A veteran restaurateur cooks his way back into life 

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Later she apologized, explaining that it was only her fourth day. "I just moved here from California," she said.

"She'll be in shock when the weather starts getting really cold here," Linda whispered. She'll be in even more shock, I thought, when she learns how some customers leave lousy tips on the breakfast shift — a fact of table-waiting life that I learned the hard way.

The breakfasts here were very good. The pumpkin pancakes, an autumn special, were surprisingly light and delicately spiced — the best pumpkin stack I've tasted in town. My scrambled eggs and corned-beef hash (more beef than potatoes) were satisfying and comforting, although the dry slices of Italian toast were lukewarm, slightly scorched and served unbuttered — a culinary indignity that would be considered downright sacrilegious at a place such as Cascone's Grill.

Richard ordered one of that morning's specials: an overstuffed omelet made with salsa, peppers, cheese, and Jerry's own chorizo sausage. It was big enough for two people to comfortably share, and the chorizo was moderately seasoned and not a bit greasy.

The dining room had a good vibe that day. The customers were mostly older but cheery. So was I after the waitress handed me a mug of java, the perfect coffee for an old-fashioned diner: strong and black and cheap, with that take-no-prisoners kick of high-caliber caffeine. Upscale coffee, the expensive Roasterie kind, for example, is great for grander venues, but I'll take a no-frills brew with eggs and toast. Hell, it doesn't have to taste good; it just has to wake me up.

Jerry's stays open only until 3 p.m., but Naster does offer classic-diner dinner specials until he closes, including fried chicken, pork chops, and liver and onions. The day I went in for lunch with Joseph, we were surprised to see — this was a first for me — the original prices crossed out and cheaper prices handwritten to the side (except for the pork-chop dinner, which was actually a buck more expensive).

I was in the mood for a Reuben sandwich, and Naster delivered, although he used a peppery pastrami instead of traditional corned beef. The pastrami was slightly dry, but it was so effectively doused with his house-made Thousand Island dressing and a heap of mild sauerkraut that it didn't matter. And it was grilled, the way Reubens should be.

Instead of french fries (which I longed for because Naster cuts his own spuds), I ordered a healthier option, the homemade chicken-noodle soup, which had kind of a rustic appeal (thick, eggy noodles, barely peeled carrots) but needed more chicken.

Joseph got the fries with his bacon cheeseburger. Jerry's is a diner, which means you don't get to request a temperature on your burger. I've been to other diners and saloons that let guests choose the cooking temperature, though, and I think Naster should, too. Joe's burger came out well.

Still, it was an impressively big burger. Jerry considers all his burgers to be signature creations. The fries, as fat and long as those clunky old Crayolas, are first-rate when they're served right away and are tongue-searing hot. But thick fries like these can get cold (and flaccid) pretty fast, which reduces some of the enjoyment if you're only halfway through the burger.

Naster's desserts and breakfast pastries are all house-made, including the yeasty (and tasty) cinnamon roll. A decade ago, Jerry's wife baked the pies and cakes. Now Naster bakes the cinnamon rolls himself and pays a friend to make the iced layer cakes and other sweets.

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