Thunder down under
Henri bellies up to the breakfast bar at Morning Thunder
Morning Thunder Cafe352 Vallombrosa Ave.
Chico, CA 95926
Because Henri insists on absolute honesty and truthfulness, he must make a little confession: For his first year and a half or so in Chico he resisted dining at the Morning Thunder Café. Not because of anything he’d heard—or read!—about the little restaurant, but because of the memories the name itself brought back: Once in the early ‘90s, I accompanied L. to Albuquerque for a conference on American Indian health issues. One morning, after a long night of margaritas, carne adovada and green-chile stew, L. bestowed upon me my very own Indian name: “Morning Thunder.” Originally thrilled and honored to actually be named after an American Indian god, I was soon disappointed to learn that that wasn’t L.'s intent. Though I countered with the sobriquet “Breakfast Burrito,” it somehow did not have the same effect.
Soon, however, after passing by and seeing the crowds waiting outside to be served, I figured I should give it a try. I’ve been a regular ever since. I absolutely adore sitting at the counter with a nice hot breakfast, a good book (I’m currently rereading the wonderful bio Starring Miss Barbara Stanwyck), and a split of champagne ($2.75). What better way to start the day?
Of course, the food is wonderful, but Henri is especially impressed with the staff: smiling, friendly, helpful and full of youthful energy. The waitresses seem to know half the customers by name and the rest they treat as if they did. They also seem to sense instinctively when I’m in the mood to chat and when I’d rather be left alone.
My first few visits, I dutifully jotted my name down on the clipboard list and waited patiently for my name to be called (though the charming hostesses usually struggled a bit with the pronunciation). I soon learned, however, that there was almost always space at the counter, and that the other diners there would usually make more room once they saw how much I needed. One nice man was kind enough one time to offer me a second stool, but I insisted that, appearances to the contrary, I can usually make the proper adjustments to fit on one.
In addition to the traditional waffles, French toast, biscuits and gravy, omelets and other egg dishes, Morning Thunder serves up its own versions of classics, including several different egg-and-toasted-bagel specials, with combinations of bacon, ham, avocado and different cheeses ($6.95). It also has a huge plate of huevos rancheros ($7.95), as well as hot cereals ($3.75-$4.25), a fresh-fruit bowl ($5.75) and a reportedly excellent breakfast burrito ($6.95).
But be forewarned: The helpings are enormous! Pancakes hang over the sides of the huge plates, and the piles of country-style potatoes (ask for extra crispy) are formidable, even for moi. In fact, despite Henri’s august appetite, I usually simply order a couple of sides, and it’s more than enough. Often, a side of bacon (4 slices $3.50) and a couple of scrambled eggs ($2.60), along with a steaming cup of French roast is just right. I usually save the champagne for special occasions … like days of the week that start with T or S.
Morning Thunder also serves an excellent lunch, although you won’t as often see the crowds outside waiting to be seated. The delicious burgers and sandwiches ($6.25-$8.50) include soup, salad or French fries, and you can also get main-course salads ($6.25-$7.75), soup ($2.95 for a cup, $3.95 for a bowl), tostadas ($7.25) and nachos ($6.95). Last time I was in, I had a wonderful hot-turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread with Ortega chilies and jack cheese. The salad—sliced carrots, red cabbage, red onion and tomato on a bed of butter lettuce—was bigger than many restaurants’ dinner salads and absolutely divine.