Sunday, November 22, 2009

Blue Plate Revisited

Highland Grill
771 Cleveland Ave S
St Paul MN, 55116

Anyone that has read this blog knows all too well that we are not fans of franchises or cookie cutter type restaurants. Our snobby nature keeps us from appreciating the benefits of these establishments. There is something to be said about a place that doesn't surprise you with wacky ingredients and won't be mind-blowingly good but will be consistently decent. What's the fun in that? We'd much rather roll the dice and find a hidden gem that may or may not be any good (preferably fancy, all-organic, local/sustainable, with room for a large group and great service, and also serves lots of meat, we're so low maintenance).

For this reason, we have not thoroughly explored the stable of Blue Plate restaurants, Edina Grill, Highland Grill, 3Squares Restaurant, Longfellow Grill, and the Groveland Tap. I wasn't in attendance at the previous underwhelming dining experience at the Highland Grill so my suggestion this morning was coolly received (even after I played the "it's where Rachael and I had our first date" card). I was informed that my idea would be discussed and I would be notified of our destination after a thorough vetting and everyone was given the opportunity for a veto. As our 9:30 eating time I approached, I called to inquire about the status of our location. I was informed that all were headed over to the Highland Grill and why wasn't I on the way because I was going to be late. Such are the perils of communicating with my mother. Or maybe that was my punishment for not driving over to Pemberley house (our friend Selena's wonderful nickname for Jimmy and Judy's house) before breakfast to be a part of the discussion.

I made it, a little late, but I made it. Since I arrived last and on my own, I got to enter the building by myself. This made me giddy since the Highland Grill has the best door in the world. You have to push a giant button to open it and it folds open mechanically. I like to pretend like I am entering a space ship. Further evidence that I am a giant child.

The spaceshipy decor extends beyond the door to the entire restaurant. It is a very nice space with cool touches, like mish-mash of various homey coffee mugs and terry cloth napkins. As Perley so aptly described it, the Highland Grill looks exactly like what would happen if the Pixar people created a diner for one of their movies.

The service was delightful and attentive. It takes a lot of refills before I say no to coffee and I reached that point today. Our server was also very patient and helpful as certain members of our group dithered over their orders.

The food was quite good and we had only minor complaints. The hash browns were nearly tremendous and those lucky enough to have some with their meal had to protect them from the ranging forks of jealous club members. I don't think Breakfast Club with ever become Blue Plate Inc. devotees, but with properly managed expectations no one was disappointed.

Amadeus-Eggs Benny. VERY good, perfectly crisp hash browns. The only negative was that the eggs were overcooked which robbed me of my favorite part of eggs benny, when I cut into the yolk and it spills out and mixes in with the the hollandaise sauce. Mmmmmmm. A-.

Alex-Salmon, cream cheese, and onion scramble. She was pleasantly surprised by her meal and raved about the hash browns. No grade provided, and she's a teacher!

Perley-Cakes, eggs, and links. Nothing to complain about, nothing to write home about. Solid B.

Sarah-Turkey burger. Very good fries. B.

Jimmy-French Toast (a choice that astounded the group since it contains no steak). Deemed solid. B.

Judy-Irish oatmeal. Judy though her oatmeal was too sweet. It was too sweet at the first bite and remained too sweet after she poured maple syrup on it. I love my crazy, crazy mother. No grade provided. She still hasn't figured out how to text her grade to me with her new phone. She knows how to turn it on and make a call, but texting? Not so much.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Getting the meat sweats, glorious, glorious meat sweats

The Strip Club
378 Maria Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55106

Breakfast club has been on an extended hiatus due to major life changes (e.g. graduation, moving, unpacking), minor life complications (day/night/day call schedules), and old fashioned laziness. Hopefully things have settled down so we will resume our blistering pace of 0.5 posts/week.

