April 5, 2006
By The Salmon
2318 Lillie Ave., Summerland
“Who is drinking all this Clamato?” asks my old pal, known locally as the Manta, as he scans the cocktail menu.
Ed looks puzzled. “What’s Clamato?”
“Ketchup and clam juice”, I reply. “Popular in Mexico.”
“They put it in the beer”, Manta says flatly.
The three of us had gathered to write the obituary of a local legend, The Nugget, tucked on the main drag of Summerland. Rumor has it that this grand old dame of greasy spoons is soon to change ownership after many years, and the locals are nervous.
A quick glance around says the renovation has yet to begin. The floorboards still creak. The taxidermy is still molting. The booths are still patched with duct tape. The wine list is still courtesy of 7-11.
You’ll get a lot more info out of the menu than the waitress. The cocktail hour was a few spins away but Ed surprised us day drinkers by ordering a Bloody Caesar and The Manta quickly followed. We were disappointed to discover that there was very little booze and even less Clamato®.
I opted for the Crunch Burger, which is a greasy wad of ground beef served on a toasted English muffin. Not bad, to be honest. It took a little engineering to keep it all together, as I don’t think Sir Thomas had this in mind when he designed his famous bread. Nonetheless, the nooks and crannies do a good job of capturing and cradling the liquid animal fat.
Salt goes a long way to cover up the blandness of the food. Most of the dishes command the usual 30% Summerland premium (see the gas station across the street), so even the spaghetti is $11.25. Burgers come in at just under a Hamilton (that’s $10 for you lay folk).
The Nugget does have several things going for it – a full bar, clean restrooms, and lots of presidential endorsements. During Reagan’s Western White House years, he made several visits. Perhaps because of this, and the fact that Summerland’s own, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason pumped several million into his campaign coffers, Bill Clinton swung in one day for his usual dietary supplements – cheeseburgers. The photos of both Chief Executives line the walls and seem to polarize the dining room. A group of guys in trucker hats held close to the Ol’ Gipper while the champagne-colored BMW 530i parked outside obviously belonged to the cardigan couple sitting next to Bill’s saxophone mug.
We savored the Summerland climate for a while longer, each offering stories about why we don’t live here. We vowed to return, but not for a while. It will take some time for the new owners to get their legs, and to remove some of the present legs from the wall.