You want to sit right behind Darren Patrick at the grill because what he’s doing with eggs and batter and toast and every kind of breakfast meat is surely as skilled as anything Nadia Comaneci ever performed on the tumbling mat. Your devoted correspondent is there on a November Sunday at 8 a.m. when one of the many morning rushes was taking place (the diner opens at 6:30).
Darren has two salami-studded omelets spread out on the giant fry slab. They're the shape and size of deflated beach balls, and when he flips them once-twice-thrice into the classic burrito-bulked omelet, you realize that if only you could prepare something like that yourself at home, you’d be pestered with half-a-dozen proposals of marriage per week.
To the left of Darren’s grill sit foam cartons of eggs, dozens of ‘em, and to the right an impressive mound of blanched bacon. I just learned this term, blanched. All restaurants blanch their bacon – not sure how they do it; maybe with peroxide, or time in a tanning bed, or having a priest say a blessing over stacks of raw bacon. In any event, this keeps the strips salubrious, although they look fresh off the mandolin cutters for the chef’s next bacon order. Darren also has piles of linguica (I asked a friend of Portuguese descent if you spelled linguica with a French cedilla on the c, but he had no clue, which is fine, because I have no idea how to produce it on my keyboard) C-slash-option c? Like ç . . . ?! Holy moly! This is a major breakthrough! Excuse me a sec while I go smoke a celebratory cigarette.
I don’t really smoke. But I’m eçtremely pleaçed with myçelf.
Darren also has heaps of sausage, ham, and steak to work with. At the back of the grill, foothills of gorgeously sautéed potato cubes stay warm. As soon as that stack gets parceled out to plates, Darren whips up a new batch, fricassee-ing them with his long stainless steel spatula, with the muscle memory of a pianist over a Mozart sonata.
Dock Street is the kind of hole in the wall, greasy spoon, old-time dive that all of us yearn to have in our town, in our hood. The kind of old-timey joint that serves up all the American classics, and you better believe that hash browns and scrambled eggs and pancakes with maple syrup are as crucial to world cuisine as sushi and beef Wellington and pasta putanesca.
This tiny café consists of nothing but a counter and a dozen red-vinyl upholstered stools. A red front door and a window with nine small panes gives the impression that no one’s home until you enter and see the joint is jumping. In August there’s a line outdoors. The diner has been serving the American culinary dream for decades, and for the past two of those it’s been owned by Mary Sobel.
On the morning I visit, Mary’s daughters, Janey, 24 and Sophie, 23, are on hand to waitress. Two more sibs, Emily, 22, and Isaac, 17, also crew for the boss-lady, all of them landing their first stints as dish-washers the minute their little heads crowned the sink, around the age of 9. Chef Darren, whose father Don Patrick previously owned the café, began with the dishwashing gig at 10, then graduated to chef work at the tender age of 13.
By 8:30 all the seats accommodate human derrieres, and Janey tells me all are regulars except for the nice couple at the end closest to the door. “We’re tourists!” they say cheerfully, “But we were told on no uncertain terms we had to come here!” Guess they’re regulars of the future.
And do lots of people who come time and again also order the same thing time and again? “Oh yes,” affirms a grey-haired lady in a pink sweatshirt and olive green cap. “I always get the Port Mac. The Port Mac, for those of you who happen to be entirely ignorant of this subject, consists of fried eggs on linguiça resting on an English muffin, the eggs themselves running in such a way that a harmonic convergence of taste explodes in the eater's mouth, or so I've been told, although not in so many words.
My friend who has taken me to Dock Street, a regular of some 37 years, invariably orders the Number One: Two eggs, sausage, home fries, toast. When asked if he’s ever requested anything else, he answers, “The omelet is excellent. I had it once for my birthday.” The young man seated to my right and who wears a yellow hoodie with the top, even indoors, wrapped like a shroud around his skull (is this the latest style?), eats a plain omelet smeared with strawberry jelly. "Yes, I order this every time," he answers, without revealing his face.
Finally, what Vineyard hang-out would be deserving of its street cred without celebs dropping by from time to time. Darren says Adam Sandler popped in for lunch last summer with his son. “He had a hot dog.” According to one of the regulars, Bill Clinton has graced them with his company. Wonder if this was before or after his conversion to veganism? If so, no linguinça for this popular prez!
All right already, I’ll stop with the French çedilla; I’m just so psyched about it!
What other High Profilers have shown up? Well, there was Luke Wilson, Drew Barrymore and Meg Ryan. Also, your Gossip Girl maintains, contrary to other press reports, Lady Gaga has indeed built a house on Chappaquiddick, possibly fronted by the businessman whose name presides on the new deed, but the driveway leading down to Cape Pogue Bay is now cordoned off at the top with orange-webbed fencing, and if this isn’t a sign of pop star incognitonymity, I don’t know what is.
So, yeah, as a breakfast joint for folks living on Chappy who wake up with a craving and needing a maestro like Darren to make them breakfast, we’ve definitely got to add Lady Gaga to the list. Without wigs, spiked heels, war-paint and steak-tartare costumes (Darren could do some fancy cooking with her meaty mini-skirt), Gaga could pass as any ol’ Island gal ordering up the Number Two (Eggs, home-fries, cup of juice, coffee, and toast).