By Frank Sabatini Jr.
Pancakes the size of Frisbees? You got it. Puffy four-egg omelets stuffed with an array of fillings? Sure thing. Flame-broiled burgers made from fresh Angus beef? Always.
“This feels a lot like the restaurants I remember from back home,” said my southern Missouri dining companion as he gazed over the county-style décor and elongated lunch counter inside Rae’s Cafe. He became even more sentimental when forking into a plate of house-made biscuits smothered in chunky sausage gravy, which he termed as “outstanding.”
The restaurant marks the spot of the former Omelette Factory, which was purchased 3 1/2 years ago by Rae Harris, an East County resident who worked at chain restaurants and a few mom-and-pops for 30 years.
After revamping the menu and bringing in fresh ingredients such as never-frozen potatoes and Angus beef, she recently gave her namesake to the business to better distinguish it from the previous ownership. She also began using coffee mugs featuring the logo of the El Cajon Animal Shelter, of which she is a devoted volunteer.
Four-egg omelets are still a mainstay, although many of them carry different names and specs. Some are new altogether.
The Philly omelet is one of them. It folds in thinly sliced rib-eye, wilted onions and sauteed green bell peppers. Topped with Swiss cheese, it really doesn’t taste like a Philadelphia cheesesteak, but we found the combination of ingredients to be flavorful and well-conceived.
The “green” omelet with broccoli, spinach and avocado was also added by Harris, along with several others that all come with a choice of toast and potatoes. For our Philly omelet, we chose hash browns served in a generous slab. Based on their clean flavor and non-watery texture, it was obvious the spuds are grated fresh onsite.
Arriving about an hour before closing on a Sunday (the restaurant is open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily), both the front and back dining areas were full, due partly because rain had closed the dog-friendly patio. But it is the demand for homey fare, especially on weekends, that fills the house.
While being seated, we passed several parties enjoying irresistibly tanned pancakes. I was immediately sold. (Harris’ signature stuffed croissant French toast would have to wait for another visit.)
A short stack gave us three pancakes, most of which I toted home because of their jumbo size. They were light, fluffy and evenly cooked, just like our omelet, which goes to show the griddle cooks have mastered their craft in what is clearly a high-volume kitchen.
We added a burger to our midday feast after learning the fresh Angus patties are flame-cooked. Served in an airy potato bun, we chose the “classic” topped with melted American cheese, crisp lettuce, ripe tomatoes and a few slices of dill pickle — just an old-fashioned burger sans the trendy fixings or modern-day pretense. Although if you desire a jazzier burger, there’s mushroom-Swiss, Texan-chili, a patty melt, and a Californian garnished with avocado and bacon.
Other breakfast-lunch options include steak and eggs; corned beef hash; huevos con chorizo; eggs Benedict; salads; French dips; crispy Buffalo-style chicken wraps; gyros; and more.
The atmosphere at Rae’s is family-friendly and features an arcade game with a mechanical claw that allows kids to keep playing until they scoop up a prize. The bonus for everyone, however, is the home-style food stamped with a level of heart and soul you won’t find at the chain restaurants.
— Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of ‘Secret San Diego’ (ECW Press) and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.