To get to Penny’s Café from the Hotel le Marais, where I am staying, you take N. Rampart past the Louis Armstrong Park, following the curve of the Mississippi through the Lower Ninth Ward and into St. Bernard Parish, until you get to Violet.
There’s not much to Violet, Louisiana. There’s the old Our Lady of Lourdes Church, which has been boarded up ever since the storm surge from Hurricane Katrina topped the levee and destroyed the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet Canal, and maybe there’s a dollar store or two, and then there’s Penny’s Café.
On a wall next to the bathrooms at Penny’s is a photo taken after the hurricane hit on August 29, 2005. The photo shows what looks like a pitched roof sitting in the middle of a lake. That roof is Penny’s which was still under about 12 feet of water three weeks after the hurricane had passed. It’s hard to believe a business could come back from something like that, but here it is, still serving the #2 breakfast special, which is what I had—two eggs any style, sausage, bacon, or ham, grits or hashbrowns for $3.99.
The waitress, Bebe, calls me Honey. “Honey, you want sausage, bacon, or ham? I think the sausage is best.”
“Link or patty? I’d go for the links, honey.”
“Grits or hashbrowns?”
“Honey, you want coffee?”
You look around Penny’s and it looks like a Coca-Cola museum. There are Coca-Cola trays on the walls and Coca-Cola clocks and old Coca-Cola signs. Even the salt and pepper shakers are in the shape of small Coca-Cola bottles. Obviously Penny (who is in the back yelling at the cook) has a thing for Coca-Cola.
You can’t be in a rush for breakfast at Penny’s. Bebe will get to you when she gets to you, but there are a lot of other customers here, wanting their banana pancakes and their crab cakes with gravy and their crawfish omelettes. It all takes time. Which is just fine by me. It’s what I came to Penny’s for in the first place. Just to relax and sip endless cups of coffee. Like everybody else here.
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