Flabob Airport Café
Maybe it was the fact that I was visiting a friend in a town where I'd spent twenty years of my life. Maybe it was the fact that I was seeing my childhood streets of Riverside for the first time in ages. Perhaps it was the nostalgia that comes with surroundings you once knew as "the world," and return to like James Gatsby. I noticed every building that wasn't there anymore, and the missing vacant lots that were once filled with mounds of dirt that I jumped religiously with my Schwinn Stingray.
I came back "home" because my friend Drew told me about a place that he'd stopped in one early morning -- a place I'd passed years before but had forgotten about -- the Flabob Airport Cafe in Rubidoux. Riverside and Rubidoux are the kind of places that once you leave, chances are you won't return, unless you moved to Turlock or Lodi. Thank god I didn't move to either.
Riverside is a burgeoning urban sprawl that boasts a UC campus, Mt. Rubidoux (which Riversiders count on to catch fire every fourth of July), with a county population growth unmatched in California. Imagine that. Liking it already, huh? But wait, there's more.
As I descended into the valley of Riverside from Moreno Valley (no kidding), it's like beginning an entrance into Dante's seven levels of hell. As you approach Riverside, a veil of smog appears on the horizon, which rests neatly over the Riverside valley like a greasy old baseball cap.
The nostalgia began when I reached Drew's neighborhood, in downtown. If there's any charm to this town, you'll find it downtown where the side streets are one-way and the houses are early 1900s, when citrus was the cash crop. Drew and I talked about who was and wasn't around anymore, who was dead and who's still fighting, just like your grandpa and his old geezer buddies did when you were at an age when you swore you'd never get old. Ha!
About 11:00 am (Sunday), we decided to head for the cafe. Driving through the neighborhood to Flabob airport was like entering 1920s working class America. Small houses with small gated yards, the neighborhood had charm. But add brown, dead lawns, weeds in full control, cars lifted on blocks at every third house, and one house with a year-round garage sale -- you get the idea.
Down the short, un-sidewalked street, and a soft curve to the right, and the old airport buildings crouched ahead like old men and women leaning on their walkers and canes. Above, blue sky peered through masses of gray haze, which hung over the valley like an abandoned, moldy towel. A boarded-up brick building on the right, which used to be a nightspot in the '50s, was now a desert of weeds, dead palm trees and crumbling brick. On the left, a rusted chain link fence stood sentinel between us, a dirt field and the airport runway. Straight ahead, the Airport Cafe, overshadowed by the airport hanger whose busted windows and peeling paint gave a warm glow of "welcome to Flabob."
Walking into the cafe, I knew this place was different. Different from what, I don't rightly know. Just different. Inside, everything was old. Steel military folding chairs, barstools with their seat cushions held tight by layers of duct tape, and menus in plastic, chock-full of spellings like "Biscuts and Gravy" and "Dinner Roles." The best part, though, was the line drawing pictures of old aircraft on the menu. Definitely.
Quick service by the waitress, and we sat looking at all the old, plastic framed 8x10 pictures on the walls. On the north wall, an old 40 foot x 5 foot mural of a cattle round-up was eerily peeling up from the brick. Just below the mural, two old guys in wrinkled button-up shirts and dirty ball caps were talking, about airplanes I imagined .
Just as breakfast was served, a prop plane taxied and went for lift-off. We had prime seats, and took in every bit of the slow waning whap-whap-whap of the propeller as the wings disappeared into the gray. By the atmosphere of the Flabob Cafe, you might think the B&G would be gustatory bad news. How wrong! I tell you, when brought to the table, this was the finest looking plate of B&G I've ever witnessed. Served up like a fine steak dinner, there was a large oval Iron Stone dish piled thick and high with B&G, and underneath was another Iron Stone plate for aesthetics. And damn if it didn't work. If I'd of had my camera, I'd have taken a picture. Get the picture? Good, 'cause now it's time to dig in.
Thick, fresh biscuits. Gravy so thick that eating fast is a necessity, otherwise it'll get hard like Jello. And if it didn't have some of the finest B&G flavors, well, I'll be damned. Strong on sausage, tempered by a subtle sweetness that I still savor the thought of. And so much food that I was feeling hale and hardy.
So after breakfast, I did what any nostalgic, biscuit and gravy eatin' ex-Riversider would do: climbed Mt. Rubidoux. Yep. Me and Drew parked at the bottom and hit the paved trail. Quite a trek, too. Two miles walking. And taking the short cuts, it was a mile down. Not only did we work off our tasty breakfast, but at the top of Mt. Rubidoux, we watched aircraft land on the Flabob airstrip. In fact, we were higher than the planes. That's quite some feeling, when you're higher than a flying airplane. Add to that, the birds and other wildlife critters, and it became an unexpectedly decent day. Something about the planes in flight, nature at my boot heels, and seeing the world from a thousand or so feet. Well. You figure it out.
If you feel like the best B&G you'll find around, give the Flabob Airport Cafe a try. You'll see the world differently that day. Also, give Mt. Rubidoux a go. And remember to keep an eye out for the burnt spots. They're from the last fourth of July.
On the B&GQ rating scale, the Flabob places high on the hog with a full three plates and two coffees.