Saturday, December 29, 2007

Good Intentions...

Nick and Eddie Restaurant and Bar
1612 Harmon Place
Minneapolis, MN 55403
612.486.5800

It is December in Minneapolis, which apparently means that people are not allowed to see the sun. There is also a constant assault of a strange white substance falling from the sky. This is especially disconcerting to members of the club that had spent the last 11 days in the tropical sun of St. John (a honeymoon much deserved and long overdue). Oddly enough, these complaints were not well received. Strange.

Despite the inclement weather, breakfast club convened on Saturday morning for the traditional morning meal. It was a rare collection of people thanks to the winter school holiday. Almost complete attendance; the only missing member was dear Fern who was off enjoying the wonders of the Steel City. In a complete surprise the destination was decided upon in mere minutes. Big Al was off attending a secret writing meeting from 9-11. She informed the rest of the group the previous night that she would be calling at 10 am and expected a location to be chosen when she called. This was discussed in the morning over coffee and despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that everyone was on the verge of death by starvation, the first suggestion was accepted. Jimmy and Judy had enjoyed a lunch and a dinner at Nick and Eddie's previously. They recently began a brunch service on the weekend, so we decided to give it a shot.

The first thing we noticed when entering Nick and Eddie's the swanky appearance. The decor was elegant, great lighting, and overall atmosphere. The plates even had the restaurant name etched on to them. It had a bit of a hard/film noiry (funny word) edge to it and I half expected to be seated next to Humphrey Bogart. We were very impressed.

The second thing we noticed was that we were the only customers. Seeing as how they'd just began their brunch service, we didn't hold it against them. In fact, our group rather prefers to be the only people in the restaurant. We are both high maintenance and prone to guilt. We often feel bad about the 9,000 special requests we make during the meal, especially when the server has a lot of other customers. As the only diners in the place, we were free to ask for the moon.

As we were driving over here, I though to myself, I bet I will be able to predict 90% of what they will have. I think there are strict rules when it comes to what can be offered. According to "The Fancy Restaurant Brunch Gestapo", there will be the following items:

1) French toast with some sort of flair (like a banana compote)
2) Eggs Benedict with or without flair (spinach or some such thing)
3) Omelet(s) with flair (fancy cheese, strange veggie)
4) Some sort of baked eggy flairy thing (like eggs en cocotte)
5) Scrambled eggs with flair (often not actually called scrambled)
6) Fruit and granola

One thing that is often not included in the "Fancy Restaurant Brunch" is any form of the standard American breakfast of two eggs, meat, toast, and potatoes. Sometimes they will throw you a bone by placing those three items in the "sides" list. Is the standard American breakfast too low-brow for the fancy restaurant brunch? Do they intentionally leave it off the menu because it is too difficult to add flair to it? This menu limitation has caused me to sour a bit on the "brunch" concept.

But I digress, back to Nick and Eddie's. As I suspected, the standard brunch list was most of their menu. To their credit, Nick and Eddie's had some additional, interesting options, like grilled spicy sausages with polenta. In what might be a first, almost everyone one at the table tried something different. Usually at these brunches, our table will be made up of 80% eggs benedict.

I had an omelet with sausage, cheese and apples. There were two omelet options, but I was confused by the menu. When I ordered my omelet, I mistakenly thought I was getting an omelet with sausage, cheese, apple, bacon, and avocado. When I was informed that it was actually two omelet options, I reconsidered my choice. The waitress, who was very eager to please offered to put anything in the omelet that I desired. I ordered an omelet with sausage, cheese, apple, and avocado. I was terribly excited by this interesting concoction. I guess the waitress over-promised and my choice was apparently vetoed in favor of what was on the menu. No avocado for me. Oh well.

Jimmy had the eggs benedict. When he ordered it, he was informed that they were out of Canadian bacon and it would be replaced with regular bacon. This lead to a curious discussion after the waitress departed. Since we were the only people in the restaurant, who was eating all of their Canadian bacon? Where did it all go? Hopefully there isn't some sort of worldwide Canadian bacon shortage. That would be tragic.

Alex ordered the "shirred" eggs. This was a tiny, creme brulee sized dish of baked eggs and cheese. It looked very good, but Alex still looked hungry after the meal was over.

Rachael went crazy and ordered the spicy sausage and polenta. She loved her meal and gave the highest grade of the group. We all decided though that in vanilla Minneapolis, those spicy sausages should have come with a warning label. They were H-O-T HOT!

Judy and Perley ordered the "Family Platter", which consisted of brioche and a danish, followed by scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, and toast. The name of the dish would cause one to think that they would receive a large plate of food to be shared family-stye. It was actually just a regular plate of food. This was not a problem however, because it ensured Judy received a fair amount of food. A shared platter between Perley and Judy would probably end up breaking out to be about 90/10.

The potatoes were a component of most of the meals, but were unfortunately a bust. They were very well flavored, but not the least bit crispy. We're not sure how they were cooked because there were some faint vestiges of crispiness, but were mostly mushy. It's like they fried the potatoes and then scraped off all of the delicious crispy outside.

The letter grades were as follows:
Rachael-sausage and polenta: A-
Jimmy-eggs benedict: B+
Beau-omelet: B-
Judy-fam plat: B-
Perley-fam plat: B-
Alex-shirred eggs: B-

Nick and Eddie's is a pretty sweet place. It looks great and they have very good intentions with the food. I think though, if you are going to eat there, you will want to stick to dinner or lunch. Their brunch is still very much a work in progress.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Bar Next Door

Busters on 28th
4204 28th Avenue
612.729.0911

Sometimes you travel the Cities, searching for the perfect breakfast. You even go out to the 'burbs in hopes of a good meal. Sometimes you try a sub-standard restaurant more than once on the off-chance that you caught them on a bad day and the hash browns really will be crispy this time. And then there are times when you notice an unobtrusive sign in a newish bar in your neighborhood that says "Now serving brunch," and you think, "Well, wouldn't it be nice if there were good food right here in my neighborhood. Even though it is a bar, and there's almost no possible way for a bar to measure up to the exacting standards of six very picky eaters..." So, you go, not even expecting anything wonderful, thinking only of the convenience (and of your secret hope that you can finally become a regular at a local haunt).

