I’m in Oakland for Thanksgiving and to help Anna unpack our stuff when the Mayflower van drops it off on Friday. We took Nate to the airport early this morning and decided to grab coffee and a bite to eat after dropping him off.
Mama’s Royal Cafe has been doing business on Broadway in Oakland since 1974. Before it became “Mama’s” it appears that it was a Chinese restaurant, and they have preserved a lot of the old decorative features of the interior. Back in the day, this was one of THE places to go for Sunday brunch. Perhaps it still is. This is the kind of quirky Bay Area place that we really missed while living in the midwest. The decor is kind of gritty, (messages and names carved in the wood paneling surrounding our table) a little funky, (old melmac teacups strung on twine decorate one wall, old lady aprons decorate another) and certainly well worn. The staff is an eclectic bunch — our waitress reminded both Anna and I of Janice and the guy who came around to fill our coffee cups was a dead ringer for Wesley Snipes.
The food was tasty — and true to what we recalled about breakfast at Mama’s. I had pear and cardamom pancakes. I was served in two courses because the waitress felt that two of the three cakes that the cook had initially prepared were too well done, so she had them remade. She brought me the first cake so that I would have something to eat while Anna was munching on home fries and a turmeric and Spike laced plate of scrambled tofu. A few minutes later she delivered the second batch of pancakes. (Which were incredibly tasty, and perfectly prepared.) The coffee was rich and bold, not the kind of wimpy institutional coffee that many restaurants serve. And on the table was a cold cream pitcher with real half-and-half. No little plastic pre-portioned creamer packs.
Over breakfast Anna and I tried to articulate what it is about places like this that feel so vital to our daily life. As we were talking a woman walked past our table wearing tie-dyed thermal underwear. (Not under her clothes — just the thermal underwear.) A few minutes later a couple of kids came into the restaurant and one of the little boys was wearing a Superman halloween costume. He reminded us of Justin. All it took was a wink and a smile to know that we were back in our old stomping grounds. Life here isn’t better than life anywhere else. It’s just a little more quirky and slightly more colorful.