As I move further into my twilight years, I often find myself reflecting on the challenging times of my life; but my main focus is on the good times.
Clearly, I have had a good life and I have enjoyed those wonderful times experienced during my lifetime. I think about the days after my parents acquired our first 10- inch, black and white, television set and how I enjoyed the children’s show, “Willie the Worm.”
I reflect on the countless hours that I spent watching “Frontier Playhouse,” a program that was dedicated to cowboy shows. I will never forget watching my favorite cowboys, the Durango Kid, Johnny Mack Brown and Sunset Carson. My days of playing cowboys and Indians are memorable.
Playing street games, particularly, Kick the Can, Blind Man’s Bluff and Hot Bread and Butter are childhood games that I wish I could get some friends together to play today. Thoughts of the game of Half-ball will be with me forever. Then there are some amazing thoughts of my days at Martha Washington Elementary School, Sulzberger Junior High School and West Philadelphia High School.
Other thoughts include grocery shopping with my mother and father at A & P, Penn Fruit and Acme and going to the Leader and Nixon movie theaters. Shopping for clothing rekindles memories of Gimbels, Lit Brothers and Big Hearted Jims on South Street.
Regular worship experiences at White Rock Baptist Church, back then at 52nd and Arch streets and eventually, worshiping at Greater White Rock Baptist Church sparks warm thoughts. I still recall Brown’s Barbershop, not so much for my stylish haircuts, but for the spiritual and motivational signs that hung on the wall. It read, “If you want your prayers answered, you must get up off your knees and hustle.”
Finally, there were my fun days, after hours, in the streets, patronizing places such as Richard’s Lounge, Sonny’s, Enchantment and Up Jumped the Devil. Last week, however, my thoughts were firmly focused on those days in the ‘60s and ‘70s when early in the morning or sometimes in the late morning when I would get together with friends for breakfast or brunch at places that have disappeared and their menus have disappeared along with them.
So, join with me as I visit some of those restaurants that served outstanding breakfast foods, back in the day.
I really miss the places that I once patronized when I am looking for a great breakfast restaurant to eat today. The places that are like those of old are few and far between. If you are 50 years of age or older, the outstanding restaurants of the past must bring to mind thick-slab pork bacon and oversized pork sausage.
Many of my friends and associates immediately referenced Big George, on the corner of 52nd and Spruce streets, as one of the mouthwatering places that served this type of bacon and sausage for breakfast. Some close friends referred to it in the favorable street term, “the joint.” Those that frequented this restaurant claimed that it served the best breakfast food in Philadelphia. Some of you might recall, Big George, as the famous restaurant where our 42nd president, William Jefferson Clinton frequented and made himself at home. Whenever former President Clinton visited Philadelphia, he found his way to Big George’s. Even as the president of these United States, Clinton made himself at home with the brothers and sisters at this establishment.
Like many, I was one that enjoyed Big George’s eggs scrambled hard, bacon, sausages and occasionally a side of scrapple. Of course, breakfast was not complete if it did not include grits. On some occasions, I opted for a grilled bacon and egg sandwich.
Those of you that regularly patronized Big George, may recall the platter that had a special name; neither my acquaintances nor I can recall the name of this platter so I shall just refer to it as the Big George Special. However, this platter contained all of the items that many of us desired for a hearty, delicious breakfast: eggs, bacon, sausage, scrapple, grits, pancakes, everything! Those that patronized Big George’s claimed that this restaurant served the best breakfast in Philadelphia.
Not far from Big George, at 206-08 S. 52nd St. was Broadway Restaurant, another outstanding venue for breakfast foods. It would be hard to argue with its reputation for outstanding foods with a slogan that read, “When You Want the Very Best in Food and Service, Come Dine with Us.”
Near these 52nd Street restaurants was Green’s, another soul food restaurant that was frequented by many in the West Philadelphia area; it was on the corner of 49th Street and Haverford Avenue. A good friend remembers this restaurant well because he saw it being built when he was a teenager. While he does not remember all of the meals served there, he definitely recalls its breakfast foods. For my friend and countless others that patronized Green’s, their biscuits were the best. I have no doubt that many of you, just like me, yearn for these types of soul food breakfast establishments from back in the day.
As I planned the content for this column, I asked many friends and associates about their favorite breakfast restaurants of the past. The restaurant that came out of the mouths of the vast majority was Ida’s, at 1903 W. Columbia Ave. and owned and operated by Leslie “Ida” Lambert. Given its close proximity to the Uptown Theater, well-known entertainers were frequently found enjoying breakfast at Ida’s. If you ask anyone who was around during the ‘50s and ‘60s, whether they actually ate at this restaurant or not, they could tell you about Ida’s rolls. This restaurant was known for its rolls. While Ida’s was located in North Philadelphia, people came from various locales to enjoy its delicious meals, not just for breakfast but for lunch, dinner or a mid-day snack. If you did not eat at Ida’s, then Dell’s, Punchey’s, Miss Ann’s, Miss Nellie’s or Miss Ethel’s may have been among your favorite breakfast establishments.
Some of you may recall the Hot Shoppe which was at Broad Street and Stenton Avenue. Or, perhaps your favorite was Littleton’s Family Diner at Ogontz Avenue and Cheltenham Avenue. Did some of you enjoy breakfast at the Toodle Shop, Ogontz Diner or Joyce’s on Girard Avenue near 29th Street?
Of course, thoughts of breakfast or any meal cannot overlook Horn and Hardart. H & H had establishment located throughout the city. Linton’s also had locations citywide that many of us patronized. But, think back to those days when many of us were on the go; going out on Friday and Saturday nights and staying out until the wee hours of the next morning. You may recall that our breakfast started after leaving the bars, clubs cabarets or other fun venues. We went to places such as the Stenton Diner, which was at Stenton Avenue and Washington Lane, if you lived in the West Oak Lane or Mount Airy area. If you were from West Philadelphia, the now demolished Marriott Hotel on City Avenue, might have been your choice. These two venues were filled with people trying to put something in their stomachs to help recover from the hard partying in which many engaged, back in the day.
I will “fess up” to acknowledging that I cannot cook. Growing up with a mother who was an outstanding cook and three older sisters, my father did not believe that I had a place in the kitchen even though I took a home economics course.
Since those outstanding restaurants of the past, where I went for breakfast, are not around, and if there are new ones, I do not know their locations. Thus, I am left to tinker around in my kitchen to prepare something for breakfast. So, when not having Cheerios, orange or apple juice and eating a store or bakery bought muffin, I manage to cook an egg in a saucer, bacon or a frozen sausage patty, all in the microwave, and toast my bread.
Such experiences cause me to yearn for those days when soul food restaurants that served outstanding breakfasts were in abundance in our own neighborhoods, back in the day.