By LAURA REILEY • Times Food Critic
Glenn Thompson is like an Olympian, or a superhero. Among his superpowers: He can crack 48 eggs in a minute. • Thompson has been a short-order cook at St. Petersburg's Skyway Jack's for 20 years, and now he's also the muse and inspiration for a new novel by St. Petersburg native Wendy Wax. • Wax, a former broadcaster on public TV station WEDU and host of Desperate & Dateless on radio station WDAE, has set part of The Accidental Bestseller in a fictionalized version of that beloved institution on 34th Street S. Red Thomas, her Thompson-like character, works his magic there among the corned beef hash and smoked mullet. • We spoke with Wax by phone to discuss her eggs-over-easy inspiration.
When you lived in the area were you a regular at Skyway Jack's?
Actually, I hadn't been to Skyway Jack's until last year. My brother said we had to go out for breakfast to Skyway Jack's, and I fell in love with the place. And I never met Glenn Thompson, but I was so intrigued by how a 2007 St. Petersburg Times story by Jeff Klinkenberg described his speed and how many eggs he would go through.
What specifically did you draw from Skyway Jack's that you used for your fictionalized Downhome Diner?
I tried to capture the feeling of the place. I got the restaurant's permission — their only condition was that I bring over a copy of the book. Skyway Jack's has a ton of character — the chauvinist statements on the walls, the feisty waitresses. Those waitresses are really good at what they do, but they don't take any grief from anybody. You want to sit in certain waitresses' stations. My brother waits until the right table becomes available.
Have you ever waited tables?
When I lived in Tampa and left WEDU to freelance and I did Desperate & Dateless, I was very briefly a cocktail waitress at Valencia Garden. I wasn't very good at that. Tanya, the character who is the waitress at the Downhome Diner, has done a morning shift there since high school, but those parts of the book are really more about the interactions she has there.
What do you like to eat at Skyway Jack's?
Something really fattening and artery hardening. I like their corn beef hash, eggs over easy and bacon. You don't go there for health food, that's for sure.
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at www.blogs.tampabay.com/dining.