She was like a ballerina.
Her moves so deliberate and yet made with ease. She was clearly focused, but everything she did looked so natural.
But this woman was not wearing a tutu and there was no music. She wore an apron and moved to the sounds of bacon sizzling, toast popping up and orders being barked out from servers. And I wanted to applaud her work at Klemm’s Kafe at Fourth and Wells streets during my recent visits.
Sonia Harter has not only been flipping pancakes, perfectly frying eggs and slapping ice cream scoopers of sausage onto the Klemm’s griddle since 1985, that is also how long she has owned the place.
Although there is really nothing fancy about the work, the atmosphere or the food on the menu, it is the kind of place that holds a special place in the hearts of many.
From the counter seats, to the smell of that bacon filling its long, narrow space to the no-nonsense service, it is familiar even if you have never eaten there before. The crowd there is a diverse one, too. There were skateboarders in their early-20s along the counter, suit- and tie-clad businessmen reading the newspaper at one table and a group of retirees solving the world’s problems over coffee at another.
It is a local favorite for good reason.
My perfectly runny, over-easy eggs provided the perfect sauce for my corned beef hash. The hash had the perfect balance of potatoes and meat, and was crisped up nicely. The eggs with my pancakes and eggs combo were also spot-on, and those pancakes were dense and filling.
The most dynamic dish was also the most legendary in Fort Wayne – Garbage. Eggs, sausage, American fries, onions, tomatoes and green peppers were cooked together and topped with sausage gravy. The onions and peppers still snapped, the tomatoes added a juicy, sweet component, the potatoes were heavily browned but still tender and that pepper-spiked gravy was silky smooth and delicious. It was perfection.
The peppers and onions in my Philly omelet were also nicely sautéed to still be crisp, and steak inside the folded eggs was tender and better than average. The Swiss cheese was completely melted to enrobe all of the fillings and it added a nice touch of flavor.
I also must suggest getting a biscuit instead of toast. I did this with my hash and added a cup of that wonderful gravy to make my meal even heftier. I was glad I did even though my doctor might shake his finger at me.
But you don’t go to Klemm’s to be healthy. You go for good, solid diner grub.
During a lunchtime visit, I sampled two of Klemm’s soups, and both fared well. The minestrone had shell pasta, onions, carrots, celery and peas, as well as a few kidney beans and some zucchini. The herby broth was tomato-based, making me think it was a vegetarian dish.
The ham and cabbage soup was even better with the same ingredients, as well as diced potatoes and green beans. Its broth had that little slick of grease on top from the ham and it had that wonderful one-pot meal flavor from simmering in the pot for hours. But, still, the potatoes were firm and the green beans had some life.
The only bad dish I had was the only lunch item I tried. The North Atlantic cod sandwich was made with a perfectly square frozen block of breaded fish. It wasn’t necessarily a bad choice, just a boring one compared with everything else I tried.
I also had service issues. As I said, it is no-nonsense, but it did border on rude a few times.
The place was packed during both visits. One time, I stood and waited for a table to open while I waited for some friends. After 10 minutes, I sat at the end of the counter and my friends joined me there shortly after. As soon as we put our orders in, a table opened up so we moved literally three steps to that table where we were more comfortable and could converse easier.
This really miffed one of the two servers who made sure to tell us this table was not her table, referring to the other server who took our order at the counter. I guess with just two servers and a whopping nine tables, this move was just too much to handle. During the same visit as we drank coffee and talked, my server said, have a nice day, in not a very nice way as the bill was brought – an obvious hint for us to leave.
I also ticked off a server when I asked what pies were available and apologized because I could not see the specials board from my table. I can’t see it either, she snapped as she walked away. I got up and looked myself and waited 10 minutes for her to return to take my dessert order before giving up and flagging her down.
A little hint to the servers at Klemm’s: If someone asks what pies you have, they probably want to order pie.
At least the pies were good. And, yes, Harter is responsible for making those from scratch, too.
The blueberry was best of all with a thick, somewhat doughy crust that worked really well with the sweet fruit filling. The berries were also fresh and popped with each bite. The sugar cream pie was thick, rich and custardy, just like it should be, and the only knock was it had a little too much cinnamon on top. I prefer nutmeg atop my sugar cream and had to scrape off a lot of the cinnamon so it wouldn’t overpower the custard.
I would return for the pie, but only if it was preceded by some breakfast staples from the griddle. And hopefully Harter is the one working the griddle that day.
And I will be sure to stay in my seat and read that specials board before I sit down.
Restaurant: Klemm’s Kafe
Address: 1429 N. Wells St.
Hours: 5:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Handicapped accessible: No
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Hash and eggs ($5.50), pancakes and eggs ($4.30), garbage ($6.10), Philly omelet ($6.15), fish sandwich ($3.70), soup ($2.25 cup; $2.75 bowl), pie ($2.60)
Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 0 (1 maximum)
Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).