The main dining room at Jerry's is more popular because there's vitality and action in the tobacco-friendly room. The solemn, smoke-free section is diner Siberia. In a society that's increasingly intolerant of smokers, restaurateur Jerry Naster has turned the tables metaphorically, anyway so that his regular customers, predominantly smokers, aren't made to feel like outcasts.
The main dining room is big enough that wafting smoke shouldn't be an issue anyway, but the interesting thing is that most diners don't appear to be firing up any early-morning Camels with their first cups of coffee. Even the woman in overalls who'd been sitting across from me (she looked like Gravel Gertie in the old Dick Tracy comic strip) had a box of Marlboro Reds on the table, right next to her white mug of joe, but she never lit up.
As a former smoker who couldn't put a lucid sentence together before my morning coffee and cigarette fix, I was impressed by Gertie's discipline. On the other hand, I was sorely disappointed in my own lack of will when it came to ordering breakfast that morning. I'd intended to eat something light and healthy oatmeal with toast, maybe. In the next booth, a trio of lithe, bleary-eyed twentysomethings had requested oatmeal, and the waitress had hammered them with questions: "Do you want milk with that? Brown sugar? Butter? Raisins?"
OK, so their hot cereal was probably less healthy after they accessorized it with all of the above, but it was a lot more nourishing than my plate of biscuits and gravy, a bacon-and-cheese omelet that was nearly bigger than my shoe, an equally hefty pile of hash browns, and buttered wheat toast. It would have been the perfect breakfast if I'd left Jerry's to go to my job as a construction worker or carpenter, I suppose. As a lazy writer, it was a scandalously indulgent way to start the day I probably would have been better off with a cig and coffee.
But what the hell, it had been five years since I'd eaten one of Naster's oversized omelets, back when he was still in his original café on Woodswether Road, just off the curvy Woodswether viaduct. I loved that smaller, smokier venue, which was easy to spot because of the graffiti-inspired murals on its concrete-block walls: cartoon eggs with vampire fangs and killer cabbages.
When Naster moved to his bigger location on Ninth Street last year, he hired the same artist to create two murals on the red-brick walls on both sides of the building. When I called for directions to the new place, the waitress patiently explained the route from 12th Street. "You can't miss it," she said. "There are aliens painted on the building."
Well, the aliens are on the west side of the building. On the east side, facing the parking lot, is an artistic homage to The Blues Brothers, complete with a hot dog that looks like Dan Aykroyd, a burger with John Belushi's face, four chickens getting electrocuted and an egg saying "Think," the tune that Aretha Franklin playing a waitress sings in that movie.
The building's front door is heavy green metal not your typical restaurant entrance. The first time I walked in, I half-expected to see Marilyn Chambers on a trapeze. Not that I ever saw that vulgar old '70s porno film or anything.