the breakfast dictator [215]

Kanella | Washington Sq, Philadelphia, PA

Posted in Diner Review by thebreakfastdictator on August 21, 2010

Heath-Paul | Kanella

I heard about you all the way in Denver. You’re one of Esquire’s 59 Best Breakfasts. You’ve been on my mind for a year now. I couldn’t wait to meet you, and finally, to-day, we embraced.

Rumors of your French Press found their way to me. Choosing between this and the Greek Coffee (which I’d never had before) was difficult, but, really, is it ever wrong to go with a French Press full of Counter Culture Beans?

Center City always feels so different from the rest of Philadelphia; I even dressed a little differently than my normal white t-shirt and fancy jeans (ie: the jeans that don’t yet have holes in them). Here, the servers come to you in starchy white shirts and pressed black pants, complete with all-black Chuck Taylor’s. He politely recounted to-day’s specials and took our coffee order, which, I deliberated over a little longer than normal.

Minimalist French Press

To-day’s flatbread special was irresistible in its description, and the table behind us highly recommended it. And while I almost never order the specials of the day outside of regular trips to Morning Glory, I couldn’t say no this exquisite presentation and palette of flavor.

My appreciation of decor runs the spectrum of kitschy-kitsch to ultra-minimalist. Kanella nears the latter. The inside is simple – white, a few flowers in the windows, an exposed brick wall. It works here. No flair is needed. The food speaks for itself. So does service. So does the coffee.

Flatbread Special

The menu was trimmed with little extras — sides of fish, balaclava, falafel. What we had was plenty, but we couldn’t wait to come back for more. We’ll try the little treats on the side while indulging in hundreds of milligrams of thick black coffee; parking be damned.

Fifty-nine breakfast(es) listed. Three down, three thumbs up and fifty-six to go.

Kanella, we’ll be back at the expense of some of the others.

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Hawthorne’s Biercafé | Breakfast Portrait {13} | Philadelphia, PA

Posted in Breakfast Portraits, Diner Review by thebreakfastdictator on August 20, 2010

Brian | Hawthorne's

March Madness 2007 began with a trip to the Sharp Edge in the Friendship, or is it East Liberty? or is it North Oakland? or is it the Garfield Neighborhood? (they all seem to run together over there) in Pittsburgh. The blue collar son of a blue collar son, I knew nothing of Belgian beers and now, despite having lived in Philadelphia for four years prior (and never drinking much more than a White Russian on occasion), I was getting my bier education. The server recommended a Poperings Hommel. I liked it so much that I wrote it on my hand. And the next day, when it started to wear off my hand at work, I wrote it on the wall. Then I wrote it on my brain. I would not forget this beer.

Poperings Hommel Bier

I found it at the Foodery in Northern Libs in the Spring of 09. Then Hawthorne’s brought it to me in the fall of last year. Despite it’s five and a half dollar price tag (for 11.2 ounces), who can resist? Especially with breakfast. Breakfast at 1pm.

Hawthorne’s so easily removes the “guilt” of day-drinking and/or having beer with breakfast (When I mentioned to a friend that during the World Cup that we’d drink Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat (the beer that tastes like Fruit Loops!) at 9am, she looked at me like I’d grown a third, fourth or maybe even a fifth eye). Despite the stigma, beer with breakfast is beautiful.

South of the Border

Breakfast joints like to name their items quirky little names — the Huevos Rancheros here goes by the fun little moniker “South of the Border”. That phrase conjures up one and only one image in my mind — the trashy rest stop along Interstate 95 in South Carolina and its bumper stickers and other odd paraphernalia that have made it (unfortunately) North. I persisted past the name and ordered regardless.

Huevos Rancheros(es) {how do you pluralize that?!} buckle my knees.

To-day’s breakfast wasn’t the first here. We wintered here a few times during the grandiose snowstorms the northeast endured in January and February. Spring sprang and we took advantage of the outdoor seating or the giant open windows that let the coolish spring air blow the scent of new life throughout. Summer heated up and we headed for cover in the air-conditioned coolness to sip on summer wheats. Some of the city snobs say it feels too suburban here. I just think it feels like a living room with a giant beer selection on hand.

We don’t want their snobbery here anyways; more room for us and our beer with breakfast.

The Pancake Farm | Ephrata, PA

Posted in Diner Review, Fine Living Lancaster by thebreakfastdictator on August 19, 2010

Pancake Farm | Ephrata, PA

First published in Fine Living Lancaster, Issue 13.

