When poet Suzanne Lummis asked me about “noir” restaurants for a literary series she was curating, the first place that came to mind was Nick's Cafe, a battered diner I hadn't been to since the old railyard it faced out onto had been upgraded to the Los Angeles Historic State Park, aka the Cornfield. Nick's had always been kind of a great place, railroad paraphernalia on the paneled walls, its U-shape counter elbow-to-elbow with cops and maintenance workers in the morning and short-sleeved city workers at lunch. It had an endless menu of meatloaf and turkey sandwiches but was most famous for its vast plates of ham and eggs, which were always the best in town.
I had heard that Nick's had become newly fashionable, with chicken cordon bleu as a regular dinner special, designer hot dogs, a brunch crowd that raved about the eggs benedict and discounts if you checked in on Foursquare. It was inevitable, I guess.
But when you slide onto a stool on a weekday morning, it is hard to see that anything has changed. Your neighbors still wear mustaches and badges, and the counter still bristles with old wine carafes filled with chokingly hot blender salsa like the one that Mexican-American grandmothers used to make. You see a lot of Pan Sans around, which is to say monstrously large plates of pancakes, eggs and breakfast meats. The home fries are oniony and crisp. And if you should happen to order a plate of ham and eggs, hold the eggs, the waitress may well ask how you would like the eggs you aren't having cooked.