The blinds are always down at Stewart's Busy Apron in Anaheim, but not to keep out the sun. This is the diner version of that sign on The Simpsons outside the retirement home announcing to visitors, "Thank You for Not Discussing the Outside World," for here is a museum piece. The design scheme is painted china plates and late-1960s Western murals, with stained-glass lanterns seemingly stolen from a Round Table lighting the room even during the day. It's the type of place where middle-aged women take their elderly parents to eat, where a breakfast special is mini boxes of corn flakes that you empty into a bowl, then drown in milk. Ask for fresh orange juice, and a woman presses a button from a faded Sunkist machine with fonts out of a Farrell's Ice Cream parlor in its original incarnation.
Along with the La Palma Chicken Pie Shop, Busy Apron is the last gasp of old Anaheim, one of three restaurants in my hometown that I can remember standing since elementary school (the other one is just up East Street: El Nopal #2). But unlike those other two stalwarts, Busy Apron has seen better days. The outside is faded—indeed, most Anaheimers don't even know it's called Busy Apron because a battered sign reading, "Stewart's Coffee Shop" still looms over its empty parking lot. Doesn't matter: This is my go-to place when I want cheap, fast, filling American classics—liver and onions I douse with Tapatío; chicken-fried steak sandwiches that sing of grease and salt; omelets and steak specials; epic pancakes that come as pigs in a blanket or in stacks, all fluffy and perfect. The Reconquista never came here, since the most ethnic thing here is hibachi chicken. For chrissakes, watermelon slices are still handed out with hamburgers as a free dessert.
Stewart's Busy Apron, 1221 E. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 533-4290.
But the blinds can't keep modernity away too long. The current owner is a Chinese woman who sneaks in egg-flower soup as a special from time to time; the head waitress is a hip Chicana with a large tattoo on her bicep; the guys making those old-school plates are all Mexicans comfortable enough in knowing their clients know so little Spanish that they can openly curse to one another when the crowds are small, as they usually are. How long will Busy Apron last? Who knows? But when the daily special is biscuits, gravy, hash browns, and bacon or sausage hovering around $4, you know the place is legit.