the breakfast dictator [215]

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.

Breakfast Portraits {10} | J.F.T. on Film

Posted in Breakfast Portraits by thebreakfastdictator on November 25, 2009
J.F.T. on Tri-X | Honey's

J.F.T. on Tri-X | Honey's



Breakfast Portraits {5 thru 8} | B&W Film

Posted in Breakfast Portraits by thebreakfastdictator on November 24, 2009

(Clockwise) Melissa at Artisan Boulanger Pasissier, Lauren at Honey's, Anders & Ricky at Good Karma


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.

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


  • 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.