Tuesday, November 21, 2006

On Scones

Rustica Bakery
816 W. 46th St.

Even as someone who sometimes orders scones, I don't really understand them. They are dry, hard, hockey pucks of dough that crumble all over your lap as you try to eat them while driving. I actually only order them when I don't feel like wrestling with muffin-paper as I drive, and usually it's because it's been a while, and I've forgotten how they get lodged in your throat until you have to force the peristalsis to reengage with large gulps of coffee.

So last week, I was driving to the suburban hinterlands to teach the math, and I hadn't had coffee or breakfast, and for some reason I was over in Jimmy and Judy's neighborhood, so I stopped at Java Jack's, which is now attached to a very good bakery called Rustica. I got my coffee at one counter and my bakery treat at the other counter (an inconvenience I don't like, but I'm sure you knew that, or I wouldn't have brought it up). I got a scone at Rustica, and suddenly scones made sense. It was delicious. Mine was a cherry-chocolate concoction, which melted in my mouth. The outer layer had a slight crunch to it, and the inside had a soft comforting texture. I don't know how to describe it. I think it must be what scones were always meant to be, and I never knew it because I've only ever had bad scones.

Anyway, I went back on the weekend (when the two-line deal was even more annoying because the Rustica one was far less efficient than Jack's), and tried to replicate the experiment. They didn't have cherry-chocolate, so I got orange-chocolate. It wasn't the same revelatory experience, partly because of the orange peel flavor, but, believe me, I'm going to try again. There will come another day when I need a scone, and from now on Rustica is the place for me.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Copper Dome Scandal

The Copper Dome Restaurant
1333 Randolph Ave
St Paul
(651) 690-0993

It's best to write these things when your stomach still feels like it's full of churning laundry. Otherwise, you might forget and soften the words to seem more kind.

This morning we ate at the popular and crowded Copper Dome Restaurant in St. Paul at the recommendation of an otherwise nice young man I met this week. We arrived at 10:15, which, fortunately, it turns out is an OK time to get a table, because we did not have to wait for a table for five (but when we left an hour later, the line went out the door). Our table came with a good-sized bowl of what at first appeared to be cream, but turned out instead to be (gasp!) non-dairy creamer. Fatal mistake for the Copper Dome. Judy requested a pitcher of milk, and was briskly informed that it would cost extra. (Not a deterrent for Jude, but still a bit off-putting.) Jimmy declared that we would not return. In defense of the creamer, real cream would have been wasted on the coffee that is served at the Dome. This is nasty, wretched coffee-water. Whatever you do, don't drink it. There must be another way to get the necessary morning caffeine. Maybe they serve Coke.

Sitting at the table at the Copper Dome and choking down the despicable non-dairy creamed coffee, while going through the menu is an assault on all of your senses. The food smells are strong and rich (although not unpleasant). The walls are covered in an astounding collection of old flour sacks (including one with a diagram of a wheat kernel that would make Georgia O'Keefe blush and another set decorated with offensive Aunt Jemima characters). Our good cousin Perley would not do well with these walls of framed flour sacks. With the sheer quantity of them, it's perhaps inevitable that many of them would be crooked. Perles likes his straight lines and right angles, not this crazy array of mismatched frames that tilt every which way. Oh, and then there is the menu. It looks like a dozen bingo cards lined up side-by-side, there are so many options, printed in neat little squares. Beau had to close one side of the menu so he could just focus on one third of the options.

I chose the potato pancake wrapped around bacon, sour cream, onions, and green peppers which came with a side of margarine. Just writing these words makes my stomach cramp. Rachael got a "Cajun" omelet, although she couldn't explain what exactly made it Cajun. The others stuck with some version of eggs and hash-browns and meat. The hash-browns arrived somewhat yellow, not golden-brown as promised. The more health conscious members of the club suspected that trans-fats may have been involved in their preparation.

And so we came, we ate, and we left, burping as we went. Judy delicately excused herself for each burp. We moaned softly as we encountered bumps on the road back across the river. It almost seemed beside the point to ask for grades, given the intestinal distress in the car, but Beau and Rachael denied hating their food. Rachael even gave it a B-. She was the most generous. Beau's grade: C+, Jimmy's: C, Judy's: C-. Mine is a D, because I can imagine worse, but I do hesitate to pass a restaurant that makes me feel this ill.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?

Maria's Cafe
1113 Franklin Ave. E.
Minneapolis, MN

Luckily Maria's Cafe doesn't have any real problems, I just needed to come up with a witty title to this post. This was not our first trip to Maria's, but it has been a very long time since our last visit. We clearly were due for a visit as any twin cities breakfast review site worth its salt should be able to discuss Maria's and their world famous cachapas venezolanas (corn pancakes). It had been so long since our last trip that when cousin Perley ordered a meal that consisted of nothing but meat and eggs, our served told us about this great new healthy way to diet where you just eat protein and stay away from carbohydrates. The good Dr. Judy waited until he walked away and then intoned, "Yeah, really healthy, until your kidneys fail and then you die."

It was a slightly depleted breakfast club that walked into Maria's around 10 am on Saturday. Fern was slaving away in the service industry and my suggestion to leave an empty space at the table in her memory was voted down. There was one positive to this development however, as it meant we could all pile into one car without forcing someone to hunker down in the way back of the station wagon. Alex drove and admirably showed off her newly honed manual transmission skills (reverse is still a little tricky). Maria's immediately earned a solid check in the positive column. Here it was, 10 am on a Saturday the restaurant was packed, and yet we were seated after waiting a mere two minutes. Maria's is absolutely massive. There are three different rooms, all very large. Ample seating for everyone!

The dining experience at Maria's was tremendous. The group sampled from across the menu, Rachael and Judy both had the daily special, one scrambled egg, black beans, sausage, arepa, and sauteed sweet plantains. They both gave it an A, but could have split one and had more then enough to eat. Jimmy had the standard breakfast and would have given it an A, but the potatoes tasted as though they had been frozen at one point, so it received a B. I had an egg sandwich and it was tasty, but I gave the meal a B due to the lack of coffee refills (I am WAY too demanding on that front, I know). Alex got one corn pancake (with cheese) and a side of sausage, gave it an A, but was only able to eat half of her meal. The corn pancake is tasty, but extremely filling. Overall grade of the meal was a B+.

The TCBC highly recommends Maria's Cafe. We did agree however that it does not make the cut as an "old standard". The food is great, but very heavy and not the sort of thing you can eat everyday Saturday, unless of course you plan on weighing 350 pounds in six months. We will return to Maria's, but it won't be next week.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Swann Song in Kansas City

Blue Bird Bistro
1700 Summit
Kansas City, MO

Our good friend, Kristen, got married this weekend. Somehow, even with all of the make-up and floral arrangements going on, she still managed to take Fern and me out for breakfast and some laughs on the very day of her wedding. She practically begged us to put a review of our meal on this site. Now, it's hard to say no to a bride on her wedding day, but we tried. We wanted to preserve the integrity of our mission. We are a Twin Cities Breakfast club. Kansas City has no twin. Judy, Beau, Rachael, Beau, and Jimmy have never even heard of the Blue Bird Bistro. However, when my food arrived, I decided to make an exception. Plus, I love Kristen, and she treated us to a fabulous meal.

First some back story. There's a restaurant here in the actual Twin Cities that has made a valiant attempt to become the next big thing in breakfast. I'm going to call it the Croquet Club, which is code, because Beau hasn't wanted to review it, because it's small and it's new, and we hated our food there. The thing about this Croquet Club is there is no evidence on their menu that they have a stove. Really. I kid you not. There is no stove top. Beau and Jimmy even poked their heads around the bar, looking for one. No stove. "How can they serve eggs?" you ask. Good question. Have you heard of baked eggs? "Well, but how can they serve perfectly browned potatoes?" you wonder. Well, they just don't. Yes. They have no potatoes today.

