Art’s Corner Cafe  
1907 E. Thompson Blvd
$2 – $10

Every neighborhood needs a corner cafe. You know the kind — the one with the laid-back vibe, the one where you can show up solo with your newspaper or with a pack of friends. The kind of place where the servers know most of their customers by name, and where the food is consistently good and comforting.

Open since 1998, Art’s Corner Cafe is one of these places, gracing the neighborhood around Ventura’s Thompson Boulevard with a place to go when your appetite, your need for home cooking or a good friend calls.

The vibe at Art’s Corner Cafe is no-frills; booths and tables fill two small dining rooms and the plain walls are plastered with framed caricatures of customers created over the years by local artist Chris Martinez.

Open for breakfast and lunch, Art’s menu boasts typical diner fare, but with a broad selection of burgers (even one topped with pastrami), sandwiches both hot and cold (think patty melts, egg salad and even a meatloaf melt), hot entrees like country-fried steak, omelets and egg dishes, and at least five different varieties of pancakes.

When asked about his best sellers, owner Art Hawkins says, “Everything sells … and if it didn’t, my menu wouldn’t be so extensive.” On the menu you’ll also find Art’s own recipe for chili verde, his father’s chili recipe, and the well-known Corner Cakes, a dish his mother used to make when he was a child. Art even grinds meat for his own sausage and creates his own seasoning mixture for the flavorful patties.

Our first experience with Art’s was when we stopped in for burgers at lunchtime. Now these aren’t your typical greasy spoon kind of burgers — they are served on homemade buns, made fresh daily. The buns are thick and pillowy, with the texture of a soft dinner roll you might slather with butter at Thanksgiving dinner. The burger itself is juicy, with those crisp brown edges that can only be perfected on a screaming-hot flattop. As we dove in, I was trying to remember the last time I had a burger this simple and this good.

Having noticed the tantalizing selection of pancakes on the breakfast menu, it was only a matter of days before we went back during the breakfast hour. Since there were four of us, we ordered a bunch of dishes to share: a short stack of those Corner Cakes, the buttermilk pancakes, the German pancakes, and a meatloaf omelet.

Not surprisingly, all of the pancakes were divine. The buttermilk pancakes were thick yet light, fluffy and infused with the lovely flavor of butter. And as you can imagine, the addition of warm maple syrup elevates them yet another level.

Art’s Corner Cakes are unique because they are thin (think somewhere between crepe and pancake), and cooked on the griddle until the crust begins to turn dark brown. We finished them with butter and syrup, and enjoyed their slightly firm texture and not overly sweet taste.

The German pancakes are also thin, but made of a different batter that yields a golden brown pancake with crispy edges that beg to be broken off and eaten before the plate even hits the table. The stack of three dinner plate-size cakes is finished with a dusting of powdered sugar and served with lemon wedges that once squeezed turn the sugar into a sweet lemony glaze.

On the savory side, the meatloaf omelet was hearty, flavorful and unique. The three-egg omelet was filled with chunks of Art’s meatloaf and folded around slices of pepper-jack cheese, giving it a hint of spice. It can be ordered with the addition of green chiles, but we abstained.

The egg dishes come with a choice of potatoes and a choice of bread. We opted for biscuits and gravy and crunchy O’Brien potatoes mixed with peppers and onions. The biscuits came two to a plate, and were smothered in thick white gravy. The portion was so large, it could have been a stand-alone entree. The biscuits were dense and the gravy so rich, it was a bit much for a side dish given the expansive pancake buffet we had set before us.

Over breakfast, we sipped mugs of coffee. It’s nothing too memorable, but remember, this isn’t a fancy schmancy coffee house. This is a cafe where food and comfort reign supreme.

I’ve lived in Ventura for seven years now, and I could kick myself for just now having found Art’s. It’s the kind of place that when you leave, you are already planning your next visit. As for me, next time I’ll be ordering that meatloaf melt.

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