A long while ago a kind reader suggested that we try The Strip Club in St. Paul and one look at the menu shows why it might appeal to most members of the club. There is a certain appreciation for people who are at the carnivore end of the eating spectrum. "Vegetarians regarded with benevolent amusement" is the statement at the bottom of menu. Perhaps a better disclaimer on the menu would be "We understand if vegetarians put their menu down and run screaming from the restaurant". Their ketchup is made with bacon. 'Nuff said. As breakfast club began to assemble, I heard Perley and Jill were merely maybes for breakfast. I sent Perley a text trying to persuade him with the idea of bacon ketchup. Little did I know that he is a ketchup purist and scorned the idea of ketchup modification. Surprise, surprise, a member of the club has a strong feeling regarding something food related. Who knew?

Once everyone had arrived and the meal begun, I was reminded how dearly I missed breakfast club these past two years. My favorite part of club is the often bizarre and sarcastic discussions that we have. Today the conversation ranged from Sarah's new purchase of an ice cream maker, her recent successful endeavors, and the subsequent demands for strange flavors (Gravy! Black pepper! Olive oil!); to rumors of a machine that can allegedly make ice cream out of any food (not a rumor, it's true!) and its potential limitations, (could it turn a complete turkey dinner into ice cream?); to the likelihood that the Strip Club was a brothel in a previous life (the PTI oddsmakers would give it a ~60% chance); and finally to my freakishly muscular calves and tendency to text like a thirteen year old girl (guilty and guilty).

The food was universally acclaimed. Luckily there is no one who veers toward the vegetarian side of the eating spectrum in this group. Three of us (Amadeus, Rachael, Sarah) had the Loaded burger with a fried egg that would have satisfied Homer Simpson (Good Morning Burger anyone?). This delicious monstrosity was loaded with smoked provolone, sauteed mushrooms, tomatoes, ridiculously thick bacon, and not one, but two fried eggs. I could barely fit it into my mouth and by the time that I was done I felt like I had been dipped in grease up to my elbows. And yes, that is a good thing. It also came with French fries that were absolutely perfect. Possibly the best fries in the Twin Cities. The only downside to the Loaded burger is that when one has not prepared in advance, e.g. starve yourself all day prior to your meal, it is a lot to take. I was getting the full-on meat sweats by the time I had finished my burger. I felt like I should have gotten some sort of medal for finishing it.

Perley and Alex had the Irish breakfast and loved it. The white beans in tomato sauce was given especially high marks. Jimmy had the steak and eggs (with french fries and bacon ketchup). He loved his meal and horded his bacon ketchup like it was the elixir of life. Jill had the smoked salmon and potato hash and enjoyed it, but would have enjoyed it more with a little less salt. Judy went the sweet route and got French toast with caramel sauce. She like her meal the least of the entire group and spent most of the meal trying to snag bites of other people's food. The French toast was too soggy and the caramel sauce got to be a bit too much by the end of the meal. I had the luxury of sitting next to her and sampling the caramel sauce by way of a bit of my bacon and that was an amazing combination. Sweet and salty it's the best.

The service was prompt, witty, understanding of our quirks. Brunch begins at 9 am on Sunday so we had the luxury of dedicated service when we showed up at 9:00:00.1. Coffee refills were fast and furious and we were never wanting for cream or sugar. Our server was also very helpful with menu suggestions.

The Strip Club provided us with a wonderful meal in a beautiful space with a great view of downtown St. Paul. We loved our entire breakfast experience and will return to the Strip Club again. We don't recommend the Strip Club for your everyday breakfast needs, but if you are looking for an insane, delicious, meat-sweat inducing meal for a special occasion, the Strip Club is your place.

Beau-Loaded (I mistyped that word at first and called it the "leaded" burger, which is kind of how it acted in my stomach) burger with egg-A-
Rachael-Loaded burger with egg-A as she was eating it, C as she was digesting it
Sarah-Loaded burger with egg-B
Jill-Scandahuvian smoked salmon and potato hash-B+
Perley-Irish breakfast-A+
Alex-Irish breakfast-A
Jimmy-Steak and eggs-B+
Judy-French toast with caramel-B-

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

An Epic Post for an Epic Brunch

What the!? Two breakfast club posts in three days? What has gotten in to us? Hopefully this doesn't tire us out too much and we will post again before the year 2015. Today is a special guest post by my friend and former classmate, Cathy (who can be read at her blog, Ultimate Cookies). This is the final Denver post as I done gradumatated and will be moving back to Minneapolis on Thursday. This may result in more frequent ramblings from us because clearly I am the creative inspiration for this blog. This post is long and further proof that Judy gets everything that she wants. She requested a post and Cathy was happy to oblige, probably because this is part of her grand plan to lure Alex to Denver now that I am leaving. Enjoy.