Anyway, Jimmy and I, noticing the lack of stove, ordered something we considered doable without such a tool. We got the smoked salmon and bagel with fresh field greens, tomato, and hard-boiled egg. (Someone must take the eggs home and bring them back boiled.) What arrived was a big salad, with pale tomatoes, a nicely boiled egg, and a Sarah-Lee-esqe bagel. The salad was covered in salmon shards that looked suspiciously like they came out of those new vacuum packs of salmon by Chicken of the Sea. In what alternative universe is non-smoky salmon shards what you expect when you order smoked salmon and a bagel?

And now the stage is set for my meal at the Blue Bird Bistro. I still had a craving for that perfect combination of smoked salmon and cream cheese. This place is so organic and earnest, they have a mission statement full of deeply-felt sentence fragments on the first page of their menu. They promised me sustainable, humanely caught smoked salmon, and I bit. It arrived on a too-large plate (to make up for the slightly too-small portion size), and matched my ideal for breakfast salmon. You don't want it to be too fishy. You don't want any slime. It should be firm, yet it should yield to the slightest pressure of your teeth. Most of all, it should not come from the tuna aisle. This salmon was perfect! Hooray for Kansas City. Three cheers for Kristen on her wedding day!

In fact, the earnestness and eagerness of the Blue Bird Bistro reminds me of that other place we didn't like so well in Minneapolis. Their execution, however, puts that stoveless wonder to shame.

P.S. I almost forgot to mention the deep red, seductively juicy tomato slices that came with my meal. Mmm...real tomatoes. You win, Blue Bird.

P.P.S. It turns out that stoveless wonder makes a fine panini. Who knew?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Not the End of the World

Hot Plate
5204 Bloomington Avenue South

I've slain a lot of mice this week, against my will, I might add, but it seems to be some sort of calling - of course, maybe that was just Fern calling to let me know that there was a mouse in her apartment, but I'm taking it as a sign. Into every generation, a slayer is born, and so, this week's review is brought to you by ... Lexi the Vermin Slayer.

The Scooby gang gathered this week at Hot Plate. More accurately, we gathered outside of Hot Plate, waiting for it to open. Damn those posted business hours that keep us from enjoying our breakfast any old time we please. They finally invited us in at 8:00, but we chose to avoid the lure of the televisions inside and sit outside to enjoy the sunshine. Unfortunately "Enjoying the sunshine" looked a lot like "squinting into the blinding glare of daylight", especially as the sun reached perfect eye-blinding height. Judy suggested correcting the problem by standing as she ate, but laziness and comfort won out over pretecting her eyesight.

The food at Hot Plate is blindingly average. The potatoes are exactly the same ones served at Beau's regular breakfast joint in Nashville. They are called "roasted" on the menu (which Beau claims can be an indication of some big bad going on at a restaurant), but they showed up dyed orange with unknown "spices", and with a slight crust surrounding their freezer-burned insides. Beau and I ordered breakfast burritos, which didn't come with potatoes, but did come smothered in "spicy chipotle sauce" (which was about as spicy as your average main dish at a church potluck). The burrito was as big as your head, but not nearly so interesting.

Jimmy bravely ordered eggs benedict, and even seemed happy with his meal. Nobody got the Eric Estrada of the day, which is some sort of layerey-eggy thing with about a million things crammed inside. It's an age-old problem. If you add more ingedients, you're bound to come up with a sure-fire winner (for me, it's goat cheese), but you might also hit upon a deal-breaker (i.e. Candian bacon).

Rachael ordered the pancakes after determining their thickness from the server. Only thin pancakes will do for Rachael, perhaps because she doesn't really like pancakes and thick ones taste too pancakey. So, why, you ask, did she order pancakes in the first place? Well, she's the magic eight ball of breakfast ordering. From the outside, her logic looks a lot like a decahedron floating in mysterious inky fluid. Still, don't we all secretly think the magic eight ball's answers really come from a higher place? And didn't Rachael's pancakes arrive just to her liking and satisfy her? I'm just saying, this is more than I can say for my perfectly logical burrito.

Wasps joined us for the end of the meal, which added degrees of difficulty to clearing the table for our phobic waitress. I did not slay them, as I reserve my powers for the scurrying vermin of my closets. The crew gave the place higher grades than I expected. The average was a B-. Still, I believe there was some sort of grade inflation going on, and I wouldn't expect us to dine again at Hot Plate any more than I'd expect to see Jimmy filling a paper plate with jello salad at a church potluck.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Hair of the Dog

Blarney Pub and Grill
412 14th Ave. SE
Minneapolis, MN 55414

One look at the Blarney Pub and Grill's website would tell you that this place was not suited for the TCBC. They specialize in Irish Car Bombs and things like "Whiskey Dick Wednesdays" (which I find strangely intriguing), not crispy hash browns and skim milk lattes. This should give you an indication of the level of desperation that had befallen breakfast club on Saturday. We made the mistake of trying to decide on a place as we were driving around aimlessly. After an hour of driving and at least five failures, we were in Dinkytown, hungry, and more then a little cranky. We saw the Blarney Pub and Grill and it passed the two remaining hurdles we had, it was open and had immediate seating. While the eating experience was essentially wretched, I am giving the Blarney a passing grade. Under the right scenario, the Blarney Pub and Grill isn't too bad. Let me explain.

Do you remember college? Do you remember waking up on a Saturday or Sunday morning/afternoon after an especially raucous night? As soon as you open your eyes, you notice a number of things, 1) your mouth tastes like the inside of an empty beer can that also has been used as an ashtray, 2) the sun is especially bright, 3) there appears to be a noise rock band practicing inside you head. As you stagger out of bed, half awake and probably still half drunk, you know there is only one cure for your state and that is a large helping of grease in the form of eggs, hash browns, bacon, and toast. These are your only requirements. None of the food needs to be particularly good, in fact, it is better if the food isn't good because you won't appreciate it anyway. The food just needs to be greasy and quick. All that fat and grease somehow soak up all of the evil toxins that you ingested the previous night and make you feel halfway normal again. It's the ultimate hangover cure (sometime the strong-willed couple this breakfast with a stiff bloody mary, hangover be gone!).

Greasy and Quick. The Blarney Pub and Grill fits this description perfectly. If you expect anything more you will be disappointed. The options are limited, although they do have a bowl of lucky charms for those that are particularly queasy; the potatoes were especially freezer burny; and the best part of the meal was the toast. As a quality eating establishment, the Blarney Pub and Grill is a complete failure. As a hangover cure for a college student, the Blarney Pub and Grill is not too bad.

TCBC Grade=F
Drunken College Student Grade=B
Overall Grade=C-/D+

Mmmm...Open-Faced Club Sand Wedge

Acadia Cafe
1931 Nicollet Ave. S.
329 Cedar Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Sometimes, due to unforeseen circumstances, breakfast club is delayed and becomes lunch club. While this could never become the norm (when some members get up at 4:30 in the morning, waiting until NINE to eat is an eternity), it often allows the group to sample establishments that otherwise would be overlooked. Recently breakfast club was delayed due to the good doctor's call schedule and her addiction to gazing at her new grandson. It was a very hungry group of four (Rachael in Honduras, Alex in Canada, and Perley off doing Perley things) that walked into the Acadia Cafe at eleven in the morning. While the Acadia did list some breakfast options, it was clear that they specialized in the two meals not called breakfast. Rather then tempt fate, we all ordered from the lunch menu. This was a splendid development as it allowed me to consume the best club sandwich of my life, which is no small feat.

