This morning, for some unknown reason, I was thinking about when I worked in New York, right after college. There was a coffee shop behind the building where I worked and I would go there for breakfast. It was called “Genie” and it was on New Street. New Street did not look new. It was a pit of a street, wedged between tall buildings – a back alley really – behind and between Broad Street and Broadway.
This was not a glamorous coffee shop – no seating, just coffee, breakfast items, sandwiches, chips, chicken noodle soup, maybe a special of the day. These were the days before low fat. These were the days before double macchiatos.
There was only one type and flavor of coffee: Coffee. And, you could have it two ways: black or regular. There was no “decaf”. There was Sanka. You drank it because if you didn’t want caffeine, you could drink tea (Lipton) or Sanka. Even fancy restaurants served Sanka. Sanka came in an orange packet or orange labeled jar. The only legacy of Sanka is that decaf carafes at restaurants almost always have an orange handle or some orange marking. But, I digress.
Here is what I ordered on many a day: Coffee and a toasted corn muffin. Here is what the cashier yelled to the cook: “Coffee regular and a toasted corn. You want one or two sugars with that, honey?”. The coffee came quickly, piping hot with cream, and I put in my own Sweet-n-low. The cook split a gritty, rich corn muffin in half and put it on the greased griddle until it was golden brown. Then he slathered on some soft butter, put it back together, wrapped it in thin white paper, and threw it in a bag. If I was lucky, there would be a little plastic packet of grape jelly in the bag, too. Perhaps the inclusion of jelly had to do with whether the Yankees won or lost, or whether you inquired, for the n-th time that day, “How about those Giants?”.
You could also get an egg sandwich – either on toast, a roll, or an english muffin – with or without bacon and American cheese. The precursor to the egg McMuffin and WAY better. They had bagels, too. If it was HHH (hazy, hot and humid), I’d get iced coffee – coffee poured over ice. Oh, that hit the spot after a long subway ride.
I know these coffee shops still exist in New York. My dad goes to one almost every morning (though his place is fancier than the old place we used to go to – it has faux leather booths and a counter).
I have never found a coffee shop like Genie in San Francisco. Starbucks, Peet’s, and other coffee “houses”, sure. Bagel places, yup. But, no coffee shops, and few diners and delis.
Food seems to be more elaborate, less basic. Sometimes, I miss basic.