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+