Saturday, December 06, 2008

Perfect Waffles

Amadeus doesn't order waffles in restaurants any more. Or, I should say, he tries not to, but every once in a while, he slips, and accidentally tries them one more time. Restaurant waffles are invariably disappointing. Why it's so difficult to get this breakfast staple right is a mystery, but I suspect that it actually has something to do with our family's idiosyncratic taste in waffles. While the rest of America thinks of Buckwheat as an Eddie Murphy character, we actually like it in our pancakes and waffles. We like our waffles thin, not Belgian style. We don't look for unusual ingredients in our waffles, no squash and goat cheese, no mandarin orange peel and candied ginger. We just like them generously heaped with butter and real maple syrup.

And, so, I present to you a recipe for Perfect Waffles. Follow these steps exactly as written, and you will not be disappointed.

TCBCB Perfect Waffles

2 c. organic buckwheat pancake/waffle mix
(or 1 c. mix and 1 c. white flour and 1 t. baking powder and 1/4 t. salt)
2 eggs
4 T melted butter
1 3/4 c. buttermilk
(or 1 1/2 cups of yogurt/sour cream and 1/2 cup milk)
some vanilla
2 t honey

1. Run in a 5K race. Ideally, the race should take place in December. It should be late enough in the morning that your pre-race breakfast has long since worn off by the time you fight the post-race crowds back to your car.

2. Remove 2 cups of organic buckwheat pancake/waffle mix from the package. Put it in a bowl. Hide the package, so no one thinks you use a mix. Depending on the strength of the buckwheat flavor you desire, you could dilute the mix with some white flour and supplemental baking powder and salt.

3. Separate two eggs. This is a meditative process. It might be the closest I ever come to praying. "Please don't break," becomes my mantra as I pass the yolk between the two halves of the shell and allow the pure egg white to fall into the bowl below. If your whites get contaminated by even the slightest hint of broken yolk, you must wash the bowl and start over.

4. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter and allow to cool.

5. Whisk together the egg yolks and the 1 3/4 cups of buttermilk.

5.5. Realize that you don't have buttermilk. You're too hungry to shop now. Create some out of as much sour cream as you have left over from last time you had chili, yogurt, and 1/2 cup milk. You'll need about two cups of this mutant buttermilk, because it's thicker than real buttermilk.

6. Add the melted butter to the eggs and buttermilk. Add some vanilla. I don't know how much. Add a couple of teaspoons of honey.

7. Beat the egg whites into stiff peaks. I use a hand-crank egg beater for this job. Jimmy uses a wire whisk and his strong forearms. I once did it in a dorm room using only a fork and the strength of my will. If you're modern (or married), I suppose you might use an electric mixer. I'm a single girl. I use what I have. Note that however you do it, this step is not optional. Cookbooks always say that it is. If you're making perfect waffles, however, it is so essential, you'd do it with a fork.

8. Combine the egg yolk mixture and the flour (waffle mix) in as few strokes as possible. Add more milk if it's too thick.

9. Fold in the beaten egg whites. This is like tucking in a small child. Gentleness is the key. You don't want to startle the bubbles out of your egg whites.

10. Cook the waffles in the family waffle iron. There is some dispute in our family about who gets the waffle iron after Jimmy dies. It's best of course, to just assume that Jimmy will live forever.* You will know when the waffles are done not because of some timer or indicator light on your waffle iron, but because you can ease it open without destroying the waffle. Test it first by gently trying to lift the lid. If it doesn't pull away from your waffle, close it again and walk away. It's too soon. Try not to think about how hungry you are for two more minutes.

11. Serve immediately with butter and warmed-up real maple syrup. Or eat it yourself. You earned it.

PS Make sure someone is on bacon duty while you do all of this. You're going to want some nice crispy bacon to go with these waffles. Enjoy!

*And when forever is over, I'm older than Amadeus and Jake doesn't want it, so I should get it.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

This Bank Doesn't Need a Bailout

88 South 6th Street
Minneapolis, MN 55402

It's becoming more and more difficult for us to find a new restaurant to review on these pages. Beau and Perley did the footwork this morning, littering the browser in the kitchen with a quartet of tabs each open to a different restaurant we haven't reviewed. Then, they washed their hands of deciding which one we would try, leaving that hard work to the rest of the assembled team. After one false start - the Checkered Apron doesn't serve breakfast on weekends - we decided upon Bank in downtown Minneapolis.

As far as impressive atmosphere goes, Bank certainly beats any place we've eaten in a long time. It's located in an old bank building (where both Jimmy and Judy had childhood savings accounts) with vaulted ceilings, and a real bank vault that has been turned into a wine cellar. The scale of the room makes you feel insignificant, an effect heightened by the dismissive efficiency of our waiter. He seemed to not-hear every request we made this morning, but at the moment we had resigned ourselves to not-receiving whatever we had desired, he would deposit it without fanfare at our elbow. Bank is also in the Westin hotel lobby. I actually really like eating breakfast in hotel restaurants, because you can be surrounded by opulence, and still not feel at all self-conscious about your ratty old dog-walking clothes or your unkempt hair. Other diners appear, freshly tumbled from their hotel sheets, wearing less-than-glamorous apparel, and no one looks out of place even in sweatpants and ratty pony tails.
Our cool, but efficient waiter offered us the choice of eating from the buffet or ordering off of the menu. We wouldn't be Breakfast Club if the buffet would satisfy us, but several of our members did stroll by the counter before soundly rejecting the idea of eating eggs off of a warming table. We each ordered from the menu.

Judy got yogurt and fruit. She gave her meal an A-. Her only complaint was a slight mechanical difficulty in removing grapes from the stem after they had been smothered in yogurt. I've said this before, but I really don't know how she grades such a meal. I do know that the presence of melon in her fruit cup will lower her grade, as will any sweetener in the yogurt. If you, too, dislike melon, while enjoying the bitter taste of plain yogurt, then by all means take Judy's yogurt grade to heart.

Jimmy and Perley both ordered the steak (rare) and eggs (over-easy). In our family, we seem to enjoy animal juices with our breakfast. Both were happy with their meals. I can attest to the tastiness of the steak, because I was able to sample one bite from each of them. Jimmy's grade was a B+. He proclaimed it the best meal he's ever had in a former bank. Perley gave it an A, because he couldn't complain about any food on his plate.
Oh! Did I mention that the steak and eggs came with hash browns? If you know our crew at all then you know that we take our potatoes seriously. Ideally they should be fresh, fluffy grated potatoes encased in a not-too-greasy crispy outer shell. Today's hash browns were standouts among the breakfast potatoes we've eaten in the city. We ate them with gusto, and sometimes with a little bit of greed. Who knows when the market will crash, leaving us without such tasty bits of hash-browned perfection?

Rachael, Sarah, and Amadeus all ordered benedict meals. Rachael's came with fish and shrimp cakes, while Sarah's and Beau's were more traditional. Rachael gave hers a B+ and called it
"mass-produced". Sarah's B+ stemmed from a yearning for more Hollandaise. Beau gave his an A-, its perfection only marred by slightly too-cooked yolks.

With all of this happiness around me, I was the only club member not pleased with my food. Because I loved the bites I had of other peoples' potatoes and steak, I am willing to accept that my disappointment came from what I chose to order rather than any fault on Bank's part, and so it was OK that I spoiled my secret-grading ballot by writing in "lizard people". I will, however, quietly request that if you go, you stay away from the smoked salmon, bagel, and cream cheese. I have a no-fish-for-breakfast rule, anyway, which I thought was only proven by its exception for salmon. The new rule may have to be no-fish-for-breakfast-not-even-salmon.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Back to Our Roots

Seward Cafe
2129 East Franklin Ave

When we were kids, we lived in a series of homes with a lot of cheap, used ("antique") furniture. I remember when we moved to the suburbs briefly, a lot of our furniture didn't work with our new suburban lifestyle, so for a long time there was very little furniture in our house. We had never had a "family room" in the inner city. One of Jake's friends came over just after we moved, and he asked where all of our furniture was, and poor Jake had to stammer out some excuse, because the real answer ("We don't have any") made us sound inadequate.

At any rate, before that time in suburbia, when we lived with mismatched chairs in old drafty houses, we ate a lot of healthy hippie food, like sprouts and black beans. It was always good food, close to the earth, and hearty. We had pork products straight from the farm, and brown eggs with chicken shit and feathers stuck to the shells. When we asked for pop, Jimmy and Judy would mix grape juice and sparkling water and tell us how lucky we were to have homemade pop. "Homemade" meant "real" food, like the whole-wheat bread that came out of Jimmy's oven and his delicious pies with woven crusts. "Homemade" carried echoes of cast iron pans, blackened with the seasoning of a lifetime of delicious food. It meant side pork, the mouth-watering uncured bacon from Janice's farm that we tore into pieces and stuffed into the yolks of our free-range over-easy eggs. Sure, we knew that we were missing Coca-Cola, and we saw our own mother order it in restaurants, but somehow, we still fell for the allure of homemade pop at home.