When I go out to lunch, there is a 75% chance that I will order a club sandwich. I've sampled club sandwiches across the nation, at large chain restaurants, at tiny diners, and all places in between. My history with this piece of Americana is extensive. It all goes back to when I was a surly teenager at a restaurant with my family. I looked at the menu and declared that the club sandwich looked good. One member of my family (who shall never be named) told me in no uncertain terms that I would NOT like the club sandwich because it had too much bread. As a surly teenager with two copies of the stubborn gene (thanks mom and dad), this information ensured that not only would I order the club sandwich, but I would also declare its magnificence to all the world regardless of my real onion. Luckily, I was not forced to lie to my own family, because that sandwich was terrific. From then on, the club sandwich has been my default order when given the option.

Given this long past, you may be surprised to know (or not) that I have very strict requirements regarding what makes a good club sandwich. A true and good club sandwich contains seven things, no more, no less.
  1. Three slices of lightly toasted bread-Emphasis on the lightly toasted, often places go overboard and toast the hell out of the bread. By the time you are done with your last quarter, the roof of your mouth has been shredded by hard slivers of toast. Not good times. Bread type is negotiable, but given a choice, it's wheat every time.
  2. Turkey-Preferably thinly sliced deli turkey and not that dry real turkey stuff that comes apart and crumbles everywhere, especially when you pick up one of your sandwich quarters, a properly made club sandwich does not require reassembly.
  3. Bacon-Which must be crispy and more than two slices.
  4. Lettuce-Iceberg to be exact, but romaine is also acceptable.
  5. Tomato-As long as it is a good tomato, out-of-season mealy tomatoes should never go on a sandwich under any circumstances.
  6. Mayo-And only mayo, I find that the addition of mustard changes the entire complexion of the sandwich and not for the better.
  7. Cheese-Almost any cheese will do as long as it isn't too powerful.
Most places make one or two critical mistakes when making a club sandwich. Some places add ham to the equation. While I appreciate the addition of another pork product it IS a tad excessive. Other places try and spice up the club sandwich by adding nontraditional condiments, like honey mustard or specialty mayonnaise. Many places deem the third slice of bread to be superfluous and eliminate it. This is the most heinous act because it does not allow them to cut the sandwich into quarters and display those wonderful pieces of joy on the plate with the requisite mountain of chips or freedom fries. It's those neatly displayed sandwich quarters that really set the club sandwich apart from the other, more pedestrian sandwiches.

The Acadia Cafe does none of those things and just provides you with those seven essential ingredients, lovingly assembled into the perfect sandwich. They also have a healthy halo type multi-grain bread that is very pleasing. Everyone in the group loved their meals and praised the Acadia Cafe unreservedly. If their club sandwich is any indication of the quality of the rest of their food, multiple return trips will have to be scheduled.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Extra-Crispy Jane Austen

New Uptowner Cafe
1100 Grand Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55105

Our beloved breakfast club, discerning and sensible to a fault, must every now and again be forgiven for a propensity toward superlatives under stress of extraordinary hunger. Declarations of perfection are offered much more readily if the selections are viewed as remedies for suffering rather than mere bits of pork and eggs, a tendency more easily observed with each passing hour between need and cure. Indeed some remedies are better than others, however, and our faith in breakfast club may be restored upon the realization that its finer judgment will remain clear regardless of circumstance.

The party was delayed Saturday morning when Dr. N- discovered the loss of certain objects dear to her, and the ensuing search proved fruitless despite heroic efforts by Mr. C- to recover the missing items. Once the company was fully assembled, and the tender emotions of Dr. N- sympathetically addressed, they hastened away to The Uptowner, on the recommendation of Mr. Anders N-, a gentleman highly esteemed by all for his fine character. Despite the inconvenience such a large party presented to a small establishment, the server amiably made arrangements and the official meeting began.

The simple nature of the menu and the denial of Dr. N-'s first two beverage orders - both regrettably deemed impossible by the server - persuaded no one to depart from traditional breakfast offerings, except for Miss Sarah H-, who chose an item more generally preferred at lunch (a bacon cheeseburger), though the lateness of the hour prevented her choice from seeming peculiar. Most members of the party emphasized to the server their wish for "extra-crispy" potatoes, despite awareness that the potatoes had previously been untested and their usual crispiness as yet unknown, and one ought judge potatoes as they would come to the table normally, since efforts at remembering to specify crispiness will occasionally fail even the most ardent connoisseur.

The plan worked exceedingly well, however, and the potatoes arrived to exclamations of delight and satisfaction. How crisp! How perfectly browned! The potatoes had no equal in the recollections of any member present. Indeed all of the selections met with approval and happiness - Miss Rachael H- announced her particular admiration of the flawlessly executed omelet included in her order. Amidst this state of unprecedented appreciation, the only grievance uttered arose due to a somewhat inadequate preparation of bacon, which several members agreed would have benefited from a longer relationship with the skillet.

Is there any reason for us to mistrust the impressions of our club? We cannot but wonder at such proclamations of faultlessness, coming from a company of reviewers who are not shy of approaching complaint. Ah, but qualifications were there after all, if we choose to look more closely. Miss G- returned from the lounge decidedly vexed, deeming it "not fit for a lady". Mr. C- remarked on the physical harm he was receiving from the injurious chairs, a remark which provoked immediate agreement from the rest of the party. To be sure, all club members reverted to form as the alarm of hunger was removed. However, The Uptowner was ultimately still crowned a success, and appreciated in no small amount for uniting the breakfast club once again.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Good News/Bad News

The Newsroom
900 Nicollet Mall

You don’t really forget that you’re in a bar when you eat breakfast at the Newsroom in downtown Minneapolis. It’s dim, in that way that’s comforting when you’ve had too much to drink or when you are in the process of drinking too much. Besides, you have to walk past a giant ship of booze in order to get to your table. Needless to say, the Newsroom sports a decidedly different atmosphere from most of our favorite breakfast joints.

Still, we got a seat right away, which always puts us in a good mood. We didn’t really notice all of the TV’s built into the wall until the wait staff turned them all on to show the World Cup action. Fitting for a bar, but not so fitting for a breakfast joint, but then again, Beau was into the game, and I am admittedly a TV snob.

The first piece of good news came with our coffee, which is thick and delicious. It’s the kind of coffee that makes me forget that for me it can only lead to a night of insomnia and nightmares. The really good news was that we each got our own little pitcher of half and half (and when I say “little” I really mean “adequate” which for this crowd means a lot). It turns out to be a relief not to have to share cream with Beau. It reduces the hoard mentality that usually surrounds our morning coffee. The coffee refill pace was also brisk, although Beau begged me not to drink my whole second cup, so I didn’t test it myself.

The next piece of good news arrived on Jimmy and Perley’s plates. It was a steak and egg breakfast which they described as “perfect”. It’s not like I got to taste any of it, because they ate every last bit, but I trust their opinion on steak and eggs. Beau and Sarah also enjoyed their traditional breakfasts.

The bad news came to those of us who strayed, even slightly, from the meat and eggs breakfast. Rachael and I ordered an asparagus omelet, which arrived with limp, grey asparagus stems and nary a tender tip to be seen and with overcooked and dry eggs. I’m not going to lie. This was the worst breakfast of my entire summer. Judy also expressed a distinct lack of enthusiasm for her waffle with fruit.

So, go to the Newsroom, by all means, especially if you want to watch TV while you eat at a dim and drapery-hung table, but if you go be careful what you order. Just pretend you’re a reporter who’s been up all night covering an important breaking story, remember all of your stereotypes you've ever had about reporters, and order coffee and a basic high-cholesterol meal. Reporters, apparently, don’t know what good asparagus looks like. They certainly have never seen it in the Newsroom.

