Winner's  circle

Winner's circle

It’s always ‘post-time’ at Rod’s Grill

By Dan O'Heron 01/12/2012

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With the recent opening of Santa Anita Park’s winter meeting, like every season, nearby Rod’s Grill is waiting for me to pull up, slide into a booth and spread out the Daily Racing Form. 
 
While the Form is the only publication in the world that offers hope on a daily basis, the only sure thing on any race day is breakfast here, particularly the kind that comes with eggs. Like a good racing program, contention runs deep. 
 
Hearing the ting of the whisk scuffing three eggs in a pan, it’s lip-licking to mull over 12 gourmet omelet choices. From $5.25 to $7.55, in different combinations, chefs will fold a variety of comfort foods into these fluffy concoctions: bacon, ham, sausage, turkey, chili and cheese, plus mushrooms, avocados, tomatoes, peppers, onions and all the etceteras. A favorite of veteran breakfast lovers, new school race-track enthusiasts who have never tried a real country breakfast can make the grade with eggs that come with either bone-in ham ($7.95), or corned beef and hash ($6.55) — each with hash browns, home fries or fresh fruit and toast or English muffin. And Rod’s gets an “eggs plus” for scrambled eggs with pink and chubby kielbasa Polish sausage ($6.55), or a T-bone steak with eggs ($10.95).
 
Here, poaching is allowed: Two eggs and Canadian bacon in a split, toasted and buttered English muffin with a glossy emulsion of Hollandaise sauce, made just before serving, tastes just the way Julia Child would have it ($7.55).
 
Without much fanfare, except for the “thutter” of a toaster, even drab slices of mass-produced white bread make life richer here. 
Recently, long after I’d taken home two slices with an egg and pork chop order, even cold, they tasted sweet and nourishing. It must be the way they are buttered. And the morning after, a leftover slice wasn’t spoiled by “milk toast,” usually the dullard of all recipes. 
 
As good as they are, one can’t live by toast and eggs alone. While raw eggs add binding power to Rod’s famous Monterey meatloaf, you won’t find them in other popular dishes like the half-soup and half-sandwich combination specials for $5.55 or the $7.95 fried chicken meal, served from noon until they run out. 
 
At Rod’s starting gate, one of the appetizers is a choice of any soup served in a sourdough bread bowl ($4.25). At the finish line, there’s peaches and cream served atop a Belgian waffle.
 
Because the restaurant opens at 6 a.m., dishes like these naturally court the patronage of horse owners and trainers who get up early to see their horses workout. Even weight-watching jockeys show up for lighter dishes, like Egg Beaters, wheat pancakes and diet syrup. Luckily for me, since I am not among these early birds (instead identifying with the worm and sleeping late), Rod’s serves breakfast around the clock. 
 
Despite competition from low-cost franchise eateries and overpriced steak houses, Rod’s stays on the top end of the hourglass after more than 60 years in business by maintaining high standards. Present owner Manny Romero says, “We still operate the old way of cutting and roasting fine USDA meats, roasting our own whole turkey breasts each day and making all of our gravies, sauces and soups from scratch. Many of the most popular creamy salad dressings are also made in our kitchen.”
 
Rod’s opened in 1946 off the historic Route 66 — the “mother road” to Southern California for weary Midwest migrants. While segments of the old highway are gone, and new construction has covered over other stretches, Rod’s remains a notable mark on the trail. But these days, it is also a destination restaurant for many San Gabriel Valley residents and horse players like me. How many? 
 
When I go there, Rod’s is crowded with regulars. I’m sure that the charming and seasoned waitress, Marika, greets customers more like old friends than strangers.
 
Last Saturday at the track, energized by Rod’s pork chops, I laid out a hunk of money on a good looking chestnut horse that was lean in the middle and wide at the hips, with delicate ears split at the tips. Before the race, it appeared big and beautiful. After losing my money, it was a swayback with saddle sores. 
 
Instead of putting my head down, as if about to eat grass like that nag, I went back to Rod’s to recover from my losses. It serves a filet mignon with eggs for $8.95. It’s not on the menu, but just ask Marika.

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