There is a place where we can go to experience this kind of living, even today, even now that Jimmy and Judy's furniture matches itself and their home. This place is called the Seward Cafe. It's been the same since before I can remember. You order at the counter from some overly-pierced college kid, who sends it to the kitchen where body art, dreads, face-metal, and earnestness about organic food abound. Eventually, when your food is good and ready, they call your name out, and you go and pick it up at the counter. You clear your own table, too, just like you did at home, back when the three kids rotated the jobs of washer, dryer, and everything-elser. And just like it was back when pre-teens held the job of everything-elser, the tables might not always be totally free of stickiness. The used furniture doesn't match. The piano stays closed, and I suspect it hasn't been tuned in a long, long time, but it makes a nice plant rack. There's a corner for the kiddies full of beat up old toys. These are the kind of toys that strengthen your immune system and keep you from needing to live in an antibacterial world.

Oh, but the food, just like back home, the food seems to deserve the label of "homemade", even though it's made at a restaurant. It's solid, hearty food, made by those tattooed organic heroes in the back, with as much care as you can expect from a line cook, with good local ingredients. The good news for me is that someone back there knows how to keep hash browns in the pan long enough to really brown them. The really good news is that it's the Seward, so we know that the trick to that crispy brownness doesn't involve trans-fats. It's all just honest hippie food. Years ago when we went there, Jimmy ordered a side of sausage. It arrived at the window garnished with a pile of sprouts. The sprouts seemed to be a message from the staff, "It's better not to eat meat, but if you really must, here are some delicious non-factory farm raised pork sausages along with a reminder that you get more nutrition from green things." Jimmy didn't eat the sprouts.

Our individual grades have fled my memory, but they hovered in the B+/A- range. Feel free to comment if you were there and you remember them. For me, the grade reflected my fondness for crispy potatoes as much as it did my nostalgia for my childhood.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A blog by any other name...

We have a new address. Please update your bookmarks. Thank you, carry on.

Twin Cities Breakfast Club

Sunday, August 31, 2008

What Is Art?

Chambers Kitchen Restaurant
901 Hennepin Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Is it art to place a horse's head in a black-framed glass box of formaldehyde? Is it art to pose people in a cafe and then film them holding as still as possible for the amount of time it takes for a cigarette to burn down to a pile of ash? Is a lifelike bust of an elderly gentleman, so real it seems like you could feel his pulse below the "skin", art? How about garbage bags cast in bronze and painted to look like, well, garbage bags? Is that art? Is your definition of art broad enough to include a dirty Target-brand towel taped to a pillar with the end of a roll of packing tape?

Or, are you like me, and do you prefer your art to come molded out a good old American spud, crisped to perfection and either shaped like a fry or a breakfast potato and served with a vat of ketchup? Would you like your art to come arranged on a plate of lox and cream cheese with a bagel, or would you like it folded carefully into a Gruyere omelet?

If your definition of art includes any of these things, then you will find it on display at the Chambers, a posh modern hotel/restaurant/art gallery in downtown Minneapolis.

We arrived at 9:30, hungry, after a failed attempt to eat at the Mill City Cafe. The Mill Citians are on vacation, perhaps avoiding Republican hoards, or perhaps just enjoying the summer's last hurrah, but either way, their doors are chained shut, and the decision to eat at the Chambers came, after a short emergency conference in the street, from our birthday girl, Judy, who showed unusual decisiveness - only suggesting three places before landing upon this downtown restaurant. Judy's kind of a high-class breakfast person, so I wasn't surprised to walk in and find a clean white modern room complete with well-dressed waiters waiting to pull out our chairs for us. I was surprised to find the place completely devoid of Republicans. The Chambers seems like a great place to spend your untaxed capital gains, but we were the only people in the room when we arrived. Maybe the horse's head scared them away. It is pretty frightening. Look at me, empathizing with Republicans.

Anyway, the Chambers experience is about more than the food, but the food is high end stuff. It costs more than I would pay for myself ($14 for eggs benedict), but I wasn't paying, so it doesn't feel real to complain about the value of my meal. Still, you have been warned. This is the kind of place where you should con your corporate boss or your rich parents into buying you a meal. It's not the kind of place where you want to spend your own hard-earned Democrat cash.

So, here's the breakdown...

Jimmy ~ bagel, cream cheese and smoked salmon ~ B ~ his food was good, but there was a certain Disaster in which his order was lost. When you're in the middle of a food panic, it's hard to take such a Disaster with grace. Jimmy did his best, but the grade suffered because he had to watch us all eat while he had nothing.

Perley ~ standard breakfast and sausage links ~ A ~ he can't complain about the quality of the food.

Rachael ~ garlic and chili noodles ~ B+ ~ She liked her food and leaned towards an A- had the Disaster not occurred. She also described the Chambers as the Walker with food, which took a little bit of the sting out of the price of the meal. Think of it as cost of admission.

Judy ~ yogurt and granola ~ A- ~ I'm still mystified about how Judy can grade such a mundane breakfast, but she described it as "perfect". The minus is Disaster-related. We're an empathetic lot.

Sarah ~ cheeseburger ~ B ~ she didn't finish the burger, and I'm not sure whether that affected her grade.

Alex ~ gruyere omelet ~ A- ~ I wanted more cheese in my omelet, but, come on, people, these potatoes are beautifully crispy and delicious. Can't we stop focusing on the Disaster for a minute, and see the artestry behind their creation? Aren't perfect potatoes what brings this family together? Of course, maybe it's my own fault that the potatoes didn't get more play. After all, it's not like I was willing to share them.

Feel free to add half a grade to our grades if, like me, you think a Disaster is unlikely to strike twice in the same place.

Uh, sorry, New Orleans.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hail, Citizen! Well Met.

Citizen Cafe
2403 East 38th Street
Minneapolis, MN 55407

There's a new restaurant in my neighborhood. It used to be Sweet Loraine's, which was so bad that even though it was two blocks away, I couldn't go there, ever. Now it's a new place, with humble signage, called Citizen Cafe. I must preface this review by saying that the Citizen Cafe is so convenient that I gave it three tries before I made any judgments. It's new. It serves local food, and it has a real chef, and more importantly I can walk there. Sweet Loraine's just had factory farmed meat and eggs and a grease pit of some sort.

The first time we went, we noticed right away that Sweet Loraine is no more. From new arts and crafts style furniture to oddly pleasing light fixtures, the place has undergone a transformation. We were, that day, still the youngest people in the joint, but the old-timer diner customers might soon be crowded out by hipsters, because the food is new and different, too. Jimmy had some pate and scallops that he loved. I had a sandwich and the bread was blah. Why a small restaurant would skimp on bread, while at the same time serving up delicious pate and scallops is beyond me. Judy also had problems with the bread, but the waitress was kind (and prompt and efficient), offering her a phone and excessive sympathy because Judy had just left her cell phone and her wallet in the changing room at Midwest Mountaineering. Of course, Jimmy and I had sympathy for Judy, too, but if you know Jude long enough, you know that there will be so many small panics over lost items that it gets harder and harder to get too worried. In short, we didn't let Judy's catastrophe ruin our lunch. Bad bread, on the other hand. Well...

The second time I went, I had breakfast by myself on the most excellent patio. I ordered a fried egg sandwich, which was served on ciabata bread. It arrived, and the bread had been branded with the Citizen logo. I thought this was a good sign. You wouldn't want to brand that crappy bread they offered us the first time. Indeed the bread was better, although it was a little too, um, bready for a fried egg sandwich. Also, the egg was over-easy, so the yolk dripped all over my plate, making my sandwich unnecessarily gooey and sloppy. I thought over-hard was industry standard for fried egg sandwiches. Am I wrong? In the future, I will order it that way. The sandwich came with some sage sausage that was ever so delicious. In fact the few bites with no sausage weren't worth eating, but the bites with sausage were flavorful and hearty. Also, the waitress (different waitress) was especially kind and efficient, which I appreciated since I was eating alone and 20% of one breakfast just doesn't work out to be a very big tip.

Today, I ordered the house-made gravlax, which came with creme fraiche and pumpernickel toast points. My serving of gravlax was generous and absolutely perfect. It was salmony without being fishy. The texture was just right. I had six pieces of this wonderful delight. However, I only had five itsy-bitsy toast points, so I had to eat that last slice on its own, wrapped around a healthy scoop of creme fraiche. There are worse fates, but still, I wonder, with toast being the least expensive portion of my meal, why does bread remain such a problem for the good citizens of Citizen Cafe? Judy got the granola with berries on top. She proclaimed it the best granola she's ever had at a restaurant. I'm a little bit against ordering granola at a restaurant - why go out if only to eat cereal? - but she's a big fan of it, so this is high praise from Judy.

Anyway, A Baker's Wife is just down the street. Maybe someday, Citizen Cafe will get its bread from Gary. If that ever happens, this small neighborhood joint will rival the best restaurants in town. They already have the showier items on the menu down pat. It's bread, quiet unassuming bread, that needs some work. Still, I have to give them an A-. The minus is for the bread, and the A is only partly influenced by the uber-convenient location.

P.S. Only one word in this post has Hungarian derivation. Can you find it?