PS None of us went to the bathroom while we were there, but it's famous, I guess.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Power of Negative Thinking

Soba's Cafe
2558 Lyndale Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55405

One of my coworkers shares a philosophy of life with me. We call it something different, but the theme is the same. I call it "the power of negative thinking", or "it's better to be pleasantly surprised, then disappointed." My coworker repeats a phrase that her mother said numerous times while growing up, "Expect nothing and you will never be disappointed." It is this mindset that may have resulted in the sparkling review you are about to read.

Rachael and I woke up this morning and called over to the big house to inquire about the club. It was reported that Judy was still at the hospital and everything was in a holding pattern until she was available (we've tried breakfast club without Judy and it lacks a particular joy, if you've ever met Judy, you would understand). Rachael and I twiddled our thumbs, drank a bunch of cups of coffee and waited. The phone finally rang and we were told to report to Soba's Cafe in 15 minutes. No questions asked, no vetoes, it was the most decisive start to breakfast club ever. As we walked over there, Rachael and I discussed our misgivings about Soba's we had both heard bad things about it, especially concerning the service. Service is rather important to the club because we are...how do you say...a needy bunch. I need my coffee refilled a bajillion times (with copious amounts of cream and sugar provided), Judy will make at least one substitution with her order or try to order something that isn't even on the menu, and Jimmy, Fern, Alex, or Rachael have been known to make special requests. It was with this knowledge that breakfast began. In a word, skeptical.

It is hard for me to conjure up a better breakfast club experience. We arrived at about 10 (very late in the world of twin cities weekend breakfast) and were seated immediately. The service was prompt and courteous. All of our special requests were accommodated willingly. They even forgot to put the hollandaise sauce on the side for Judy and when she complained (whined really) they whisked her plate away and it returned soon thereafter, properly assembled. One caveat is necessary though, since I already had my coffee at home, I ordered orange juice, so their coffee refill/half and half and sugar supply skills were not properly tested.

Get on with it, how was the food? Simply put, the food was tremendous. I had the best breakfast quesadilla in my life. The tortillas were deliciously crispy, the salsa, sour cream, and guacamole sides were the perfect quantity, and inside was the most delicious combination of eggs cheese and bacon imaginable. Usually when something contains bits of bacon, it feels like you are on a treasure hunt to find the bacon. This was not a problem here as there seemed to be an entire pig's worth of bacon stuffed inside the tortillas.

Everyone else thoroughly enjoyed their dishes. Judy got the vegetarian eggs benedict, with guacamole in lieu of ham (a nice touch). The hollandaise sauce was very good. Rachael got some sort of scramble (cheese on the side), it was hard to tell what it was because it was gone so quickly. Jimmy had the standard eggs benedict and left not a scrap behind. Alex and Fern both had omelets and had effusive praise for them. The potatoes were good, but not great. They were roasted potatoes, not hash browns and they varied in crispiness from plate to plate. The really crispy ones were very good.

Overall grade from the group was an A-. Everyone except Jimmy gave the experience an A. Jimmy would have given the place an A, but docked it an entire letter grade because of all the dust on the windows and on the plastic plants. If you have seen Jimmy's house you would know that this is kind of like Dick Cheney docking someone an entire letter grade for being an obnoxious prick.

All of this leads us to an important question. Is breakfast club losing its edge? We've given positive reviews to the last five places we've been to. We are turning into a Dara Moskowitz article. Is it because of reduced expectations? Are we making better choices? These are a philosophical questions best answered over a cup of coffee and a plate of eggs and (crispy) hash browns.

Note: Soba's Cafe is no more. Perhaps the health department shut them down for all of the dust. At any rate, a new restaurant has taken their place. We may have to try it out someday.

That's Amore!

Crema Café
3403 Lyndale Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55408-4152
(612) 824-3868

Remember that time when we were lost wandering in a warren of alleyways in Italy? Wasn’t it great? It was so beautiful, and every time we turned another corner life rewarded us in some new way. Was it the frothy cappuccino? The ice cream that melted like velvet? The flowers? Chocolates? The Breakfast?

No, it was that BLT made with Minnesota-grown heirloom tomatoes, farmhouse Wisconsin cheddar, and organic bacon that has haunted your memory ever since? Wait. Do you mean to tell me that wasn’t Siena? It was South Minneapolis- and we can go whenever Beau uses up his vetoes on Bakery on Grand and Birchwood?

The entrance to Crema Café is on the sunniest corner of Minneapolis. It always takes a minute or so for my eyes to adjust to the interior, which is just enough time for my overactive imagination to transport me straight to the Mediterranean. Clearly, folks have put some thought and work into this place – the tiles, ironwork, tables,…everything about the interior is beautiful and purposefully placed -including the fact that to order you will have to pass by the entire retinue of small-batch ice-creams and a case filled with all sorts of hand-made tarts, chocolates, and assorted treats.

The menu is small, and is made up of a combination of seasonal and locally produced organic foods prepared in a French-Mediterranean-Midwestern style. Nearly everything is good and nearly everything that comes out of the kitchen is done well. Whether you want a traditional breakfast, or a Croque Madame, there will be something on the menu that will sound lovely, particularly, since while at Crema, you are on vacation. The potatoes are tasty, but are not uniformly crispy. Your meal will probably contain fresh herbs. After consuming every morsel on your plate you will not be so full that you will skip lunch-not necessarily a bad thing. You may consider coming back to Crema for lunch. Your waiter will not bring something that you really, really wanted but were too shy to actually order- but I don’t think the staff can be faulted for not being able to accurately read minds.

Crema utilizes a semi-counter service format. You will bring your own water, coffee, and a limited number of accoutrements to the table. I have never figured out exactly what I need to do for myself, because I’m relaxed and easy going while I’m on vacation and that end of the counter is crowded. Specialty coffees, your meal, and anything out of the ordinary (for Crema), will be brought to your table later by your server. This works because it gives you a chance to re-arrange the plaza chairs so that half of your party can sit in sun and the other half in shade with one person in half-sun half-shade, for example. This doesn’t work, because you must request ketchup specially, and it comes in a 1.5 tablespoon serving (one Roman tablespoon = 1.5 American standard tablespoons).

Just like your last vacation when you were bored waiting for your return flight and you started mentally converting euros back to dollars and had to have one last grappa to stave off the panic attack, Crema is not all dreamy perfection. After the last TCBC meeting, several members pointed out that as long as the treasurer was paying, we loved Crema, but if the bill was coming out of our own pockets, we might not be head-over-heels. Crema’s atmosphere has no equal among breakfast joints, but good food and organic local ingredients can be found elsewhere for less money (although not necessarily on the same plate). Definitely cheaper than a vacation on the Italian Riviera, Crema is perfect for times when you need a meal length vacation, and don’t mind paying the equivalent of euros for dollars.

Overall Grade: A- among the adventurous, B-/C+ from the traditional breakfast lover.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Where's Rachael?

I'd like to tell you about the breakfast I had this morning at the Bryant Lake Bowl. I'd tell you about what looked like mostly crispy potatoes on Beau's plate, and how the Huevos Rancheros fit my plate and my appetite well, but not quite perfectly, because I don't think dirty rice belongs in Huevos Rancheros (and I hadn't read the menu well enough to realize that there would be some in my meal). I'd mention that the BLB does the little things well, like including sea salt in the shakers on the table. I'd say that we used up all of our cream and never got more, which must have driven Beau crazy. I'd finish up with a gripe about the breakfast sausage that tastes like a good hot dog. Hot dogs for breakfast?