Brown Palace Hotel and Spa
321 17th St
Denver, CO 80202

When you walk into a fancy dining room with the sounds of a live jazz band wafting through the air and see a chocolate fountain, you know you are in for either a really classy meal or a really tacky meal. Well, if this fancy dining room is at the Brown Palace Hotel and you are there for the Dom Perignon Champagne Brunch, you are in for an exquisite treat. (I must note that the Breakfast Club treasurers were staying at said hotel in celebration of their son's graduation with his 2nd Masters degree and most graciously hosted this meal, leaving some of the club to fend for themselves back home.)

The thought for this gathering was instigated by myself once I heard that Amadeus's legendary parents, Jimmy and Judy, would be in town for graduation along with the wonderful Rachael. I begged him for a true Breakfast Club experience with his family, Jessica and myself, hoping for a breakfast burrito trip to Pete's Kitchen or the like. Negotiations ensued and lo and behold, reservations were made for this graduation brunch of epic proportions. Attending were the treasurers, the graduating son and his wife, his classmate Jessica with her fiancee, Brad, mother Nancy and sister Caitlin, and myself with Chester.

Chester and I arrived late due to street parking difficulties. We would later learn that valet is included with the all-you-can drink champagne and delicacies. First thing we noted as we walked through the dining room was the chocolate fountain at the dessert station. Then there was an ice sculpture at the seafood/cold delicacies station. And the live jazz band with baby grand piano. Fancy pants, indeed. There was also a carving station and a made-to-order omelet station with the requisite chefs in their poofy white hats. Everyone else had arrived and most were enjoying orange juice that looked and tasted very fresh squeezed. The first thing I noted at the table was the silverware that was set up very much a la Pretty Woman; I silently prayed that I wouldn't shoot any crustaceans into anyone else's lap.

The servers were in their brocade shirts and embroidered vests and were very attentive, never removing people's plates without first asking if they were finished. The beverages (coffee, OJ, water and Moet) were never wanting and despite the vast array of flutes, goblets, cups and saucers on the table, I can report that no spillage occurred. You really can dress these folks up and take them out!

The amazing thing about this brunch buffet was that there were so many tasty treats at each of the stations! I venture that this meal was even better than the fancy schmanchy Christmas buffet at the Wynn casino in Las Vegas. Judy noted that at buffets, it is very hard to serve everything at the proper temperature and she felt that they came very close to hitting the mark. The game plan for Amadeus and Brad was to start with the breakfast foods, move on to the lunch foods, then hit dinner and dessert. Jessica and I went straight in for the seafood, sushi and artisan cheeses before thinking about dessert.

As I mentioned, there were so many highlights that I will just go through the high points. The coffee was good and strong with carafes of cream at the table, though this blend was balanced enough to not require doctoring (in my opinion). The server informed us that the one item that could only be found at this brunch and no other menus at the establishment was the lemon-apricot blintzed that were light and airy with a nice fruity balance to the cheese. The prime rib was also highly recommended and almost everyone who had it (everyone except Amadeus) commented that it was succulent and cooked well with just the right amount of texture. Rachael got a "small piece" and intended to only eat half, but found herself finishing the whole piece. If you were audacious enough to ask for a "small piece," you wound up with a slice about as big as Rachel Ray's hands. Nancy thought that the piece she had was just a little tough for her taste. Chester and Caitlin noted that there were no steak knives available for slicing and the butter knives, though adequate, were not the best utensil. The carving station also had a sweet potato hash that was very buttery with a nice texture and pan-seared scallops that were very tender. On my first fly-by the station, I saw the sous chef liberally dolloping butter onto the scallops and I have a feeling that these chefs are from the French cooking school of thought. There was also another hunk of meat that no one opted for instead of the prime rib. To round out the food pyramid, there were sauteed haricots verts that Judy decided to forgo on her plate since there is only so much room in one's stomach and we agreed that green beans can be had anywhere.