P.P.S. I've eaten there one more time since writing this post. My new grade is a B. Don't get the corned beef. It's not what you think it's going to be.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Flame Broiled

St Clair Broiler
1580 Saint Clair Ave
St Paul, MN 55105

Breakfast club was bursting at the seams this weekend, a full table of eight. Having a large number of members has benefits and costs. Benefits being a large boisterous table and good conversation topics, e.g. the universal hatred of drivers trying to turn left into the Wedge parking lot at 5 in the afternoon on a weekday. Costs being a limited number of options that wouldn't involve an interminable wait and of course, the more people there are, the more vetos that can be wielded. Since this is my last breakfast club before returning to Denver for the beginning of the school year, my only requirement was to choose a place that had not yet been reviewed on this here blog.

This was accomplished far more easily than usual. Rachael, Perley, Jill, and I did all of the heavy lifting as some members of the club took their sweet a$$ time getting to the meeting spot from the dog park, hospital, and their soft and warm beds (yay, fewer vetos!). We assembled a list of three places and as the clock approached 9:30 am, we decided that we could not wait for the full group to make a decision. A call was going to have to be made in order to reserve a table. As Perley, Rachael, and I hemmed and hawed and thought of reasons (because were are too weak from hunger?) why we couldn't make a decision, nor actually call and talk to a human being (because we are teeny babies?), Jill coolly took the bull by the horns and reserved a table at the St. Clair Broiler. Anyone who knows Jill knows that she has yet to meet a bull that she unwilling to take by the horns. Jill wins the breakfast club champion award.

We caravaned over to St. Paul and parked, hoping that during our meal the evil St. Paul city wouldn't stop and put a "no parking" sign on the street and then proceed to issue us tickets. I love many, many things about St. Paul, but I do not love their parking "rules". I think rule #1 of the city of St. Paul is, 1) Find any way, no matter how unscrupulous, to screw people who park in their city. In the past I've parked in what seemed to be a legitimate spot in St. Paul that had a meter, fed the meter for the appropriate time only to find a ticket on my car when I returned. I had failed to notice the sign that nullified the meter during a 4 hour period during that day. I love paying for parking twice, that's awesome. It's as though they don't want people to visit their fair city. I blame Norm Coleman. Or maybe they just want to encourage people to visit the city via the public transit system? One can only hope that they ratchet up their parking enforcement (if that is even possible) come September 1-4, 2008.

The St. Clair Broiler is a neighborhood restaurant with a welcoming atmosphere. They serve standard diner comfort food (the meatloaf is supposed to be very good). It is like a non-chain, non-gross version of Perkins. They make extremely good burgers, fries, malts, etc. that Rachael and I have enjoyed for lunch in the past. Sadly their breakfast is hit and miss, mostly miss. Some of the traditional options were acceptable, but the more daring items were disappointing. Club members who made safe choices were relatively pleased with their meals.

I was not one of those people. I ordered the eggs benny and was not happy. The Hollandaise sauce was very disappointing. It tasted more like yellow gravy. They got the rich salty butter flavor, but they missed on the ever-so-important hint of lemon. It also wasn't as smooth as desired. Alex ordered the Florentine and described the Hollandaise sauce as "grainy". Methinks powder might have been involved in making the sauce.

Jimmy and Perley both ordered the steak and eggs. They were not terribly impressed and considered their meals to be average at best. Jill ordered the most traditional of breakfast but had issues with her sausage, specifically the length of time that it was cooked, or not as the case may be. Judy, Rachael, and Fern all went a more traditional route and gave the highest grades.

The potatoes were terrible. They were previously frozen hash browns, which is the kiss of death of potatoes. Once they are cooked, it is impossible to crisp them properly. Even the few servings that were nicely brown didn't really have a good crisp. Yuck. A lot of the low grades were associated with the potato issues.

On a positive note, those that had OJ or a mimosa route gave high praise to the freshly squeezed juice. Very refreshing and delicious. The toast also receive high marks. Even the positives are a bit of an indictment. When the juice and the toast stand out, it doesn't bode well for the rest of the meal.

The St. Clair Broiler is not a restaurant that we will be returning to for breakfast in the near future (or ever?). Too many disappointments to warrant a return trip. If you go here for a meal you would be better off with lunch or dinner for malts and burgers. I this will be my last MN post for the foreseeable future. Hopefully my compatriots will pick up the slack and I won't be too busy with school to report on the wonders of breakfast in Denver.

Amadeus-Eggs Benny-C-
Jimmy-Steak and Eggs-C
Judy-One egg, bacon, hashbrowns-B
Rachael-P.J.'s One Egger-B
Fern-French Connection-B
Alex-Eggs Florentine-D
Perley-Steak and Eggs-C+/B-
Jill-Two eggs, sausage, toast, and hash browns-D+

Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Tale of Two Stags

The Red Stag
509 1st Ave NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413

We had to leave soon after the first baskets had been hauled back up to bridge-level filled with writhing silver fish. I was a sensitive child with a vivid imagination and my dad had just told me about people biting the heads of the fish and squeezing out the guts. At age 8 I didn’t know what a smelt was. “An anchovy is like a smelt that lives in the ocean.” “A smelt is something like a sardine or a mackerel.” Oh, one of those fish in the can with a key that my dad sometimes put in his lunch box. These could also be some of the reasons that I’ve never actually eaten smelt- I loved being able to open a can with a key, but hated the oily tomato sauce slathered on the sardines. Then there is that terrible tickle of tiny bones and slippery fish skin in your mouth, another bad feature. And have you ever noticed that the smaller the fish the more pungent the smell? Any of those reasons including the description of how smelt are cleaned once the schnapps bottle has made the rounds a few times are enough to put me off. I witnessed a smelt run once. I had been fishing all afternoon with my father on what was probably was the very first warm spring day. We had been alone all afternoon, but at dusk the bridge suddenly swarmed with cars. The smelt run was on and it was a complete frenzy. There was a crush of people on the bridge, so many that I kept losing track of my dad among the crowd. Headlights were trained on small groups of people untangling the ropes on wire baskets. Coolers of ice-cold beer were hauled out and were prepared to be filled with freshly "cleaned" smelt...

Luckily, this kind of talk does nothing to dampen appetites of the Breakfast Club and after Perley heartily recommended the Red Stag’s basket of smelt fries (whole and head-on), conversation veered to the much loved Dyson Air Blade (To call the Dyson a hand dryer is an insult. It is a revolutionary water removal system.) and the effects of urinal design on the phenomenon of splashback (Note to men: Give yourself plenty of room, or a wide stance while at the Red Stag).

This was the Club’s second trip to Red Stag and a lesson on how the breakfast experience can be totally changed by making either wise or poor menu choices. In an unusual move for an avowed carnivore, Jimmy ordered a simple bowl of berries along with a glass of orange juice (Grade: B+). He may have been gun shy after his previous experience. Lesson Learned: Never order chicken-fried steak if you do not like chicken-fried steak. You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Judy, the borderline sugar addict, loved the honey-laced whipped cream on her waffles. She even loved the waffles proclaiming them the best waffles she has ever had-except for Jimmy’s (Grade: A). Lesson Learned: None.

Sarah noted a vast improvement in the temperature of her latte, from lukewarm and unacceptable to delightfully molten. Her vegetarian BLT (Grade: B) was greatly improved by the addition of standard-issue bacon and stood head and shoulders above her previous experience. (Another sandwich now removed from the menu due to its lack of flavor.) Lesson Learned: Ask and ye shall receive.

Perley absolutely loved the lobster and egg salad sandwich (Grade: A+). There is a perfect balance between the elements of creamy and eggy and there the Red Stag is not skimpy with the lobster. This visit also saw a great improvement in the field greens department, which had previously been dressed in pure oil. Lesson Learned: Do not text people at 3am because they will get you back by waking you up for breakfast. This lesson was taught by another club member and not by the Red Stag, but is an important one nonetheless.

Beau and Rachael split an order of green eggs and ham and a lobster salad sandwich. The green eggs etc dish was served with sautéed greens that reminded Beau of rotten salad (of which he has dealt with an astounding amount of recently, though not while at breakfast) (Grade: B-lobster sandwich, C-green eggs). Rachael was picturing a dish straight out of Seuss and was mainly disappointed by her still-overactive imagination but also by the crouton masquerading as a muffin. The lobster egg salad was difficult to share since it was so tasty, more due to sharing issues than presentation. (Grade: A-lobster salad, C-green eggs) Lesson Learned-Beau: Negotiating an agreement to share a meal with your wife can sometimes work out in your favor. Lesson Learned-Rachael: The sultanate of Brunei is also known as the Abode of Peace. It is located on the island of Borneo, and odds are Jimmy is right about geography even if you don’t believe him.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Take These Broken Eggs and Learn to Fry

Blackbird Cafe
815 W. 50th Street
Minneapolis, MN 55419
3800 Nicollet Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55409

Rachael's job requires her to drive around Minneapolis on an almost daily basis. This allows her to keep a lookout for potential breakfast spots for the club. I personally believe that she keeps a secret list of places to suggest whenever breakfast club is at a loss for a place to go (which is often). Having just returned to Minneapolis for the summer, I specifically requested a new place so I could write a post. There was a lot of discussion and few ideas, so Rachael reached into her secret list and threw out the Blackbird Cafe. The rest of the members were intrigued by the fact that it is conveniently located very close to TCBC headquarters. We had some time as we waited for Fern to report to headquarters, so we called ahead and asked if they had a table for six. After some hemming and hawing, they told us that they would try their best. We greatly appreciated their efforts. They must have done a lot to move around the other three people in the restaurant to give us our table. To be fair, our table of six was situated off in the corner away from all the other diners. Is it possible that our reputation is making the rounds? It's as if they knew we would be a problem table with many special requests and frequent snarky comments and loud (for Minn-E-SO-ta) laughter.