I'd like to make my report because this is a breakfast review site, and we did go out for breakfast after all. I can't, however, because a certain member of our club owes us some words about Crema Cafe, and if I talked about the BLB it'd be out of order.

If I menioned that the BLB got a C today, it would surely throw everyone off, because they all want to know answers to more pressing questions, like where can you go for breakfast if you want to pretend like you're eating in an Italian piazo? Or how can you reconcile counter service with a $9 basic breakfast?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Merci Buckets

1600 W. Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN

Chaise longue. Most people know the meaning of this phrase, but not the proper spelling or pronunciation. Look at the second word closely; it's not "lounge", it's "longue", and sounds like the word "long". Some dictionaries now include an entry for "chaise lounge", since we in America often twist things around a little bit and eventually the dictionary people give up and let us have it our way. But I'm sure the French would scoff at us for what we have done to their words.

What would they have to say about Barbette, I wonder. Other reviewers have made the assertion that walking into Barbette is just like walking into a cafe in Paris, but my sources (Jimmy and Judy), tell me it's really nothing like that at all. I don't know if Barbette's intention is pure authenticity or not, but I don't think it matters all that much because what they've got is really damn good in its own right.

The breakfast menu includes a selection of omelettes, quiche, waffles, crepes, and such, as well as a few versions of Eggs Benedict and things like granola, yogurt, or croissants. One distinction we noticed right away - they only offer one kind of potato (pommes frites, or french fries), and you must order it separately if you want it. We got a half-order and shared it as an appetizer, and that was plenty for the five of us who were sampling it. A whole order is huge (super-size, we might say), so be warned that you should only order the pommes frites if you plan on sharing with a friend or two. The standard accompaniment to eggs in place of potatoes is a salad of lightly-dressed field greens, which makes the meal quite a bit lighter and an option we wish more restaurants would offer.

Rachael, Jimmy, and I all got the traditional Eggs Benedict and we all liked it. The hollandaise sauce is quite good and they know how much is enough. Judy got the daily quiche which included red peppers, leeks, and asiago, and said it was "the best quiche she had ever had", though we all knew she was hyperbolizing, and she knew we knew. Alex got an omelette with brie and fines herbes, which she liked although couldn't finish. And finally, Beau got the french toast, and emphatically told us to never allow him to get french toast anywhere else because this was the best - eggy, delicious, and served with plenty of real maple syrup. The only loss of points came as the result of an unfortunate coffee-free period near the beginning of the meal, but that was only a minor complaint.

So, incroyable!, the breakfast club was happy for the third week in a row. Barbette, our French (or French-inspired) cafe spoke to us in language we all understood... quality breakfast food.

See also Barbette Revisited.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Reflections on the Corner Table

Corner Table
4257 Nicollet Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55409

I hate getting my hair cut. Part of it is allowing a stranger to touch my head while trying to think of things to say other than, "Hey, get your hands off me." Once, when I was thirteen, and awkward, a hair stylist told me that my face was too plain for the haircut I had, and then he proceeded to give me a stiff helmet of hair that would have better suited a grandmother. A big part of why I hate getting my hair cut is that I have to sit facing a mirror for an hour, watching the uncomfortable look on my face as I try not to think of myself as "too plain" and tolerate someone else's hands on my head. Given all of that, I was not happy to find my seat at the Corner Table facing a wall-sized mirror. Was I going to have to watch myself eat? Ick. I sized up the people on the other side of the table, decided Judy was my best bet, and begged her to trade seats with me. From the far more pleasant back-to-the-mirror seat, the restaurant atmosphere was gentle, soft green walls with minimalist maroon colored paitings, nice wooden tables and a stone floor.

No one else was in the restaurant when we got there. In fact, we had to send Rachael to look at the sign, because we were afraid they weren't open. After we had perused the menus, a family sat down outside (nice outdoor seating, if Jimmy would ever allow us to sit outside), and later still a couple of women took another indoor table. Still, it was an ominous sign. Was the food that bad? Fortunately, no.

Items on the menu were about $9, with an assortment of high-end breakfast options as well as an al a carte menu from which you could create a traditional breakfast. Jimmy had the Juevos Rancheros, which he said were "good". Sarah ate the Farmer's Breakfast including thick slices of local ham, which we all sampled and liked. Rachael and I had the vegetarian hash, which was too small and which Rachael regretted ordering as soon as the words left her mouth because she realized too late that she wanted meat. Judy had a daily scramble special with spinach, tomatoes and parmesan. Beau got French Toast because he was tempted by the bottles of real maple syrup on the table when we got there. He described it as too dry and "too sweet" - two words Rachael had never before heard him say. He did, however, like the homemade sausage patties. Nearly every plate left the table empty. Jimmy and I both agreed that, even though it was a late breakfast, we'd still have room for lunch, because the portions were small.

Our overall grade was a B. Sarah, happy with her ham, gave it more, and Beau, still bitter about the too-sweet French toast, gave it less. Judy's grade reflected the seat I made her use, because, really, nobody needs to watch themselves eat breakfast, but she did like the food. We were a satisfied breakfast club for the second week in a row. Unprecedented.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Welcome Back Old Friend

Day By Day Cafe
477 W. 7th St.
St. Paul, MN 55102

Back in 1998, Breakfast Club consisted of Jimmy, Judy, Alex, and Fern. I was in college in New York, and after that in Nashville in grad school (or as I call it, hell on earth) for three years. Those were dark, dark times, and breakfast club happenings from then are rarely discussed now. Back then the Day By Day was an old standard. It might be the charter member of the "Official Breakfast Club Old Standards". It fell out of favor though, due to a variety of reasons, it's a long drive to St. Paul, there is often a long wait for a table, there were a couple of bad eating experiences, etc. By the time I returned to the Twin Cities and became an active member of breakfast club, the Day By Day had fallen off the map. Until yesterday.

As per usual, we were sitting around Jimmy and Judy's kitchen table playing our favorite pre-Breakfast Club game, "Round Robin Veto". Here's how the game works, one person makes a suggestion to the group and provides evidence as to why we should go there ("Let's go to Bryant Lake Bowl, we haven't gone there in a while and they are going to close soon"). There is a three second pause, and someone else vetoes the suggestion and then states why it is a sucky idea ("Bryant Lake Bowl is too greasy, the tables are too small, and they don't have bottomless cups of coffee"). The vetoing person must then provide an alternative to be shot down by the rest of the group. We usually do one complete round before a decision is made. This used to happen in the car, on the way to the place, but now that we take two cars we have to decide before leaving the house. We had already vetoed seven places when someone suggested the Day By Day. There was a three second pause...and no veto. Not only was there no veto, there was genuine excitement for the idea. It had been a long time since we'd gone there and some people had never been there and it is always nice to have veterans and newbies to critique a place. Before long there were two cars speeding east on 94 towards St. Paul.

Walking into the crowded restaurant, I my hopes faded that we would be able to eat soon. We had seven people (a nice guest appearance by cousin Perley) and seven is pushing the boundaries of an acceptable number of people for a breakfast joint. Not only were we seated almost immediately, we got a huge table in a relatively empty part of the restaurant. It was a very promising start.

When we sat down, I actually exclaimed with joy. There were two bowls of cream. I'm not talking two pudding-dish sized bowls that hold three containers of half and half and force some members of the group (myself included) to horde cream for the entire meal, I'm talking two BOWLS of cream, each with a giant pile of half and half. Why had it taken us so long to come back?

The meal itself was delightful. Everyone enjoyed their food tremendously. It was very traditional breakfast fare, which was good news for me. Jimmy and Perley both got something called the "heart stopper", which made me decide that all breakfast places should have a dish called the heart stopper. It only seems appropriate. Alex and I each had the breakfast burrito and enjoyed it thoroughly. The fresh avocado was a great addition. Judy got the special pancake and liked it, but complained that it was a little dry. She then confessed that she did not put any syrup on it, which would explain the dryness. Rachael and Fern both got a tradition type breakfast and gave it positive marks.

