Good B&G South of Crows Nest
Mikeís Time Out Restaurant & Lounge
If youíve ever driven the long, strait and dull desert drive along Californiaís Interstate 5 between Modesto and Los Angeles, maybe you noticed the single off ramp to the city of Crowís Nest...or maybe you didnít. Thereís not much to see really, and thereís no reason to notice the off ramp because it doesnít look much different than the other 280 miles along that lifeless (if you donít count the putrid, overstocked bovine stockyards) highway. But as I ambled South towards home, having driven 13 hours of the past 24, I caught a glimpse of the Crows Nest off ramp and had a notion that if there was good biscuits and gravy to be found, a place with a name like Crows Nest just might do the trick.
A wild guess and few miles East of I-5 on a paved road dotted with fence posts and a few houses, I found a feeding ground at the crossroads where trains and trucks traded cargo at the grainery. Though it was Sunday and way past breakfast time, I had an appetite for some good country B&G. After a few minutes drive in the heart of Crows Nest, I found a little diner, pulled into the gravel parking lot and pulled the parking brake. As I peered through the diner window, I knew I had found myself a gem: silver legged barstools with naugahyde seats, and 1950ís style linoleum table tops with Tobasco on the table. I aimed directly for the door and stepped lively--my gut was growling like a grizzly. The door jammed as I turned the handle and pulled, so I pulled again...this time the woman inside turned and gave me look I understood quickly.
"Canít you see weíre closed?" muffled and bareley audible, came through the window and cracks of the door.
I looked to my left, then right. There it was, reading my misery: Hours 5:30AM - 12:30 PM. Crimony.
On my way out of Crows Nest in search of another diner, I pulled in at a vacant looking gas station and got out to fill up. I was promptly chased back to my car by a none too friendly mutt dog who didnít take kindly to my smile and unconvincing "Nice doggie, nice doggie."
I pulled onto the two lane road with a few words for that dog and headed South. Driving out of Crows Nest city limit, it didnít look as though I would get my B&G in Crows Nest after all. I drove a vast and unpeopled 7 miles until the town of Newman appeared on the horizon like a welcome watering hole.
Quite a bit larger than Crows Nest, downtown Newman had two taverns, a Rexall, a five and dime of sorts and several mom and pop style establishments which lined both sides of the two block, downtown stretch. Prospects looked good. Not finding an obvious eatery, recommendations by Newman locals led me to Mikeís Time Out Restaurant & Lounge. The breakfast menu taped to the window revealed what I was dying to know.
Inside, the only seats available were at the bar. "What the?" I thought. Then the smell of free flowing beer and men cheering in unison chanting the name of a football team reminded me of something: SuperBowl Sunday. Suddenly I felt awkward and out of place. Mikeís was full of people who obvoiusly knew one another; loud, boisterous people cheering in unison, or yelling at the ref as if on cue. With my road weary complexion, thick rimmed glasses and book bag, a certain solitude and embarassment overwhelmed me as I hoisted a leg up on a barstool and asked for biscuits and gravy. I was greeted with a curious look from the woman behind the bar.
"Somethiní to drink?"
"Coffee will do fine."
The waitress turned and walked through the saloon style swinging doors which led into the kitchen. "He wants biscuits and gravy," I heard her say to the cook.
I was greeted by Mike Volpa, the co-owner, sometimes cook and bartender. Being so late in the day, Mike expressed concern over the freshness of the biscuits, but I convinced him that just about any rathscallion concoction of B&G would be satisfying. When the B&G arrived, a brief silence came over the room as people stopped guzzling and goofing and stared at my heaping plate of B&G--in envy of my fare, Iím sure. But in a momentís time, the room was back to mayhem and I dove confidently into this hardy loooking plate of grub.
Four words: Execellent biscuits and gravy. No matter that 1:30 in the afternoon usually makes for hard biscuits, the biscuits were fresh and thick, with the four half biscuits each being about three inches around and one inch high. Gravy was piled generously, none too white but painted nicely with sausage pieces, ground pepper and a light amount of grease for a satisfying flavor. Often times at less experienced diners, a full plate of B&G alone is too greasy with that strange bitter / sour flavor. But not at Mikeís. Regardless of my appetite, I would have eaten the entire plate full to busting.
Sometimes B&G is good, sometimes itís inexpensive. At Mikeís, itís both. I walked out stuffed and only poorer by four bucks, including coffee and tip. Mike, with his wife and co-ownerTwila, greeted me on the way out the door and invited me to return on my next trek along I-5.
An easy, slow going 15 minute drive off the freeway, Mikeís is a dandy place to stop for a bite to eat. Though I had to eat at the bar, Iím sure thereís plenty of lounge tables available most of the time. Even so, the uneasy feeling of eating biscuits and gravy where most people drink their fill of spirits was quickly forgotten when I got my food. Mike and Twila serve up good service and good grub. By the capacity crowd calling Mike by name, Mikeís Time Out Restaurant & Lounge seems to keep its patrons feeling welcome and returning.
On the Biscuits & Gravy Quarterly scale of one to four plates, Mikeís is awarded three plates and two cups of coffee, and thatís a quite an OK rating -- especially when youíre dealing with a B&G connoisseur, such as this hombre.