Coffee shop cook dishes up quips with the vittles


There's a Remington coffee shop where regular customers eat their hot cakes with a side order of sarcasm.

The friendly insults fly faster than the time it takes to break an egg at the Open House, a fixture in the 200 block of W. 29th St.

"Everybody gets recognized here and the talk never stops. It's an open forum at all times," says Mike Meyers, the 32-year-old proprietor, who likes to stir the pot at all times. He's as much the master of ceremonies as he is the cook.

The volatile mix of politics and religion percolates at the Open House, a neighborhood breakfast and lunch restaurant where people have been coming back for more since the late 1940s, when this solidly built eatery first opened.

"Who died and made you king this morning?" says the Rev. Frank Willett, an Open House regular, as he directs a smiling insult at the owner.

Meyers, dressed in his white uniform and a black cap, doesn't miss a beat and says to the associate pastor of New Covenant Apostolic Church, "If you don't be quiet I'll make you listen to 'Achy Breaky Heart.' "

The exchange draws a laugh from the other breakfast customers, who include a retired Remington man, a Northern District police officer and two Johns Hopkins University students.

The Open House is one of those small neighborhood restaurants where the griddle is always hot and the coffee never stops bubbling. The juke box is rarely silent (Natalie Cole, Janis Joplin and Jim Reeves) and any new face will draw stares from regular customers. The menu leans heavily on ham and eggs. It's possible to get a cream cheese and jelly sandwich, too.

Baltimore-made Parks sausage and scrapple is served here. The late Henry Parks, city councilman and meat packer, was also an Open House regular.

"There are days when I want to rename this place the Open House Rehabilitation Center. We get people who are lonely and practically homeless. We get the lost and we get people who just want to talk," Meyers says.

People are the main attraction at the Open House, a place whose constituency is divided among Remington neighborhood residents, commuters along the busy 29th Street cross-town corridor and Hopkins students.

"People like to be recognized by their name. I have a memory that tells me what they ordered the last time they came in here. Sometimes I serve them before they even have a chance to order," Meyers says.

The Open House seems to invite lingering and chatter. The owner stands behind the counter and talks with the customers, who also converse among themselves. How anybody gets to work on time is a miracle.

"People like to watch their food being prepared. I can fry the eggs and flip the omelets right out in the open, just opposite the counter, and they can watch and talk," Meyers says.

For many years there was a second, identical late-1940s breakfast cafe of the same name and design on West 41st Street, opposite the old Greenspring Dairy property. It closed some years ago and became an animal grooming business. The two Open Houses were as large as this minichain ever grew.

The Open House was once open all night (its present hours are 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and did a brisk business with people who were chased out of bars at the 2 a.m. closing hour.

"The Open House was really festive then. After 2 a.m. it would be packed. It was a party crowd," says Dean Sampson as he munches an English muffin.

"I kinda miss all that. That was the old Open House. I guess we're just not that young any more."

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