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.