Review of Wagon Wheel Coffee Shop
Tradition is something I have always embraced. Whether it’s something as joyous and simple as a fire and glass of champagne on Christmas day, or as complicated as trying to prepare a hotel-quality breakfast for four on the rocky shoreline of my favorite Minnesota lake (Kabetogama), I love to revisit those things and places that have brought laughter, joy and great memories to my life.
One such tradition is re-visiting the restaurants in and near Carmel-by-the-Sea, California that have served up some of the finest meals – whether simple or complex – I can remember. And one such venue is a tiny restaurant called the Wagon Wheel Coffee Shop. I say tiny, because it has seating for only about 30-40 diners at a time (including seating at the counter!) Located about a half dozen or so miles east of Carmel-by-the-Sea on Carmel Valley Road, it is hardly noticeable at all, and one might easily miss it on a drive out to Carmel Valley to do wine tasting.
Always Outstanding Breakfasts!
My first experience at Wagon Wheel took place on a weekend visit with my fiancé, my sister and brother-in-law, more than a dozen years ago. If time allows, I try to get out there for breakfast at least once on every visit back to Carmel. During the second week of February this year (2016), the four of us headed out to the Wagon Wheel for breakfast, just before my wife and I had to fly back to Chicago.
The fact that it was Valentine’s Day completely escaped me, and when we pulled off of Carmel Valley Road, the line waiting for a table was spilling out the front door and into the parking lot. But, as luck would have it, a whole lot of folks were just finishing breakfast and we only had to wait about twenty minutes. We even got an outside table (there are only two). We had partial shade and partial sun on a gloriously sunny and beautiful California day.
For the small size of the restaurant (and the tiny kitchen), the menu is extensive and one would be hard-put to not find something they liked. Our breakfasts included a “Half-Wheel” for my sister (a half-order of their dollar-sized pancakes, bacon strip, sausage link and piece of ham), the Biscuits and Gravy, plus eggs and sausage patties for my brother-in-law, and classic Eggs Benedict and sourdough toast for my wife. For myself, even though I have sampled the Corn Beef Hash, Steak and Eggs and several other menu items, I always come back to my favorite – a breakfast I ordered on my very first visit – Trout and Eggs (a fresh rainbow trout – sautéed, American fries and two eggs, over medium).
On the countless occasions the four of us have visited, we have never had a bad meal or bad service; this visit was no different. The reason is easy to explain: the owners buy fresh products and cook from scratch; it’s that simple – and worth the wait if you have to wait.
Open only for breakfast and lunch, the place is always packed… and for good reason. I once saw an article in a Monterey County magazine where the author referred to the Wagon Wheel as “a cowboy chic comfort zone”. It was partly because long-time owners Harry and Katy Curry (now gone) had adorned the walls with cowboy artifacts, and cowboys still come to the Wagon Wheel for breakfast. The cowboys and artifacts are as appropriate today as they were in 1976 when Harry and Katy bought the place. The food is still as good as when I had my first Trout ‘n’ Eggs. One thing to keep in mind before you visit: you'll need cash to pay for meals, as they don't accept plastic...
This is top-notch tradition in my book and is possibly one of THE very best places I know. After breakfast, it is easy to say – and as someone I know quite well is wont to say: this is really livin’!
by Richard C. Ross