You walk in the door after 9:30, and the place is quiet and deserted, but for one other table of diners. You wonder what you've conned your friends into eating, and you dread the panning this place is about to receive.

And then, somehow, the food arrives, and everyone is happy. This is Busters, the quiet, unassuming new little bar next door who might just be the new love of your life.


The menu is heavy on the traditional food, with a bit more emphasis on lunch-style food than most brunch places (as befits a bar). There is an acceptable Eggs Benedict (rated a "solid B" by Jimmy who has sampled the Eggs Benedict at most places in the metro area) , as well as a tasty and fresh perfectly-cooked scramble (which, not to brag or anything, the waiter said I was the first person to order) with broccolini and bell peppers and Parmesan. Judy and Fern both had the BLT. All of us got breakfast potatoes on the side.

It was when Judy first tasted the breakfast potatoes and declared them "perfect" that I stopped worrying and learned to love Busters. Or maybe it was when my side of toast (fresh bread from the Baker's Wife) arrived with four little containers of two kinds of delicious jam, homemade peanut butter, and good butter. At any rate, at the conclusion of the meal our little club handed out A's like they were going out of style. The only complaints I heard were that we had eaten too many of the "perfect" potatoes, and that the coffee wasn't all that good. Jimmy, true to form, gave out the harshest grade, possibly because making Hollandaise is a bit of an art, and it just wasn't his kind of Hollandaise. Our rarest form of praise came when we all agreed that we shall return. Maybe I'll finally be a regular after all.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sunday is Beer Brewing Day

Herkimer Pub & Brewery
2922 Lyndale Ave S.
Minneapolis
612.821.0101

Few good things smell as bad or as powerful as beer does when it's being made. Chocolate cake, for example, smells pretty darn good before it's done. Same for spaghetti sauce. Beer on the other hand definitely goes through a ripe and nasty stage. When it's beer in giant vats, it's even worse, and, so, good friends, eat at the Herkimer if you like, but whatever you do, don't go there for Sunday brunch, because Sunday is the day they brew the beer, and, by rights, they really shouldn't even be open. They should make a sign that says, "Closed due to Stinkiness", and we'd all be grateful for the warning.

As it was, we didn't know. We smelled something wretched as soon as we walked in the door, each of us, separately, making our own stinky face (except for Jimmy, who disappointed us by arriving last and without so much as a nose-wrinkle). Because it was late and we'd already gone to one restaurant that wasn't serving food, we chose to ride out the stink. Keep it in mind, though, because I think if you came on a Saturday, you might leave with a better opinion of the Herk for breakfast.

Fern and I both ordered steak and eggs. I got mine over-easy and medium rare. Hers were over-hard and medium. My eggs were over-a-little-too-easy, even for me, actually, since the whites as well as the yolks slimed my plate. The steak was boring. It benefited from ketchup, and I don't even like ketchup.

Judy and Rachael got mushroom and swiss burgers with sweet potato fries. The sweet potato fries compared favorably with those at the Blank Grills (which Judy referred to as "limp-dick fries"), and Judy ate her entire burger, which is a pretty high form of praise (although she did stay up all night burning calories, so she was probably starving). Rachael gave it a B. She didn't love the fries, but maybe she's eaten them somewhere better in the past. I haven't, but I'm a Northern animal.

Jimmy had the BLT, and liked it. He didn't like his side salad which came with a sweet dressing, but it looked pretty good to me. Jimmy's the wrong guy to judge a salad with anything sweet in it.

Our average was around a C+. We definitely won't be back on a Sunday. It's questionable whether we need to go there for food at all, but once that beer is done, their beer is definitely worth the trip as long as it's not stinky Sunday.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Meat's Kitchen

Pete's Kitchen
1962 E. Colfax Ave.
Denver, CO 80206
303.321.3139

So here I am, alone in a wonderful city that happens to have an embarrassment of riches in the breakfast department. Do I sit all by myself and wallow in loneliness, never enjoying weekend breakfast because I am without my club members? Well, yeah, sometimes. But not all the time. Sometimes I go out and experience my new city, and I've even begun recruiting new members into the Western Chapter of TCBC. Rejoice in the new city!

After my first experience of breakfast in Denver, I decided the only prudent thing to do was to try a breakfast burrito in as many restaurants in Denver as is humanly possible over a two year span (you know, in case Fern decides to visit me). I was able to convince one of my new classmates, Cathy, to join me in the fun. Two people does not a breakfast club make, but it's a start and it is WAY better than the lonely, sad guy eating breakfast at the counter by himself.

We met up at Pete's Kitchen on Saturday morning. Pete's Kitchen is your prototypical diner. Small, lots of tables crammed together, and line out the door. I was worried as I waited for Cathy to arrive that we wouldn't be able to eat EVER. I was also a little disgruntled when I was informed that I would not be seated until my entire party had arrived. I relaxed a little when I saw the reason for this policy, a ridiculously fast turnaround. Pete's has the service thing down to a science. There was no lingering at the table over a cup of coffee. No, you sit down, you order food, you eat, and then you leave. Period, end of story. They are a finely tuned machine.

When Cathy finally arrived (late because of a biking wrong turn), we were able to get a table immediately, and on the patio no less. I ordered the breakfast burrito and Cathy the hunter's breakfast. I was extremely excited for my burrito because it contained, bacon, ham, chorizo, AND gyro meat. I was ready to experience some sort of meat nirvana. While it was very good and filling, I realized that it is possible to have too much meat in you breakfast burrito. I barely even tasted the gyro meat as it was overwhelmed by the other meats, especially the chorizo. It was good and ginormous however. I didn't eat for the rest of the day.

