Breakfast at Mike’s City Diner.

mikes-city-dinerI’m always looking for a new breakfast spot to try out, even though I never really want something too complicated for my first meal of the day.  I want simple, satisfying, savory food — and if I can forgo the cutlery, all the better…  which is why I ordered a basic bagel sandwich (with bacon and cheese $2.95; plus 20¢ for the bagel; plus 50¢ for the cheese) when I met up with Stephanie and Amanda at Mike’s City Diner in the South End.

Mike’s is a real diner sort of diner, meaning there’s nothing fancier on the menu than a triple-decker club.  Everything is done up in black and white, with shots of red for color, and when you enter the door, the stainless-steel clad kitchen is directly to the right.  You can see and hear the cooks whisking omelets, tossing strips of bacon on the plancha grill and chop chop chopping assorted vegetables for salads.

The best part of Mike’s, I think, are the waitresses.  These are young women who call you hon, swing by with coffee refills instinctively and bring you extra butter for your grits…  before you even have a chance to ask.  On top of that, they uncomplainingly let three friends take up valuable window-side space while they chat on for hours about men, clothes and looking forward to living like the Golden Girls — what more could you ask for over breakfast?

Mike’s City Diner
1714 Washington Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02118
617.267.9393
mikescitydiner.com

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Breakfast at Good Enough To Eat.

good-enough-to-eatI’ve had breakfast at the Upper West Side’s Good Enough to Eat twice, and in two similar situations.  The first was something like two years ago — my friend Amee was visiting New York from LA and had a very small window in which we could meet, so small that it was an early breakfast or nothing.  This time around, it was Judy and Dorian visiting New York and Keith and I with the small morning window.  Both stories ended in the same way, with breakfast.

good-enough-to-eatTechnically, I decided to get a more lunchy than breakfasty meal, ordering a BLT ($10.50).   It arrived on toasted slices of whole wheat bread, which really served as vehicles for bacon more than anything else, as there was something like eight thick slices peeking out from between rounds of tomato and leafy lettuce.  While there was an overabundance of bacon on my sandwich, I’m sad to report the disproportionate amount of basil mayonnaise, which — to be completely truthful — was the reason why I selected the BLT over an omelet and biscuits.  Would more basil mayo have transformed this sandwich into something spectacular, as opposed to mundane?  It’s doubtful, but I’ve no way of knowing.

(Side note: when I pulled my camera out of my bag to photograph my meal, I was surprised to find that the LCD screen was completely shattered.  I made do by taking this shoddy, shoddy, shoddy picture with my phone, and upon returning to my computer hours later, the first thing I did was order a new camera.)

If you’re thinking of dropping into Good Enough to Eat for breakfast, keep a few things in mind — mainly, that you will have to wait.  By wait, I don’t simply mean for a table, though you will certainly do that as well.  What I mean to say is that after you finally have a seat and place your order, be prepared to wait for your food; in our case it was over half an hour.

good-enough-to-eat-cow

The upside of the restaurant is its atmosphere; if you’re going to have to wait, you might as well wait in a cozy environment.  The entirety of the small space is decorated in a country, farm theme with a mostly-cow motif.  In one of the two restrooms, for example, are stylized artistic portraits of cows; one is called Angus Warhol and the other Henri Mootisse.  Even if cows aren’t your thing, the friendly service will make your wait seem a little shorter.

Maybe.

Good Enough To Eat
483 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, New York 10024
212.496.0163
goodenoughtoeat.com

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Lunch at Blunch.

Darlington and I are always on the lookout for new places to eat so when we decided to meet up for a bite early on a weekday afternoon, I suggested Blunch, the diminutive South End spot.  Just in case the name isn’t a dead giveaway, here’s the low-down:  Blunch focuses on breakfast and lunch items like egg sandwiches, soups and crustless quiches.  The friendly group behind the counter squeeze these and other treats out of a space roughly the size of an overstuffed sofa; if you include the eat-in counter running alongside the bright windows, the square footage is probably smaller than my parents’ two-car garage.  But — to handily employ the tritest of clichés — size doesn’t matter, it’s how you use it.  And the Blunchers certainly do use it well.

blunchThough I had skipped a morning meal, I decided to forgo the breakfast options and order the more lunchy Meltdown, a grilled tomato and three-cheese sandwich ($7.00).  Interestingly, layered between the tomato, Fontina, Cheddar and Swiss is a second slice of bread, giving the Meltdown added weight.  While it was perfectly oozy, it was definitely on the lighter side — or, more likely, I was simply hungrier than I realized.  What I should have done was split a salad with Darlington, maybe the baby greens with goat cheese.  I mean, it’s not as if I could ever get my fill of cheese.

