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 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?