The writer and illustrator loved Jack's Outback, a diner near his Massachusetts home
Edward Gorey doesn’t seem like an English muffin guy. But the illustrator and author of eccentric, gothic works like The Gashlycrumb Tinies, The Doubtful Guest, or The Curious Sofa: A Pornographic Tale was more than just a recluse: He loved a diner breakfast just as much as the rest of us. Today, the Edward Gorey museum is located at the site of his home in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts. It’s a gray house, an old New England cottage that would be nondescript if it weren’t for a wire statue of the Doubtful Guest outside. Once visitors step through the doors it’s immediately apparent that they’re in Gorey’s realm. It’s filled with the artist’s strange collections, original sketches, one of Gorey’s beloved fur coats, and a photo of him entertaining at one of the dinners he liked to host for family and close friends. Among the artifacts on display is a frame filled with receipts for a month’s worth of breakfasts and lunches at his favorite local restaurant, Jack’s Outback.
Jack’s, which changed management in the early 2000s and is now known as Jack’s Outback II, was one of those small town restaurants that rarely seem to exist anymore. Customers had to write their preferred meals down on order slips, pour their own coffee, and clean up after themselves. Jack Braginton-Smith, the owner and namesake was known for being a lovable curmudgeon. He put finished orders in the window for customers to pick up themselves and would get angry when people left their plates sitting too long. Jack was always picking on his regulars greeting them with a gruff, “You again?” In 2004, former fire chief David Akin divulged a memory of when he left his radio on the counter to The Boston Globe. “When I came back for it [Jack] had it up to his mouth, and he was saying, ‘Calling chiefy weefy.’”
It’s thanks to state law that handwritten records of Gorey’s favorite breakfasts and lunches exist at all. They had to be stored on the premises for at least two or three years but like most filing, languished much longer in boxes in the restaurant’s basement. Rick Jones, one of Jack’s Outback’s partners and now the Director of the Edward Gorey House, says he had boxes full of hundreds of these receipts which he finally looked through while doing an exhibit on “a day in the life of” Gorey. “I picked a specific month and looked through them until I had [a receipt] for every day of the month,” he said.
On seventeen occasions, Gorey ordered “EG CC NO B”—English muffin, cream cheese, no butter. He also liked tuna salad sandwiches, grilled cheese with bacon and tomato on white bread (fruit cup on the side). Five times he ordered “2 POACHED IN A BOWL HAM” which Jones explained was “two poached eggs in a bowl with ham” though I’m not sure it clarifies what the dish looked like or why it had to be in a bowl rather than on a plate.
Over time the walls became adorned with original art from Gorey who ate breakfast nearly every day at Jack’s. Jones said it was a place where everyone came together. “It put together the plumbers and actors and doctors.” Those who remember Gorey’s visits to Jack’s always mention that he was never without a book to read—partially because he was always reading but also as a shield of sorts. Yet, Jones said, “he was kind to people if they wanted to get an autograph.” Gorey never liked his fame but he did like breakfast at Jack’s.