Big and Greasy

Photo by Johan VogelIt's morning; I'm in Laguna Beach and in need of cholesterol. This concept is lost on the thin, melanomic beachgoers surrounding me as I pass Main Beach; their breakfast most likely consisted of a thimbleful of cottage cheese and a single blade of wheat grass. They can have their “low-sodium salt substitutes” and cardiacophobia. I seek the type of breakfast that kept pioneers moving through the treacherous passes of the Rocky Mountains in the quest to found this great state of California.

I find salvation across from the Laguna Beach Art Museum on Pacific Coast Highway. There sits a small, picturesque house, enshrined by eucalyptus, that has been converted into one of Laguna's few “locals only” restaurants: the Cottage. This place is usually packed, but it's a hot August morning, and the crowd is concentrated outside. I opt for air conditioning and am seated near a window, out of which I can watch the beautiful people sweat.

The only other indoor diners are an elderly couple who have evidently moved on to lunch. My view of the woman's plate is obscured, but her husband is staring dubiously at the hamburger before him. This is the higher purpose for which a steer is born: to be this succulent, steaming mound of meat spilling out from between a thick, fluffy bun, juices flowing onto the plate. “My,” he says to his wife, still staring at the menacing burger, “they certainly give you a lot of food here, don't they?” I begin to salivate conspicuously as I jerk my attention away from his plate and address the waitress, who is barely restraining a smirk. I realize that I am on my third cup of coffee. She smiles approvingly as I order the country breakfast.

The Cottage has been a fixture in Laguna for 35 years—one of a few locally owned businesses that have survived the onslaught of downtown's development. Newer restaurants have tried to encroach on their business (the neighboring Madison Square Garden N Café is nice), but they rarely comprehend the secret of the Cottage's success: serve good food and lots of it. The comfy chairs and friendly service are nice, as are the charming framed photographs of Laguna's original Greeter (who, if you don't know already, was a bearded local from the '60s who would stand on street corners and wave at people; today, he would be removed to the Orange County Jail), but success really comes down to full, sated bellies.

My own belly begins to quiver in anticipation as the waitress sets down my breakfast. Half the plate is covered in fluffy, perfectly scrambled eggs. Mounds of them are piled unceremoniously next to four links of sausage—each thicker than my thumb. The entire plate is covered in a pepper-spiced country gravy, which hides beneath it—somewhere—two plain biscuits. This is not an aesthetic statement. This is a meal. I take a sip from my fourth cup of coffee and feel my synapses begin to jolt from caffeine stimulation and my arteries clog tighter with each bite. It's at this moment—as I feel my heart contract and release—that I feel an almost guilty euphoria that I can only describe as patriotism.

The Cottage Restaurant, located at 308 N. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, is open Mon.-Thurs., 7 a.m.-4 p.m. N 5-9:30 p.m.; Sat., 4-10:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 a.m.-4 p.m. N 4:30-9:30 p.m. (949) 494-3023. Breakfast for two with buckets of black coffee, $20. All major credit cards accepted.

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