Largely the Truth

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Review: Johnny's at Fife | 5211 20th Street East | Fife, WA

09 Sep 2010  ·  by Brennan Storr  ·  Be the first to comment!

Tagged under reviews food Tacoma road trip travel diners


When I arrived in Fife, Washington after a ten-hour, 600-mile drive from Butte, Montana, the first thing I wanted was a nap. After checking into a Motel 6 by the highway I accomplished just that and upon waking the next thing I wanted wasn’t going to happen until the next time I saw my wife, so I settled for something to eat. The immediate area had no shortage of fast-food mainstays but I try to avoid places like that whenever possible. Instead, as my regular readers know, I prefer to seek out locally-owned restaurants, some of them thriving, some of them barely hanging on against a rising tide of bland chain restaurants.

Johnny’s at Fife didn’t take much seeking, situated as it is directly across the parking lot from my room, and as far as independent diners go it seems to be holding its own. It’s the kind of place that has survived by building up a clientele over the years, the sort of dedicated regulars who don’t bother waiting for a cheque after they’re finished because they know exactly how much money to leave.

Most of the people in the restaurant were elderly couples, and there were two such groups at my 12 and 2 o’clock. The opening conversational gambit of the woman at 2 o’clock was “What’s your problem” and her husband looked like he’d spent fifty years trying not to say, “You”. My dinner was small but satisfactory and when I decided to return the next morning at breakfast it was more for the atmosphere than it was the food.

Once you walk into the lobby of Johnny’s you’re presented with a choice of two sides: to the left is a restaurant for family dining, to the right a bar for staring dejectedly into a glass of Budweiser. Veering left, I had a look at a whiteboard on the floor which listed specials and was then taken to a booth seat in the middle of the restaurant. The interior isn’t much different from other restaurants of its type, spacious and well lit, and along one wall a long lunch counter for solo diners or couples long tired of looking at one another. The Neapolitan ice-cream motif of the booth seats was eye-catching but other than that everything was much as you’d find it in Denny’s or Humpty’s. Actually, that’s not fair- it was much cleaner than Humpty’s.

For the times you're alone,
or the times you wish you were

I had already decided on the special, cheddarwurst with toast, eggs and hashbrowns for $7.95, so as I waited for the waitress I skipped the menu and read the Weekly Volcano, a free newspaper out of Tacoma.
I had just started reading the advice column when I heard the waitress say that she must have forgotten something because she “had a fart in her head”. I’m almost certain she meant a “brainfart” but at the time all the gears in my head were grinding together as I tried to comprehend whether she was referring to a medical condition or making a joke. When she arrived at the table bearing a cup of coffee I did my level best to look her in the eye.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of
the coming of chest pains

When it was ready, breakfast wasn’t carried out of the kitchen so much as it slid on a trail of grease. Such a glistening harbinger of arteriosclerosis I hadn’t seen since having the breakfast sandwich up at the White Spot in YYJ airport. The eggs weren’t quite “over-hard” as much as they were “beat to hell” and as for “cheddarwurst” sausages, well, I know a smokie when I see one. Not that I don’t enjoy smokies, I’ll pass over a hot dog in favour of its tough, chain-smoking cousin any day, but it’s not quite what I had in mind when I saw “wurst” on the menu. The hash browns were standard, shredded potatoes fried in a significant amount of oil and the “dark Russian rye” toast was dark indeed but refused to speak, thus making it difficult to ascertain whether or not it was of Slavic origin.

The “cheddarwurst” was prepared as well as a piece of formed meat, machine-injected with cheese can be and none of the other items were burnt, which is close enough when you’re dealing at this level. Towards the end of the meal my tongue became aware of the damage being done to my stomach and so ever greater amounts of Tabasco, that morphine of the taste buds, were necessary to finish.


Farty brain? Kick back
with a coffee

Was it good? Yes, with a qualification: if you want a big, greasy breakfast that will do the trick at a price that’s almost criminally low, then this is perfect. After the meal, my stomach only beginning to comprehend the scope of what I’d just done, I was able to relax and enjoy a few cups of coffee in the early morning quiet. The rush of traffic on I-5 was just beginning its manic rush-hour and I was in no hurry to get back on the road.

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