Cathy ordered the Hunter's Breakfast. It looked like the perfect meal to eat right before one went out into the woods and sat in a cold deer blind for the next 13 hours. Not only would it keep you warm all day, but you wouldn't be hungry until the following evening. It contained eggs and meat on top of what appeared to be 9 pounds of hash browns. Despite her valiant efforts, Cathy could not finish her meal.

Overall Pete's Kitchen received a B from both club members. The food was good and plentiful. Pete's was down graded for their Bun-o-matic coffee and a lack of refills on the coffee. They are open 24 hours and I suspect I will come back one night after bar close, I'm sure that is where Pete's Kitchen really shines.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Lardon means Bacon Fat!

Barbette revisited

So, I'm not the type of person, who could comfortably order my breakfast with a side of bacon fat. I am, however, exactly the type of person who enjoys feeling a nice hunk of perfectly browned bacon fat melt in my mouth. I like the way it gives to my teeth and fills my mouth with rich bacon-y flavor without all of that awkward chewing you have to do with the meaty section of the bacon. I confess that even though I know that for health reasons I should cut the fat from my meat, I do sometimes slip a bite of pure fat into my mouth when I'm eating pork chops, because no other animal can do fat quite as well as the pig. Still, it's hard to ask for something so gross and bad-for-you in a restaurant -- which is exactly why I was so pleased to discover a new word this morning at Barbette. "Lardon" means fatty bacon, but it sounds completely refined and socially acceptable.

My meal was salad greens with poached eggs and a red wine vinaigrette and sauteed mushrooms and good sized pieces of lardon. I played a private game called "move those salad greens out of the way so I can find the bacon fat", and before I knew it my plate was empty and my stomach was nearly full. All I needed to complete the meal was a side of hash browns, which arrived like an advertisement for grated potatoes browned in a pan for breakfast. They were crispy and fluffy at the same time. God, I love Barbette. At first, I was afraid to stray from my beloved eggs Florentine, but my fear was unfounded, because I discovered a whole new world: one where you can ask for bacon fat without sounding like a disgusting pig.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Blue Plate Not-so-Special

Highland Grill
771 Cleveland

St. Paul

651.690.1173


A much diminished breakfast club met this morning at the Highland Grill in St. Paul. We miss Beau and Rachael, who had a lovely wedding and then fled west for Beau's first week of school, but we soldier on, because life must go on, and we still need to eat, even without our loved ones.

It was a late meeting, because I joined a running club this morning (which met in the coffee shop next door at 9:00), so our ordering was erratic enough to draw comment from our waitress ("Who are these people?"). Jimmy got hangar steak and baked beans; Judy dithered and then ordered strawberry shortcake; Fern had a turkey burger (after making dark remarks about not-ordering the breakfast burrito); and I had the only true breakfast in the crowd: the special Caprese scramble which comes with hash browns.

Now, our family has eaten at these Blue Plate restaurants before. Locals love this chain. The food is acceptable. The atmosphere is more interesting than a Perkins. There's kind of an industrial edge to the decor, with exposed ductwork and diner-style furniture. You can tell you've walked into a Blue Plate restaurant because instead of napkins they give you a big lap towel (which can come in handy on hot summer mornings when the air conditioner is going full blast). They also have mildly amusing t-shirts ("Etch-a-sketch for the kids. Beer and wine for the grown-ups."). I guess the best way to describe the food and atmosphere is "inoffensive". You aren't going to have anything too innovative here, but it will be comforting food with good ingredients, and the portions will be big. I must confess some bias against the whole chain mostly because of the sweet potato fries. They are soggy. Gloppy, even. You have to pay a dollar more to substitute them in for regular fries (which are crispy and good), so my advice, if you have a hankering for sweet potato fries, is to head on over to the Herkimer, where they are skinny, crispy and addictive. And don't tell me how good these Blue Plate sweet potato fries are until you have. I mean, I guess, unless you like soggy fries, which is possible, but I don't get it.

Which actually brings us to the representative quote about today's breakfast. It came from Judy who raved about her strawberry shortcake. She loved the scone base and the fact that the strawberry juice hadn't soaked into it, so it wasn't soggy. Well, I took one bite and put down my fork. The scone was so dry it tasted like sawdust to me. I needed water in order to swallow it. When I complained, Judy said, "Well, one person's perfect is another person's nasty, I guess."

She, in fact, didn't really like my eggs, but I enjoyed them quite a bit. I liked the whole basil leaves and the chunks of fresh mozzarella. The bits of tomatoes soaked in balsamic vinegar provided a nice sweet-and-sour touch. The hash browns looked better than they were, however, because only the outer layer was crispy.

Fern's turkey burger won some sort of Twin Cities best-burger award, and it sounded flavorful because it was packed with garlic, onions, and jalapeƱos, but she said it wasn't as rich as it sounded. She declared that no reputable best-burger award should go to any turkey burger. Burgers should be beef, damn it. Still, she said she'd go back and get a real burger there sometime, because the bun was good, and the (regular potato) fries were delicious.

Jimmy's comments mostly regarded service, which he deemed too slow even for a crowded morning. Our waitress did vanish for a longer than necessary period between menu drop-off and ordering. His steak looked good to me, but it was a little early in the morning for me to be thinking baked beans.