At the center salad, seafood, sushi, cheese and breakfast station was where many of the tasty tidbits resided. I was happy to note that though there was perfectly shredded romaine and spinach available with a variety of toppings for those who must have a salad, they didn't go overboard with the real estate afforded to this selection. Let's face it, if you are going for the fancy champagne brunch and have any sense in your noggin', Caesar salad with croutons is not what you will be filling up on. There was an assortment of seafood including smoked salmon, smoked trout, poached salmon and lox with the proper accouterments. Also a big mound of ice with shrimp, crab legs and oysters. The oyster were a hit with those who like raw seafood and I particularly liked that they had loosened the oyster so that they were easily slurped. Caitlin enjoyed that the cocktail sauce had some horseradish kick to it and I gave the station points for the lemon wedges that all New Englanders know are a must have for any seafood. A couple of plates of sushi that included spicy tuna rolls, California rolls, crab rolls and shrimp nigiri and a nice seafood salad rounded out the mix but didn't overreach. The spicy tuna rolls had a sprinkling of wasabi and regular masago on the outside and the rice wasn't too sticky.

There also was a selection of Italian style antipasto including a caprese type salad with balsamic sprinkles buffalo mozzarella, marinated artichokes and pickled onions that looked like olives. The artisan cheeses were plentiful and assorted. The highlight was the cheddar-Stilton that was incredibly creamy and flavorful - perhaps the best blue I've had in a long time. Selections of muffins, pastries, bagels, savory rolls and popovers were available that looked delicious, but the cardinal rule of buffet eating is to be careful with the amount of breads and crackers you fill up on. The pastries and breads were a nice individual size, about a third of the usual monstrosities you find in bakeries and the one apple danish I tried was crispy on the outside and flaky with a good filling to dough ratio. It was overheard that the almond-filled croissants were "to die for."

Next came the breakfast type foods. I am taking you through the way the stations were presented rather than the way meals are usually eaten. The cheese blintzes were little pillows of sunshine. There was a hot tray of sausage links and unusually large bacon slices that must have come from hogs the size of cows. The warming trays at this place are the silver round domed types that are easy to open and close and that holds in the steam to keep things from getting overly dried out in this desert climate. There was a dome of hash browns, I believe, but I don't think anyone tried them. Like many of the TCBC members, I prefer my hash browns crispy and there is no way that a warming dome will leave any semblance of a crunch in the potatoes (Amadeus note: I had some and they were actually quite good and crispy, much to my surprise). A silver dome of dollar pancakes and waffles were also on the table with fruit, whipped cream, butter, sour cream, almonds etc for garnish. These also get a little soft but the staff seemed to be doing an excellent job rotating in fresh pans. The made-to-order omelets looked very fluffy and, of course, Egg Beaters or egg whites were available for the health conscious. Although I am not typically an eggs Benedict fan, I liked the fact that these were made to order in the kitchen. Gross tubs of greasy Hollandaise under heat lamps is one of the most disgusting prospects of breakfast buffets. None of us thought to order the Benedict since there were so many other things to try.

Finally, the dessert station which was the station the furthest from our table. (The long walk counts as exercise, right?) Although you might be lured by the siren song of the chocolate fountain with your choice of strawberries, 'Nilla wafers, Oreos and marshmallows for dipping, you will soon discover that there are many more treasures to be found. A made to order bananas foster station using Myers rum and vanilla bean ice cream was popular with those who like bananas and fire. There was an assortment of chocolate tortes and cheesecakes as well as many individually sized tartlettes, chocolate confections, petit fours, creme brulees, mousses and trifles. Hits included the dark chocolate pots de creme that was rich and flavorful without being overly sweet and a milk chocolate mousse that was light and fluffy. For myself, Amadeus, and I believe Jimmy and Judy, the individual key lime tartlette was a true highlight - made of real citrusy lime curd with a nice acidic bite accented with a wedge of lime and some whipped cream on top. There was also a small container of hot chocolate that you could pour a shot from, but Nancy felt that it was just a little too sweet and not as satisfying as the other treats. At this point in the meal, it was very important to share and learn from other's mistakes.

