Eat at Joe’s
Small-town charm and home cooking just off the beaten path
Jitterbug Joe’s9408 Midway
Durham, CA 95938
Durham (pop. 5,000), Chico’s quiet southern neighbor, is a town of ranchers and farmers, and proud of it. Nestled among a few shops, across from an empty lot housing a taco wagon, sits Jitterbug Joe’s. Passing through the small community one Saturday, I saw the roadside sign advertising burgers and pizza, and stopped in for a quick bite.
The restaurant has been around for a while (three years as Jitterbug Joe’s), but came under new ownership about a year ago. Barbara Gehring and Steve Atworth, friends who moved from the Bay Area to run Jitterbug Joe’s, are enamored of Durham and happy to serve the small “family-oriented” community. As Gehring puts it: “It feels nice here.”
The harsh red-and-yellow interior belies the cheerful charm that makes the small café a sweet little place to have a simple, country breakfast or lunch. I ordered up a sandwich and sat down to wait. Sandwiches are made to order, with a choice of meats, cheeses and breads.
I ordered a Black Forest ham and cheddar sandwich, with lettuce, tomato and mayo on a ciabatta roll, and made it a “meal deal,” which consists of a sandwich and choice of chips, potato salad or three-bean salad with a can of soda, iced tea or 12-ounce coffee. A fantastic sandwich it was, and a great price, too.
The menus are basic, composed of simple sandwiches and standard breakfast and lunch fare; meals that in their simplicity offer sustenance, as well as a nostalgic throwback to childhood and mom-made after-school sandwiches.
As the train whistle sounded, I sipped my coffee and glanced at the breakfast menu on the wall. An English muffin with egg and sausage runs $2.50, a breakfast burrito is $3.25, and toast will set you back 75 cents. I made up my mind to come back for an early repast—after all, breakfast, like a sandwich, is always better when someone else makes it.
A friend and I drove up to Durham early in the day, marveling at the emerging almond blossoms in the morning mist. If you make the drive from Chico on the Midway, be sure to glance out the window while you’re on the overpass. A sea of pink blossoms extends as far as the eye can see, seemingly to the tree line below the still snow-covered mountains. It’s a breathtaking view we valley dwellers often take for granted, among other simple joys in life, like unadorned, good food.
Our breakfast sandwiches (egg and cheese on wheat toast for $3.25) were perfect with a hot mocha ($3.25). Coffee is supplied by Hansen Coffee out of Oakland. Having worked for the company for more than 20 years, his loyalty to the family-run roastery is obvious. He proudly explained that Hansen has been in operation for more than 100 years, is still run by the same family and is still housed in the original building.
I’ve made the drive to Durham several times, and have enjoyed a delicious tuna melt ($4.95), a huge piece of homemade lasagna ($4.95) and a great cheese sandwich ($4.95). Various donuts, cookies, breads and pastries grace the counter, and some other small desserts and sides are available, but for the most part Jitterbug Joe’s should be known for its sweet, small-town atmosphere and simple breakfast and lunch options.
The care the owners take is obvious, and I noticed that every customer is greeted with a smile, and most by name. Gehring is cheerful and kind, like a nice aunt who makes all of your favorite sandwiches.
The last time I was in, we talked about the charms of small-town life. She smiled shyly and said something that I thought summed up the welcoming feel of the small café quite nicely: “I like the farmers. I like everybody.”