And so our family's ambivalence about Blue Plate restaurants continues. They do some things well. They just don't seem to deserve the devotion they get from the locals. Oh, well, what can you do? The more people eat at all these Blank Grills, the more tables we'll find at our own personal favorite spots.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Big Al's Top Five Breakfasts

Occasionally, someone asks me where to eat breakfast in town. Not everyone knows that this blog exists, so they don't all know to just look here for my recommendations. Besides, there are so many reviews here, how can you tell at a glance what the best five restaurants are? OK, here they are: my personal top five places to eat breakfast in the Twin Cities.
  1. Barbette. It's always good, and I almost always get the Eggs Florentine. It comes with some fresh field greens, so you don't even have to feel bloated after breakfast. The atmosphere is comfortable, and we've been there often enough that we get slight nods of recognition from the wait staff.
  2. Town Talk. How can you argue with a restaurant that's only two miles from home, and has steak and eggs so good they make you want to cry? How can you fight the charms of the owners who want you to have a good time and the bartenders who will mix you a special drink? Maybe you can, but I can't.
  3. Maria's Cafe. She's the only one who makes that corn pancake, and the corn pancake is the only breakfast in town I literally crave if I haven't had one in a while. I can't write any more details, because it's been weeks, and I hate trying to wipe drool off of my keyboard.
  4. Day By Day Cafe. For traditional breakfast, it can't really be beat. Hash browns are unreliable, but you can't have everything, can you?
  5. A Baker's Wife. It's an upset, because it's just a bakery with no eggs, but there are certainly days when I just have pastry and coffee for breakfast, and on such days, I'm lucky if they come from A Baker's Wife.
Now, what about the rest of you? What are your top-five breakfasts in the Cities?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

You Snooze - You Win!

We here at Twin Cities Breakfast Club interrupt this blog with some good news and some bad news. The good news first, of course, because we are such fans of good things early in the morning. Beau and Rachael are getting hitched! I mean, it's not really a surprise, since they've been engaged for-freaking-ever, and they've been meant for each other since day one, but it's good news nonetheless. Now for the bad news. Right after the wedding (like within days), Beau is up and moving to Denver, CO. Even this news has some good to it. He's going to graduate school to study what he wants to do, and it will probably lead to a happy and successful career for him involving very few refrigerated baked goods.

Anyway, along with this good/bad news comes a necessary split in the Breakfast Club. Beau will continue to eat breakfast, so he will continue to be a member, but his breakfasts will take place in Denver, while ours here at Breakfast Club East will continue to occur in these Twin Cities. Rachael will belong to both clubs, because she will be staying here and visiting there. We expect many great posts from Rachael as a result.

And now, for our first Denver review. This breakfast was attended by Jimmy, Beau and me. We were looking for apartments for Beau. Yes, we found one. Yes, it has hardwood floors. And, yes, a gas stove. Not to mention plenty of room for a certain lawfully wedded wife to visit.

Snooze (an A.M. Eatery)
2262 Larimer
Denver, CO
303.297.0700

The menu at Snooze reads like a trip through Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory. There's vanilla almond oatmeal brulee and pineapple upside down pancakes and snicker's pancakes and molten chocolate French toast. I prefer my breakfast savory, so, for me, anyway, all of the sweets turned the menu into a mine field, forcing me to dodge and weave as I tried to find something suitably substantial that wouldn't beat me over the head with its sweetness. I finally settled on the Huevos Rancheros, but not before lingering a bit over the possibility of steak and eggs benedict. Clearly this is not a low-fat A.M. eatery. I might have taken the plunge and ordered steak and eggs benedict, if only it came with just two eggs. No, man. Three eggs were standard throughout the menu. Apparently, Denverians must exercise their asses off, because they all look slender and athletic, and there's no way to be slender and eat three eggs, steak and hollandaise sauce, unless you're also running up mountains every day.

Jimmy, who was on vacation from his weight training diet, did order the steak and eggs. He loved it. He said that it was one of the best steaks he'd ever had at a restaurant for breakfast. I had to hide my jealousy behind my Tres Huevos. Actually, with three eggs, black beans, and corn tortillas in front of me, I wasn't really hungry for steak anyway, not even really good steak smothered in hollandaise sauce.

Beau had the breakfast burrito. He said that he wanted to report back to Fern how breakfast burritos in Denver stacked up against her beloved Minneapolis treat. It was a successful experiment. The burrito was crammed full of goodness including black beans, cheddar and jack cheese and real chorizo. He declared the burrito delicious. Both he and I agreed that our spicier breakfast options were served with a bit more fire than Minneapolis restaurants would dare serve to Minnesota customers with their delicate Scandinavian palates. Judy wasn't there, but she would have declared both meals "too spicy". Beau and I were happy, though, even if I did wish I had some delicious steak.

The atmosphere at Snooze was also enjoyable. It was retro and hip at the same time. We sat in a round booth, which felt a little bit Jetsons and a little bit Tilt-a-Whirl. The waiters and waitresses wore Snooze t-shirts over their perfect bodies, and they smiled with that outdoorsy charm of the young in Denver. I just hope we didn't spoil Beau for all other breakfasts in town. It's no good to have your first breakfast fulfill your entire breakfast quest in a new town. What will you do on a Saturday morning if not seek out the perfect meal? Eat it comfortably at Snooze week after week?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Flapper Strikes Again

Chai's Thai
414 1/2 Cedar Av. S.
Minneapolis
612-339-9385

It was after 7:00 in the evening and I hadn't eaten. If you know me at all, then you know that this constitutes a true Food Emergency, and it requires drastic measures. We were at Cedar Riverside, having just shopped for camping gear at Midwest Mountaineering. Gone is the place with the gyros that replaced the Cedar Riverside Cafe when the demographics of the neighborhood changed. Of course, Hard Times is there, but having never eaten there and having heard that it's the dirtiest restaurant in the county, I didn't want to try it out in this time of urgent need. There's also a small, dirty looking Chinese place nearby, but I wasn't resigned to dirty yet. Just as I was about to accept that I might be eating hot dogs at that other truly filthy place, I saw a small, well-maintained awning across the street. At first I feared that it was a tea shop (the name was Chai, after all), but then I noticed the second word, and realized that there was clean food to be had in the neighborhood after all.

I stepped inside and discovered that there is one spotless restaurant at Cedar Riverside. Even the knick-knacks were dusted. At first, I thought maybe it was a brand-new place, but the waiter claimed that it has been there for years. How had I never seen it right across the street from Depth of Field? What was it doing in this predominantly Somali neighborhood? Who remembers to dust decorative elephants? Perhaps someone who remembers to wash the table after you eat. A good sign. I ordered the Pad Kee Mow noodle dish (for $8), and I asked for it hot. My companion had Seafood Herbs which has shrimp and scallops and shitake mushrooms and still costs just $12.

