Eddie Fong closed his restaurant on Monday, and his regulars are bereft. All week long they’ve been wandering around town looking for a place to have breakfast, but there’s no place like Eddie’s, never has been and never will be again.
I was an Eddie’s regular, once removed. In truth, my brother was the Eddie’s guy, and I was allowed a pass into the inner circle because of him. Without that pass, Eddie’s could be a rather intimidating place to eat. Eddie ran a restaurant with good food (heavenly corned beef on Thursdays, best in town) and an attitude that was all his own. If you didn’t like anything about him or his place, he had no hesitation whatsoever about swearing at you until your ears hurt and then throwing you out. (Banishment to the Tower Cafe across Broadway was considered akin to being sent to hell for any Eddie’s regular.)
On my own, without the protection of my brother, I once took a friend to Eddie’s. “Hey, Eddie,” I said. “This is my friend Keith.”
“What the fuck do I care?” snarled Eddie. Keith was delighted. A genuine Eddie’s experience!
And that’s the thing. If you walked into Eddie’s thinking you were in a regular restaurant, you were already in deep trouble. After a minute or two one of the regulars would suggest you just find yourself a table, help yourself to a menu and wait for Eddie to notice you. In fact, he always noticed everyone right away, but how quickly he got around to you depended on how busy he was and a complex set of other factors that weren’t obvious to the untrained observer.
Regulars sat on the outside ring of tables; newbies on the inside. That way, the regulars got a good view of the proceedings on those occasions when one of the newbies screwed up and got sworn at for trangressions large (special orders) and small (asking for a fork).
In the early days I was so afraid of Eddie that I waited in the parking lot for my brother before going inside. I never recommended Eddie’s to anyone because he wasn’t everyone’s cup of coffee (which the regulars got on their own). He had enough customers, and we all understood the special place we had and the special friend that was Eddie. But it was always a matter of time before Eddie would get pissed off enough at something to shut it all down, and we knew it. He says he’s going to get a “real job,” one that would require a mere five days a week of work, not seven. But we all hope that after a while he’ll be back in a new location.
Why? Because Eddie Fong is a total mensch. He is there for all his friends, and when you are one of them you have never known a person more generous and stalwart. Eddie catered my folks’ 50th anniversary party, and he attended my friend’s mother’s funeral. He gave me corned beef leftovers for breakfast on Fridays, off the menu, because he knew I loved them. For more than a decade he allowed my brother a prime corner table, a newspaper and an endless supply of Diet Coke for as long as he wanted it, even when it was crowded and people were waiting. And he told my dad he couldn’t have gravy on his breakfast because he was too fat.
Eddie is the only person I know who could say something like that to my dad, who himself is a bit of a crusty character.
Framed and matted on the wall of Eddie’s was a napkin. “You are the rudest person ever!” was scrawled on it. “This is the worst restaurant we have ever been to!! We will never be back again!!!”
The idea of never going back to Eddie’s is breaking my heart , even as my brother wanders Broadway looking for the endless supply of Diet Coke and community that was Eddie’s, and will never be again.