Blunch’s only drawback is its location on the fringes of the South End, directly across from Boston Medical Center.  Neither Darlington nor I live nearby; we made a special trip to the neighborhood.  So here’s the question, which perhaps might even be The Question: Is Blunch worth the trip?  I think if I lived within walking distance, the teeny café would be an easy little detour on my morning commute or Saturday jaunts.  Otherwise…  I’m not quite sure.  I’ll keep you posted.

Blunch
59 East Springfield Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02118
617.247.8100
eatblunch.com

Blunch on Urbanspoon

Breakfast at St Werburghs City Farm Café.

One of the options Judy suggested for Sunday breakfast was the café at the city farm down the street from her flat.

“It’s lovely,” she said.  “Everything is delicious and fresh, and you get massive piles of food.  And there’s a pig.”

Even if I hadn’t already been sold on breakfast — Judy had me at lovely — the mention of the pig is what did it for me, honestly.  They’re incredibly intelligent, and even if they weren’t, it wouldn’t matter.  What I like about them is their hairy little tails.

city-farm-cafe-3A brief walk later, the four of us stood in front what just might be the strangest-looking building I’ve ever seen.  It looked like something out of Tolkien; if Bilbo or Frodo Baggins had poked his head out of the front door, I wouldn’t have been even the least been surprised.  In fact, I was kind of expecting it and was a little disappointed when neither showed up, especially as the architecture of the café appears as though it was inspired by Bag End.

city-farm-cafe-2Truthfully though, St Werburghs City Farm Café is thoroughly charming, and by that I mean there are no right angles in the entire place and each window and beam within appears to be handcarved out of England’s knottiest wood.  Inside, the ceiling slopes so dramatically that I don’t think either Keith  or Dorian were able to stand up straight, except for in the exact center of the round room.  If I were a kid visiting the café, I would have really loved it — which isn’t, of course, to say that I didn’t.  It’s simply that the place has a fantastical quality to it that any child with an inquisitive mind and an active imagination would love — which is probably why the café was full of children.

city-farm-cafe-1

In spite of the magical décor, what the four of us had come for was the food.  The menu is posted on a blackboard above the counter, and the moment I saw black pudding listed I knew I would be ordering a dish that came with a serving of it.  And so, I settled on the Big Farmer:  bacon, breakfast sausage,a fried egg, beans, mushroom, spinach, toast and, finally, the black pudding (£6.95).

Judy wasn’t kidding when she said piles of food; once it arrived I had half a mind to weigh my plate.  Still, I came close to shoveling it all down — it was incredibly tasty.  I was the most surprised by the spinach, actually, which was probably the freshest I have had in a while, and the ketchupy beans were fantastic.  Also noteworthy was the supersalty butter that brought a grin to my face, and the perfectly-cooked mushrooms which had the perfect amount of bite left to them.  The sausage was pleasantly light, leaving me with plenty of room for the bacon — utterly unlike American bacon, I should say, as British bacon tends to come from the animal’s back.  I saved the black pudding for last, and you know what?  I think I kind of loved it.  The exterior was nice and crunchy, while the inside had a fabulous meaty flavor that could only be described as intoxicating.

I don’t think anyone else was more pleased with breakfast than me, except for maybe Judy, who practically clapped her hands to see my clean plate and the minuscule remnants of pudding dotting its surface.  If I had thought of it, I would have taken an after photo for you all to see.  You’ll just have to take my word for it.  Better yet: if you find yourself in the Bristol area, you’ll drop in to the café at St Werburghs for some breakfast.

St Werburghs City Farm Café
Watercress Road
Bristol BS2 9YJ
England
+44 0117 942 8241

Breakfast at Le Pois Penché.

