World War II put a major pinch on just about everything in the food department in Madison Park — not that there was anything wrong with powdered milk, Spam and fake mashed potatoes. 

Riley’s, on 43rd Avenue and Madison Street, catered to shipyard workers ferry-bound for Todd’s Shipyard. It opened at 5 a.m., and since my mother worked there, I had a guaranteed tasty breakfast. No sooner did the doors open that the counter filled with the hungry shipyard workers. In those days, manners did not score high on the survival scale. 

A stack of pancakes, hash browns, eggs, bacon and coffee was $1. Eggs on a raft (poached eggs), cost 50 cents; coffee, 10 cents; coffee refills, 5 cents when you weren’t looking; and the lip burn was free.

 

The ‘Clean-Plate club’

Being a regular at the counter, I became a student of human behavior. One guy held his cup and saucer up to one of the waitresses to fill it with coffee. He poured the hot brew into the saucer, lifted it to his mouth and loudly slurped the now-cooled coffee.

Another fellow, after finishing his meal, stood up and scooped an egg onto his toast and walked away with an egg sandwich. 

I watched another worker mop up what was left of his breakfast with a folded piece of toast. 

Not to be outdone, a guy chewing snuff next to me placed the used portion into a napkin and, with two fingers, stuffed another plug into his mouth. He offered his tin to me, laughing at me gaping at him.

The room was filled with loud conversation, laughter and pipe and cigarette smoke, but no one noticed and no one complained. It was a happy bunch of Madison Park blue-collar folks bound for a day’s hard work. 

The ferry’s horn sounded, and silence would fill the room. 

Later, residents made up the lunch crowd, where homemade soups and sandwiches were around 75 cents. A favorite was the hot roast beef sandwich, which was a slice of beef on bread next to a scoop of mashed potatoes covered with lots of gravy. The best part was mopping the remnants with another piece of bread. 

A favorite entrée at dinner was a grilled steak, hash browns, vegetables and toast, for $1.25. A little finger extended for etiquette, the meat was stripped to the bone. Even the tasty, golden fat was devoured. 

Not to be missed was the pot roast, stew, pork chops, dessert and homemade pie.

Yes, the Clean Plate Club was alive and well. If anything was left, there was always someone eyeing it. The war years and food shortages definitely influenced hunger, manners and meal shortcuts. 

 

Long-ago favorites

Ella’s burger café opened between what is now McGilvra’s and Madison Park Conservatory, but it was very small. Ella’s artistic touch to the cheeseburger was hard to beat. She also cooked on the ferry, which made it worth the trip just for the burger. 

The Broadmoor Drug Store was always a favorite for regulars. What was the magic behind that always-warm pot of hot fudge? Whenever a sundae was served, you could hear someone else say, “I’ll have one of those!” 

Some years later, George’s, a Greek restaurant, opened where Cactus is now, and although it was short-lived, they had great food. Later, it became Eggs Cetera, which served the best breakfast for miles around. Both long and short relationships formed at the community table. 

Up the block in one-half of where the Red Onion is today was the Bamboo Terrace, serving great Chinese cuisine, and a fine place to end any given night spent at one of the three pubs. 

 

When boys become men

After a night tending bar up the street, I would yell, “Motel-hotel-closing time: Beer to go!” 

A few of us had six-packs of the new Bud in 16-ounce cans hidden under our coats, and we walked in to find the best booth the Bamboo Terrace had to offer. There, we sipped our brews in coffee cups to appease the owner. We told stories of times past and laughed, even if we’d heard the stories a hundred times before, eating well past the time of being full. 

Soon, the music on the jukebox was turned down, and it was time to bid adieu. At sun-up, we walked to the beach and sat where small waves lapped and the occasional duck quacked, lulling us to sleep. 

After the refreshing nap, we stopped by the butcher just east of the Hollywood barbershop. Cliff cut some great steaks, and Mac McCart, from the Attic, grilled them. The tomato juice and ice cold beer, served with a high pillow head, was the energy drink of the day and made the meal complete. 

To this, we toasted to a good life and partied on. 

RICHARD CARL LEHMAN is a longtime Madison Park resident. To comment on this column, write to MPTimes@nwlink.com.