It seems that every little town has a breakfast place that goes unnoticed by most everyone but the locals. These are the little gems of the community: the places where the regulars come in every single morning and order the very same thing. The servers knew their names and vice versa. They chit-chat every morning about the goings on around town. These little restaurants are full of small town romance and charm and what a pleasure it is to visit them.

The Pancake Farm landed on my radar, I think, in the fall of last year when 222 was under construction and 272 was the “speedier” alternate. As I sat the red-light where 272 and State Street form a Y, it looked oh-so-full of promise.

The dining area was larger than it looked from the outside and every table was full. This place is a gem. There were no window seats, which, of course, is always my preference as the beautiful morning light streaming through the windows always makes picture-making so much easier. The bar had a few empty seats and now it had one less.

“You didn’t by any chance go to Cocalico, did you?”

“No. I didn’t.”

“Hmm. Well, you looked like one of my former students. I coulda swore you were him.”

“Nope. Sorry. I grew up in Solanco. In fact, I don’t even know where Cocalico is.”

“It’s not too far from here. Maybe a few miles. I taught there for ten years, but now I work for the state.”

Every day of the week, there’s a breakfast special here and it’s only $2.99. To-day’s looked rather welcoming and I knew I’d order it, but I asked for the menu anyway. Maybe it’s just a habit. I don’t know. I just have to look at the menu. I want to know all of my options. Every single one.

“I’ll have to-day’s special, please.”

Brian | The Pancake Farm

“You see your server?”

“Yeah.”

“She was one of my students.”

“Ha! That’s crazy. What’s your name?”

“Brian.”

“I’m David.”

Lancaster County kitsch is different from any other kinda kitsch. You know you’re home (even if you’re in a neighboring town) when you’re in a restaurant or even a friend’s dining room when it’s decorated with little iron kettles and mason jars and other kitcheny sort of things.

“You come here often?”

“No. Not too often. I think this is my first time in about two months. But I should come more often. The prices are unbeatable and the food is great!”

Scrambled eggs, tomatoes and cheddar cheese wrapped in a sun dried tomato wrap arrived in front of me rather quickly and Brian was right. This food is great. I could come here every day. I could be a regular. Or at least a semi-regular. Oh, to dream.

“Hey, why don’t you hand me your check? I’ll take care it for you. It was good chatting.”

“You sure? That’s awfully nice of you. Thanks!”

“Where’re you headed to now?”

“I work in Mechanicsburg.”

“That’s awfully far. Enjoy your day!”

“You too.”

Every little town has a few breakfast gems. To-day, I found one of Ephrata’s.

Waveland Cafe | Des Moines, Iowa

Posted in Diner Review, Travel by thebreakfastdictator on August 15, 2010

Waveland Cafe | Des Moines, Iowa

1,103 miles is a long way to go for breakfast.

I’d heard about this joint in the fall of 2007, shortly after we’d started the Breakfast Club in Pittsburgh. Wayde and Erin were soon to be engaged, I’d recently started the original Breakfast Dictator, and despite the distance we kept in touch on at least a few topics – breakfast was surely one of them. So, in July, when I finally made my way back to Iowa, after a two and a half year hiatus, the Waveland was certainly on my hit list.

It boasts the best hash-browns in the universe. It has one of those racks that, just to the right of the bar, the regulars hang their mugs. Quirky paintings cover the walls and even the front windows. Some of the window art incorporates what one of the locals claims are bullet-holes. Is this true, or isn’t it? Such legend can’t be verified, but can’t be ignored either. Crime in Iowa? This place seems all to peaceful for that – a lovely blend of colorful people and perfect-Pleasantville (at least before the color is introduced).


Matthew's Mustache, among other things

Matthew grew a mustache. And not an ironic one, either.

“Lemme take your photo.”

“Naw.

….alright, but let me put my glasses on.

….it’s lookin’ pretty good, but I think I’m gonna shave it soon.

….check it!”

There’s a discrepancy on the mugs and on the menu. The mug reads “Established 1982”, the Menu “1984”. We ask our server. She asks the boss. The boss shakes her head and kinda laughs. “That sounds about right!”, she says. Our question remains unanswered. Bullet holes? Date of origin? Answers elude us. The legend grows.

