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Circuit Court Sacramento

Jim-Denny's
816 - 12 Street
Sacramento, CA
Monday-Friday 7AM-3PM
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Jim Dennys Wall

1/30/03

Reader-eaters, I just got back from Twin Falls, Idaho. For those of you who haven't studied your geography, Twin (as the locals say) is a smallish town in the South Central part of the state. The setting is dramatic: treeless high desert, dry and cold, and the sky is spectacular. Plus it's perched right on the edge of the Snake River's plunging canyon, which -- I don't know what that crazy Evil Knievel was thinking -- is enormous. It's a town of kind people, unlocked doors, wholesome-looking teenagers, etc.

But all is not well in Twin Falls. I sensed it when I drove into town. There was an unsettling sameness to the restaurants lining the main drag. No odd shaped buildings, no slightly unprofessional looking signage. Of course, this is expected for fast food, but it seemed to apply to the not-so-fast kind as well. The whole place looked like it had been focus-grouped, and by the same bunch of people. Chain upon chain. But heck, I figured there must be some back road with great BBQ or Mom is cooking Mexican. Homemade apple pie! But no. My friend Scout, the reason I was in Twin to begin with, sadly informed me that the town has almost no independently owned, mom and pop style places to eat anymore. Twin Falls has succumbed to the siren call of complete quality control, of knowing exactly how your food will taste every place you go. Scout said that chain-ification is the trend in small towns all over the USA, and unfortunately she is a college professor who tends to have her facts right.

Now whether this is morally wrong is debatable. However, it certainly makes for a blander eating experience overall. I confess I was shocked by the pervasiveness of the condition. Thank goodness it has not happened in my neck of the woods. Perhaps the dumpier -- err, more colorful neighborhoods I tend to live in are immune from this kind of improvement. I pray they stay that way.

Slightly out of whack when I returned home to Sac, I fled to Jim-Denny's: the antidote to all things corporate.

Out front.About the size of a boxcar, Jim-Denny's has been in its present location since the end of WW2, but it was founded even earlier, in 1936. It has accumulated many fans over the years. The cash register is original, and so, importantly, is the grill. It has been seasoning this entire time! According to Jim-Denny's literature, this is "the secret flavor ingredient no other restaurant can duplicate." Most things served here pass over the grill at some point -- the menu includes hot dogs, burgers of various sizes including "the old-fashioned 5 cent burger," grilled cheese, patty melts, cheese steaks, and also breakfast between 7 and 11AM, which is the time to go if you want to occupy one of the 10 counter seats. If you go there for lunch, you will be standing for at least half your visit. That may not sound so great, but actually, it's part of the fun. A crowded party is always more fun than a deserted one, isn't it? And that's what it's like in Jim-Dennys. It's like a party, or a really good bar, except instead of ordering vodka THE GRILLgimlets, you order burgers. Strangers talk to one another. Construction workers muscle through to pick up their phone orders. There is an air of excited bonhomie. Just about the time you decide to get it "to go" some people who are actually seated at the counter get up and there you are, face to face with the grill, the milkshake machine, and 60 years worth of cartoons and humorous hand lettered signs: "Cones: single $1, married $2" and "Our credit manager is Helen Waite. If you want credit, go to Helen Waite!" In reality, I think the credit manager is Bonnie, also serving as grill-mistress extraordinaire. She is mesmerizing to watch, a magician. Without turning around from the grill, she keeps all the orders straight plus the locations of those who placed them, and considering the lunchtime throng at Jim-Denny's, this is no small feat. "Pass this to Javier in the corner." I can't even see Javier through the crowd, but she knows, she knows.

And the burger: Yes, it's great. If you order one of the numbered lunches, it comes with a fountain drink and fries, too, which is good value. I've also had grilled ham and cheese, and a two egg breakfast that really hit the spot.

Burger QuestI visited Jim-Denny's most recently in an official capacity, as a member of the "Burger Quest" investigative team. BQ is a group of inquiring minds, united by their status as City of Sac employees, and their desire to find "the perfect manifestation of the all-American meal." They are led by the ebullient Mr. Chipman, who is a visionary. His vision is this: a comprehensive study of burgers available in the greater Sacramento area. The destinations number more than 20, nearly all of which are mom and pop style places. Yes, that's a lot of ground to cover, but BQ is focused and relentless. When a large enough dataset has been gathered, the data will be processed, analyzed, and published, which should be a snap for this group of IT professionals. Mr. Chipman and myself, being like-minded in many ways, have reached a tentative agreement to make the results of this analysis available on the Füd Court. Important research like this may make it possible for towns all over American to mitigate the Twin Falls effect. In the meantime, do your part! Find some little hole-in-the wall in your neighborhood and give it a chance. It could be the next Jim-Denny's.

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Contact Magistrate Louise at lasqueeze777@yahoo.com

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