the breakfast dictator [215]

The City Diner, Kansas City, MO

Posted in Breakfast Portraits, Travel by thebreakfastdictator on November 22, 2014
Sara & Kimberly

Sara & Kimberly

We got married. We took a roadtrip honeymoon. We went to this awesome diner in Kansas City. These servers let us take photos for almost 2 hours at the end of their shift. It was awesome. The end.

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.”


….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?”


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

1,103 miles was worth it.

The Dictator in the 412 (I miss Pamela’s!)

Posted in Travel by thebreakfastdictator on March 31, 2010

Pamela’s in the Strip:

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.”


“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.

Chef Matt O’Neill

Posted in Travel by thebreakfastdictator on October 17, 2009

Just received this email from Matt O’Neill, owner of the Runcible Spoon:

Runcible Spoon

Runcible Spoon


Thank you, you paint true pictures with words as well with the camera. Sorry I missed talking with you, you have probably departed Bloomington by now.
I don’t have my staff wear uniforms, it hides the spirit and depersonalizes people. You are right about Wix and Mary, there is something about them.
Thank you for the gift you left here, the gift of seeing, a real artist does not just take pictures, he or she captures an image that reveals a greater truth and a deeper mystery concurrently, which is not a mere picture, because it plugs its roots into the spirit of a thing, or a person, or a place.
I value your impression and its documentation more than 100 five star reviews on some restaurant blog.


Breakfast does Lunch in Lincoln, Illinois (Hallie’s on the Square)

Posted in Travel by thebreakfastdictator on October 12, 2009
Brian Huffman

Brian Huffman


“How’s it going?”

“Not bad, you?”

“Not too bad myself…”

“Perhaps you could help me. I’m not from around here.”

“I could tell. That’s why I said ‘Hello’. I wanted to be friendly.”

“Do you know of any places to get lunch around here that are open? Seems that after 2, everything is closed.”

“Oh, yeah! Of course! You gotta go to Hallie’s. It’s right down Pulaski and around the corner. It’s in the middle of the block. You can’t miss it. And you gotta get the Schnitzel. It’s famous. People come from all over to get it there. Where are you from anyways?”


“What are you doing here? Trying to hop a train?”

“Ha! No, just meandering around shooting some photos. I’ll be photographing farmers in up near Bloomington the rest of the week.”

“Well that sounds lovely. Nice meeting you.”

“You too. Thanks for the help! Have a good one.”

“And you as well!”



“What’dya like?”

“Well, I’ve been told I need to get the Schnitzel. So I’ll have that. That’s a sandwich, right?”

“Well, ya got two options, that and the horseshoe. That’s what most people get; the horseshoe.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s the Schnitzel on top of Texas Toast with fries and cheese.”

“Sounds great. I’ll have it.”

The culture of the Midwest is so fascinating to me. The people and interesting little spots that are here kind of set me in a different world. Things are slower paced, and in a weird way, stuck in time, but an era in which one really cannot place and there’s something rather fantastic and welcoming about that. Like you’re always home — even when you’re not.

The people of this town kinda remind of of those from Quarryville — Hard-working farm-folk. They work hard and dress hard. They probably drink hard too. I love it. There’s an element of Romanticism to that lifestyle for me. In many ways, I envy it — the simplicity of it all.

“How’dya like it?”

“Oh, it was really good. What actually is Schnitzel?”

“It’s a glorified, deep-fried porkchop.”

“Probably not the best thing I could’ve eaten, but, yeah, I liked it a lot.”

“Thank you.”

And thank you, Brian Huffman, for one more fantastic Midwestern experience.

The list continues to grow.

My Server’s Name was Maple

Posted in Breakfast Portraits, Travel by thebreakfastdictator on October 11, 2009


The overnight low was an unseasonably cold thirty-five and it was oh-so-warm in bed. Sleeping another three hours didn’t sound like a bad idea, but there was breakfast to be had. Ice covered my windshield and I scraped it off with an old, too-scratched-to-listen-to Smashing Pumpkins CD.

Walking down 6th, I could see the Spoon in the distance and it appeared warm and inviting, much like 312 used to be in Bloomington adventures of years past. I arrived a few minutes past eight, just as it was opening and slowly waking to life. When it’s that early on a Sunday, you can sit where you like. I chose a small nook with wooden benches near the front door where the windows are large and blue morning light was slowly streaming through them.

My server was the same pretty, doe-eyed girl as yesterday, which was fortunate, for in the madness of the morning rush, there was no way I’d’ve been able to make her photograph then. I asked her to sit at the large table in the center of the front dining room and peppered her with questions while cleanly snapping a few frames.



I often forget the power of the camera to break into new people’s lives and though she was not my server, she refilled my coffee a few times. I asked to make her photograph as well, and after dancing around the dining room floor for a few moments to take care of her orders, Wix most certainly obliged. She was clearly comfortable with the camera and I made a few frames of her in a few different spots in the restaurant. She called over Maple and I took a few more of them together. They refilled my coffee and headed back to work as the breakfast crowd began to meander in.

I finished up my coffee and said good-bye. And as I was leaving, Wix told me I should live here.

Don’t tempt me.

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.

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 ::