Suddenly, last spring, I found myself on the receiving end of a bright pink, occasional newsletter called Doc'n Sandy's Saticoy Sentinel. The Sentinel turned out to be a promotional piece for a place off the Santa Paula Freeway called Doc'n Sandy's Cafe. As soon as I saw it, I knew that I was sure to disagree with the blurb in the upper left corner.
"The food here is so good," it said, "you would think we had kidnaped your Mom and had her working in our kitchen." Mom, I hope you're not reading this. Doc may be working in a cafe-diner behind a gas station, but his cooking outshines yours.
True, my Mom isn't from the Midwest, which is where Doc's cooking seems to come from. And I've got to admit that the cuisine here is similar to some of the food my Mom once cooked. But this seems superior to the stuff I was raised on. Sorry, Mom.
I mean, this is a place with a real hot beef sandwich, open-faced, with mashed potatoes and gravy--lots of each. Not a hot roast beef sandwich. Just plain beef. It's actually pot roast, a tender one, with that slightly stringy pot roast texture. The gravy's the kind you used to get at the truck stops that once dotted U.S. 66. The sandwich is, of course, served on doughy white bread. Some days there is a similar special--a wonderful pot roast served with noodles.
You can't go to a restaurant like this more than a couple of times without trying the chicken fried steak. Not if you have any sense. It comes in a gently fried, heavy, seasoned breading, with its own mass of mashed potatoes and gravy. Same gravy, same mashed potatoes.
The fellow turning out this food back in the kitchen is Howard (Doc) Jarvis. Sandy is Sandy Jarvis, Doc's wife. "Seems like he's been cooking forever," the waitress said when I asked. She said Doc opened here 13 years ago. Now he does just about all of his own cooking--even the baking.
If Doc's food sounds a little heavy-handed, stay with me through the omelet. Doc knows how to handle his eggs. One day I dropped in for breakfast and, although I'm not necessarily an omelet lover, I tried his California version. It's at least three eggs, stuffed with chili, salsa, cheese, green peppers and onions. The flavors melt together, but the most savory thing in this model is that its edges are slightly crisp while the remainder is cooked softly enough to avoid that dreaded rubbery texture omelets so often have. Even better, it is served with crisp, cubed, heavily fried, almost but not quite burned potatoes on the side, as well as biscuits and gravy. This is an omelet that would be at the top of any omelet-lover's list.
And Doc's restaurant would make anybody who cares about value truly happy. A person can eat well here for $6. If, that is, you don't order the apple pie, which tacks on another $1.85. It's money well-spent; the pie is high and heavy, perhaps just a tiny bit too sweet, crammed with firm apples and heavy sauce in a crust that shows its Midwestern origins.
Eating at Doc's makes you realize that Middle America is alive and well. And some of it, at least, hangs out at Doc's in Saticoy--even though the address actually says Ventura.
* WHERE AND WHEN
Doc'n Sandy's Cafe, 11033 Citrus Drive, Ventura, (805) 647-2619. Open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., Saturday 7 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. No liquor, no reservations, no credit cards. Meal for two, $14-$20.