HARLINGEN — I step into the peaceful diner and look over a blackboard covered with the house specials.
The cranberry chicken salad intrigues me, as do the buffalo melt, taco salad, and the Texas-grilled Monte Cristo.
I’ve visited J&B’s Café at 204 E. Jackson Ave. several times recently, but the 3-alarm burger grabs my attention the most with its taste-invoking list of beef patty, pepper jack cheese and chipotle.
I order my lunch at the counter – that’s where they keep the menus – and take my seat.
It’s a little before noon, and “Little Town of Bethlehem” plays in the background while a bell rings as more customers step through the door.
Earlier in the week, I enjoyed lunch here, and it was after the noon crowd had left and only one table was taken. Three people were admiring the pies beneath a glass counter before heading out the door.
Karen Carpenter’s Christmas voice flowed into the air and two women nibbled at their sandwiches over conversation.
It’s a pleasant dining room, and I can see myself sitting here all afternoon just reading over coffee and watching the quiet streets through clean windows.
The dining room is well-kept with shiny tile floors; the yellow and white tablecloths convey freshness and simplicity that makes this place a comfortable and inviting experience.
At the counter I looked over a menu, which offered a range of sandwiches, wraps, burgers and salads.
I felt a slight sense of urgency to make a selection quickly as only two menus are at the counter.
I like to sit and take my time with a menu as I consider what I’d like for lunch. You can take a menu to your table, but I wonder if I could do that if there were a full house.
But that may be just a personal eccentricity of mine. Those who know me know I like difference and variation.
I ordered the chicken panini and a cup of coffee and took a table, enjoying quiet time to look around. The color schemes with the brown and white stripes and the general layout conveyed a sense of simplicity reflective of earlier times.
I could remember the diners I frequented as a youth in the 60s and 70s and felt at moments as though I had transported back into those times, places and qualities.
A bell rang announcing the arrival of a young couple with a baby.
“We have the menu on the chalkboard and over here when you’re ready,” a waitress said. Service here is quick and attentive.
“Thank you, ladies,” she said as two women left.
My order arrived, and I was a little put off by the size. It’s a small sandwich that looks more like a snack than a lunch. That may have been a deception on my part because upon finishing the sandwich, which was hot and tasty and very good, I did feel quite satisfied with my hunger abated.
This brings to mind the realization that we Americans have become accustomed to extravagance. That extravagance in this case translates into indulging ourselves with huge servings of food, both at home and elsewhere, continuing to put copious amounts of food into our bodies beyond anything remotely necessary.
Perhaps the servings at J&B’s are more realistic – and healthy.
I return a few days later for breakfast and order the “breakfast bowl” with eggs, cheese and sausage. It arrives minutes later, and again, it’s just a tiny serving that surprises me. But it is delicious.
So I’m kind of split in my reactions. I want more because I’m accustomed to the excessive, and the food here is so good I’d just like more of it.
But again, maybe that’s the amount I should eat every day.
Food for thought, no pun intended.
I return again for lunch, and I like the sight of four tables occupied. As I take my table, I notice two older couples receiving plates of roast beef, mashed potatoes and green beans. Their plates are filled with decent amounts of food, and a waitress tells me it’s a Friday special.
My burger quickly arrives with a bowl of pasta, and this is a good sized meal. The burgers come with a fine ensemble of flavors all assembled in perfect amounts. The full bowl of pasta immediately impresses me with its playful color schemes, and it’s so attractive I almost don’t want to eat it.
But eat I must, with lovely rewards.