The matriarch of the family that owns Sang's Cafe, Mrs. Lee Sang, passed away earlier this month at the age of 92. Since hearing this news, I've been remembering the Chinese-American cafes that once dotted the 100-block of Main, across the street from my dad's old office. As the chuck wagon for a transient population of seasonal laborers and blue collar workers, they served up huge quantities of inexpensive and filling Chinese or American food. Some of my earliest restaurant memories were formed at these greasy spoons/chopsticks.
Now, Sang's (formerly Rodeo Cafe) is the only one left. The menu has only a couple Chinese dishes and is mostly Americana, just like the second generation now running the 55-year-old institution. Located a stone's thrown from the Steinbeck Center, a sign outside says "Steinbeck ate here."
The kids have continued the tradition of prime rib on Wednesdays. I stopped by yesterday for lunch to see what I could get for my dining dollar. Quite a bit it seems.
I got there ahead of the lunch crowd, taking a seat at the counter at 11:45am. Good thing, as "prime rib" was erased from the specials board by 12:10pm. Made with USDA choice, a prime rib lunch now costs $11.95. It was $5 when I was a kid, and my mother can remember when it was $1.
It is a bountiful lunch starting with soup and salad, plus two thick slices of Italian bread with butter. The housemade soup of the day was hamhock with black eyed peas, soft elbow macaroni, and cubes of ham in a tasty stock. Not just a cup, but a whole bowlful. This was accompanied by a green salad of romaine and iceberg topped with a slice of tomato and choice of dressing. I felt this was an improvement over the scoop of macaroni or potato salad that was served when I was a child. I was completely full after eating my soup and salad.
The prime rib wasn't skimpy either. Rare as ordered with a salt and pepper crust, and cut in an inch thick slab. Not the best I've ever had, but quite satisfactory. The broccoli was impeccably fresh and cooked just beyond al dente to bring out the best flavor. I wish I'd ordered rice, always an option at these places, instead of the mashed potatoes that were only fair. The wedge of cantaloupe tucked behind the cup of jus was the best piece of melon I've had this summer. It almost made me forget the jello or ice cream that used to be the sweet ending to this lunch plate.
I only had room for a few bites from this plate. The boxed up leftovers made a nice lunch for my mom and dad.
131 Main St
Salinas, CA 93901
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