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Reporter partakes of pancakes, immersed in sweet tradition

December 28, 2010

Jigger’s owner Iva Reynhaut talks to her customers, while below waitress Lauren DelSignore totals up some checks. At left, the author’s breakfast.

Being a reporter for a local weekly newspaper requires immersion in the community’s events, celebrations and rituals.
In six months, I’ve racked up quite a few of them, from parades to dinners to Main Street Strolls. I’ve even stood on the processing line in Municipal Court after receiving a traffic ticket.
But before last Friday, I had yet to do breakfast at Jigger’s Diner.
I could cry lack of opportunity, since I’d only been here a few weeks when state officials closed it down this summer for falling well in arrears on state taxes. But while interviewing people for my story about the closing, they inevitably bounced a question back at me:
“Have you ever eaten breakfast at Jigger’s””
To that, I could only plead nolo. While I grew up just a few miles up Post Road to the north, I had never set foot in the diner. While I’ve enjoyed the few meals I’ve eaten in diners, I’m not really the go-out-for-breakfast type – mine usually consists of popping waffles in the toaster or microwaving pancakes (I generally don’t leave the house without having eaten breakfast, and mercifully, I keep quickie doughnut breakfasts to a bare minimum).
The only freshly made pancakes I’ve eaten the past several years have been at The Pancake Man in Yarmouth during Cape Cod vacations (if I don’t catch them during their summer vacation). They’re a very rare luxury item at my house, given my opting for convenience after waking up and my wife’s work schedule, which often sees me leaving before she arrives home (and I would not ask her to cook after work, anyway).
When the Town Council voted last Monday night to reinstate Jigger’s owner Iva Reynhout’s victualling license, allowing her to reopen after she had come to terms with the state Division of Taxation to resolve her debt, the questions came again.
In the end, I give Council Vice President Henry V. Boezi the credit for luring me into a visit. After the meeting, he made a pretty convincing argument for me to venture out from my North Providence home without filling my belly first.

“Everything there is so good, and at the price, you wonder how she’s managed to stay in business,” he said.
So there I was Friday morning, on the first day of the newly reopened Jigger’s. Even at 10:30, the place was still pretty busy, and only on second glance did I manage to find an open stool at the counter.
While a couple of waitstaff and a couple of cook/dishwashers mamboed and squeezed past each other through the narrow galley, Iva was working the grill, every bit as busy as I pictured she would be. She barely had time to acknowledge the congratulations and welcome-backs as she wielded the spatula on the sausage patties, home fries, scrambled eggs and fruit omelets.
I’m not an omelet fan, but watching her fill them, flip them and fold them into something neater and cleaner than any fried food probably has the right to look, I could begin to sense why her food has such a local following
Lauren DelSignore practically needed to catch her breath after the chaotic maneuvering around the counter and booths before taking my order. We then congratulated each other on our respective first meal and first day waitressing at Jigger’s.
Pancakes, of course. They were among the fare which had received Rhode Island Monthly Best of Rhode Island awards and been featured on the Food Network earlier this year.
Sadly, I cannot speak for the coffee, since I am a milk drinker and never acquired the taste for java. Ripping off a coffee industry ad campaign from my college days, I call myself a coffee underachiever.
After I ordered, Iva could finally step away from the grill for a moment, looking simultaneously tired and happy to be back in her element.
“It’s been great, but kind of hectic so far,” she said of her first day back in business as a Friday-Sunday breakfast-only diner.
Her day actually started in the wee small hours, with a 1:30 a.m. arrival to make sure everything was in order and ready to cook for a 6 a.m. opening.
Then there was all the preparation on Thursday, which required the help of a flotilla of friends while she was on the road.
“I had to run around until 5 getting the supplies and making sure I had all the licenses I needed. But everything came together,” she said.
A few minutes later, my pancakes arrived: three plate-large, thin yet fluffy cakes with ever so light a dusting of sugar sprinkled on them.
Within the second forkful, I completely understood how they could win awards.
Iva passed the compliments along to her predecessor, Carol Shriner, who opened Jigger’s at its current 145 Main St. site in 1992.
“She came up with the recipe. We just brew up a five-gallon bucket with sugar, flour and soda,” Iva said as she headed down the counter to greet more customers renewing their welcome.
Judy Cockcroft, breakfasting next to me, is an occasional diner at Jigger’s and doesn’t have a particular favorite item on the menu. But as a fellow member of First Baptist Church of East Greenwich, she wanted to be there for Iva’s reopening day.
“We’re very happy and very proud of her,” she said.
But Iva did not know everyone sitting down to eat in the 1947 Worcester Lunch Car, which even includes its original (though not operating) clock.
Some were just diner fans, like Pete and Anita Butler of Newport. As diner aficionados, she said, they travel as far as Boston to eat at vintage diners. Although they had never visited Jigger’s before, news of its reopening prompted the trip.
“It’s great to see food back here. When we see a diner we like, we latch on to them,” Pete said.
Well, I can boast of no longer being a Jigger’s virgin, and no longer have to keep my mouth shut when the conversation turns to breakfast within earshot.
On vacation, when I know nothing about the local restaurants, I allow a simple principle to guide me: for the good, plentiful and inexpensive, eat where the locals eat.
I think East Greenwich’s foodies know something.

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