The only bone of contention in the group was the potatoes. Most members of the group gave them poor marks because of their lack of crispiness. Other members gave the potatoes high marks because they were fresh and definitely never frozen. The search for perfect potatoes continues. A legitimate case for them being perfect could have been made if the cooks would have left them on the stove for five more minutes. They also get bonus points for giving you the option of American (Freedom?) fries or hash browns.

The Day By Day Cafe received a overall grade of B+/A- from the group. It might just have inserted itself back among the old standards. Welcome back old friend.

Monday, May 22, 2006


Dara Moscowitz - who went to Carleton - has just informed me (through our usual means of communication: her City Pages column) that the meat and eggs at the Bryant Lake Bowl are locally produced, organic, and sustainable. I, therefore, move that we hold some not-too-distant future meeting of our club at the BLB. Can I get a second?

Oh, and thank you Hennepin County for the smoking ban, or I would have never made this suggestion.

OK, carry on.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Importance of Being Earnest About Your Maple Syrup

Wilde Roast Cafe
518 Hennepin Ave. E.
Minneapolis, MN 55414

Sometimes I feel bad about giving places bad reviews. Sometimes I feel like the Club is way too critical and no place will ever live up to our absurdly high standards. I worry that people will not (not that anyone outside of our family does right now) want to read our blog because we continually bash every place we go to. There are times when we may be overly critical (even with places that we frequent), but sometimes a place deserves every single piece of criticism. The Wilde Roast Cafe is one of those places.

We were so hopeful. My first thought upon walking in was, "Wow, this is classy, I feel underdressed." The place seemed more coffee shop then cafe, with plush leather chairs and sofas, nice art on the walls, counter service, etc. Anything this fancy looking surely must put a lot of time and effort into their food. The menu was ambitious, no standard breakfast to be had, but all of the offerings sounded very good on paper with many fancy names (frittata, strata) and delicious sounding ingredients (créme brûlée french toast, artichoke and roasted red pepper). Unfortunately the highest grade among the group was a C+, and the overall experience could best be described as a train wreck.

My first thought about the place, "classy", was soon refined to "pretentious". There is a fine line between classy and pretentious (I should know, I crossed that line a long time ago), the Wilde Roast Cafe crossed that line, turned around and erased it to make sure it never came back. Classy is having high quality tea for your patrons. Pretentious is responding to an order of earl grey tea with, "Sorry we don't have earl grey tea, we only have WINTER WHITE earl grey tea." Classy is having special homemade strawberry butter for your waffle. Pretentious is having special homemade strawberry butter for your waffle, then providing fake maple syrup to go with it. Classy is offering a fresh field green salad as part of breakfast (thank you Cafe Barbette). Pretentious is offering a fresh field green salad as a part of breakfast and then topping it with dressing that tastes like stale beer.

I would go on, but I already feel bad for what I've said. This was a breakfast club experience that is best forgotten. The Wilde Roast Cafe received an average grade of a "D". We will not return.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

More Places We Haven't Been

I just talked to my dad, who has a breakfast club of his own. They are not fancy breakfast food people over in that club. Places they like are:
  • Elsie's
    729 Marshall St NE
  • Square Peg
    2021 East Hennepin
  • Wild Onion
    788 Grand Ave
    St. Paul
  • Wilde Roast Cafe
    518 Hennepin Ave E
  • Legends Bar and Grill
    825 East Hennepin

Saturday, May 13, 2006

A Date with Jay

Jay's Cafe
791 Raymond Ave.
St. Paul, MN

I was prepared to fall in love the minute we walked into Jay's. The place is homey. The walls are a soft green with beadboard wainscoting. The waitress was friendly and greated us with a warm, "Sit where you like." Even the customers were accomodating - two of them moved so that we could push two tables together and create a table for six.

There is a maximum capacity of 45 at Jay's, so it's a hole-in-the wall type of place, with small tables (but not too small) and fair-trade coffee. There's a magazine rack with the day's newspaper next to one of the tables. It can get loud, because it's a small room, or it can get unnervingly quiet, when the rest of the diners all decide to stop talking at the same time, and the only voice in the room is your own.

The menu had so many good-sounding options, that we had a hard time making our selections. Before our food came, there was a pervading feeling of optimism among the club members. Could this be The One?

Beau and Jimmy ordered the "Cowboy" breakfast, with steak, bacon, eggs piled on top of their potatoes. Judy succumbed to the temptation of the daily waffle (orange and almond) with her real maple syrup and whipped cream on the side. Rachael and I had the thing that was most like Eggs Benedict. Sarah, true to form, got the burrito.

My food was first to arrive. Fingers swooped in from all over the table to sample my potatoes. It's been a long time since we've been to a new restaurant, so we all wanted to see how the potatoes stacked up. They didn't. They were at once soggy and dry. The spice blend was OK, but it just didn't make up for the texture. The potato problem was like being on a blind date and finding out the dude was a Republican. Could you see beyond it if he had lots of other really good qualities? Judy shook her head, wrinkled her nose, and gave a definite thumbs down.

Oh, we wanted to love this Jay, because he was so good looking, but he kept giving us reason to doubt. Beau and Jimmy plowed through their meal, Beau polishing off his plate and Jimmy leaving the rejected potatoes behind. They later admitted that the steak was also a disappointment. Rachael, on the other hand, liked her meal and she and Beau were the only Clean Plate Club members. I had the same thing, but I got tired of the pile of cooked spinach under my eggs, the hollandaise version didn't thrill me, and I kept coming back to those potatoes - those limp on the outside, dry on the inside potatoes. After a while I didn't even like the spices anymore. Sarah ate half of her burrito. I couldn't tell whether that was a bad sign, though, because the thing was enormous, and sometimes she knows her limits. Judy seemed happy with her waffle, but Jimmy was not impressed when he finished it off for her.

At the end of the meal, a very divided breakfast club left the table. The Cowboys gave the place a D, probably because their meal depended so heavily on the potatoes and the steak. Judy was more in the B range. I said C+, because the ambience was exactly what I want in a breakfast joint. I think the conclusion was that we could come back, but only if we altered our ordering habits and substituted fresh fruit for potatoes. That way, we could enjoy Jay's good looks and charming personality without running into his unfortunate potato problem.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Breakfast Club Takes Off Its Pajamas

As I mentioned yesterday, Jimmy and Judy are on vacation until May 7th, so there has been no Breakfast Club. In addition to performing all off the duties and responsibilities that go with the title of "Official Breakfast Club Treasurers", Jimmy and Judy live with and take care of three octogenarians, with varying levels of relatedness. One grandmother (Dorothy), one mother of a former fiancé (Nicky), and one family friend (Ann). This is a complicated story that may be elaborated upon in the future. Anyway, when Jimmy and Judy are on vacation, the children are charged with checking up on "The Queens of the Universe" to make sure they have enough food, have all the library books they need, and frankly that they are still alive. This particular vacation by Jimmy and Judy occurred during Dorothy's birthday (her 87th!), so the children decided to take her out to dinner. It may not be breakfast and it may not be breakfast club, but it is a restaurant review.

We went to Duplex in Minneapolis (2516 Hennepin Ave. S., 612.381.0700) on Wednesday night. The people in attendance were Beau, Alex, Rachael, Cousin Perley (an occasional TCBC member), Ann, and Dorothy. Nicky is in the poorest health, so she stays with her family when Jimmy and Judy are away. Overall, Duplex receives a C, the food was good, but a number of non-food issues drastically lowers the grade.