I’m a breakfast person, which is to say that there are few things I enjoy more in the morning than a steaming mug of coffee accompanied with a croissant or a pair of eggs.  That’s why, when our waiter at Le Pois Penché lauded their croissants, I had to order one to nibble on in between sips of my café au lait.

On a purely aesthetic level, this croissant looks tasty and buttery enough, no?  Each crescent arrived with a trio of dishes containing blood orange marmalade, butter and fig-almond jam.  It wouldn’t be an exaggeration if I confessed that these were the best part of breakfast.  The marmalade had a spicy undertone that made me think it was laced with something like Grand Marnier, and the fig-almond had been sweetened the exact right amount with honey.  They were both tremendous, so much so that I couldn’t pick a favorite.

The croissant, on the other hand, was an utter disappointment.  For starters, it was cold — not stone cold, but the kind of cold that makes me think they had been pulled out of the fridge moments before.  That wasn’t the saddest part; they weren’t remotely flaky enough, nor were their insides as airy as I would have liked.  In fact, they were almost dense, like a slightly puffed roll.  I felt robbed.

I did better with my entrée (is it still called an entrée if we’re talking breakfast?), the eggs bénédictine ($14.00 CAD).  That’s not saying much; the eggs were perfectly poached, sitting prettily atop rosemary-infused ham, gruyère and English muffin halves, but the entire dish was positively ensconced in hollandaise.  I tried to scrape off as much as I could but it wasn’t possible.  Even if there hadn’t been an unfortunate amount of hollandaise overwhelming everything in sight, it still would have been exactly what it was: a passable plate of eggs.

Describing a place like Le Pois Penché is a little awkward. If I lived in Montréal, I probably wouldn’t go back for the food, or for the unctuous service (our waiter repeatedly called Joann, Melissa and me  diminutives like “darling,” even though 1. we were with Keith; and 2. he was probably younger than us all).  I would, however, go back for a drink.  I’d lean back in one of the red banquettes and check out my reflection in each and every mirrored surface — of which there are quite a few, ranging from floor-to-ceiling columns and wall paneling.  I just don’t think I’d order any food.

Le Pois Penché
1230 Boulevard De Maisonneuve Ouest
Montréal, QC H3G
Canada
514.667.5050
lepoispenche.com

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Breakfast at Crema Café.

Darlington and I are breakfast buddies.  Our schedules can be tricky to match up, but now and again we seem to find time to squeeze in an early morning bite.  We try as often as possible to rotate between our usual haunts, and this time we found ourselves at Harvard Square’s Crema Café.

Crema Café takes up a space formerly occupied by an Au Bon Pain, something I personally find thrilling because I:

  1. can’t stand Au Bon Pain; and
  2. happily welcome independently-owned businesses, particularly those opening their doors in chain-dominated areas like Harvard Square.

Unlike its predecessor’s in-and-out set up, the café’s layout encourages lingering over a cup of coffee and a scone.  There’s ample seating inside — including at a large and battered farmhouse-style table — as well as smaller tables set up outside, directly in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows.  After ordering, Darlington and I headed up to the loft, another seating area overlooking the main floor.

The menu at Crema focuses mainly on baked goods such as muffins, croissants, biscotti and other cookies.  If I’m going to take a moment to eat breakfast, I need more than a sweet to get me going; I decided to go with a toasted sesame bagel with caper cream cheese and lox ($2.25, plus 25¢ for the caper cream cheese), because I can rarely resist a bagel with lox and cream cheese.  I also ordered a medium caffe latte with a shot of vanilla ($3.10, plus 50¢ for the flavor shot).  I’m proud to say that I was able to carry my latte, with its lovely marbleized foam, up the stairs to the loft without spilling a drop.  That’s quite a feat for a twinkle-toes like me.

My breakfast bagel was good, though nothing spectacular; it certainly satisfied my lox craving, albeit temporarily.  If I were to order it again, I would most likely eschew the caper cream cheese for plain; I expected that the capers would add saltiness to the cheese, but even I was surprised by its intensity.  If I were getting an onion or garlic bagel without lox the caper might be the way to go, but once the already-salty fish is added to the mix, it is almost overwhelming.

