Restaurant and bar patrons would order their meals and then marvel at waitress Holly Brezinka, who never wrote down a word, but never missed a detail.

"How could she get all that stuff?" wondered Dean Clossey. After seeing Brezinka for years at Anoka establishments like Serum's Good Time Emporium and Billy's Bar & Grill, Clossey, a former Coon Rapids policeman, asked her, "Why don't you open up a place over here?"

Last month, Brezinka and Clossey opened their own place on Jackson Street -- on the same block where, for 15 years, clientele looked forward to digesting Brezinka's witty chatter as much as the meals she served.

Legal Grounds hit the ground running when U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman's office called local businessman Bart Ward, saying the senator and Gov. Tim Pawlenty were looking for an Anoka coffee shop for a morning appearance, a week before the election.

Coleman ordered a latte, Pawlenty sipped water and 100 curious potential customers packed the place that Tuesday morning, said Steve Ohlsen, a retiree who has become a regular.

"Now I believe in miracles," Coleman was overheard to say. "The Gophers are 7-1 and I got endorsed by the Star Tribune."

Legal Grounds, which offers specialties like "The Black Russian" sandwich (grilled rye bread, Swiss cheese, grilled portabella mushrooms and pot roast), already had amassed a steady clientele. Regulars from the Main Street Deli and B Side Restaurant Lounge -- eating establishments a block away that closed this year -- were looking for a new place. Along came Legal Grounds.

Brezinka had been considering her own place for years. When her father died two years ago, she decided to use her inheritance to follow her dream and honor his memory.

Legal Grounds -- certain to attract judicial workers from the county courthouse and government center a block away -- is a tribute to Brezinka's dad, a Hennepin County judge for 27 years. But Judge James Johnston, known as fair and courteous on the bench, lived another life, as Jimmy Johnston, outstanding golfer and champion Alpine skier.

Johnston, who grew up in Minneapolis, was the first lawyer to open an office in Brooklyn Center, in 1953. He was that city's first municipal judge and was appointed to the Hennepin County municipal bench in 1967.

But he also was inducted in the U.S. national Ski Hall of Fame in 1996. At 6 feet 2 inches and 250 pounds, he was a light-on-his-feet dancer. A sign that once led to his chambers now greets visitors entering a meeting room at the restaurant.

Johnston's favorite high-protein breakfast was peanut butter and bacon on toast. But the meals at Legal Grounds can be a bit more elaborate. Give Chef Jeff Keil some fresh ingredients and he's liable to create a turkey focaccia sandwich or pastrami reuben.

Clossey, who owns the building, has overseen the design of a restaurant that is inviting to folks seeking a muffin or warm caramel roll to go or a crowd that wants to sit down and be served a hearty breakfast or lunch.

Rather than compete with local happy hours, Legal Grounds is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays.

"There was no place to get breakfast on this side of downtown," Clossey said. "And there's nobody around who knows the clientele in downtown Anoka better than Holly."

Unlike other coffee shops, rarely have customers come to Legal Grounds to hover over their laptops while sipping a latte or tea.

"Maybe it's because of the tableside service," Brezinka said. "I'm not sure what we expected, but I'm trying to observe everything."

Somehow she remembers all the details -- without writing anything down.

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419