Best hashbrowns in the universe, eh? I’ll have to have them. Two dippy-eggs and toast are my sides. The hashbrowns do not disappoint. I’ll take their word. I haven’t explored the universe yet. Though, perhaps Ron Paul has. His signature is on the wall.

“Any chance I can buy one of the mugs?”

“Yeah. We sell them. Do you want a small or a large?”

“What do you mean? I meant the one that I used. I’d like to buy it.”

“Oh no. We don’t sell those.”

“But I came all the way from Philadelphia.”

“You mind if he has a mug?”

“Nope.”

“Alright, you can have this one. Enjoy your time in Iowa.”

1,103 miles was worth it.

Matt’s Big Breakfast | Phoenix, Arizona

Posted in Diner Review, Travel by thebreakfastdictator on December 6, 2009

Matt's Big Breakfast | Phoenix, AZ

It was cold for a Phoenix morning (upper 30s over-night) and I stood outside the hospital splashed in sunlight, surrounded by palm-trees and (oddly) shivering despite my wool army-drab button-down and $3 coffee. The doctor’s visit went well and my spirits were high. Surgery was not an option. For now.

A few minutes later, my host arrived in a green VW Rabbit. I love the new rabbits. She needed to get some work accomplished and I needed to address some email. A few (Phoenix) minutes later, we arrived at the coffee-shop. I ordered a mug of coffee and picked up a business card. Lux? That sounds familiar… Oh my goodness! LUX! I shot their first cover on top of the Smithfield at 5.30 on a Sunday morning in 2007 and the magazine was named after the coffee-shop in Phoenix where Mark and Cindy birthed the idea.

The world is tiny.

“My work is done. You wanna get breakfast?”

“Do you even have to ask? What was that place you told me about before I left Philadelphia?”

Matt’s. But there’s another place I thought of that you might like as well.”

“Oh, yeah? What’s that?”

The Welcome Diner.”

“Lemme find it on Yelp and I’ll think about it.”

“Okay.”

“This is hard. I can’t decide. Let’s just go to Matt’s. I’ll do the Welcome in the Spring when I come back.”

The West is a unique place. The cities are different – spread out. The architecture is different, too. I can’t describe it. It just feels like it belongs here in the desert. Form over function. Matt’s fits in just this way. It’s tiny inside and everything’s painted white. A few photographs in white mats with white frames take up the rest of the wall space. The small bar occupies a quarter of the main dining area and four diner-orange tables decorated with desert plants take up the rest of the crowded and intimate space which is by now teeming with locals who’re there to gather a late morning brunch.

Three Egg Scramble

There were two specials that morning and once our server mentioned the first, I couldn’t remember anything else, but I told her that I needed some more time so that I could neatly arrange my table for a shot of the menu. When she came back I ordered the three-egg scramble with red peppers, spicy sausage (all their pork comes from Iowa!) and provolone cheese. A side of shredded hash-browns accompanied this beautiful breakfast feast.

For a joint that stays as busy as it does, the prices are fantastic. (I think everything’s cheaper in Phoenix). Before tip, my tab was right around $12 and for the quality and quantity of food that I received in one of Phoenix’s most popular spots, I had no complaints.

When I make a return visit to the Valley of the Sun in April, I’ll be sure to make myself an out-of-town-regular at this wonderful little place.

…And maybe next time I’ll run into Nate Ruess.


Merry Ann’s Diner | Champaign, IL

Posted in Diner Review, Travel by thebreakfastdictator on October 23, 2009
Victor Munoz | Merry Anns Diner

Victor Munoz | Merry Ann's Diner

Good-byes are sad, you know. And it was a day for good-byes. Nothing here can last and it was time to depart Illinois, the harvest and my dear friends. I thought for sure that I’d get a few more farmers on the way out, especially in Farmer City, but things didn’t play out as expected and I was eager to make it to breakfast. I’d heard about Merry Ann’s from several different people in Bloomington and the anticipation was slowly overwhelming me.

It was a long, cold, drizzled-grey drive across the corn belt and I’d stuffed myself with coffee but breakfast was certainly welcoming. The traffic on the main street of Champaign slightly got on my nerves as the thought of sitting in a warm and welcoming diner while drinking cup after cup of bottom-less coffee flooded my brain. Adding to the irritation was that parking in this area was a premium and I had to round the block a few times (and curse out the out of towner who took up two spaces in the parking lot) til I finally parked in the Wal-Greens across the street, strapped on my camera and found my diner respite.