Overall, I think that everyone truly enjoyed themselves and ate too much. We contemplated the feasibility of taking a nap in Jimmy and Judy's room before returning or going for a lap around the block, but instead had a little more champagne and powered through. What truly made this champagne brunch sublime was the fact that everything was executed well and there was a plethora of gems for any palate to enjoy (unless you are looking for the perfect hash browns). If Jimmy, Judy, Rachael and Amadeus wanted to find the best breakfast brunch in Denver, I think that they might have found it today. A great way to end 2 years of graduate school for Amadeus, Jessica and myself with delicious food, good conversation and fantastic family and friends.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Picture Me Shouting This From the Rooftops of the World

Stabby's Cafe
4159 Cedar Ave S

Sometimes you want truffle oil and garlic infused egg whites and elegant table cloths and waiters who stand at your elbows until they can simultaneously set down your plates and immediately whip out matching tall pepper grinders for your leafy greens. Sometimes you want to be able to say, "Oh, waiter, could I please have a black napkin? I don't want white lint on my fancy pants." Sometimes you want wild mushrooms sauteed just so and then folded carefully inside of exquisitely prepared omelets flavored with local specialty cheeses.

Of course, you mostly feel this way on mornings when the Breakfast Club treasurers are present to take care of your bill. On mornings like this one, when a depleted club meets in the mid morning after a late Friday night, what we want is far more utilitarian. What we want is to take care of the pangs of hunger with a simple plate of good, solid food, served without hoopla in a clean and simple environment. Enter Stabby's, the new restaurant on 42nd and Cedar.

Surprisingly, Perley and Jill agreed to my suggestion to eat there, even though they both thought I called it "Scabby's" on the phone. This is trust, people. Don't underestimate its power.

Anyway, Stabby's is a brand new restaurant, which is apparently attempting to attain fame by serving Flint-style chili dogs at lunch time, but more to the point, they also serve breakfast from a menu littered with puns and exclamation points. I can't really tell you what's on the menu, because, as I often do, especially when I'm hungry, I stopped reading after I saw what I wanted: CBH - corned beef hash.

Now, when you go to a fancy place, they corn the beef themselves, and serve it to you in chunks that are shaped like meat, so you can appreciate their efforts and not confuse it with the stuff in the can. Problem is, I grew up on corned beef hash in a can, and a big part of me believes that everything in corned beef hash should be cut into little cubes and served crispy with eggs on top. This is the kind of corned beef has you get from Stabby, and it was exactly what I wanted. It was perfectly crisped, doled out into the exact size I needed (which isn't huge), and served with two lovely over-easy eggs.

Sarah got banana buttermilk pancakes, and she, too, enjoyed her meal. Apparently there are multiple flavors of cakes at Stabby's. I didn't get that far in the menu. I don't usually eat pancakes at restaurants, but for those who do, Sarah endorses the way the place from Flint does its cakes.

Perley valiantly fought his urge to get the steak and eggs (too predictable), and instead ordered biscuits and gravy, which he was happy to get because he knew the gravy would be flavored with real sausage and not with mushrooms. He's been living the Uptown lifestyle too long.

Jill got the standard breakfast with spicy hashbrowns. Not to go on and on about the potatoes, but the one bite she shared with me crunched loudly enough that I could hear it in my head. The cajun spices in the browns also added to my enjoyment. I predict with confidence that I will be eating Stabby's hashbrowns again someday. The only thing we were served this morning that didn't get entirely consumed at our table was Jill's blueberry biscuit, which she said was too dry.

