The melodic ebb and flow of tropical music offers a subtle backdrop to the clanking cutlery, sizzling skillets and snippets of conversation. The mid-afternoon clientele consists of only a few scattered customers. A waitress sweeps the floor around the tables, creating the premature impression of closing hour. The televisions both display the same ESPN Super Bowl analysis and prognostication, but, without the benefit of sound or closed captioning, the message is lost.
The restaurant’s tropical theme is highlighted by a fake palm tree leaning over one table and a tiki-style centerpiece jutting through another. The artwork on the north wall depicts casual waterfront scenes in small, understated frames. A wooden paddle blends into the wall’s light paneling.
Opposite the wall, ornamental reeds and bamboo stalks extend out from the bar, creating an odd contrast with the flat-panel televisions and stainless steel appliances behind the counter. The tropical scene is further contradicted by the all-American smell of burgers and fries emanating from the grill. The scent of ketchup can be detected from a nearby table. All other odors become obsolete. The burger and its friends win the day.
With the plate prepared, the scuttle from the kitchen quiets down. The music’s lyrics are again audible, having been briefly overpowered by the sizzling creation of the day’s lunch special, a turkey burger and fries. The long-awaited taste does not disappoint. The burger is well cooked, imbued with a pleasant combination of flavors by its lettuce, tomato and onion medley. The french fries are crispy on the outside, but hot and soft beneath the surface. Delightful.
Despite its tropical overtones, the restaurant is also firmly rooted in its community. The south wall pays homage to Oregon football, with two signed Oregon helmets and an Autzen Stadium photograph on prominent display. A signed football completes the collection. In Cal Young, as in much of Eugene, football is king.
As 4:00 p.m. approaches, the restaurant’s staff relaxes enough to engage in some frustrated banter. The distribution of gratuities seems to be the point of contention. Sean, the manager perhaps, is not a popular man today. “That’s not right,” says a young woman working at the grill. The workers’ voices fade as they turn back to their work, concealing the details of Sean’s transgression.