Walking into this blue and orange clad diner was a step back in time (as many of your typical Americana-type diners are). And it was surprisingly crowded. I snagged the last booth in the far right corner and waited eagerly for the aforementioned coffee. My server (in my exhaustion, I didn’t even catch her name) quickly rattled off that morning’s specials, which I gladly accepted — and ordered the ham+cheese (with a side of pancakes!) omelet for a scant $3.99. She was super-friendly (something that being from the east coast will keep one from being accustomed to) and kept my coffee-cup from ever emptying. Before taking off for the long drive home, I asked her to make her photograph, but she politely and repeatedly declined. She suggested that I photograph Victor, the cook, instead. I made a few frames of him, crossed Neil Street and headed off into the never-ending grey midwestern morning.



The Runcible Spoon | Bloomington, IN

Posted in Diner Review, Travel by thebreakfastdictator on October 11, 2009
Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict | The Runcible Spoon

Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict | The Runcible Spoon

I can’t count the number of times I visited Bloomington between 2004 and 2006, when my sister was an All American Field Hockey player at IU. When in town, most of my free time was spent at the Bloomington Bagel Company, which is a fantastic little joint in and of itself. Somehow, though it was right around the corner, we missed the Runcible Spoon, a small house turned restaurant in 1976 (and at the time was the only gourmet coffee roasterie in the entire Midwest) which was named one of America’s 59 Best Breakfasts by Esquire Magazine earlier this year.

We got there “early” for a Saturday morning (11am) and the wait was surprisingly short — about five minutes. Owner and head chef, Matt O’Neill, seated us himself while busy servers gracefully zipped around the maze-like dining room floor carrying massive trays of food over their heads and smiling as they did so.

All of the Spoon’s coffee is imported fair trade and roasted in house. Burlap bags full of raw, green, beans are visible next to the massive bookshelves full of literary classics and contemporary reads. Our server was more than likely an IU student who recommended the Eggs Benedict, and, though I rarely take the server’s recommendation, I jumped all over the Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict (on a Croissant) and added sliced tomatoes. I’m not sure I could have made a better selection (though, perhaps, she made it for me), but that is yet to be decided because the chances of making a return visit early tomorrow are rather likely.

There was some slight confusion over where the term “Runcible” came from, so we asked our server and she gladly handed us a full-menu, complete with a full-description:

A runcible spoon is a utensil that appears in nonsense poetry, which also uses the adjective “runcible” to describe objects other than spoons. It is fundamentally a nonsense word.

Quoted, on said menu, is Edward Lear’s poem The Owl and the Pussycat (the very imagery to adorn the Spoon’s outdoor signage) which reads:

They dined on mince and slices of quince, which they ate with a runcible spoon.

Unfortunate as it is that I missed out on this fantastic breakfast joint for the most of three years, it was most certainly worth the nearly 700 mile trip from Pennsylvania to Bloomington, not only for the fantastic food, but also for the eclectic atmosphere, which most certainly represents Bloomington well. The total tab including tip was $16, but I’d’ve paid twice that to again experience a breakfast this grand.

Morning Glory | Philadelphia, PA

Posted in Diner Review by thebreakfastdictator on September 30, 2009
Morning Glory | 10th and Fitzwater

Morning Glory | 10th and Fitzwater

The number of times we drove past this dandy little joint in south Philly without ever even noticing it is certainly innumerable. Well, truth be told, I did notice it every time we made the trek from West Philly to South Philly for cheesesteaks at Pat’s – the dangling flowers on the outside always lead me to believe that it was a flower shop. The association was strange, I know, and fortunately, 9 years later, I stumbled over this glorious little diner at the corner of 10th and Fitz.

Every diner seems to have its own little quirks that make it charming (or an event to be forgotten) and Morning Glory is no exception. Most noticeable are the stainless-steel coffee cups (that I’ve heard were relics of a by-gone era that the diner scarfed up upon discovering them). And if, by any chance, that story is true, it adds just a bit more to this diner’s lure. Additionally, the ketchup is home-made and served in giant green glass bottles and a variety of condiments abound — my favorite, perhaps, was the Scorned Woman Hot Sauce.

easy on the eyes; pleasure on the palette

easy on the eyes; pleasure on the palette

I can be sold on anything, as long as it’s easy on my eyes and the very first time I sauntered into Morning Glory on an overcast, late-June day, I knew what I wanted before I was even seated. The grand, green Breakfast Burrito yelped at me from the plate it rested on at the bar as I walked by to my seat in the comfy blue (and rather inviting) dining room. Presentation is key and Morning Glory, perhaps, excels like no other (diner). It’s the little things that count and the small slices of fresh-cut melon (honey dew or cantaloupe) are laid neatly on the side of one’s plate. And let me take one second to gush about the fruit; having grown up in farm country (Lancaster, PA) I am somewhat of a produce snob and the honey dew I had that morning rivaled anything I’d ever find at Central Market in downtown Lancaster, and that, my friends, is an awfully difficult task to accomplish.

