Once upon a time there was a man named Otto. Otto was a grizzled old man when I met him. He wore white duck trousers and a white T-shirt. I remember him wearing a ‘Dixie Cup’ sailor’s cap; but given my youth at the time, that particular memory may be faulty. Otto wanted to open a diner. He found some land mere feet from the railroad tracks. People said he’d be crazy to put a diner there. And so Crazy Otto’s Diner was born.
Originally – before my time – there was a counter. Later, he added a dining room with booths. Later still (I don’t remember if he was still alive then) another dining room and a second kitchen to serve it were added. In the original part there was a bicycle wheel cum Wheel of Fortune. The seats at the counter (and the seats in one booth in the first dining room) were numbered. When a train would pass, the whole building would shake – really shake. The wheel was spun, and whoever was sitting in the winning seat got a free breakfast. In the dining room there was a large model train high up on the wall. I’m told it used to prowl the circumference of the room at one time, but the tracks were too hard to keep free of dust. I don’t remember seeing it run.
Breakfasts were huge. Three eggs, a large mound of freshly-grated hashbrown potatoes, and meat. I always got ham. You know those huge, thick ham steaks with the round bone in the middle? Half of one of those. And biscuits and gravy. Crazy Otto’s had the best gravy. White, with chunks of sausage and bacon. These were the biggest breakfasts I’ve ever seen! And good! With the cost of food rising, the breakfasts were cut to two eggs instead of three; but it was still more than enough.
Otto died when I was still living in Lancaster, but the diner stayed open. Then came the Northridge Earthquake. I was living in L.A. at the time. The next overpass east of me on the 10 fell down. An overpass on the Antelope Valley-to-L.A. freeway system fell down. Lancaster was eventually going to get a MetroRail station, and after the 'quake the plans were accellerated. It would occupy the lot on which Crazy Otto’s stood.
There was some sort of disagreement between the owners of the diner, which resulted in two Crazy Otto’s diners; one on Avenue I in the former Golden Corral building, and one, at Avenue K and 20th Street West, only a mile away from dad’s house. The former kept the ‘home fries’ of the original diner’s second kitchen, and the latter kept the hashbrowns. I preferred the latter.
AFAIK, the diners are still there.
Tell me about the diners in your home town that serve outrageously huge portions, and have very good food. Extra points for quirkiness.
Two honourable mentions: Belisle’s, on Harbor and Chapman in Orange. For 41 years they served enormous portions (although the price was more in line with the serving size than Crazy Otto’s prices were). Their lot was bought out, and is now home to a Joe’s Crab Shack, Outback Steak House, and (I think) a Red Robin. Gotta build those hotels, too, for the Disneyland and Convention crowds!
The second mention is Arlis’s Restaurant in Bellingham. Similar to Otto’s, but without any of the the quirkiness. (Although if you can answer a trivia question, you get a free beverage.)