’s over and over again. The waiter reappeared to clear our plates and, with silent agreement, we pulled our hats down low and ordered two warm beers.