Typically, I prefer to avoid long lines, so i enter early (7 on weekdays or 8 on the weekends) and in my last visit, the cooks were singing and carousing with the servers and with the regulars (reading their Inquirers or City Papers at the bar). One of the regulars rolled up in a tan Chevy pickup, straight out of the sixties and, for a moment, I lost myself inside this little diner-world, soaking in the timeless ambiance of excellent food and damn-near perfect atmosphere.

Morning Glory ain’t no flower shop, as I so wrongly assumed my sophomore year of college, and that’s a glorious thing. You’d be best to visit (and make yourself a regular relatively soon).

The Runcible Spoon | Bloomington, Indiana

Posted in Diner Review, Travel by thebreakfastdictator on September 16, 2009

This Bloomington breakfast joint was recently listed as one of Esquire Mag’s 59 Best Breakfasts in America. And while I spent countless weekends in Bloomington between 2004 and 2007, it somehow escaped my knowledge; a grand faux paux, indeed. Regardless, there is talk of making the trek to the un-official Hoosier capital in October just to swing by this grand little place that was literally a block or two where I spent so many fall weekends for three straight years. (One should know that there is a ton to do in Bloomington, especially if you’re from out of town, so don’t fault myself [or anyone else for that matter] for missing a hot spot such as this.

Hopefully, we’ll bring you a review (complete with photos) rather soon.

:: The Dictator ::

The Breakfast King | Denver, CO

Posted in Diner Review, Travel by thebreakfastdictator on September 1, 2009
Beth Carlton : Breakfast King Waitress

Beth Carlton : Breakfast King Waitress

He stands at the corner of Santa Fe and Mississippi. One hand mightily grasps his scepter, the other rests confidently on his hip. His crown rests cocked, while he strongly looks over his empire, confident that he stands above the rest. And he does.

I first visited the Breakfast King in the autumn of 2005. It has remained the Standard for breakfast joints to live up to, and thus far, the King still remains in control of his subjects. The threat of revolt is low, for few can combine the atmosphere, wait-staff friendliness, and more than merely edible food into one top-notch diner experience.

Very little has changed at the King since my first jaunt across the country and this is a good thing. Smoking’s been subtracted and Wi-fi added; nothing more. It still feels like walking into a Tarantino film, though Jewels and Vincent are notoriously absent. The lush orange booths are large and welcoming while the matching table-tops beg for elbows connected to arms connected to hands holding mugs that’re ready for re-fill after re-fill of coffee which the more than wonderful waitresses (complete with outlandish eye makeup) will drop into your cup long before it approaches empty. The register remains a relic from days gone by further adding to the King’s delightful charm.

Beth Carlton was our waitress on this mild August morning. We watched her whir around the diner floor, from table to table, smiling and sitting with her customers to take their orders. What a doll.

I ordered the Denver Omelette (what else!?), adding jack cheddar and tomatoes to it at a scant sixty-cent upgrade. Your choice of bread (I took Rye) and potatoes (I suggest the Chulupa Hot Sauce to top them with) are included with all Omelettes. The Omelettes are massive and cooked with care. Despite my all too strong bias for this place, there are fewer places I’d rather purchase one.

Our group was large and we were in and out in under an hour, but for those of you who like to linger, there’s a long silver bar for just that. Susie, Beth or any of the other sweethearts on staff’ll keep ya company there while you read the Post or catch the morning news.

Ratings (they’re awfully high, but trust me, you won’t see them this high again):

  • Atmosphere – 9.5
  • Service – 9.9 (no one’s perfect)
  • Food – 8.5
  • Coffee (out of 5) – 2.5
  • Affordability – 8

Tab:

  • Denver Omelette: $6.35
  • + cheese and tomato: +$.60
  • Coffee: $1.75
  • Tax: $.70
  • Tip: $2.00
  • Total: $11.40

More Photos can be found here.