When the food arrived, I learned many other good things about Chai's. It's not just clean. The $8 noodles are delicately presented on a folded banana leaf. They really are hot, but underneath the heat they have a delicious flavor of their own. The Seafood Herbs have a completely different, but equally delicious flavor and come with their own delicate presentation. I felt like an intrepid explorer who had stumbled upon some sort of gold mine of flavor hidden behind a little awning in one of the lowest rent parts of the city. I felt like the Queen for eating perfect food off of such a pretty plate. I felt like a bargain hunter for paying so little for such bounty. Mostly I felt like shouting it to the world. Hey! Everybody! Eat at Chai's! You'll love it. However, bear in mind, once again, that there aren't that many tables. I'm going to get crabby if I have to wait in line for those noodles.

I know it's not breakfast, but it is fresh delicious Thai food for cheap. Who can fault me for wanting to share it with the world?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Secret Hash-browns

I am stuck on the horns of a dilemma. You know how our family is on a never-ending quest for decent hash-browns, and we go on this quest together, because we love each other, and we all love potatoes? Well, what happens, hypothetically, if one of our members goes to a restaurant that is far too small to accommodate a party of our size, for an on-the-sly breakfast experience without the rest of the club?

I decided that I would solve the dilemma by never writing about it on the blog. I decided that if I loved it, I would keep it to myself anyway, because it really is far too small for anyone new to go there. There isn't even room for the people who already do know about it, so what business have I to inform even the ten people who read this blog that it exists? If it were delicious, I decided, I would keep it to myself. (Which is hard for me, I might add, because I am not called the Flapper for nothing...)

If it sucked, I would also keep it to myself. How could I trash such a small, unassuming, family-owned business? In fact, either way, I could go out, have my quiet little breakfast, and no one would be the wiser. My family would never have to know that I had breakfast with another.

OK, OK, but the thing is, there's the potato quest, which is sort of a higher calling, and the truth is, I had the perfect hash brown, at this quiet, little, overcrowded, family-owned business, while I was out cheating on my family over Sunday breakfast, and all I want to do now is shout it from the rooftops of the world. The perfect potato. Really. Never frozen. Richly browned and crispy, but almost healthy tasting from a lack of greasiness. The only competition for these potatoes comes from Jimmy's kitchen, when whoever is cooking the potatoes tries to keep them in the skillet until even Judy will say they're brown enough.

The rest of the food was only so-so, but who cares? Somebody actually cooked my potatoes until they were crispy. Somebody cared enough to never freeze them, and then dedicate some grill space and time to them. Somebody shaped them nice and flat so the insides wouldn't get soggy, and somebody carried them outside to me, even though I didn't say anything special like, "extra crispy".

So, OK, here's the deal. I don't want you to go there and take up the seats, but I do have the responsibility to tell you that the potatoes are perfect. Just don't tell anybody else, OK?

Colossal Cafe
1839 E. 42nd St.
Minneapolis, MN
612.729.2377

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Rehashing the Town Talk

I believe I gave the Town Talk diner a tepid grade last time. It might have even been as low as a C+. Well, let me tell you, yesterday morning, I ate steak and eggs there that had to raise their grade at least a full letter. Granted, it was 11:00 by the time the food arrived (speed of service lowered the grade, which surprised me because sometimes at the TT you feel over-served), and I had been up since 6:00, and I had run for half an hour of that time, so I was fairly faint with hunger by the time I ate. However, even in my state of near-starvation, I was able to recognize that the food on my plate was flawless. The potatoes were American fries, and they were crispy enough. Yes, I did say that the American fries were crispy enough. It was a good day. The steak arrived cooked exactly to my liking, which is a miracle since I totally choked when I ordered and said something like, "Um, medium. On the rare side. I mean, rare-ish". And the eggs, well, frankly, I don't remember the eggs very well, because I ate them before my plate hit the table. The yolks did mix well with the slight sauce that covered the steak and made for some good plate-sopping. The whole meal made me grateful for food.

But you know how I get when I haven't eaten for seventeen hours.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Brownie's and Brownberry

Brownie's Restaurant
2510 Kenzie Ter
St. Anthony, MN 55418

We ate at Brownie's this morning. It was a typical diner. The waitress was exceedingly nice. Apparently, she hadn't heard the This American Life thing about how mean waitresses get bigger tips. Lucky for us. Also, lucky for her, Jimmy's tips are big no matter how nice you are. The food was diner-y. Judy hated it, and I wouldn't recommend that you make a special trip to discover Brownie's, and if you already live in the neighborhood, I'm sure you have your own opinion, so I won't waste your time.

Instead, this post has to be about something far more disturbing to Twin Cities Breakfast Club members. Did you know that we are living in the midst of a bread crisis? Seriously. All of my life, bread came in a hard loaf wrapped in clear plastic with red and black writing on it. This was Catherine Clark's Brownberry bread. It was the only whole wheat bread we ate after Jimmy and Judy stopped making their own. It was the only kind we liked. I hate to sound whiny, but we've been eating this bread for thirty years, and now, poof, it's gone. There is no more Catherine Clark's.

I'm a single person who can't make it through a loaf of bread by myself, so I haven't bought bread in months, which is why I only found out about this crisis today at breakfast club. Actually, the first whispers of it were before breakfast, when I saw one of the old ladies at my parents' house carrying a piece of bread to the toaster. "How's the bread, Ann?" asked my mom in the kind of voice you use when you ask how someone is holding up at a funeral. "Not so good," said Ann in a defeated voice, "but I'm going to try it toasted." Odd, I thought.

I got the whole shocking news at breakfast, when Rachael informed us that she and Beau had even written to the company to complain about the new bread, and all they got was a letter thanking them for their feedback and some coupons for the new, bad bread. "What?!" I said, "There's no more bread? But there used to be so much of it..." Yes, friends, you can eat the same product faithfully for three decades but when corporate America decides not to make it any more, it's just too bad for you. No more bread.

