Drive down Main Street in downtown Templeton any Sunday morning, and the streets are quiet, stores are closed and people are nowhere to be seen. Except, that is, at the corner of Seventh Street, where a small restaurant called Joe’s Place typically has a dozen or more people waiting outside for as long as 30 minutes to get a table and enjoy what owner Joe Ontiveros calls “the best breakfast in town.”
Joe’s Place is definitely a locals’ place. With old-style comfort foods such as biscuits and gravy, eggs with hash browns and huevos rancheros, breakfast at Joe’s is served from opening at 7 a. m. to closing at 2 p. m. Even during lunch hours, many customers opt for the omelets or one of Joe’s nine different Mexican egg dishes instead of soup and a sandwich.
More than breakfast
But Joe’s is more than just breakfast, so for my first visit I decided to try lunch. With 17 different sandwiches on the menu, ranging from the classic egg salad ($5.95) to a hearty Philly cheesesteak ($8.95), the decision to order wasn’t easy. I finally decided on one of my favorites and a benchmark for a good diner cook, the Reuben ($7.50). Served on thickly sliced rye bread and piled high with lean but moist corned beef plus a generous layer of sauerkraut, the sandwich was hot off the grill and simply heavenly. A choice of potato salad, green salad, fries or a cup of soup came with the sandwich. I went for the potato salad (my diet was blown for the day anyway), and it was creamy, mayo-based and loaded with dill and other herbs.
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My husband ordered another standard diner item, a cheeseburger ($5.75). Joe’s also offers double burgers and double cheeseburgers, but I couldn’t imagine eating more than the single once I saw it. With a thick juicy patty piled high with crunchy lettuce, fresh tomato and sliced onion, it was more than a mouthful. The side of fries was hot out of the fryer, thin and crispy, and lightly sprinkled with seasoned salt.
Joe’s has salads, too. Both the classic chef’s salad ($7.25) and Cobb salad ($7.75) are large and satisfying, but this is not the place to go for a light meal. Joe’s is comfort food at its best, especially at breakfast—which I tried a couple days later.
The breakfast menu is even more difficult to choose from than the lunch. From standard eggs and bacon to Mexican favorites such as chilaquiles and a long list of omelets, every dish sounds tempting, and every serving is huge.
My choice was the traditional Denver omelet ($8.50), a three-egg omelet containing smoky ham, green peppers, onions and lots of melted cheese, all in a golden pillow of eggs. Served with thick rye toast, a crunchy side of hash browns and Joe’s homemade rancheros sauce on top, the omelet was so large that I managed to finish only about half.
A word about Joe’s cooking and the food he serves: He says he never had any formal culinary training and learned everything he knows about cooking from his mother. His mother and father, Esper and Ted, own Lolo’s Mexican Food restaurant in Paso Robles. His exposure to their restaurant and watching his mother cook while growing up began his love affair with cooking.
“Every day was a cooking show,” he said of days at home with his mother.
‘Stuff I like’
Today Joe’s menu and the food he cooks reflects his tastes. “It’s a basic menu, nothing fancy,” Ontiveros said. “It’s all the stuff I like.”
Which brings me finally to “Joe’s World Famous Biscuits and Sausage Gravy.” Only $6.25 for a full serving ($3.50 for half), the plate was overflowing with white gravy seasoned with small chunks of pork sausage, smothering two large homemade biscuits, split in half. These are your grandmother’s biscuits, big, fluffy and melt-in-your-mouth good. It’s a restaurant favorite among the many ranchers who start early in Templeton and Paso Robles, as well as kids who come with their parents and grandparents later in the day.
Joe’s has been open in Templeton for two-and-a-half years. His first restaurant in Paso Robles closed when the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake damaged the building. He has a loyal following of customers and often greets them as they come through the door. An open pass-through from the kitchen to the dining area allows Ontiveros to watch over his customers as he cooks, and they can watch him in action behind the grill.
When asked how he manages to work seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, starting at 7 a. m. each day, he is surprised by the question. “This is what I like to do,”
Ontiveros answers. “I love to cook.”