It was perhaps the lowered expectations of a club without its fancier members, but we left with comfortable bellies and happy tastebuds. It's not a fancy place, but it does know how to cook delicious diner food, and the size of its bill was definitely within our grasp, even after a night of cocktails. We're left with the question, is it easier to get an A if you forget about trying to impress with fancy homemade ketchup and instead just crisp up some hash and serve it with a bottle of the store-bought stuff without all that fuss?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Really? That's What You Want to Call It?

Has anyone been to this Stabby's? 'Cause every time I drive by I do a double take trying to think of a worse name for a cafe. Still, don't worry. We'll be eating there sometime soon, and we'll get to the bottom of this naming thing. And if it's any good, we'll shout "Stabby's" from the rooftops of the world (no matter how ridiculous that sounds).

Besides, you gotta give them a nod for daring to open a new restaurant in this economy - and another nod for opening on the cursed corner of 42nd and Cedar, former home of the dearly departed Boathouse and also Isabel's (may she rest in peace).

Sorry about the long silence. I'm coaching the math every Saturday, so there hasn't been a breakfast club in a long while. This weekend, Amadeus graduates from his school in Denver. The full club will be reunited in June, at which point we'll entertain you with tales of breakfasts around town.

Until then, enjoy the heat. Or the AC if that's your deal.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


The Chatterbox Pub
4501 France Ave S

Sarah and I live withing walking distance of the original Chatterbox. We love how it feels like a basement from the late seventies or early eighties. We like to get tall Chatterboxes and eat burgers and sit on the narrow patio with our buddies. The Chatterbox is a bar designed for our exact demographic - the Atari generation. You can even play old favorite Atari games while you eat and drink there. It's not unusual to get distracted by crowds of people exactly our age showing off all of those Frogger skills they perfected in basements all over the city when they were small. However, the original Chatterbox has an unfortunate ventilation problem, which even though it has improved over the years, especially in light of the smoking ban, still forces you to leave the 'Box with remnants of it on your clothes and in your hair. No problem. Just take a shower when you get home and have that one outfit you wear to the Chatterbox and wrap it in plastic or dump it in the washer as soon as you possibly can after you get over that tall Chatterbox.

Well, these abatement measures are too much for Rachael, so she's the one who suggested that we try the new Chatterbox at 45th and France this morning. I noticed first that, much like the Chatterbox branch in St. Paul, this place is part of a strip mall. Both of the Chatterbox branches have less basement charm of the original. I hate to sound like a snob (or do I?), but the old garage sale couches and outdated video systems look somewhat ridiculous hooked up to modern flat screen TVs. Like the place in St. Paul, the Linden Hills one is crawling with children. It's not the hip, singles hang-out that our neighborhood place is. So the trade-off: You drive farther to eat surrounded by short people in a strip mall with a much less-authentic rec-room feel, but you don't come home with grease in your hair. Doesn't seem like a fair trade to me, but I may just be loyal to my neighborhood bar, indoor air pollution and all.

As for food, well, I've never loved Chatterbox food all that much. Too bready are their burger buns. Too salty are their fries. Too expensive are their checks. You're paying for the atmosphere more than you are for the food. Case in point, $2.25 for a cup of coffee. Bottomless, but still. It's served in a clear mug (which irritates more than one breakfast club member, but not, strangely, me), and it tastes not nearly good enough to cost almost twice as much as it should. I'm actually happy to pay for the Chatterbox atmosphere, when the Chatterbox atmosphere is people my age playing board games and geekily showing off their outdated video game skills. I'm less happy to pay to watch other people's children eat breakfast or zone out to video games while their parents eat.

Which is not to say that I pay for Breakfast Club outings, but anyway...

So, we had two orders of steak and eggs. ("How is the steak?" "Ehh. OK.") We had two hashes, one chicken and one roast beef. The chicken one looked better than the beef. ("Do you want a box for that [nearly full plate of food]?" "Oh, no that's OK." "Are you done with it?" "Yep.") Sarah had something called cheesy goodness. It arrived looking cheesy and good. Beau and Judy had a couple of sausage breakfast sandwiches served with sweet potato fries. The sweet potato fries were easily the hit of the table. Fingers swooped in for tastes. The fries were crispy and tasted like something you might get at the State Fair. They prompted a discussion: Do you eat them with ketchup? Do you eat them with mustard? Do you eat them on a boat? Do you eat them with a goat?