I lived in Portland for two and a half years. I couldn't find real bread there either. It made me not want to eat BLT's. It made me lose interest in French toast. It was a sad time. I tried other breads. Many other breads. None of them were as good as good old Catherine Clark's. They lacked the density and the ever-so-slight sweetness of the real thing.

Remember when we were kids and for some reason we had to put bread bags over our socks before we could put on our boots? The bread bags I used were clear plastic with red and black writing on them. Whatever will my children (should I ever have them) use? The bread bag of some inferior wheat bread? This is so wrong. Why, oh why, didn't I fill my freezer with bread before this whole crisis began? Maybe if I'd bought more bread this never would have happened.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Big as your Head

Ike's Food and Cocktails
50 S. 6th Street
Minneapolis, MN
612.746.4537

Judy and I were first to arrive at Ike's this weekend. We told them six people were coming, and they ushered us to a secluded booth underneath posters of Rat Pack members (Frank Sinatra and one of those other guys). Almost before we had positioned ourselves in the booth, and before we had even explored the menus, our charming, Southern waitress delivered a caramel roll as big as our head to the table. It was stuck with 6 forks, just waiting for us and our tardy friends to dig in. We didn't order the pastry. It just comes with brunch.

You should know something about Breakfast Club. We love food. We're food snobs, and we like to eat. But we've also lost a combined weight of over 150 pounds in the past three years (and not in an unhealthy way, mind you. We've continued to eat. We're just more sensible than we used to be.) I must say that the caramel roll as big as your head would have been more in Ike's favor about four years ago. Nowadays, it just looks like fat to us. It doesn't help that it comes with a giant pat of butter on top.

Still. Still. I like to think that if an unrequested, but fabulous pastry arrived, even if it were as big as your head, and even if we were all a little more health conscious than we were four years ago, we'd be nothing but grateful. The thing is, it wasn't fabulous. It was just big, sweet, over-brown, and covered in good butter.

It made me think of landing in Chicago, after spending two weeks in Japan. In Japan, when you're between trains at a train station, you can buy a perfect little triangle of rice and fish wrapped in seaweed. There's an ingenious unwrapping of plastic that goes with this triangle of rice. Not until you unwrap it does the seaweed touch the rice. This prevents it from getting all soggy and nasty. So we landed in Chicago, a little bit hungry from our long flight, and the smell of Cinnabon in the airport just about knocked us over. It didn't smell good, because Cinnabon is crap, but even so, it sort of made me want to eat something fat and buttery. I looked around the airport and all I could see were fat people, and then I realized that before the smell, what I really wanted was a triangle of rice. Unfortunately, in this country, it's a lot easier to make bad choices about what we're going to eat than good ones.

One of those bad choices is eating the not-so-very-good cinnamon roll that they deliver to your table at Ike's before you've even had coffee or a chance to think about what you really want to eat. I'm not going to tell you to skip it, because I know you won't, and it's not a bad cinnamon roll. I'm just saying I wish I had skipped it.

Meanwhile, our pleasant, Southern waitress explained how Ike's works. You order your eggs (the usual ways or as eggs Benedict or in a breakfast quesadilla or you can choose to stand up and visit the omelet bar. Yeah. Right.), and then they deliver a family sized tray of meat and potatoes and pancakes to go with them. They will refill the meat and potatoes and pancake until you can take no more. See what I'm saying about bad choices? The whole thing, with the giant roll, is $14.99. It's also the only thing you can have at brunch time, so forget about opting for the burger instead.

I wasn't impressed with my Benedict (but I made that bad choice on my own). The crowd generally liked the potatoes while at the same time noticing that they weren't crispy enough. They were fried with onions and tasted fresh. The bacon and sausage were tasty. They struck me as a bit mass-produced, but this may have been just because I saw the dude frying mass quantities of meat as we walked in the door. I also worried about how many pounds of meat they throw away each day because of the all-you-can-eat thing, but I guess sometimes I have to shut off my brain so I can have a good time.

OK, so I guess what I'm saying is that Ike's is fine if you can take that sort of thing. There are lots of better choices in Minneapolis though, so I don't think I'll go there again, despite totally loving the booth and our waitress who kept the cream and sugar coming for our coffee.

Monday, March 26, 2007

I'm Finnished.

The Finnish Bistro
2264 Como Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55108
651.645.9181

Pretend you are about to embark on a vacation to Finland. Think of ten things that define Finland and that you would attempt to integrate into your vacation. Here's my somewhat random list: Scenic vistas, cold weather, nice people, left-of-center politics, art, saunas, the wife-carrying world championships, northern lights, midnight sun. Do you notice what is missing? Food. Was food on your list? Didn't think so. Finland is not exactly world famous for it's high cuisine. That's part of the reason why I was slightly skeptical as we strolled into The Finnish Bistro on Sunday morning.

The Finnish Bistro was not the intended destination. TCBC convened on Sunday morning around nine. One of the benefits to a Sunday breakfast club is the option of a schmancy Sunday brunch. Alex suggested that we try Muffuletta, of which she had heard many good things about their weekend offerings. Unfortunately she didn't hear that they were closed for repairs until the beginning of April. We discovered this when we arrived at Muffuletta. With our hopes dashed, our stomachs grumbling, and a meltdown a distinct possibility, someone spotted the Finnish Bistro down the street. We decided to peek out heads in and look at the menu. The place was crowded (usually a good sign), there was a distinct welcoming atmosphere, and there was a dazzling array of baked goods on display. Our group was weak from hunger and the idea of walking away from food and having to come up with an alternative was extremely unappealing. We were sold.