Once we were seated and we waiting for our coffee, the group was polled to describe the decor of the Blackbird. We all looked around and took in the painting of fox hunts, multiple mounted antlers, and Chinese lanterns. Jimmy, in a non-PC moment, knocked it out of the park, "It's designed for the British Sporting Chinaman". While breakfast club does not endorse the use of the word Chinaman, we couldn't resist in this particular instance.

The group wasn't deterred by the strange decor and waited for the food with open minds. Everyone was impressed with their food. Rachael, Judy, and I were the least happy with our food. Rachael thought her omelet was a little small and she did not receive the fruit cup that she ordered (and then was too quite to ask for it later). I was punished for ignoring my own personal decree, "Never order French toast unless you are at Barbette". Judy despite many previous failures, ordered the pancakes. She didn't like that every bite was the same, which is kind of the definition of pancakes. Everyone else had rave reviews for the food and I augmented my own personal meal disappointment with bits of everyone else's meal. My sampling of other people's meals confirmed the quality of those dishes.

Blackbird knows potatoes. They make some of the best French fries in the city. Perfect size and salt level and perfectly crispy. The Blackbird fries are a little bit thicker than the Barbette fries. I personally prefer a thicker fry, but the thick fry is more prone to mushiness. They avoid that at the Blackbird and they are wonderfully crispy. The hash browns were also very good. They had an amazing level of crispness on the outside and were soft on the inside with judicious help of butter to aid in flavor. It remains to be seen if this crispy potato trend would remain if there were more people in the restaurant. There seems to be an inverse relationship between the crispiness of the potatoes and pending orders in the restaurant.

The grades represented the almost universally enjoyed meals:
Perley-Country Fried Steak and Eggs-A-
Jimmy-Standard Breakfast-B+
Judy-Daily Special Pancakes-B-
Fern-Crab Salad Sandwich-B+
Rachael-Mushroom Omelet-B-
Amadeus-French Toast-B

The Blackbird receives a full endorsement from the breakfast club. Even the members that were disappointed with their meals were happy. We felt as though it was due to poor ordering more than poor food. Does that make sense? Probably not. Please go to the Blackbird, enjoy their food and feel free to comment on your own analysis of their decor.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Whine Bar

Lucia's Restaurant and Wine Bar
1432 West 31st Street

It's the kind of place whose web site has a flash page intro called "atmosphere". It's the kind of place whose menu only has six breakfast items. It's the kind of place where they carry a tray of fresh pastries to your table right before your food arrives. The kind of place where they'll garnish your scrambled eggs with a tortilla chip "haystack", and they'll arrange your "French-style" omelet so lovingly around its brie cheese and mushroom filling that you'll almost miss the fact that there was nothing really special about the omelet to warrant such care.

We arrived on the verge of death with hunger. Why we allow this to happen to ourselves week after week is beyond me. Judy had an excuse: She was working all night, on call, delivering the babies. I, on the other hand, got up at 6:30, ran for 40 minutes, and then sat around all morning waiting for the club to convene. Did I eat? No, I just drank a cup of coffee. This means that the full effect of the caffeine hit me hours before food arrived to ameliorate it, and so my hunger turned manic and urgent. It also means that our first attempt at finding breakfast at a new spot (Duplex now serves breakfast on weekends), which failed (check that: Dupex now serves breakfast on Sundays), almost made me weep with frustration. Lucia's was open. Jimmy's objections were not strong enough to qualify as a veto, but he did threaten to order two entrées because he's eaten at Lucia's before and he knows the artful arrangements sometimes act as camouflage for small portion size. All of which is to say that our mood upon entering the restaurant was grim, with a side of slap-happy. This was hungry, ornery crew of breakfasters.

Judy's first complaint was about the coffee (skim milk latte). "I hope it's not cold," she said before she even sipped it. Take note: She's obsessive about coffee temperature. Beau just wants a constant refill stream with plenty of cream. Judy wants her coffee to scald her tongue and warm her chronically cold hands through the mug. Perhaps her words were prophetic. By Judy's definition the coffee was cold. Pronounce the word "cold" with a scowl, and you'll know exactly how she felt about this turn of events.

Fern's beef was with the menu. She as you may recall, doesn't really like breakfast. The menu was the typical high-end brunch menu, but with none of the lunch-y kind of options. There were fancy pancakes and egg dishes, but no sandwiches. In fact, the menu was so limited, that she was forced to go against type and order something that sounded a little bit like a breakfast burrito (scrambled eggs with guac and black beans and a haystack of chips). She declared the haystack "annoying", probably because moving it off to the side slowed her intake of food slightly. Did I mention that we were hungry?

I ordered the brie and mushroom omelet, because I like brie. I was thinking that such an upscale place would put some fancy 'shrooms in there to go with the brie and I'd be all kinds of satisfied. I should not have assumed that the mushrooms would be anything but butter-sauteed buttons. If I hadn't maybe my disappointment wouldn't have surfaced at grading time. I'm not really sure what made the omelet "French-style", but the egg part was thick and puffy around the cheese and mushrooms.

The potatoes divided our family. Judy thought they were good. They did have real potato flavor and lots of good seasoning. I just thought they were typically under-done. Come on, people, everybody likes their potatoes crispy. So crisp them up, already. How hard can it be?

Eventually, as enough of the food entered my system, I was able to look around with a less jaded and unhappy eye. Food is good that way. It makes me less crazy, especially when I'm just crazy with hunger. Still, and here's the real summary of Lucia's, everything we ordered was unloved. Nothing made us say, "Oh, wow, this is good." No one looked at anyone else's plate and said, "Ooo, I wish I'd gotten that." I expect the high-end breakfast to wow me a little bit. I want to fall in love with some part of it. Otherwise, I can just go to a dinner, and eat cheap food that tastes fine, and I don't have to move the garnish aside so I can eat it.

Fern ~ C-, mostly because she didn't really want anything on the menu.
Judy ~ B-, heavily influenced by other peoples' grades and cold coffee
Jimmy ~ C+, and he got enough to eat because he ate the rest of Judy's omelet
Alex ~ B, fancier mushrooms and crispier potatoes would have raised it to an A

Thursday, May 22, 2008

You Picked A Fine Time To Feed Me Lucile

2124 14th Street
Boulder, CO 80302

Ask almost anyone in the Denver area about breakfast and the name Lucile's will come up. When I polled some carpool buddies recently and talked about my blog I was greeted with incredulous stares when I said that I hadn't been to Lucile's yet. Once people stop raving about the food, they mention the wait. Waiting at Lucile's seems to be a given and part of the Lucile's experience. Rachael and I decided to brave Lucile's wait on a little day trip to Boulder a few weeks ago. Lucile's lived up to their reputation on all counts.

If you look at the picture on the right, you can predict that loved Lucile's. What is it about restaurants in houses that is so awesome? I don't know, but it is undeniable. House restaurants rock. Period. End of sentence.

Let's talk about the waiting. This is the type of restaurant that would incite a riot under any normal TC breakfast club conditions. Waiting is a given. It will happen. It is part of the Lucile's experience. So much so, that they utilize the second floor as a waiting area with tiny chairs and random collection of books and toys. It is like breakfast purgatory. One of their books consisted of newspaper clippings singing the praises of Lucile's food. Great information that doubled as torture for a hungry individual. With that being said we had to wait about 25 minutes. They turned tables over fairly quickly. A larger group would have been there for a looooooooong time though.

Lucile's is a New Orleans inspired cafe. Given that, we felt it was our civic duty to sample their beignets, in a purely academic endeavor. What arrived was a plate of delicious fried dough with a pile of powdered sugar that more resembled Tony Montana's desk than actual food. It had so much powdered sugar, eating the beignet became risky. If you inhaled ever so slightly as brought your beignet to your mouth, powdered sugar would fly in your mouth, up your nose and maybe even through your eyes causing a severe coughing fit. I swear I was tasting powdered sugar for the rest of the day. Sugar inhalation (as a confessed sugar addict, this was no big deal for me) nonwithstanding the beignets were fantastic.

The rest of the food was fantastic. I had the egg benny, which was great including the six pounds of shaved ham on each English muffin. Great for a meat lover. Rachael had the eggs sardu which was a concoction of poached eggs, Gulf shrimp, creamed spinach, and hollandaise. She gave it high marks, but it was so large she never got a chance to try the homemade biscuit, but it LOOKED good.

The potatoes were as good as non-crispy potatoes can possibly be. That's not saying much, but given the number of people they serve I think crispy potatoes aren't feasible. Too busy, too many people to spend the necessary time to properly crisp the taters. You can't have everything.