My favorite part of the meal was my buttermilk biscuit. It was actually all I wanted to eat after a bite or two of hash. I should have just ordered some biscuits and honey. What was I thinking?

OK, onto the grades.

Beau ~ breakfast sandwich with sweet potato fries ~ B ~ He wanted to give it a higher grade, but by the end his stomach felt like it was going to explode. He liked his fries.
Judy ~ same as Beau ~ C ~ She didn't like the sausage. She did, however, have a strawberry mimosa which she enjoyed, but she'd been up all night on call, and if she's not sleeping right now, I'd eat a whole plate of hash.
Rachael ~ chicken hash ~ B- ~ Didn't taste good. Too heavy. She liked the biscuit and Beau's fries. I for one have never seen Beau share fries, so he must kind of like her.
Alex ~ beef hash ~ C+ ~ The fries were good. The biscuit was good. After a bite or two, the hash was not so much what I wanted to eat.
Jimmy ~ steak and eggs ~ C
Sarah ~ Cheesy Goodness Frittata ~ B- ~ Too heavy.
Perley ~ steak and eggs ~ C (with a B+ for the atmosphere because he likes games.)

Perley's line about his meal resonated with more than one of us. He said that his grade went down the more of it he ate. You could argue that a club full of adults should know their own limits. Or you could argue that a restaurant like the Chatterbox needs to lighten up a little bit on the breakfast so we can leave ready to tackle the day instead of wanting to head right back to bed.

P.S. While I am aware that the Linden Hills location is technically in Minneapolis, if you're going to park your SUVs and minivans out front, I'm going to call you Edina. It's only fair.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Hair of the Bulldog

Today's post is brought to you by Jill, a regular Breakfast Club member who has never before written a post for us. Please welcome her. We need more writing members around here, especially since Beau lives in Denver, and I have gotten so lazy about writing reviews of late.

Bulldog NE
401 E Hennepin Ave

There is nothing quite so exciting to our group as a new breakfast joint. However, an established joint expanding their menu to include brunch is probably the next best thing in the absence of the former. This is what had brought us to the Bulldog N.E. We walked in to the Bulldog N.E. expecting that the general public would be as excited about this new menu as we were. What we found wasn’t quite crickets but it was close. We helped ourselves to one of several open high-top tables-for-six and basked in the warm sunlight streaming through the large windows facing Hennepin Avenue. The Bulldog quite a charmless place but I suppose it fills a niche in Northeast by being neither a grimy dive nor a polka bar. And as Jimmy became involuntarily hypnotized by the large flat-screen TV that I’m sure has never strayed from ESPN, it dawned on me why this place was so empty: it was noon on Super Bowl Sunday (a “national holiday”) and we are in a sports bar while everyone else was out shopping for chips and dip.

We were brought menus and ice water. We all scanned the menu and all simultaneously either said or thought, “Where is the brunch menu?” My heart sank when we discovered it in the middle of the table, roughly the size of a 99 cent greeting card with 26-font sized words on it. I did not count the number of brunch dish choices but, if I were hard-pressed, I would say there were four. It took about 37 seconds for the group to contemplate their brunch choices and return to scanning the regular menu.

The lip of Alex’s water glass was dirty, and she had a hard time concentrating on anything else, understandably. I was sipping on quite possibly the worst cup of coffee I had ever been served, but then again it arrived in a clear-glass coffee mug, against which I have a prejudice. Good coffee never comes in clear glass coffee mugs. Why is that? The mimosas were gigantic and they must have been good because Sarah was acting uncharacteristically giddy, and even flirting with the waiter. Jimmy was still hypnotized by the TV showing an endless loop of college basketball highlights, a subject about which I know he cares little. Perley was also sipping on the bad coffee wondering aloud why anyone would patron a bar called Whitey’s. Judy was navigating her humongous mimosa and telling us of how difficult is was to give a pregnant dog an ultrasound, you know, with all the hair and all.

