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COUNTER INTELLIGENCE

Home of the Weasel

August 22, 1996|RUSS PARSONS | TIMES DEPUTY FOOD EDITOR

On any weekend morning, Chuck's Coffee Shop, a breakfast-and-lunch place in Long Beach's Belmont Shore neighborhood, is full to bursting, with crowds spilling onto the sidewalk.

There they sit, sip coffee, read the newspaper and talk about the night before. Eventually they'll make it inside the breezy, sunny dining room, and then they'll eat. And boy, will they eat.

For whatever reason, the ocean and big breakfasts seem to go together like, well, salsa and eggs. Up and down Southern California, every little beach town has its breakfast spot, which usually specializes in the kind of food you'd think would normally be eaten only by lumberjacks and long-distance truck drivers.

The crowd at Chuck's is ecumenical in a particularly Long Beach way. It's likely to be roughly one-third college, one-third retired and one-third in between. Half seem to have arrived on bicycles or in-line skates.

For the past 32 years, the restaurant has been run by Chuck Tinkler. If you come by on the weekends, he'll be the middle-aged gentleman in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt who's stopping at every table to gab. He's as loud and friendly as a frat boy and seems like a guy who can scarcely believe his good fortune. Don't look for him on afternoons and weekdays; he's probably out on his boat.

The menu can best be described as advanced college guy. This is noisy, big food--plates heaped high and smothered under blankets of salsa and cheese. It's as oversized and unrestrainedly friendly as a St. Bernard puppy, and it's just the thing to get the weekend off with a bang--or to recover from the night before.

No neurasthenic egg-white omelets here; they're three-eggers and bursting with stuff: chiles, beans, tomatoes, onions and cheese. There's a whole list of breakfast burritos, including the "trash can," which seems to sum up the general gestalt of the place.

The most famous dish is the Weasel, which has nothing to do with Pauly Shore apart from being something he might have eaten in "Son-in-Law." Scrambled eggs, spicy beans, grated onions and cheese--the Weasel is basically for people who really want a chili dog for breakfast but can't bring themselves to order one.

None of this may sound terribly appetizing, but it works in a sort of enthusiastic "let's clean out the refrigerator" way. No one would ever mistake Chuck's for fine dining, but then that's not the point, is it? The glory of these breakfasts is gusto, not finesse.

Take the "trash can" burrito, for example, a quarter-pound of ground beef mixed with refried beans and cheese. Even better is the Santa Fe scramble--a mess of eggs cooked with jalapen~os, tomatoes and cheese, the whole wrapped in a tortilla, topped with salsa and sour cream and served with refried beans.

The Tex Mex is based on the classic south Texas breakfast dish called migas, eggs scrambled with torn-up corn tortillas, beans and salsa (think of it as matzo brei with a drawl--and flavor).

Everything might be better if they used fresh chiles and beans cooked on the premises, rather than the canned alternatives, or if they served real home-fries instead of those weird little silver-dollar French fries.

But hardly anybody seems to notice. They sit and eat and soak up the pleasant roar of the place and then they go on their weekend way to swim, bike, skate, play volleyball, work in the yard or--most likely--take a nice nap in the sun.

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WHERE TO GO

Chuck's Coffee Shop, 4120 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. Open daily for breakfast and lunch. Beer and wine. Street parking. Cash only. Takeout available. Lunch for two, $10-$15.

Suggested dishes: The Weasel, Santa Fe scramble, Tex Mex.

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