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Bea Here Now

[whitespace] Dennis Wade Williams
Morning Glory: Dennis Wade Williams, chef at Bea's Koffee Kup, whips up breakfast staples daily.

The closest thing to a real old-fashioned diner experience is alive and well and living at the corner of Soquel and Seabright

By Christina Waters

YOU'VE GOT TO LOVE a menu that still offers Sanka as a beverage choice. And Bea's does, along with lots of neighborhood gossip, free-flowing coffee and breakfast classics that enshrine the wisdom of Anglo-American morning flavors. Holding down its fair share of one of the last remaining historic blocks on the Eastside, Bea's has been helping the Soquel Avenue faithful start their days for many, many years.

Part of the group of diehard vernacular buildings that once included Ebert's and still holds the Rio Theater and the Victorian Crepe Place, Bea's is a veritable trip back to a time before there was Denny's. The 20-foot ceilings remain from the turn of the century, while the mauve color coordination--right down to the maroon waitress uniforms--reminds us of all that was sweet about the '50s.

The coffee splashed forth into our thick white mugs before we even slid into that vinyl booth last week. It was minutes before Jack could speak. A child of New Jersey's diner culture, he was practically moist-eyed over the charmingly nongeneric interior of Bea's. Woodgrain Formica laminate runs up the sides of walls and furniture. Captain's chairs cozy up to a counter where a cylindrical pie safe sits like an artifact from a Frank Capra movie. The padded vinyl booth was a shade of mauve--a lost color that Jack remembered from car interiors in the late '50s. And on the menu was a side of gravy for 95 cents.

How infinitely superior a place like Bea's is, with all its real, individual personality, to fast-food palaces that seem to have replaced the breakfast dinettes of yore. Here the eggs actually have the look of yolk and whites, rather than that homogeneous plastic texture that suggests cans and packages instead of chickens and barnyards.

The word "cuisine" is just not applicable to a place like Bea's, where your morning fix of salt, sugar and fat comes in recognizable shapes like "pancake" and "bacon." We sipped nonespresso coffee from heavy mugs and non-freshly squeezed orange juice from huge plastic tumblers. Designer it's not. For that you can go to McDonald's. But you can't get high-wattage conversation at a fast-food place like you get at Bea's, where half the morning crowd knows each other and the other half sits meditating over the sports section.

My plate of eggs-over-medium arrived heaped with crunchy, if lukewarm, hash browns ($4.90). The accompanying bacon was done the way I like--not charcoal, not disturbingly soft. Jack admired the integrity of his plate of scrambled eggs, but I knew he really ordered them as a delivery system for Bea's fiery homemade salsa. Orange slices and parsley dotted every dish. In the morning world of white, brown and yellow food, we reasoned, the color orange is considered a visual perker-upper. And the parsley reminds us that there are vegetables in the universe.

"These are regulation, classic American pancakes," Jack smiled, as he dove into a thick short stack of pancakes like Moses through the Red Sea ($2.60). Along with butter and syrup poured from a glass pitcher, these pancakes took me on a quick trip to my Auntie Da's kitchen, where the finest pancakes were made. Bea's pancakes had everything going for them. Cooked all the way through, they were light yet satisfying. "Perfect" was Jack's pronouncement.

Throughout our meal, our coffee cups were never, ever allowed to dip below the half-full point. Allowing no protestation, our waitress--and all true waitresses brandish the authority of culinary dominatrixes--ministered to our unspoken, unconscious needs.

Bea's is priceless.

Bea's Koffee Kup Restaurant
Address: 1209 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz
Phone: 831.423.9224
Entrees: $5
Hours: Daily 6am-2pm.
Service: ** 1/2 Punctual, attentive and delivered with authority
Ambiance: *** Classic dinette complete with the vinyl booths and soda fountain counter
Cuisine: * 1/2 Breakfast classics and anachronistic lunch menu, long on nostalgia and short on designer consciousness
Overall: Bea's offers '50s-theme breakfasts with a small-town neighborhood feel--blissfully nongeneric.

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From the January 21-27, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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