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April 2017

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It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again

America is connected by coffee shops. Yeah, you get to them via freeways and highways, but that’s just a means to an end. They’re everywhere and we use them as markers – “Can you hold it until we get to the Raccoon Spit exit? There’s probably a coffee shop there.” In lonely-night-driving songs, illicit rendezvous are held at all-night coffee shops where there are no witnesses save truck drivers and drunks. And let us not forget that evocative painting “Nighthawks,” where all of us at one time or another might have been eavesdropping on the conversation between the couple at the counter.

Some coffee shops are memorable - like the one in Truth or Consequences, N.M., where the coffee was so weak you could read a newspaper through it and the bus boy itched to earn enough for a bus ticket to California. At another, on I-80 in Oklahoma, the daily specials were "toematoe soup" and "biskwits" and tasted pretty much like they were spelled. There was a dainty tea-room-like one in Susanville with amazing chicken salad, and a surprisingly affluent and upscale one in Patterson - which, it turns out, is the Apricot Capital of the World.

And then we have Déjà Vu in downtown Redding - it’s a coffee shop, yes, and a pretty good one at that. You might run into any of the local hoi polloi there - Femme de Joie caught a glimpse of the late Vic Swankly at lunch there, resplendent in a shimmering dusty rose suit - as well as lawyers, downtown office workers, and an occasional tourist.

When you walk in, turn to the right for the restaurant. Ja Vu is to the left, a barista behind the counter who will whip up a latte or cappuccino, and a pastry case full of sweet cakes to go with your cup o’ joe. There’s a small upstairs, too, with tables for private dining; food from the restaurant can be served there.

The menu isn’t going to offer up any lark’s tongues in aspic. It’s good, basic coffee shop staples at a reasonable price and fair portions. This isn’t health food by any means but waitresses are happy to accommodate dietary requests.


Ortega cheeseburger with seasoned fries

What coffee shop doesn’t have burgers? Nothing out of the ordinary here and it won‘t change your life, but Déjà Vu cooks to order - not pre-made and sitting under a heat lamp - and serves up a fresh, hot burger with a choice of fries, green salad, potato salad, or soup - all of which are also freshly prepared. Those curly fries? Probably terrible for you, but they are also very addictive.


Club sandwich with potato salad

When in doubt about a café's offerings, Femme de Joie usually chooses a club sandwich, feeling that it’s pretty hard to screw up too badly. The one at Déjà Vu is a towering mouthful of piled-high turkey, bacon, tomatoes on toast. Potato salad seems to be the appropriate side to go with, though M. de Joie has had tastier versions elsewhere - this one could use a little pepping up and personality.


Hot pastrami with a green salad

Dejà Vu does hot luncheon sandwiches particularly well and the pastrami melt is a good example - generous portions of pastrami on a fresh roll, not covered in so much cheese that the salty-spicy pastrami gets covered up. And a word about the green salads: Déjà Vu’s are invariably fresh and crisp.


The Déjà Vu omelet - bacon, sausage, sautéed mushroom, tomatoes, with home fries and an English muffin

Breakfast is served all day and omelets are featured with just about any combination of fillings you can think of, served with crispy home fries sautéed with onions, or hash browns. The fillings tend to be on the meaty side - lots of sausage, bacon, etc. - and that flavor does dominate the rest of the filling, so speak up if you’d rather not have quite so much pork fat in the middle. If you’re more inclined toward sweet breakfasts, Déjà Vu has giant cinnamon rolls, tender pancakes, and a strawberry waffle that you just want to have a moment alone with.


Fish and chips

The batter on the fish is light and not greasy or heavy so that the actual taste is of mild fish, not thick clumpy coating. Fries are homemade and crisp.

The only real complaint Femme de Joie has about Déjà Vu is that there doesn’t seem to be any one designated host/cashier, and you can sometimes wait a while at the entrance for someone to notice and seat you, or even longer to take your money when you’re ready to leave. Other than that, service is fast, cheerful, and obliging. The food is dependable and a fair value; with careful ordering it can be healthy as well.

Déjà Vu, 1590 California Street, Redding, CA 96001. 530-244-4272. Open daily 7 a.m. - 2 p.m. Cash, local checks, cards. No alcohol. Vegetarian options. Street parking or park in the mall parking lot across California Street. Don't forget to feed the parking meter.


On my way back to Montana we stopped at "The Barbecue" which is a bar and grill in The Dalles, and the first clearly non-chain place I saw. Had to go about a half mile from the off-ramp to find it.

It was a lot like this place.

The hamburger was good; I got one with an egg on it, and the egg was neither runny nor overcooked.
The fries were fresh potato fries, skin on, soaked in salt water then rinsed and dried before frying. The only way they could have been better would have been to do the two-stage-fry thing that gives the extra crispiness you find in some rare places.

Their fresh strawberry shortcake was reasonably fresh strawberries which had been sliced into a sugar syrup derived in part from other strawberries and in part from simply letting the sugar draw the extra moisture from the strawberries.
The shortcake was a short BISCUIT, about the size of my fist.
Our collective hat is off to any restaurant that makes an effort to go beyond the plasticized, sanitized-for-your-protection prepackaged "meals" as served up for the uncurious coast-to-coast.