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The team at Don’s Country Kitchen Oceanside. Photo by David Boylan
The team at Don’s Country Kitchen Oceanside. Photo by David Boylan
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Old-school goodness at Don’s Country Kitchen Oceanside

Given that my tour of South Oceanside over the past few weeks has focused on newer, trendier restaurants, I thought it only appropriate to close out this foray into “South O” with a joint that brings me back to my comfort food and authentic hospitality roots in Michigan.

It just so happens that Don’s Country Kitchen Oceanside was within eyesight the whole time, and I was anxiously awaiting my visit to this place whose name alone elicits visions of hearty portions served up by a friendly staff.

Before I get into the food, I wanted to get the backstory on Don’s. As many of you may know, there is one in Carlsbad, so I connected with Britten Doerfler, who owns Don’s in Oceanside with her husband, Daniel.

Britten is a Carlsbad native who started working at Don’s in Carlsbad at 17 as a server.

She said some of the story has been passed down over the years, so historical accuracy may be off slightly. But as she knows it, Don Pendergraft, who hails from Oklahoma, opened up the original Don’s Country Kitchen in Carlsbad and featured the food he loved from his hometown. He intended to create a place where the community could come together, enjoy solid food and get to know each other.

It’s been said that he would never let a seat go empty. If you came in as a couple or even someone dining by yourself, he would seat you with another table or party — anything to get the community talking, becoming friends and enjoying each other around a table full of great food!

Don’s Country Kitchen Oceanside owners Britten and Daniel Doerfler. Photo by David Boylan

Britten opened Don’s in Oceanside in 2010, and while the two locations are independently owned and operated, they continue to serve the original recipes passed down by the founding father, Don, and his successors.

Britten’s mom was also a waitress, so she grew up in the restaurant industry, which developed her true passion for customer service. That passion transformed into an opportunity when she took over Don’s Oceanside, enabling her to turn her love for providing the community with delicious food and friendly service into her career.

She even met her husband at Don’s in Oceanside, so it really has created a charmed life for her. They now share the duties of running a restaurant and still have time to enjoy being together as a family with their four boys. She also mentioned that most of her staff has been on board since the beginning, which really speaks volumes about how Britten and Daniel treat their staff like family.

The original menu that Don and his successors created served as a major inspiration for the one at Don’s. They use many of his original recipes and cooking methods and have added a few fun twists along the way.

According to Britten, the staff is what really sets Don’s apart and gives it the atmosphere it is known for. Their kitchen managers and cooks have as much or more passion for food as any culinary school-trained chef, and it’s evident from the moment you walk in that the managers, servers and bussers share that passion. They create a welcoming atmosphere day after day and genuinely care for each and every person they meet.

When folks talk about comfort food, gravy and hollandaise sauce are usually mentioned. It makes sense that some of Don’s most popular dishes are benedicts, chicken fried steak and their famous biscuits and gravy. Omelets, fresh ground sausage patties, burgers made with local ground beef, in-house roasted turkey for sandwiches and clubs, fresh salads and homemade soups are also crowd-pleasers.

A sampling of the dishes at Don’s, including the over-the-top Stuffed Hash Browns. Photo by David Boylan

I must admit that the dish that intrigued me the most was the Stuffed Hash Browns. First of all, their potato-based dishes use spuds that are made in-house. One of Don’s kitchen managers came up with the brilliant idea for those outstanding stuffed hash browns after tasting a Brazilian dinner dish at a street fair. Those wonderful potatoes are the main component.

I feel like I’ve seen these before from a vendor at the Leucadia Farmers Market a few years ago, but that’s just a side note. Since Don’s already makes what they consider to be the best hash browns around, they take one golden layer of them, top it with all the goodness that breakfast has to offer, like bacon, sausage, veggies and cheese, then top it with another layer of hash browns and a couple of over-medium eggs.

Then, they take it completely over the top by adding country gravy or hollandaise sauce! I will add that this giant portion can serve two easily or save a bit for a snack later that night or tomorrow morning’s breakfast.

It was a Friday when I ate there, so besides the Stuffed Hash Browns, we tried the Friday Fish Fry with a cup of Don’s homemade chowder. Both were super solid, and it’s good to know this fish fry is an every-Friday thing. Don’s is a breakfast, brunch and lunch joint, and the menu contains familiar items, so I can honestly say there is something for everyone.

Beverages are also bountiful, with freshly brewed espresso drinks, lattes and southern sweet tea brewed in-house. They also offer beer and champagne for flavorful mimosas with various juices. Their mimosa flights and Bloody Mary’s are popular as well.

So, just a reminder: As you eat your way through all the new eateries popping up in Oceanside, don’t forget to show some love to places like Don’s Country Kitchen that have stood the test of time and are keeping it real.

Find them at 1938 S. Coast Highway, Oceanside or www.donscountrykitchen.com

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