Lucile's has some nice touches as well. They have a fantastic homemade jam on every table that was a very nice addition to the beignets. They spice up their ketchup with Cajun offerings. I am normally a ketchup purist, but their spiced ketchup was very good. Lucile's even offers chicory coffee for people that prefer their coffee to taste like ass.

All in all, the meal at Lucile's was great. It was the perfect meal to sustain us for a long day of hiking and sightseeing. If you are in Boulder in the morning, there is no better way to start the day than Lucile's. The grades:

Amadeus-Eggs Benny-B+
Rachael-Eggs Sardu-A-

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Breakfast Royalty?

The Breakfast King
1100 S. Santa Fe Dr.
Denver, CO 80223

The semester is winding down here in Denver, and by winding down, I mean ramping up with assignments and exams to the degree that I am a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Rather than actually deal with the looming due dates, I decided to sign up for a 5k fun run in the morning and then go out for a greasy breakfast. I was able to rope two of my fellow classmates in Operation Procrastination.

Janine, Jess, and I met up at Washington Park for the Strides for Epilepsy 5k to support the Epilepsy Foundation of Colorado on a ridiculously beautiful Colorado morning. We all managed to survive the run. Kind of. I've been in Denver for 8 months now, running 5 times a week, but am still struggling with the lack of oxygen. The first mile went fine, then the wheels came off and I ended up staggering to the finish. Jess put it very well when she stated that she thought her lungs were bleeding and on the verge of collapse during the race.

After the race, we felt as though we deserved a reward. There is no better reward in my opinion than a big greasy breakfast to completely nullify any acquired benefit of running 3.1 miles. Thanks to google maps, we found a relatively close diner called The Breakfast King. When doing my research, I was taken in by the phrase "trucker friendly portions". Who wouldn't be?

The Breakfast King is everything that comes to mind when you imagine a typical greasy spoon diner. They are crowded but also manage to turn customers over at a rapid pace, so no one is left waiting for very long. The decor is very 70's (hint: orange and lots of it). The waitresses are both nice (in a gruff no nonsense sort of way) and efficient. They all have voices that make you think that there may have been years of smoking in their past. It took every fiber of my being to refrain from calling our waitress "Flo". The menu contains all of the standard diner items, including the vastly underrated chicken fried steak.

The food is also exactly what you would expect from a diner. Diners as a whole know how to cook eggs. My over easy eggs were perfect, fully cooked whites with very yolky yolk. My sausage patties were fried perfectly as well. They definitely know their way around a grill. Unfortunately the coffee is what you would expect from a diner, weak Bun-O-Matic Folgers. It's probably unreasonable to expect fair-trade organic schmancy coffee from a diner, so I gave them a pass. Alas, the potatoes were awful. The good people at Breakfast King subscribe to the chopped up narfy school of hash browns (neither shredded hash browns, nor American fried potatoes, somewhere in the middle). This is my least favorite kind of hash browns. They also would have benefited from a longer relationship with the grill. There were isolated bits of crispiness, but were mostly mush.

On to the official grades (methinks my family grades on the harsh side, and I am considering developing some sort of grade equalization system for the Denver reviews):
Beau-Standard American breakfast-C+ (hash brown related)
Janine-Scrambled eggs with cheese and hash browns-B+
Jess-Vegetarian omelet and hash browns-B+

If you are looking for good, traditional diner eats, The Breakfast King is is perfect. Whether or not they are truly breakfast royalty is up for debate.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Don't Wake Us Just Yet

Café Maude
5411 Penn Ave South
Minneapolis, MN

Was it a dream? Dreams are about wish fulfillment, after all. In my dream, the breakfast clubbers walked into a café they had never visited before, casually ordered a variety of standard breakfast choices, and found themselves spinning in a blur of rich colors, strange shapes, and the most wonderful flavors they had experienced in months. Imagine fleeting images of smiles and laughter, the clink of silverware as every morsel is collected and savored, excitement to the point of confusion.

But wait, it couldn’t have been a dream. There were some sort of creeping plants on the building’s exterior which were being held in place by a copious amount of scotch tape, and none of the TCBCers would ever be responsible for conjuring up something so hideous in a happy dream. So it was real! It happened! It happened at Café Maude, in fact.

Café Maude is probably better known for its nighttime personality – it features live music or a DJ every night, and you would be lucky to secure a table then, as demand far exceeds supply. But breakfast is a different story – five of us walked in and were immediately seated at a comfortable booth. The décor was obviously chosen with an evening crowd in mind (it feels like it should be dark out when you’re there), but the kitchen cares about you just as much as they do about their later diners, and the food is outstanding.

The breakfast menu includes many of the usual selections – omelettes, pancakes, french toast, etc., but they’ve been Maude-ified. The oatmeal has currants, pine nuts, and garam masala (!). The french toast comes with ginger ice cream. On the more unusual side, there’s a sautéed flatbread offering that involves eggs, bacon, cucumber, sri racha, and cilantro, and a really good-looking chorizo hash with fried egg and harissa (hot sauce).

Jimmy and Rachael both tried the Eggs Benedict of the day, which was made with a spicy lamb sausage on French bread. Rachael didn’t understand how Eggs Benedict (with sausage, no less) could be prepared in a manner that wasn’t greasy, but there it was. Alex got an omelette with spinach, feta, crispy potatoes, and harissa, and was moved almost to tears. The potatoes – crispy as crispy can be – were INSIDE the omelette. Other restaurants can’t even manage the crispy potato on its own, Alex exclaimed, and here Maude had achieved it wrapped up in eggs and cheese! I tried the yogurt with fresh berries, honey, granola, and toasted pistachios (a departure for me – though I might add, NOT because I always order breakfast burritos. Don’t believe the other clubbers, readers, they are only trying to make me mad by perpetuating this burrito nonsense). It was delicious and beautifully presented. And finally, Judy ordered the silver dollar pancakes, and liked them well enough, though most club members, Jill excepted, often regret ordering pancakes no matter how good they are. Interesting side note – the menu touts “locally-harvested maple syrup”, which prompted some curiosity. Our server told Judy it actually comes from Wisconsin, so it’s not from the trees on the boulevard or anything.

All in all, so unexpectedly delightful we had to pinch ourselves. But here’s one dream we can have over and over, and you can be sure the breakfast club will visit Maude again.

Official grades (attending members not to reveal special voting procedure to others):

Alex – Omelette with spinach, feta, crispy potatoes, and harissa – A (and she confronted everyone else about exactly WHY they didn’t grant an A too)
Jimmy – Eggs Benedict – B+, points off only for non-fresh-squeezed OJ
Rachael – Eggs Benedict – A-, wished for a little more butter in her meal
Judy – Pancakes – B+, pancake thing.
Fern – Yogurt/Granola – A

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Like Buttah

Butter Bakery Cafe
3544 Grand Ave S

When you eat at a coffee shop, you resign yourself to certain things that you wouldn’t tolerate in a real restaurant. You might not be able to get a table big enough for six people, for example. You will most likely have to stand up and order at the counter. Food delivery will be slow and possibly uneven when you overwhelm them with a group of our size. Here at Twin Cities Breakfast Club, we grumble through these minor coffee-shop inconveniences, but there are certain things we demand from our coffee shop breakfasts:
  1. They must serve eggs, even though they are primarily a coffee shop. We don’t go out to eat in order to have pastries and coffee. I do. Alone. The club does not.
  2. They must have a stove. We don’t like eggs that have been steamed in an espresso maker and called “scrambled”.
  3. They must accompany their counter service with a warm friendly busy-ness that allows us to enjoy not being served. I enjoy being served a lot, it turns out (which is odd, since I’m usually so low-maintenance) but it’s easy for me to forget about it when I know there’s a lot going on behind the counter.
  4. And, of course, they must serve outstanding food that makes us want to come back and stand in line to order more of it.

We ate at Butter this weekend, and found it completely satisfactory as a coffee shop, but it doesn’t quite measure up as a breakfast joint. They fulfill the first three criteria, but fall slightly short on the last. The atmosphere at Butter is warm and clean and we were easily able to push two tables together to accommodate our crew. With sunlight streaming through the windows, it felt like spring at our table, and even the wall mural painted in ugly browns and blues seemed cheerful. (Of course this was Saturday, before Minnesota played the worst April Fools joke of all time by spitting six inches of slush on us on Monday. Happy spring break, everyone.)

Butter does have a complete breakfast menu it turns out, with several varieties of eggs (made on a stove which you can see from the counter) in addition to the best chocolate éclair in Minneapolis. This is a chocolate éclair that demands a plate and a utensil because it is full of delicious cream and covered in a dense layer of melt-on-your fingers chocolate. It is not good food to order with your morning coffee for your drive to work. Save your upholstery and get the scone for that purpose. Get the chocolate éclair for times when you have time to sit and savor the cream that you’ll have to lick off your fingers and, um, the plate if you are uncouth.

