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Meet, Not Meat

By James Utt
By James Utt

I have lived in Laguna Beach since 2001, though many old time residents still consider me new to town. I have tried hard to become a part of the place my heart has embraced. Purchasing things from local artists, taking classes at the Susi Q Center, reading at open mic sessions at Laguna Beach Books, making friends with several local bartenders – all these things I have done and more. My name appears among the founders of The Third Street Writers and my columns run in this paper.

But there is one quintessential Laguna experience I have shied away from: dining at Zinc Cafe. Zinc prides itself in serving healthy fare, and my diet is, shall we say, one that does not encourage longevity.

I still grieve the closing of The Jolly Roger on Coast Highway where one could unselfconsciously bathe hash browns in ketchup and devour bacon or sausage or both. Had I been born a dinosaur, I would not have been a leaf-eating stegosaurus but a meat-seeking T-Rex. I did try to be a vegetarian once after reading a book that described the horrid conditions of factory farms, but as it says in Matthew, “The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak.” If the Animal Liberation Front is correct when they say, “Meat is Murder,” then I am long overdue for a cell on death row.                                                                 Feed me a steady diet of vegetables, withhold from me my M and M’s, deny me nature’s most perfect food, the Cheeto, and I would consider these, to use Dick Cheney’s phrase, “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

And there stands Zinc, meatless Zinc. I had been there one time with a friend for a quick bite, but I was more interested in her and did not absorb the Zinc experience. I have walked by the place on numerous occasions and, letting my imagination run wild, have seen people sitting at the tables who brought to mind those who frequented French salons in the Enlightenment. These were the people who probably knew the working of the city council, had their finger on the pulse of the art scene, read books by Jonathan Franzen or Ann Patchett. Even their dogs were well behaved.

Deciding to return, I did a scouting trip early one morning and glanced at the menu. Under “hot drinks” it had a list of “Intelligentsia Coffee.” Oh no, are they openly catering to the “intelligentsia” of Laguna, that social class of people guiding, critiquing, or shaping culture and politics? That seemed a bit much. Then I learned that Intelligentsia Coffee is a special brand that is hand crafted for coffee aficionados. Okay, but still I wonder if these beans are any better than the coffee I had at truck stops when I would accompany my father on his long hauls to Canada.

Next, a decision had to be made as to what reading material to bring to this unique spot. Simply gazing out at Ocean Avenue, or, for this Luddite, to bring an electronic device was unacceptable. The Register was a non-starter, The Los Angeles Times a possibility. I could go really intelligentsia on them and bring a copy of The New York Review of Books, or try for the local angle and bring a copy of The Indy. I finally decided to bring a notebook, in which people might think I was writing poetry, when in truth, it was being used to take notes.

The day arrived and I had lunch at Zinc. The staff was extremely friendly and the quesadilla plate was delicious. I noticed that some people came in large groups and others ran into people they knew and sat down at their tables and engaged in real conversation. There was laughter. There was camaraderie. But no place is perfect, and there were a few patrons who looked at cell phones instead of each other. When I strained to eavesdrop, I heard interesting bits of conversation about politics, both local and national, about upcoming art events, and travel trips recently completed. It was an Enlightenment salon with a dash of social media.

Strolling up Ocean Avenue, I felt more a part of my town. I knew I would return again some day. As soon as they add a French dip sandwich to their menu.


James Utt is s retired high school teacher who has lived in Laguna Beach for 16 years. He has never had a latte.



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