We began to order. I needed to go last because, upon hearing that the bacon-thyme maple syrup actually had chunks of bacon in it, I needed to make another choice. By the end three burgers, one BLT, a brunch frittata, and a plate of corncakes (with plain pancake syrup) had been ordered.

The burgers, all made with Kobe beef, were an enormous hit as was the BLT. Sarah gave her meal an A+ and would have given it a higher grade if it were possible (whether this was Sarah or the mimosa talking, we’ll never know). The accompanying French fries were also good. They seemed fresh cut, thick, and not overcooked. The tater tots were also good but everyone agreed that it was difficult to screw up a tater tot as long as your cooking oil was fresh. Alex did not make any direct comments about her frittata but judging from her 75%-cleared plate, she enjoyed it but not enough to exclaim so. My corncakes were okay but I guess I was expecting pancakes made from cornmeal not flour pancakes dotted occasionally with corn kernels. I always tend to order sweet rather than savory breakfast dishes but I really should steer away from pancakes. Like the tater tots, pancakes are not exemplary of a chef’s prowess. To console myself about the poor decision I had made I ordered a glass of prosecco which was easily the highlight of my meal, not counting the conversation about ultrasounding a dog.

The moral of this story is: if you are in the mood for a breakfast joint where you have a hard time deciding what to order because oh-my-gosh everything here is so good, go to Bryant Lake Bowl. If you are in the mood for a good burger and a large screen TV, by all means, go to the Bulldog N.E. because we don’t have enough of those kinds of joints around, do we?


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bakery Monday

A friend asked me recently where to get good pastry on a Monday. I must admit that my first reaction was to scoff. I do that sometimes. I scoff. I said something like, "A bakery that's open on Monday? That's like saying, 'Gee, I really want to look at some incomprehensible modern art, but the Walker is closed on Mondays. Where should I go to do that on a Monday?'"

Still, who hasn't been there? It's a cold winter morning after a weekend, and you can barely open your eyes which causes you to push the snooze button on your alarm so many times that there is no way you're going to have time to make yourself breakfast, so you rush off to A Baker's Wife with your reusable mug in hand, prepared to grab an emergency croissant and a cup of coffee, and you try to shove open the door, only to find that once again it's locked. It's still closed on Mondays, just like it was last week.

Or maybe you experience this same weekly trauma at Rustica, the other best bakery in town. At Rustica the pain is a little more bittersweet, I imagine, because it's attached to Java Jack's, which for some unknown reason has nasty-looking decidedly non-Rustica pastries behind its counter. (Full disclosure. I have never had Java Jack's pastries. Maybe they are delicious. They don't look delicious.)

Now, first of all, I want to make it perfectly clear that I fully support the bakers' right to take Mondays off. Bakers get up well before the ass-crack of dawn in order to make all of those deliciously addictive concoctions that you want to buy so early in the morning. Most bakers work through the weekend, because the weekend is when you want to buy their chocolate croissants and creme brulee danishes and cherry with dark chocolate scones. So if the bakers need Monday to recharge, then I say, give it to them. Heck, I'd even give them Tuesday if they asked me for it.

But, still, we have the dilemma. We're standing in the street with our reusable mug and our empty stomachs. We're tired and we have to get to work, but we need something to eat. So where should we go? Where can we get even remotely acceptable pastries, when all of the best bakers we know take Monday off?

All I could offer to my friend, after I got done scoffing, was this: Butter Bakery Cafe, which is a coffee shop with Big Breakfast Dreams, and which has the best chocolate eclair around, and which has some pretty darn good scones, too, is open on Mondays. Go to Butter, I said. You won't be sorry.

But where else can you go? Where, gentle reader, do you go when you find yourself without access to your usual bakery addictions on a Monday? How do you fill your stomachs when counters at Rustica are empty and the doors at the Baker's Wife are closed?