The food was a bit of a letdown. The standard breakfast menu is pretty limited, with almost no option to freelance. Three of us had the house breakfast and we were all disappointed with it. The big selling point to the house breakfast was the grilled kielbasa. Unfortunately it resembled a Ballpark frank more then a kielbasa. Is that what kielbasa is like in Finland? Fern had the breakfast foccacia and was only able to eat about a quarter of it. On the plus side, it DID closely resemble a part of Pamela Anderson's anatomy. Jimmy took the authentic approach and had the salmon lefse. He didn't hate, but didn't love it. The overall grade was a C.

No member of the group particularly enjoyed their meal, but no one was willing to bash the Bistro. It is a really nice place in an adorable neighborhood. There are many things to like about it. It is clear that they do some things VERY well at the Finnish Bistro. Their baked goods looked spectacular and their lunch/sandwich options also looked delicious. Breakfast just is not their focus, and for a demanding group like ourselves, that won't cut it. We recommend that you go to the Finnish Bistro for some baked goods, or a sandwich, or a beef pasty, just don't go there expecting an inspired breakfast.

Friday, March 09, 2007

I Found my Keys

Keys Cafe
821 Marquette Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55402

Maybe you've noticed that our little blog never mentions one of the staples of Twin Cities breakfast dining. The reason: Judy always vetoes Keys. I'm not sure why, but her nose wrinkles at the very mention of the place. I suspect she once had bad potatoes there. Sometimes my mother can hold a grudge.

This morning I ate breakfast at Keys, and I discovered that they are no longer in that dingy basement-feeling space they used to occupy on Nicollet. They are now in the Foshay tower, which is much classier digs, full of art-deco light fixtures and an old phone booth and full-sized windows. They do have some of the same art that they used to have on Nicollet. I recognized the photograph of the little girl, but she's been moved to the bathroom area. Poor kid. Anyway, according to my companion (a non-club member), Keys also serves up a great happy hour and over-priced diner-style dinners.

I had the garlic, spinach, and cream cheese scramble. It was heavy on the tasty fresh garlic, and so I have no complaints. I usually hate scrambled eggs, and I only make an exception when they have been scrambled with cream cheese, and at Keys I was glad that I did, because they tasted good, and they didn't have that consolidated texture of scrambled eggs that I hate. The piles of fresh spinach and the cream cheese helped break up the egg mass.

And OK, mom, the potatoes weren't perfect. They had layers of true crispiness on top and bottom, but the middle was mainly just soggy shredded potatoes. Still, the tops and bottoms tasted good, and I didn't need to eat the whole portion anyway.

Adam, the non-club member, said that the bacon was good. I can report that he happily ate a massive amount of it, so I think he was telling the truth. He did say that he liked his bacon a little bit limp, though, so I'm not sure how it would go over with the club.

I give the new Keys a solid B. I could eat there again and again. I mean, I could if Judy would ever stop vetoing it.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Why We Don't Usually Eat at Bars: A Conversation at the Herkimer

Judy: Hmm. I guess I'll have a coffee - wait, do you have skim milk?
Waiter: Sorry, ma'am, we don't have any milk.
Judy: No milk?
Waiter: No. We don't have any milk.
Judy: Well, what if I just wanted a glass of milk on the side? Could I just order a glass of milk?
Waiter (maintaining admirable patience): No. We don't serve milk.
Judy: What kind of a restaurant doesn't have milk?
Waiter (glancing meaningfully towards the bar): Well, we could give you a shot of tequilla.

Judy (many times throughout the meal and again whenever we mention the Herkimer throughout the week): No milk. I just can't believe that a restaurant doesn't have milk.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

In the Phone Book under "A"

A Baker's Wife Pastry Shop
4200 28th Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55406-3123

I don't remember exactly how I discovered "A Baker's Wife". I mean, it's in the neighborhood, so I was probably just at the hardware store next door, when I smelled the deliciousness and had to stop in to see if the taste was as good as the smell. I like to think of that first visit, even though I don't fully remember it, because it represents a divide in my life. The time in my life before I knew about "A Baker's Wife" stretches behind me dark and gray and full of horrid Crispy Creme donuts. In front of me is a time when Saturday morning can mean really good coffee in styrofoam cups and pastry so good it makes you have to close your eyes for a second so you can get lost in the taste of it.

If you go, get the chocolate croissant. Or on second thought, maybe don't, because if you do, it will furnish you with all of the will-power you need to avoid eating chocolate croissants anywhere else in the world (even, possibly, France). You will never want to eat another one that doesn't come from Gary's inspired oven. I have a friend who doesn't eat Cheetos because he once heard about how good they were on the assembly line fresh out of the cooker, and when he gets a bag all he can think about is that he's having a second-class Cheeto experience. After your first bite of "Baker's Wife" chocolate croissant, it will be like that for you and all other chocolate croissants.

A safer order might be the creme brulee danish. Nobody else makes such a thing, so it won't ruin it for you at other bakeries. In fact, who would have thought of filling your danish with gorgeous creme and then browning sugar on top of it? I'll tell you who. A baking genius. That's who. When you order this danish, glance sideways at people around you. They will be nodding slightly, as if to say, "Good choice, my friend. You are someone who knows about this little Minneapolis secret."

Then again, you might just want a donut. Forget everything you know about cake donuts at bakeries, and bite into something that more closely resembles a mini-donut all growed up. They can give it to you plain, or they can roll it in cinnamon sugar for you. Either way, the outsides will crunch as they yield to your teeth, and the insides will melt in your mouth. You will wonder just how you could have bought a piece of perfection for so little money.

Money is the one thing I don't understand about "A Baker's Wife". Here they are serving the best pastries in town, and they charge about half of what anybody else does. You can go there with $2.00, and leave with a donut, a cup of coffee, and some change. Or you can splurge and spend $1.69 on your pastry and get the danish or the croissant. $1.69, really, what year is it? In my day and age, people would easily give you $2.50 for such deliciousness. But don't tell Gary.

