By Melanie Warner

If you are driving through California, one great place to stop to fill up your stomach is Huckleberry’s.  It’s a small chain that doesn’t feel like a chain. You can find them scattered through Central California paced out with enough distance to do your own food tour and reach the next city by the next meal. With locations in Fresno, Turlock, Pismo Beach, Fairfield, and Modesto – you can have consistency like the big breakfast chains, but much more flavor, larger portions, and better hospitality. The country chic décor is fun, whimsical, and makes you feel like you are in the friendly South, ya’ll. My sweet friend, Marianne, took me to the Fresno restaurant for my birthday breakfast – which was a real treat considering my normal breakfast consists of toast and coffee or a Fuel protein shake. Our waiter was Mike Nichols, or “Magic Mike” as we called him.  He was a great sport, respectfully absorbed all of our heckling, and knew the menu well. He made great suggestions, as we needed a tour guide because there was so much variety on the menu: Beignets, chicken and waffles, breakfast burritos, sweet crepes, stuffed French toast – we had a hard time making up our minds. So we chose fried green tomatoes as an appetizer, then home made sweet cream flapjacks with scrambled eggs and bacon. We also had to try the eggs benedict, which can be scrambled or poached, and had options like pulled pork, turkey sausage, Cajun hot links or traditional.  Even though the portions were large, surprisingly, we wolfed down everything in a few minutes. We even stopped chatting to actually eat (even more rare for us gabbers).

If it weren’t my birthday, we would have hopped on the road and digested a few hours, then pulled into the Modesto or Pismo location for lunch. The lunch choices looked even more inviting: Chicken cordon bleu, meatloaf skillet, Louisiana catfish, sweet potato fries, BBQ’ed Hog, and many more. Yum! It really is the perfect road trip fare and keeps you full for hours. And the best part? Even though it’s California – there were no wimpy sprouts in sight (what a waste of greens!). It’s just real food for real people with real prices.

We even discovered that they offer free meals on your birthday, whether you have a guest or not. So, even if you are all alone on your birthday, then you still have a nice place to go where they will make you feel right at home and treat you to a truly rare free birthday meal. I don’t know why, but that always leaves me warm and fuzzy (could have been the flapjacks, too).  Magic Mike even brought me a special birthday dessert of fried banana fritters with sweet cream cheese and strawberry glaze – and he didn’t sing an annoying birthday song or embarrass me. It was just the perfect touch of service, sincere hospitality, and great food. I can’t remember the last time I really enjoyed a big breakfast like that. Huckleberry’s is open daily for breakfast and lunch. They also offer Senior specials and a kid’s menu. Lucky for me, there is always one just down the road.