Food-Everyone except Rachael and I were very pleased with the food. Rachael and I both ordered the pasta of the day. The special pasta was penne with morel mushrooms and fiddleheads in a very pedestrian cream sauce. I was able to try almost everyone else's (Perley was not a good sharer) dish and the special pasta was a poor choice. The salads were very good, especially the Caeser. Ann had the chicken fettuccini, which was buttery and delicious. Dorothy had a melt in your mouth roasted duck breast with baby carrots. Alex had the bison with fois gras, and anything with fois gras is fantastic. Perely did not leave a scrap of his risotto behind, so it must have been pretty good. If you avoid the daily special, you will be quite happy with the food.

Service-The service was...how you say...disconcerting. I think that the owners of Duplex invested in a Waitresstron 9000 and to save time set it on "5' 2", 100 pounds, short black hair, tight black pants, tight black shirt", and then just ran off 15 of them. I couldn't figure out which one was assigned to our table, and for all I know we were served by eight different women.

Atmosphere-This is really where Duplex loses points. As the name would suggest, Duplex is located in a renovated duplex. Anyone who has spent time in an old duplex is familiar with the distinct "cat pee/bong water duplex smell". Unfortunately the renovation process did nothing to reduce this smell. In the favorable reviews in the Star Tribune and the City Pages, Duplex is billed as a great date locale, quiet, intimate, nice. We found this not to be true, probably due to those favorable reviews. The restaurant was packed and the tables were crammed together, packing us into small rooms like sardines. The acoustics made things even worse. Thumping music and loud voices bouncing off of hardwood floors and walls made conversation difficult at best, especially when two of the six party members are hard of hearing. Walking out of the restaurant, my voice felt hoarse from shouting and my ears felt numb. Not exactly a calming experience.

For the food alone, Duplex warrants a return trip, but not until after the initial buzz dies down. It would be nice to be able to actually engage in conversation while eating our food.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Places We Haven't Been

So I was looking for some new spots to eat breakfast in the Twin Cities, and I thought I'd start a list so we don't forget to try them. Feel free to add a comment if you find one I should add.
  • Jay's Cafe
    791 Raymond Ave.
    St. Paul
    Sounds a bit more gourmet than eggs and sausage, but it also has hash for the hash lovers in our crowd.

  • Ideal Diner
    1314 Central Ave NE
    Looks small, but very authentic

  • Colossal Cafe
    1839 E. 42nd St.
    Very small, so it might be the place to go on days when we get an early start. It's in my neighborhood, and it looks busy. Plus there is outdoor seating to make it seem bigger.

  • My-T-Fine Bakery/Cafe
    4300 Bryant Ave S
    If it's so close, and gets good reviews, why don't we ever eat there?

Breakfast Club for the Gentry of Lake Street

Town Talk Diner
PDATED: Town Talk has changed ownership. Please see this post for an updated review. 

Town Talk Diner
2701 1/2 E. Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN 55406

The first thing you notice when you eat at the Town Talk Diner is the décor. There’s the name in lights outside, of course (although the bulbs are already about half burnt out), which makes the place seem so urban. Then there’s the narrow counter you’d expect from the outside, which looks authentic and diner-y (not the best seating for six, however). If you keep going around the corner, the larger dining room has multi-colored flooring and nicely-sized, brushed metal tables. It’s a shiny place. There are photographs of shiny kitchen things, and mirrors along one wall. There’s just a lot of metal, and, yes, it does reflect the sound and make the place a bit too loud, particularly if the music is going (but they do seem to be smart enough to turn it down when the dining area gets crowded for breakfast)

The next thing you notice is the napkin ring. “Cool,” you’ll think, removing it from your napkin. “It’s one of those thingies”. Before you can remember the name of the thingy if you ever knew it, it will be whisked away by one of the many waitstaff at the diner. The waiters and waitresses wear ill-fitting black jackets, and they are all good-looking hip twentysomethings who will ask you many times, a bit too eagerly, if you liked the food. I get the feeling that tables are not strictly assigned, because I have always been assisted by multiple waitstaff, along with the one main one. They do sort of interrupt your conversation, but you can’t argue with their earnest desire for you to like the Town Talk Diner, and they always make sure you have enough cream, coffee and water, which is good. They even refill tea, which is going above and beyond, in my experience.

The food is good. It’s not going to change your life, or become your new favorite restaurant of all time, but it is reasonably priced, and it tastes good. They serve their two plate-sized pancakes with real maple syrup, which you don’t even have to special order, which means someone in the kitchen knows that “pancake syrup” is crap – a very good sign. The pancakes themselves are actually cooked all the way through, which is such a difficult thing in restaurants. If you don’t feel like sweet food in the morning, the goat cheese, spinach, and mushroom omelet will fill you up past lunch time, and it has goat cheese in it. Mmm…goat cheese.

In all, I’m glad the Town Talk Diner finally opened its doors. It’s an eager new player in the rapidly growing East Lake Street – oh, sorry, “Midtown” – restaurant scene. It gets a nice solid C+ from me, but the entire club has not eaten there often enough for it to receive the Official Breakfast Club Seal of Approval.

PS Please note, this grade has been up-graded.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Hippie food for breakfast?


Trotter's Cafe and Bakery
232 N. Cleveland Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55104

Breakfast Club has been on a two week hiatus because the official treasurers (Jimmy and Judy) are on vacation in New York until May 7th. Hopefully Breakfast Club will make its triumphant return on Saturday May 13th...

Until we have new restaurants to review there are always the "old standards" that need to be discussed. The next "old standard" on my list is Trotter's Cafe and Bakery in St. Paul. Rachael discovered Trotter's when she lived in St. Paul. When Rachael was first brought into the Breakfast Club fold, Trotter's was her first suggestion to the group. After watching Breakfast Club tear apart restaurant after restaurant, she was extremely frightened that Trotter's would meet the same fate. Not only did Trotter's survive the initial visit, it made it into the pantheon of old standards.

Trotter's is a "granola-y" old hippie hangout. They serve local organic eggs and meat and bake their own bread onsite. Don't even bother asking for white toast with your meal. They will politely nod their heads and then serve you wheat toast. They serve all the breakfast standards, but in smaller quantities and made with about 1/10th the grease as most places. It's perfect if you would like to have two egg, bacon, potatoes, and toast, but don't want to physically feel your arteries closing as you eat your breakfast. Below are some of the menu highlights (and lowlights).

Trotter's Three-The standard two eggs, bacon or sausage, potatoes and toast. The potatoes are not the best. Breakfast club is partial to hash browns and these are fried potatoes. Because they use much less grease, they are unable to crisp the potatoes to a sufficient degree. They make up for it though, by adding a nice spice to them. The bacon is spiced with apple and cinnamon, which has polarized the group. Luckily those that don't like the apple cinnamon spice can get the sausage, which is very good, even if it is in link form.

Tortilla Lucia-This is Trotter's version of Huevos. Sarah gets it almost every time we go, and gives it high marks all around.

Potato Mountain-This is a great dish if you are marathon training and are carbo loading in preparation for a long run or eating to recover from one. It consists of a giant pile of potatoes, fried up with green peppers, onions, tomatoes, and cheese, then topped with eggs cooked the way you want. If you are like me and like to have egg yolks co-mingle with ketchup and the potatoes, do not order the eggs over easy, as they will come over hard and you will get no yolk and be sad. If you want yolk, order your eggs sunny side up.

Today's Scramble-This is a combination of eggs, two or three vegetables, and some type of cheese scrambled together. Rachael is enticed by this every time we go and sometimes she succumbs. She usually is happy with it, but wishes it came with meat.