The happiest members of our club were those who expected nothing more than coffee shop food – and Fern, who had a much exclaimed-over BLT, because she secretly doesn’t even like breakfast. All of us shared one of the chocolate éclairs, and all of us enjoyed rolling up our sleeves for it. Judy had yogurt, fruit and a scone, and was content with her meal. Jill was the most unhappy member of the club and she got the most demanding breakfast-y meal. Pancakes. They arrived late, and they looked terrible. I’m not sure she ate even half of one of them. I got some sort of frittata thing that wasn't bad, but borrowed most of its flavor from the pile of Salsa Lisa on top. Unfortunately it came with a side of mealy, un-crispy potatoes, which is a bit of a death knell for a breakfast joint.

Our grades reflected the diversity of things we were able to order, which is impressive in itself for such a small coffee-shop kitchen.
Perley ~ Biscuits and gravy ~ A- (but with the caveat that his grade was for Butter as coffee shop, not as breakfast place)
Fern ~ delicious-looking BLT ~ A-
Judy ~ Yogurt, fruit, and scone ~ B+
Rachael ~ breakfast burrito ~ B
Jimmy ~ standard breakfast with enormous sausage patties ~ B
Jill ~ sad pile of late pancakes and good coffee ~ C+
Alex ~ Fritatta and icky potatoes and a chocolate éclair for the table ~ C+

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Big Improvement From KFC

La Chaya Bistro
4537 Nicollet Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55419

Even though it doesn't feel like it, this week is the beginning of Spring break. Not only do I get a much needed break from class work and clinic obligations, but I also get to spend some time with my beloved, my friends, and my family. This also means I actually get to review a place on the Twin Cities Breakfast Club Blog that is located in the Twin Cities. For once our tens of readers won't think as they read one of my posts, "What is a place in Denver doing on the Twin Cities Breakfast Club Blog?"

It was a large and boisterous group (due to, I'm sure, my incredible popularity) that knocked on the doors of a newly open restaurant, La Chaya. We even had a special appearance from Jill, Perley's beloved. The website says that they are open for brunch from 9-2 on Saturday and Sunday. We, of course, arrived at 9:00 and 30 seconds. I think they were a little surprised to see a group of eight people arrive, but they adjusted nicely. La Chaya is located in a building that housed a KFC in a previous life. It's safe to say that this is a complete and total upgrade in both quality of food and atmosphere, although that isn't exactly saying a while lot. The owners of La Chaya have done a wonderful job decorating the place. It is very warm and welcoming, with some interesting styling quirks. They certainly have a fondness for metal work. The entryway contains an old door mounted on its side as part of the partition. Perley was both impressed and dismayed (he claims to have had a similar idea for years but had yet to act upon it).

The first thing that you notice about the menu at La Chaya is the assortment of fresh squeezed juices. They not only offer the expected orange juice, but also offer pineapple; carrot & beet; carrot, beet & orange; apple, carrot, celery; orange, banana & pineapple; and carrot, cucumber, beet & lime. Everyone who ordered juice seemed to enjoy them (especially Rachael and her pineapple). I enjoyed the aesthetic appeal of the myriad of juices on the table; it was like the rainbow coalition of juice. Some members of the group were a little put off by the beetiness of a few of the juice options. They're great if you like beets, but don't expect to taste much besides beets.

The brunch menu has some interesting selections, but not exactly wide-ranging. They DO offer a standard American breakfast as part of the brunch menu, which was a pleasant surprise. Our party of eight ordered almost every item on the menu. I think the only items we missed were oatmeal and yogurt and granola. Their offerings have a Mexican flair and everything is done extremely well. I think Fern was a little sad because there was no breakfast burrito option and she had to settle for a quesadilla. Hands down the winner was Rachael's choice of Molletes, which were four pieces of toast covered in refried beans and chorizo and melty cheese with fresh salsa. Her plate was highly coveted by all.

La Chaya also offers a few fresh baked pastries, including scones and caramel rolls. We succumbed to temptation and were rewarded handsomely. The caramel rolls very, very good and flaky. The scones also received high marks.

Alas, La Chaya was not perfect. Some members had problems with the service but mostly chalked it up to a combination of inexperience and a large and somewhat demanding group. I ordered the scrambled eggs, but felt a little cheated and think maybe they should have called it scrambled egg, singular. Really small quibbles in the grand scheme of things. These minor issues did not cause the group to rule out a return trip.

The potatoes deserve a paragraph of their own. When I received my plate of food, my heart sank. The potatoes were not the least bit brown or crispy. They looked like your standard disappointing mushy, slightly mealy breakfast potatoes. I was ready to give a failure right then and there. I found the smallest piece and tentatively placed it in my mouth. What a pleasant surprise. The potatoes weren't at all crispy, but they had a wonderful texture nonetheless. They were the exact amount of doneness without being mealy and gross on the inside. The outside was not crispy, but did retain a separate texture from the inside giving it a strange illusion of crispiness. They were also lightly flavored with rosemary and other spices. I didn't even feel the need to request ketchup. In my world that is high praise indeed.

So, on to the official grades. Secret text balloting was used to ensure no vote coercion. We are democratic if nothing else.

Amadeus-scrambled egg with cheese mushrooms and chorizo-B+
Perley-Grapefruit juice and standard breakfast-B+
Jill-Mimosa and pancakes-A- (bonus points for smoking hot chef)
Fern-Beet-tastic juice and quesadillas-B
Alex-Orange, pineapple, banana juice and quesadillas-B+
Judy-Beet-tastic juice and "eggs benedict"-B+
Jimmy-Orange juice and huevos rancheros-B+
Rachael-Pineapple juice and molletes-A-

Please go to La Chaya and enjoy their delicious food. We fully endorse their fare. God knows the world would be a better place if there were more La Chayas and less KFCs out there.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Breakfast at Al's (without Al)

Al's Breakfast
413 4th Ave SE
Minneapolis, MN

Note: Today's review is a guest post, brought to you by a friend-who's-a-boy who wasn't able to eat breakfast with me earlier this week, probably because I was out in the 'burbs teaching the math, rather than in the city experiencing one of Minneapolis's true institutions with him. Good thing I like the math. Anyway, here's Jeff.

I get the feeling that they don't appreciate non-locals in this diner. But I live in the Chateau. Look, you can see my apartment from here!

I sit down and am quickly ignored. I find a menu within arm's reach. Quirky items. Pancakes with corn nibblets. Stewed prunes. They seem to specialize in eggs benedict. I decide on the New Orleans (N.O.) omelet. Slivered almonds. Capers. Shrimp and garlic hollandaise sauce. I like seafood. If only my waitress knew...that I wanted to order something.

I don't order coffee. I think this was a mistake. This is a sure sign that I'm a neophyte. No eggs benedict neither.

The cook likes to shout really loud from one side of the restaurant to the other. This amuses me. No really, it does. Bob Marley is playing. The guy next to me starts chatting about Rastafarians and the guy to my left recaps the Oscars. This guy is so serious about eating--he's concentrating on his meal like a hunter in the blinds--except his eggs benedict aren't trying to escape. He's so into eating his breakfast that it makes me nervous just to sit next to him. I don't why exactly.

Is it 9:20am smoke break? Where's my shrimp. Is this the Hard Times Breakfast...did I forget the secret password? The waitress appears and leaves time and again, a mild, permanent sneer on her face.

I like the personality of the place. Patron postcards from around the world and bills tacked onto the wall in varied currencies. Small dinosaur toys. A system of personal tabs arranged by name in alphabetical order. The fellow next to me leaves. His tab is in the red. "Oh well, I'll bring my checkbook next time". They take personal checks. Nice. I think about starting a tab. Big yellow slips of paper. I'll write down "Jackie Osbourne" or something like that. Brock McPatterson.

My omelet arrives. It's good, I guess. It's interesting. And that's what I usually order. I can't find any shrimp though. I ask the dishguy/underchef. He says that the shrimp are very small. I really can't see anything at all. Krill? Sea monkeys? I can taste something salty, but that might just be the capers. It's a decent omelet. I took a gamble. Eggs benedict next time. I leave a decent tip, but I leave it in quarters stacked neatly beside my plate. The staff doesn't notice my absence any more than my presence. Not as fun without Al there...

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Why I Don't Order Pancakes

Blah Restaurant
Who Cares Avenue
Snore, CO

Rachael visited last weekend for a special three-day President's Day weekend. We had a little two-person breakfast club. I hated this place so much that I am not even going to tell you it's name. It doesn't even deserve to be named in a bad review on our blog. We picked it more out of convenience than for any real desire to eat there. It is located close to the Cherry Creek Safeway, which is were we intended to shop after we had breakfast. For this decision, we were punished with a terrible breakfast surrounded by terrible people.

I had one of my infrequent hankerings for pancakes. This occurs every few months. I am disappointed every time I have them, and it takes me until I forget my last horrible experience to have another urge for pancakes. To no one's surprise I am a syrup snob and will only have pancakes if real maple syrup is an option. Luckily "the restaurant who shall not be named" offered real maple syrup for an extra $1.75. Usually that will buy you a thimble-sized cup of real maple syrup. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a veritable carafe of real maple syrup. I soon realized that I received copious amounts of syrup because TRWSNBN makes those gigantic, awful, crumbly, fall-apart pancakes that somehow manage to soak up all of the syrup that you put on them without actually providing any syrup flavor whatsoever. I would pour on syrup, watch it soak into the enormous pancake, then stuggle for a few minutes searching through pancake crumbles for any discernable maple syrup flavor. Why do restaurants think that it is ok to sacrifice quality for quantity when it comes to pancakes? I don't think I am the only person that would prefer a stack of smaller pancakes with the proper texture to a giant pancake with terrible, crumbly texture. Are you with me people?