What makes Crema such a lovely spot is most definitely the aesthetic of the café, as well as its ambiance and friendly employees.  The feeling you get while nursing a cup of something warm is that, should you feel so inclined, you could while away the morning without anyone uttering a word to coerce you into buying another scone.  Could you ask for anything more from your neighborhood café?  I don’t think so.

Crema Café
27 Brattle Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
617.876.2700
cremacambridge.com

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Breakfast at Arleta Library Café.

The one spot I was really looking forward to going for breakfast was Arjon’s favorite place, Arleta Library Café. It sounded so very interesting to me because, like Arjon’s other breakfast suggestion of Bread and Ink, its name is made up of two things I like very much: libraries and cafés. The Sunday of our friends’ wedding, Keith, Marcella and I drove over from Troutdale to check things out at the café.

Again — or should I say, as usual — I found myself riding the seesaw between two choices: the Florentine (with its melange of basil, ricotta, beans and Parmesan) and the Grand Torino (a frittata of salmon, scallions, potatoes and Brie under a squiggle of truffle oil). I opted for the latter ($9.50) since Marcella decided to order the former; she promised me a taste.

As with my so-called frittata at Bread and Ink, Arleta’s wasn’t quite one accurate. I don’t know how evident it is in the photo, but what looks like a solid wedge of eggy cake is actually multiple layers of thin omelet stacked atop one another like a gâteau de crêpes. Like that other ersatz frittata, terminology shouldn’t get in the way of something that tastes good, as was the case here. If anything, the one thing I would change of the Grand Torino would be the number of omelet crêpes; one or two less, and this would have been plate-licking good. Instead, I had to leave a good portion of it behind.

Arleta comes highly recommended from me, but only to those of you who have a great deal of patience.  We lost track of how long it took for the line cook to prepare our three meals, but suffice it to say that I went through three cups of coffee.  (Have I mentioned that I’m a slow sipper?)  The end results were worth the wait, particularly Marcella’s lemon-coconut scone, but still — a little speedier service would have been nice.

Arleta Library Café
5513 SE 72nd Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97206
503.774.4470
arletalibrary.com

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Breakfast at Junior’s Café.

We kept on driving past Junior’s Café on our way back to our hotel, and each time, Keith and Arjon would start bickering about whether or not they had been there during one of Keith’s previous visits. In order to put a stop to the dispute, I decided that it should be our next breakfast spot, so the following morning, we parked right in front of Junior’s. (As an unrelated side note, I swear I have never been to a city with as much available street parking as Portland. But, back to the point…)

Aesthetically, Junior’s has a sort of hipstery vibe to it, just like most of Portland. The walls are papered in a mustard-and-ivory damask print, over which ornately-framed mirrors are hung. Even though none of them match, they’re all brought together since each frame had been painted the same burnished gold. While all of this was quite cool, my favorite part of the café were the booths; covered in glitter-speckled gold vinyl, they made me think of bowling balls.

As usual, I couldn’t make up my mind as to what I wanted to eat. Finally, I resorted to my favorite method of decision-making: asking someone else to choose for me. The friendly, cheerful and hugely pregnant woman taking our order was a little hesitant to be in charge of my meal, but when I explained which dishes I was debating over she quickly said which was her favorite. Now I’ve got to say that the Pans three-egg scramble with pesto, spinach, garlic, roasted red peppers and Parmesan ($8.50) is my favorite too. It was so fresh and bright, and a terrific way to start the day.

Keith and I also split Junior’s “famous fruit cup” (low-fat yogurt, seasonal organic fruit topped with toasted almonds and honey, for $5.00).  Oregon is one of the country’s top berry-producing states so we were hoping to have some amazing strawberries, blueberries and raspberries; while we only were able to satisfy our strawberry craving, it was probably the most intense strawberry I had eaten in a while.  My only wish — aside from wanting more, more and more berries — was that the almonds had also been drizzled with honey, or sweetened somehow.  Everything else in the cup was so fiercely-flavored that the almonds almost disappeared.