Pancakes-Restaurant pancakes are hard. Pancakes are especially hard if you are an earthy, granola type restaurant. Trotter's doesn't make light and airy pancakes that serve as perfect vectors for butter and syrup. They make dense and hearty pancakes and add things like corn meal, oatmeal, bark, twigs, and other such things. If you get it, only order one, I have never seen anyone eat an entire double stack of pancakes. Even the people that eat one pancake (it takes up the entire plate) refuse to even look at food for the next eight hours.

Other important notes. Trotter's is semi-self serve. When you enter, you go to the counter and order your food. They give you a sign and you find a table for yourself. They bring the food out to you when it is ready. Everything else is up to you. You have to get your own silverware, napkins, ketchup, water, and coffee refills. When you are finished, you have to bus your own table. This is the reason Alex does not like Trotter's. Alex likes to be served 100% when she eats breakfast on the weekend. I actually really enjoy this feature, because it allows me to drink about 35 cups of coffee and completely abuse the half and half and sugar dispensers. I like not being beholden to the waitress for my next cup of joe and am somewhat embarrassed about having to request more half and half.

Breakfast Club highly reccomends Trotter's Cafe and Bakery. You may be disaapointed though if you like your eggs to be served swimming in a little pool of grease. Hopefully we will be back next week with a new review...

Monday, April 24, 2006

The first "old standard"

Update: the Modern is closing. Tears. I'm going to miss their pampered eggs and extra large booth in the back for large groups.

The Modern Cafe
337 13 Avenue NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413

Given that this is a restaurant review blog, there probably should be some reviews posted. Here is the first review. The Modern Cafe is one of the "old standards". When the picky group of six cannot agree on a location The Modern is often one of the default selections. You would think that as one of the old standards it would receive a stunning review. You would be wrong. The Modern is an old standard for one reason, the special big table in the back of the restaurant. This table is reserved for parties of five or more and is usually open. Finding seating for six very hungry people can be a harrowing experience at 9:30 on a Saturday morning in the Twin Cities. We've been known to walk into a restaurant glance around for two seconds and immediately veto it due to the wait. Even if it means we have to spend more time driving around the city finding a different place to eat, that is better than standing in no man's land at the door, watching steaming plates of food go by. Immediate seating means A LOT.

The food unfortunately, can be hit and miss. Every time we go, at least one member of the party gets the famous Modern hash. Half of the time, that person spends the entire breakfast raving about how good the hash is while the rest of the table quietly seethes because they weren't bold enough to order it. The other half of the time the hash orderer complains that the hash is a disappointment because it was not made with enough beer (beery hash is gooooooood) while the rest of the table smugly thinks to themselves, "I knew the hash wasn't going to be good today."

The hash browns are also hit and miss. I have had some one THE best hash browns ever there, and I have also had some of the mushiest, soggiest hash browns ever. It is like Russian roulette, but with hash browns.

One guaranteed winner is the pampered eggs. A very nice combination of scrambled eggs, bacon, scallions, and cream cheese.

The group also has one major issue with the Modern, cream dispensation. Our group likes their cream. The coffee drinkers and the tea drinkers both use copious amounts of cream. Even if there are three coffee orders and two tea orders at the table, the Modern servers provide the table with a pitcher of cream approximately the size of a thimble. When more cream is requested, another thimble of cream is provided. This is repeated three or four times, until the table is cluttered with multiple empty thimbles of cream. This results in some members of the group hording thimbles of cream by their plate of food in anticipation of their next cup of coffee.

The Modern is a solid "B". There are times when it receives an A+ (beery hash and crispy potatoes) and other times when it is lucky to receive a C. You may ultimately be disappointed with the food, but at least you didn't have to wait for a table...

Where are We Going to Eat?

Breakfast club actually begins about 2 hours before we arrive at the restaurant. Being a slave to the schedule of a teacher, I get up early. Judy, being insane, is up long before I open my eyes, and Jimmy, who has to sleep next to her, is usually up, too, because Judy is a lot of things, but she is not quiet in the morning. So, around 7:30, after sitting around my apartment getting hungry, I make the call.

On those Saturdays when Judy doesn't have to do rounds at the hospital before breakfast club, Jimmy tells me to get in my car and come on over. This means, roughly translated, "Judy and I have not yet taken our shower, read the paper, or had a cup of coffee, but when we do, we'll be ready to go." Before he hangs up the phone, he asks the inevitable question: "Where are we going to eat?" We will hear this question many more times before we arrive at the restaurant.

I holler upstairs for Sarah who lives in the upstairs of our duplex, but she doesn't like to carpool, so sometimes we drive separately over to Jimmy and Judy's. On a good day, we see one of Beau or Rachael's cars parked out front when we arrive. Most days, however, the first stage of breakfast club involves waiting and thinking about that question.

Back in the day, we'd all cram into Jimmy's station wagon, with Judy volunteering to squeeze in the back end. She would tell us that she was quite comfortable, and she liked it back there. However, this tradition has recently ended (possibly because the back of a station wagon is not really that comfortable...), and we now take two cars. Before we leave the comforts of Jimmy's kitchen for our cars, we ask the question again: "Where are we going to eat?" With the new two-car arrangement we have to answer this question before we leave the house.

It's a difficult question. We have six people. Six very picky people. We can't just eat anywhere. Some of us like a lighter breakfast. Some like the traditional twoeggsovereasyhashbrownsandwholewheattoast. We don't like small tables. We hate to wait for a table.

We do have some old standbys (which I hope will be reviewed in more depth later in these pages).
  • There's the Modern, with its booth reserved for parties of 5 or more. We like that booth, but you can't count on the Modern's potatoes.
  • We had a brief love-afair with the Bandbox, but it's so small with so few tables, and it can be overwhelmingly greasy.
  • The food at the Bryant-Lake Bowl is good, but who designed those itty-bitty tables, anyway?
  • Everybody else in the party likes Trotters, but I don't like their counter service, and, besides, there is too little grease at Trotters. It's a bit too granola for breakfast.
  • We've just started going to Barbette, but I'm afraid the food might be a bit too fru-fru for Beau.
  • Judy liked Bakery on Grand. Thank goodness it closed down indefinitely for remodeling, because Beau was running out of vetoes.
  • Sometimes we book it over to St. Paul for that one place with all the photos of the Eiffel tower, but it never seems worth the drive.
So "Where are we going to eat?" question is the first order of business of every meeting. Once it's decided, we can begin the real business of critiquing of the potatoes...

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Cast of Characters

Jimmy and Judy
The parents. They are the official "Breakfast Club" treasurers. Jimmy likes his eggs over easy, his toast whole wheat, and his sausage in link form. Judy is the hash brown queen. According to her, they must be extremely crispy and never frozen.

The daughter. She's a math teacher and a runner. Alex is banned from drinking coffee, so she has tea with an obscene amount of cream and sugar.

The son. He works in the food industry, abhors any breakfast that doesn't include eggs, meat, toast, and potatoes, and drinks too many cups of coffee during the meal.

Alex's best friend and charter member of Breakfast Club. Sarah enjoys a nontraditional breakfast (BLT anyone?) and strong earl grey tea.

Beau's fiancé. Rachael is a completely unpredictable orderer, and consequently is often disappointed with her meal.

A Brief History

Circa 1998. Two parents decide to take their 20 something children out to breakfast on Saturdays on a semi-regular basis. This allowed an already close family to reconnect and discuss any developments in their lives on a regular basis. Important decisions and revelations were made over a plate of bacon, eggs, and hash browns. The cast of characters expanded and contracted depending on the living/relationship situations of the children. The group has been to almost every breakfast restaurant in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area, searching for the perfect place. The search continues to this day...

Friday, March 31, 2006