There's a hand-drawn sign in the shop with two pac-man heads having a conversation. One of them says "Do you have anything low-fat and low-calorie here?" The other one says, "Water". In the corner, someone has written the words "True story". So don't embarrass me, after I told you to go there, and expect to stay on your diet. We're talking pastry here. Fabulous, cheap, top of the line pastry. We're not talking "Splenda" and "Olestra".

"A Baker's Wife" is under "A" in the phone book due to creative alphabetizing. It also receives an "A" from me for spoiling me on many dozens of weekend mornings. Oh, and it's closed on Mondays, just like the Walker.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Across the River and Over the Hill to Mill City We Go


Mill City Cafe
2205 California Street #102
Minneapolis MN, 55418
Phone: 612 788-6188

Years ago, we used to sometimes go to Mill City Cafe for breakfast. It was an unassuming coffee place with full breakfast, and the eggs are cooked on a stove and not steamed in the espresso maker, which is an unspoken requirement for all coffee-places-turned-breakfast-joints, at least for this overly-particular crowd. And, of course, when I say "unspoken", I really mean loudly repeated whenever one of us suggests a place with coffee or cafe in the name. Mill City also sports probably the best breakfast patio in town. Today, however, in our fair city, it's nearly 20 degrees below zero, and the patio played no role in our decision to try Mill City again after a long absence.

We were driven away from Mill City Cafe all of those years ago by live coffee house music. I'm not the best judge of the quality of music (listen to me sing all three songs I know all in the same one note with approximately the same rhythm, and you will know why), but I do know that in a place the size of Mill City, the music intruded on our conversation.

Today, the place was blessedly quiet. Mill City has also received a face-lift. It's classier now. A little less unassuming, and more like the kind of place you might bring a date. The menu is about the same though: Chorizo Breakfast Burrito, Biscuits and Gravy, and Quiches of the Day. Poor Fern wanted her usual breakfast burrito. We all saw it on her face, but she forced herself to get something else to prove to us that she didn't. Beau and Rachael both got it, and the two of them seemed the happiest of all of us with their meals. Judy and I got two of the quiches and we agreed that while the light, flaky phyllo-type crust was delicious neither filling particularly thrilled us (mine had artichokes and mushrooms and Judy's had asparagus and bacon).

The only really bad thing about the meal were the potatoes. They were sad little roasted potatoes, dry on the inside, and soft on the outside, even the few of them that looked brown. All of us who got potatoes left some of them behind. We're a family who cares about the quality of our potatoes, and I predict that we will not be back to Mill City until one of those rare summer mornings before the wasps come when we can eat on its lovely patio.

The group grade hovered around a B-. Not bad. Nice atmosphere. Nothing to write home about, but we did leave with full stomachs and we didn't have to wait for a table.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Year in Breakfast

Let's take a trip in the "way back" machine. Do you remember 2006? Long time ago right? It was a pretty good year. A lot of breakfast was had, some good, some...er...not so good. Beau drank many cups of coffee with excessive amounts of cream and sugar, Judy had a lot of poached eggs, Jimmy sampled the eggs benedict from at least eight restaurants, Alex drank gallons of tea with so much sugar it tastes like a candy bar, Rachael didn't take nearly enough Lactaid pills, and Fern had many, many breakfast burritos. Here are some highlights and lowlights. Note this is NOT one of those annoying 2006 lists, merely a quick recap of our year in breakfast...

Best Overall Breakfast: The Day By Day Cafe. I know it is not a risky choice, but they know what they are doing. We would probably go there once a month if they weren't located in Guam. Well Guam in respect to south Minneapolis. You St. Paulers are really, really lucky.

Best Potatoes: Soba's Cafe. What a complete upset, turns out the best potatoes are neither in the shape of hash browns nor fried on the griddle. The oven roasted potatoes at Soba's are spectacular. One would think you could not reach sufficient crispiness with the oven alone. Not true. On one of our ventures, one member of our group complained because her potatoes were so crispy that they cut the roof of her mouth. Good thing we aren't dainty and particular...oops, never mind let's just move on.

Best Meat: The Corner Table. Local ham and homemade sausage. Enough said. Whenever someone suggests that we go to the Corner Table and Judy says, "Have we been there before and is it good?" All we have to say is, "Yes and yes, remember, it's the place with the meat." That's enough to spark her memory, and if you know Judy that's saying a lot.

Best Coffee/Cream Supply: Trotter's Cafe. Given how difficult and particular we are (and by we, I mean me) only one form of coffee and cream supply would do, do it yourself. I know Alex will disagree with this as she likes to be served, but this is my post, so there. There is no way a waitress can keep up with my standard coffee intake. Trotter's serves great coffee (Peace coffee) and they have a lovely coffee station with ample amounts of condiments. Crema should also get a mention since they are DIY as well, but they have such little space our big group is usually crammed in somewhere and thus the coffee station is inaccessible to many.

Best Meal That Wasn't Breakfast: The Acadia Cafe. Their sandwich selection is simply superb. Completely unrivaled. Every time our breakfast club meetings have a delayed start I try and think of ways to make sure it becomes brunch club and suggest the Acadia. It's that good.

Most Reliable Breakfast: Barbette. We very rarely walk away from a meal at Barbette unsatisfied. The only time Barbette is rejected as an option is when someone in the group has been there recently. We're almost always in the mood for Barbette. There is also the added bonus of having the potential to see a local celebrity. Including, I kid you not, Walter Mondale wearing what appeared to be a woman's sweater.

Best Breakfast Club Post: New Uptowner Cafe. Fern's homage to Jane Austen was simply sublime. I enjoyed reading it so much I forgot that it was a restaurant review and was sad when it was over. Kudos!

Worst Breakfast: The Copper Dome Restaurant. I very badly wanted to the pick the Wilde Roast Cafe, but would have been roundly overruled by the group. Most of the group who had the misfortune of going to the Copper Dome spent their afternoon dealing with stomachs that, "churned like laundry." Not good times.

Feel free to add your own best and worst of 2006 (including worst writer=Amadeus). Here's to a fresh start to 2007 with many new restaurants to explore...