Another thing I really enjoyed about Junior’s was its people-watching potential.  Over coffee, I was able to observe a young mother with her equally-young fuchsia-haired little girl, a trio of tattooed bike-riding women in pretty floral sundresses and bespectacled boys lounging in the sun.  And to think, that was only during the course of half and hour.  What would a day sitting in the café’s window bring?

Junior’s Café
1742 SE Twelfth Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97214
503.235.5474

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Breakfast at Voodoo Doughnut.

While I do have an incurable sweet tooth, I’ve never been the kind of person inclined to want a sugary breakfast; I’ll take a savory omelet over waffles and syrup any day of the week. That said, there was no way I was going to go to Portland and not make a stop at Voodoo Doughnut. I had read and heard so much about the crazy flavor combinations (Nyquil and Pepto Bismol, for example) that I had told Keith that I didn’t care when we dropped by Voodoo as long as we made sure to make a stop. I shouldn’t have worried; the teensy hole-in-the-wall of a shop is open twenty-four hours, or at least until the doughnuts are sold out.

While Voodoo has an ever-changing menu, ordering is simple. Framed photographs of each doughnut are hung on a wall, along with a description. If that doughnut is in the spinning glass case, then you’re in luck. Otherwise, it’s smart to have a few back-ups ready. I really wanted the Butter Fingering, with its chocolate base, vanilla glaze and crushed bits of Butterfinger; since it wasn’t rotating in the case, I went with my first runner-up: the Triple Chocolate Penetration, a chocolate doughnut painted in chocolate glaze, then covered with Cocoa Puffs. Surprisingly, it wasn’t inedibly sweet, which is what you would expect. Instead, it was perfectly sweet. One doughnut, though, was certainly more than enough.

If a little dinginess, a bit of grit and a large dose of funk prevent you from enjoying your food, then Voodoo is not for you. The Third Avenue location — the original, though a second Voodoo was opened earlier this year on Davis — is situated next to a theater that, at the time, was advertising a hentai film festival. It was kind of appropriate, as Voodoo also makes a triple-cream doughnut called the Cock-n-Balls that’s a favorite of Portland bachelorette parties. A lot, if not most, of the sweets here are definitely not for those without a sense of humor.

Voodoo Doughnut
22 SW Third Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97204
503.241.4704
voodoodoughnut.com

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Breakfast at Bread and Ink Café.

I’m big into breakfast, so imagine how pleased I was to discover that Portland is a breakfast-loving town. Not only that, but Keith’s friend Arjon provided us with a list of favorite options close to our hotel. We made Bread and Ink Café on Hawthorne our trip’s first breakfast stop mostly because the name lists two of my favorite things. It just sounded too good to pass up.

(Also sounding too good to pass up, even though Keith and I did because of poor planning, is Bread and Ink’s Waffle Window. It is exactly what it sounds like, and I know it will be my first stop the next time I’m in town.)

For what may possibly be the first time in years, I had no problem narrowing down the menu offerings and selecting my meal; as soon as I read the description for the red pepper frittata ($9.50) I knew I had to have it. In all seriousness, is it even possible to go wrong with roasted red peppers, chèvre and finely-minced thyme and chives? If that’s not enough, imagine as an accompaniment a veritable pile of crisp-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the-inside herb-roasted potatoes…

My only complaint with Bread and Ink’s frittata is that — well, it’s not quite a fritatta. Technically, a frittata is a thick egg cake of sorts, loaded with sliced vegetables, cheese and sometimes meats. It is started in a cast-iron skillet and finished under the broiler, then typically portioned into little wedges, and eaten either hot or cold. (I love a frittata cold, the day after it was first made, sometimes eaten right over the kitchen sink. So good.) Bread and Ink’s version was most certainly not a frittata. Instead it is more akin to an open-faced omelet. It’s a delicious, creamy and lovely open-faced omelet, but an omelet nonetheless.

Don’t let silly little things like semantics get in the way of enjoying a dish and a cuppa, though. Potato, potahto; fritatta, fritomelet. Really, all that matters is that it tasted damn good.

Bread and Ink Café
3610 SE Hawthorne Boulevard
Portland, Oregon 97214
503.239.4756
breadandinkcafe.com

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