Jim's Coffee Shop 

812 W. Fort St., 208-343-0154. Mon.-Fri. 7 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sat.-Sun. 8 a.m.-2 p.m.

Jim's Coffee Shop is one of the last standing members of an endangered species in the North End business world. Its unpretentious, old-school diner attitude puts it in a class with the likes of Hollywood Market (whose owner Margaret Lawrence we spied at a table at Jim's just last week while we were having lunch) and Riebe's Hyde Park Shoe Repair. They're businesses that represent the way the North End was before its garage-free, tree-lined streets became trendy addresses within walking distance to trendy cafes. Yet Jim's is one of the few places where old North End meets new North End in the most literal sense. Older residents who paid pennies for their historic homes rub elbows with the young hipster renters and the uber-outdoor family types who've paid hundreds of thousands to restore and modernize their historic homes.

But Jim's is just the kind of place where everybody wants to be a regular. It's a quintessential mom-and-pop diner.

One menu suffices for breakfast and lunch, although after 11:30 a.m. weekdays, the breakfast half is to be ignored. As for the menu's composition, curiously, there's no biscuits-and-gravy option, but other than that, the menu would be akin to my grandmother writing a menu and asking me what I wanted to eat. Campbell's soup, egg salad, PB&J, chicken-fried steak, cottage cheese, waffles, homemade muffins and pies, pancakes and hand-dipped milkshakes are but a fraction of the choices. Two notable observations about Jim's: Utensils arrive loosely in the hands of your server and only if your meal requires them, and after a handful of visits, the most consistent response to my question "what comes on the ..." was always: "whatever you want." Which means, when I want to ruin a perfectly good egg salad sandwich ($2.75, really) with tomatoes and onions, it's completely legal.

Because no one makes an egg salad sandwich like my grandmother did, including myself, it's one of the things I like to order at Jim's (although not because the sandwich is particularly memorable for its flavor, but because it's easier to shell out $3 for lunch than boil and peel the eggs myself). On a recent visit, I was sorely disappointed with a chicken-fried steak sandwich ($3.95), mostly for the meat's mushy consistency inside, despite a nicely fried outside. I remember having heard a similar complaint about Jim's jumbo cheeseburger ($3.70) from my favorite dining companion on a visit several months ago. Breakfast has been hit and miss recently. Fried eggs and bacon came out too well done for he who ordered them, but I rather fancied them. Hashbrowns on the same plate were, unfortunately, undercooked, leaning more toward the consistency of oatmeal than browned potatoes. Jim's pancakes are perfect, although the non-meat-eater may take issue with the faint taste of bacon that often sneaks out, even from under a thick application of syrup. Tater tots and milkshakes—hallmark items for a diner's menu—are never misses. Ever. You'll pay extra to substitute tots for potato chips, but at Jim's prices, who cares?

The thing about Jim's is that it's like eating at home, except you don't have to do the dishes, someone refills your coffee and the staff is always doing something nice for the community. Currently, for example, two handwritten signs on posterboard say that Jim's is taking bedding and winter coats to donate to the homeless, and that the diner's annual food drive is about to take place.

—Rachael Daigle likes her coffee strong, dark and bottomless.

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