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 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...