It's a niche in the restaurant industry that used to be well populated--the high-quality coffee shop.
Open both early and late, it was a place to go for a solid breakfast when you just didn't feel like cooking one, for a good and relaxing dinner when you were late getting away from work. No trendy food, just old favorites at reasonable prices.
The best of them were mom-and-pop operations in which 80% or 90% of the customers (as well as the servers) were regulars. They cooked not much differently than you'd do it at home. They made it seem like eating at home, because that's the feeling you came for.
And that's what they still do at Ma Barkers on East 17th Street just east of Newport Boulevard in Costa Mesa.
Ma Barkers follows some of the rules long abandoned by the chains. The owner is usually there, making sure things are going well. The servers hire on and stay on; they're attentive and know their customers. And the kitchen lives up to its slogan: "down-home country cookin'."
The menu is large and offers such traditional fare as meat loaf, beef stew, country fried steak and chicken and dumplings. All are on the list of Blue Plate Specials, all costing $6.25.
There are also large selections of salads, vegetarian dishes, Tex-Mex items, sandwiches and even some pasta.
The secret to Ma Barkers' food is no secret at all: It's made fresh; prepared foods are avoided wherever possible. So when you order ham and eggs for breakfast ($4.95), you a get a big slice of ham that has actually been sliced off a ham in the kitchen, not peeled off a precooked, presliced, prepackaged stack.
And when you order roast turkey and stuffing (another Blue Plate Special), you get slices of white meat from a real turkey that has been roasted in the kitchen. The same real turkey is used in the triple-decker club sandwich ($5.45), making it the treat it was meant to be.
Dinners are complete with the appropriate sides--usually soup or salad, potatoes (the mashed potatoes are the real thing) and vegetables. People 55 and older may order smaller versions of some Blue Plate Specials for $4.95. Nightly specials such as fried chicken or sirloin steak range from $2.95 to $4.25.
Ma Barkers, 154 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa. Open daily, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (714) 646-4303.