Anyway, TRWSNBN was an entirely forgettable experience that's only merit was to remind me why I should never order pancakes at a restaurant. Hopefully by posting this I will not make this mistake again. Fat chance.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Because You Need Another Reason To Hate Corporations

Earl's Sandwich Parlor
1431 Ogden Street
Denver, CO 80218

When I was preparing to move out to Denver in June of '07 I did all of my apartment research on craigslist. Risky? Yes, but it paid off. I now live in a delightful apartment in Capitol Hill. I am close enough that I can walk or take the bus to all of the important events that I choose to attend. The only downside is my half an hour commute to the campus in Aurora. I realize that I have no right to complain about a half hour commute. Some people would kill for a commute that short.

I moved to my new apartment in early August. I drove a giant U-Haul down here and was followed in my car by two of my bestest friends, Jorge and Selena. We rolled into Denver around 11:30 pm. Not having the energy to tackle the unloading project at that point, we stashed the truck, brought in the bare essentials and took a walk around the neighborhood. The stated purpose of the walk was to get TP for the morning, but it was also a chance for me to get the feel of my new 'hood (the initial trip to find a place was a whirlwind adventure of which I remember little). I immediately felt at home. On the way back to the apartment from a 7-Eleven (only about 9,000 time better than a Super America, if I never have to answer the question, "Do you have a speedy rewards card?" again it will be too soon), we walked past a place called "The Earl of Sandwich". My first thought was, "God I hope that place is good, because that is the most awesome name for a sandwich place."

Much to my delight, "The Earl" (as Rachael and I affectionately call it) rocks. They make fantastic sandwiches and the service is tremendous. I cannot say enough good things about The Earl. After my third trip there, the server lady had already learned my name (alas, I am terrible with names and have not learned hers, does that make me a dick?) and knew of my love for the club sandwich. Although they violate two of my seven requirements of a club sandwich, I still love them to death. I can't really speak to the quality of any of their other sandwiches, but Rachael has dined there on numerous occasions and she recommends the Marion (wrap of roast beef, sprouts, cucumber, and cream cheese) or the 14th Avenue Delight (pastrami and provolone on rye). They also offer soup and breakfast croissants, which are served all day.

The atmosphere is more homey-coffee shop then sandwich restaurant. They have carpets in some areas and cushy chairs in others. They also have a nice selection of art for sale that turns over at a good clip and never is that really awful restaurant art that makes you think, "Who in their right mind would buy that?" Come on, you know you've said that to yourself when you've been forced to stare at terrible art for an entire meal.

Alas, "The Earl of Sandwich" is no more. It is now called, "Earl's Sandwich Parlor". Why, do you ask, would they change their name from the most awesome name for a sandwich shop in the world, to a merely OK name for a place? One word, my friends. Disney. Apparently, Disney which runs a place in Downtown Disney, has a copyright on the name, "The Earl of Sandwich". Disney has also decided to open franchises in all 50 glorious states. They, of course, sent cease and desist letters to all proprietors who operated places with that name (of which I am sure there were many). Rather than fight the all-powerful Disney, the good people at The Earl just changed their name. I probably shouldn't be surprised and shouldn't be as upset as I am about this minor change. After all, The Earl is still there and serving up sandwiches every day (except Sunday). It's just the principle of the matter. Yet another case of a large corporation flexing it's muscle and getting whatever it wants, screw the little guy. Remember, Disney is where your dreams come true, unless you happen to be a small local restaurant owner who is in our way. In that case we will crush your dreams.

Anyway, please stop by "Earl's Sandwich Parlor". They are really nice and they make fantastic sandwiches. Feel free to refer to them by their rightful name, The Earl of Sandwich. And in the future, if you see a chain version of The Earl of Sandwich pop up in your neighborhood, please spit on their door or something.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

More Things I Believe about Busters

I believe that the potatoes at Busters are perfect. I've had them three times. If you're ever there when they throw them into a metal bowl to mix in the salt, you can hear them clinking against the side of the bowl. They actually clink, because they are so crispy. When you get them on your plate, perfectly salted and still crispy, you get to try to figure out how to transfer them from your plate to your fork to your mouth, because they are such small perfect crisp little cubes. This difficulty may be a blessing in disguise, because you might not need to eat a full portion of those potatoes.

I believe that Busters onion rings took the Bandbox onion rings out back last weekend and kicked their asses. They still made Judy's stomach hurt, but they wouldn't be onion rings if they didn't. Fern, who hates onions, likes Buster's rings. Jimmy, who loves onions, does, too. Go figure.

I believe that going so far as to make homemade peanut butter and ketchup is just the kind of obsessive maneuver that separates Busters from the rest of the pack of breakfast joints. I'm not so sure that it makes that much of a difference in the particular (I'm no ketchup connoisseur to be sure, but I couldn't tell a difference between theirs and Heinz), but I am sure that that kind of attention to detail in general makes all the difference in the world.

I believe that you-all need to get your butts into those chairs at Busters. I keep going there for weekend brunch and having no trouble at all getting a table. If there were any fairness in the world, I'd have to sign up for a seat like you do at Hell's Kitchen or any of those Blue Plate restaurants on a weekend. Selfishly, I'd love to keep getting seated right away, but just as selfishly, I want them to keep thriving to make those potatoes another day.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Muy Caliente!

Cafe Caliente
3701 West 32nd Ave.
Denver, CO 80211

It's a glorious weekend here in Denver. Mostly because I have the privilege of spending it with Rachael. Thanks to the good Dr. King, we were able to make it a four day weekend of togetherness in Denver. It wouldn't be a proper weekend without a Saturday morning meal out, so Rachael and I ventured out for a two-person breakfast club.

Since I am new to the Denver scene, I have do my homework before departure. It isn't practical (is it ever?) to do the "let's drive around aimlessly until we find a place". Maybe after I've lived here for a while. Last night I did my internet research (no citysearch this time dagnabit!) and found a place that had incredible potential. We were destined for DJ's Berkeley Cafe. I was very excited, the food looks fantastic and it was in a totally new to me part of Denver. Two very hungry club member's pulled up in front of DJ's at 9:30. Closed. How could a breakfast place be closed on a Saturday morning at 9:30 am? Well, a very nice sign on the door informed us that on January 13th, a small kitchen fire broke out. Luckily there were no injuries and DJ's is fully insured. They are working feverishly to repair the damage and hope to be open in the near future. While this was encouraging to hear and I am looking forward to returning to DJ's after the repairs are complete, I was not exactly pleased to be walking back to the car, sans breakfast. Now I was hungry, a little grumpy, in a completely unknown part of town, and the clock was ticking towards melt-down time. The day was further complicated by a previously planned obligation of moving assistance at 12. The clock was ticking literally and figuratively.

My love, Rachael, has many quirks. Many that I love and many that I love but also drive me crazy. One of the "love but drive me crazy" quirks, is her affinity for the wild goose chase. On more than one occasion, she will decide that she wants to go to a place. She'll tell me that she doesn't know EXACTLY where it is, but is pretty sure of it's general location. Once this decision is made, we will spend the next 30, 45, 60, 90 minutes driving around somewhat aimlessly with Rachael saying things like:

"Hmmm, this doesn't look right, I think it is to the right"
"This looks familiar, I think if we go left for a while we will see it"
"Do you remember that one time we went to that clothing store? I think it was by that place"
"No, this is wrong, I think we were supposed to turn a few blocks ago"

The success rate of the Rachael wild goose chase hovers around 50%. My patience of the Rachael wild goose chase ranges from 0% to 100%, depending on my mood and hunger level. So as we got back into the car and Rachael said to me, "I remember one of Selena's friends lived in Denver in this area, I bet we can find another good place if we just drive around for a while", I was decidedly sceptical. However, without any other better ideas or any energy to fight, I acquiesced.

In a delightfully surprising turn of events, she quickly directed me to the Highland town square and we agreed to park, walk around and eat at the first open, somewhat appealing looking restaurant that we found. We were immediately drawn to a place that was located inside a house and advertised coffee, breakfast sandwiches, and paninis. The place was Cafe Caliente and it was wonderful.

The setting is fantastic, I am a sucker for establishments that are located in houses. Especially coffee shops. I love the warm, inviting feel. It is nice to feel like you can settle down and spend as much time there are you desire. No one is going to rush you through your meal and try to turn the table over for new customers. Very refreshing,

Cafe Caliente is more coffee shop than restaurant, but manages to serve a quality selection of breakfast options. They have a variety of bagel sandwiches and just bagels (obviously), a nice selection of quiches, and paninis. The coffee is completely self serve, you even get to choose your own mug and to say that they have an eclectic assortment is an understatement.

The service was wonderful. The woman who took our order was very cheerful with a charming, slightly crazy tinge. After I ordered my breakfast sandwich, Rachael inquired about the quiche and was informed about the ones on the menu AND a "secret" quiche, not on the menu. When I returned later for my coffee refill, I overheard our server lamenting the fact that her sister thought she was crazy because she liked to talk to her lattes.

