Rick’s Restaurant a lively and delicious place to eat

Let’s say you live in or are visiting the Coachella Valley and are suddenly gobsmitten by your taste buds demanding a decadent breakfast. If you’re way inside, you’ll likely know of this landmark eatery in downtown Palm Springs where the morning menu is everything you could desire. We’re talking Rick’s Restaurant, opened in its present location by proprietor / manager Rick Seidner over 30 years ago.

The story of Rick’s journey from his native Cuba to Palm Springs reads like a Cold War Era thriller. Rick was born in Havana and before the revolution, his family travelled routinely to Florida to visit family and friends. Papa Israel Seidner was not a fan of the Castro brothers or their politics so when Fidel’s 26th of July Movement seized control of the island nation, the Seidner family made their dangerous escape to the United States.

As a boy, Rick spent quality time with his mother, Delia, in her cheerful kitchen where his appreciation of Cuban-related flavors and tastes took hold early on. She had high standards in every aspect of her cooking, which she passed along to Rick’s culinary philosophy: quality you can taste.

By 1976, Rick was selling clothing in a rather posh store on El Paseo. It struck him how often his customers asked where they could have lunch, a coincidence that inspired him to open his first dining establishment – a sandwich shop in the same upscale neighborhood – at a time when much of the surrounding area consisted of sand dunes and creosote bush. In fact, many Palm Desert sites that are now country clubs were still mere gleams in some speculator’s eye. So, and unfortunately, when summer heat pounced, Palm Desert vacationers disappeared like dust in the wind … and so did Rick’s business … which is why he relocated lock, stock and barrel to Palm Springs, hip and bustling back in the day whatever the season, whatever the temp.

Since that fortuitous move, Rick’s Restaurant, has steadily expanded in popularity and square footage. “First is the food, made from fresh and unique ingredients,” Rick said, nodding for emphasis. During this interview, he greeted and seated a river of patient customers, smiling at this one, waving to that one, nodding to a third one, and checking the waiting list, which continued to lengthen. “Second, we offer friendly, efficient service,” he added, “with family involvement, especially my daughter-in-law Adaline and my son Nick.”

When he sat me in a comfortable counter stool near the front door, I was surprised by the menu’s variety. Calling all especially hearty appetites: Rick’s Paul Bunyan Special is aptly named and certain to satisfy (grilled large hunk of bone-in ham steak, three eggs, and home fries) with choice of toast. Or how about you egg lovers? Try the Eggs Florentine (sautéed spinach and sliced tomato on a grilled English muffin with from-scratch Hollandaise).

Now for a walk on the decadent side! The Cinnamon Swirl French Toast smells as rich as it looks but tastes even better (with cream cheese and your choice of bananas, strawberries or blueberries depending on season) as does the Belgian Chef Waffle (griddled to perfection).

For those looking for a lighter or more health-conscious repast, there are a number of omelets with various veggie combos often heightened by a hint of Cuban seasoning as well as a fruit medley.

Now, some folks come to the desert, rise at dawn, hike a few miles and eat a good breakfast, while others snooze in till 11 am after a night on the town. If you fall into the latter category, be aware that Rick’s is also open for lunch. I recommend their crisp and refreshing Waldorf Salad (very traditional with celery, apples, walnuts, grapes and roasted turkey served on a bed of field-fresh baby greens) and am also partial to the Ahi Tuna Sandwich (ahi steak rolled in black and white sesame seeds, seared rare and served on a multigrain bun) with pickled ginger and wasabi cream sauce served on the side.

During a brief lull in activity, Rick came back to my table. When I asked about the personality traits he’s found most helpful, he admitted to a generous helping of determination, which made sense. Clearly, his success has been earned the old fashioned way and probably brought with it some interesting lessons.

“I learned about limits,” he said. “A little time off is vital. I love my customers and the work days fly by but taking a little time off relaxing with loved ones is also very important.”

As the crowd surges, he waggles his head, impatient to do more meeting and greeting. “This is a place where locals come to see and be seen because everyone knows everyone. We are so grateful for the strangers who walk through that door … yes we are, because over time, strangers become regulars and regulars become friends.”

If Rick’s Restaurant sounds like a lively and delicious place to eat, I hope you’ll put Rick’s strangers-to-friends theory to the test.