I had the breakfast sandwich with egg, cheese,and ham on an everything bagel. It was fabulous. Usually when you get a bagel breakfast sandwich, the bagel is tough and has been toasted all to hell. This results in the contents of you sandwich exploding out of the back end when you take your first bite (Einstein and Panera, I'm looking at you). This was not the case at Cafe Caliente. The sandwich held together nicely and was delicious.

Rachael had the "secret" quiche (with sausage and potato) and enjoyed it tremendously. The quiche crust was made of layers of filo dough, which meant that it was not gigantic and heavy. It was the perfect size.

Cafe Caliente's only problem is their success. There was only one table available for us and it was kind of jammed in a doorway. This would never work with a group bigger than 3 or 4. If that is the only negative though, they've succeeded.

The grades:
Beau-Bagel sandwich-A-
Rachael-"Secret" quiche-B+

Cafe Caliente is a darling little coffee shop with a surprisingly nice assortment of breakfast food and on this day they might just have saved a marriage.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Meanwhile, Back in Minneapolis...

Band Box Diner
729 SE 10th Street

Our crew got a bit of a late start for the Minneapolis version of Breakfast Club today, so we probably ate at exactly the same time as Beau's Denver crew. Judy and I were still out walking the dog at 9:45 when we made the official call to Jimmy to begin the process of getting out the door and meeting for a meal. Judy displayed unusual decisiveness in picking a restaurant, while at the same time describing her choice with such Judy-like obfuscation that it was nearly impossible to tell at which restaurant she so decisively wanted to eat. "You know that place? It's sort of downtown? And it has the small tables? I think it's red. Or maybe the tables are red." Red turned out to be the essential clue. She meant the Band Box. We've eaten at the Band Box several times in the past. In fact, we had a brief love affair with it, because it's such an authentic little diner. I believe there was even a period in our history when we ate at the Band Box twice in the same calendar month, which is a rare compliment indeed.

There's really only one table big enough for us at the Band Box (and it is, in fact, red, as Judy announced with triumph shortly after our arrival). It's not only the largest table there, but the best one, because it's tucked into its own little nook in the restaurant and it has windows on two sides. There was a family sitting there before we arrived, so we stood forlornly next to the second-biggest table, until they offered to switch, which meant moving their two small children, but they did so with such friendly cheerfulness that we didn't even feel too awkward about it. They even offered to take our picture with Rachael's cell phone so she could send it to Denver. They did not accept my invitation to join us for breakfast, but they were still the friendliest next-door table we've ever had.

The waitress was not the friendliest waitress we've ever had. She thoroughly intimidated Perley who was nice enough to ask for water for the table. "Yeah. We're out of glasses," she said tersely. Out of glasses? What? This is way worse than not having milk. When she came back later with two waters, Perley scolded us for not taking them both. Personally, I was just trying to save the precious supply of water glasses.

The wait for food was interminable. In fact, for a period of time, we noticed that not only were we not eating, but everybody else in the place was also waiting for food, and we couldn't even really smell food. We wondered if the cook had had to run to the store while we waited. And waited. This may have been the cause of the waitress's bad mood. All of the other employees must have ditched her and gone to the store, leaving her to placate the masses with just a single pot of coffee (which she slowly rationed out to the tables) and no food or water.

Or maybe she was just having a bad day, because our food did eventually arrive, and it actually had some very bright spots. Rachael declared that Judy's onion rings were the best she's ever had. (Yes, Judy ordered onion rings. Yes, her stomach hurt afterwards. No, we can't blame the Band Box for that, since everyone knows that Judy's stomach can't handle onion rings.) The potatoes were fried with onions so they had good flavor, and they had some crispy bits. I ate my entire plate full of eggs, potatoes, and toast and it was satisfying in a traditional breakfast kind of way. Rachael clearly also enjoyed her breakfast sandwich because she fell into a deep silence which lasted until every last bite was consumed.

When it came time for the secret grading (which Perley now insists must be done by text message, even as we sit together at the same table), here's how it shook down:
Rachael ~ Breakfast Sandwich and one of Judy's onion rings ~ A
Judy ~ BLT and Onion Rings ~ B+
Alex ~ Two eggs over-easy, potatoes, and toast ~ B+
Jimmy ~ Two eggs over-easy, potatoes, toast, and sausage patty (just like his little boy in Denver) ~ B
Perles ~ Two eggs over-easy, potatoes, toast, and bacon ~ C
Fern ~ Big Baby (burger) and fries ~ C (because the burger was so-so and the bun was bad, but the fries were good.)

Sevice was slow. The food-happiness was definitely uneven, but when it comes to a traditional breakfast, the Band Box is a good solid choice. And the tables are undeniably red.

Tomorrow IS only a day away

Annie's Cafe

4012 E. 8th Ave.
Denver, CO

Last semester I was adjusting to being back in school and being away from my beloved. I'm using that as my excuse as to why there is only one review of Denver breakfast places in the last four months. Working your butt off during school takes time, as does pining away for your love. I've pledged that this semester will be different and more positive. And what is more positive and uplifting than two eggs over easy, sausage, potatoes, and toast? Not much.

I decided to invite all of my classmates to become part of the Denver Breakfast Club, as they are my Denver "family". Yesterday morning. Before class. This required that I do research, find a place, figure out where it is, and email my classmates in the 8 minutes I had before class. This required massive internet shortcuts, e.g. Citysearch. I have mixed feelings about Citysearch. It can be a really useful site, but I somehow feel dirty using it. It feels like the kind of website that suburbanites go to find out what is good. I'm afraid that someone will discover that I use Citysearch and demand that I return my "cool kid" ID card (did I ever even have a "cool kid" ID card? Debatable). Nevertheless there is something to be said for the convenience factor, and I didn't have a lot of time.

I quickly settled on Annie's Cafe, I'm a sucker for Retro Diners. Three of my classmates accepted my invtitation, and with the addition of Mel's fiance Andrew, five of us assembeld at Annie's this morning. Five people is a good number (not too big, not too small...juuuuuust right) and it actually felt like a breakfast club meeting. And a very amiable group we were. It was strange to have everyone go around and order something off the menu. There were no special requests or anything.

The first thing that strikes you about Annie's is the cool factor. They are a retro 50's diner in the good sort of way. Not in the trashy Johnny Rocket's sort of way. They've got cool movie posters on the wall, old(e) time advertisements, random toys and antiques, and best of all, a bizarre garland-like string of old-school metal lunch boxes around the restaurant. That is serious awesomeness.

Annie's has everything one would expect from a Diner-style breakfast menu. And then some. How many places do you know of that offer three different types of breakfast burrito? Annie's does, which impressed me greatly. It impressed me so much that I didn't even order the breakfast burrito (intimidated?). Maybe I'm saving it for when Fern comes to visit.

I ordered two eggs over easy, sausage (patties yes!), potatoes, and wheat toast. It was a solid breakfast. The eggs were cooked perfectly, the sausage patties tremendous, and in a positive twist, they did not butter the toast for you. This meant I didn't have toast that felt like it was submerged in molten butter right before being served. Unfortunately the potatoes were terrible. They were the kind of potatoes where they can't decide if they want to make American fries or hash browns, and instead end up somewhere in the middle. There are some intact pieces of potato, some crispy hash brown parts, and then a lot of amorphous potato-like narf. Annie's does get major plus points for putting a jar of Jiff peanut butter on the table. This excited me so much that I altered my approach to ensure that I had one slice of toast left over so I could end my meal with half of a toasted PB&J. You can't beat that.

Before I get to the grades, I must discuss the variety of people's breakfast eating approaches. I am continually amazed at the level of diversity there is to the way one eat eggs, meat, potatoes, and toast. You probably aren't surprised, but I myself have two approaches to eating the standard American breakfast. I have one approach in restaurants and a separate technique for when I am in the privacy of my own home (don't ask). My restaurant approach is to start by creating a hole in my egg yolks. I then use the corner of my toast to dip and eat my yolks. Once I've exhausted the yolk, I eat the remainder of my egg with my meat, and then finish with the potatoes. I know that Perley likes to mash up his eggs and hashbrowns into one big, gloppy mess. Today, I discovered yet another approach. Mel and Andrew used the same technique: they recieved their food and promptly began to mix up their eggs, potatoes, meat, AND toast into one cohesive mass. I had never seen that before and was impressed. Good thing I celebrate diversity.

On to the grades:
Beau-standard breakfast-B- (bad potatoes, surprisingly good coffee though)
Janine-scrambled eggs, cheese, potatoes,toast-B-
Cathy-tamales and eggs-A- (prone to hyperbole, Cathy declared Tamales and Eggs to be the greatest breakfast invention in the history of mankind)
Mel-Annie's Eggs-A
Andrew-standard breakfast-A- (half grade deduction for the lack of water refills)

I'd definitely go back to Annie's and believe that my fellow club member would agree. No place is perfect, but Annie's is darn good. If nothing else, today proved that a Colts fan (Andrew) and a Pats fan (Cathy) could sit down and be nice to each over the course of a meal. At least on a day that they did not face each other. I may be telling a different story next week.