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Monthly Archives: November 2009

The Best Breakfast and Sandwiches | Westerville, OH


[Update: The Best is under new ownership; the menu has changed slightly.]

The Best Breakfast and Sandwiches (Facebook / @TheBestBfast)
5916 Westerville Rd.
Westerville, OH 43081
(614) 776-5788
Open Mon-Fri 6 am – 3 pm; Sat & Sun 7 am – 3 pm
Accepts cash and credit cards

Date of Visit: Friday, November 27, 2009 at 10:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: You know, it’s gutsy for any place to name itself The Best Breakfast and Sandwiches. It’s gutsy to name yourself The Best of anything. Inevitably people will take you to task if you don’t have the best [fill in the blank]. People will call you out on it. “You say you’re the best, but…” It’s like a film reviewer writing about The Fantastic Mr. Fox. They’re going to say something about how fantastic – or not – the movie is.

So it’s bold for a restaurant to just call itself The Best Breakfast and Sandwiches. There’s no “Restaurant” or “Cafe” in the title, like The Best Breakfast Cafe. Just The Best Breakfast and Sandwiches. They’re basically putting their menu in the title. What do they serve? Well, the best breakfast and sandwiches.

ATMOSPHERE: The Best Breakfast and Sandwiches is located in a strip mall off busy Westerville Road, in a section set further back from the road. It takes a little searching to find it, but the sign is big enough. We hit the place up on our way to cut our Christmas tree the Friday after Thanksgiving. When we walked in, the restaurant was packed except for one fortunate, empty, little table.

Best Breakfast is laid out like any diner. Big, long counter overlooking the kitchen on one side. Rows of tables or booths on the other.

The place was really humming with activity that morning. Tables full of customers in conversation, three or four folks bustling about in the kitchen, and a handful of servers running up and down the restaurant.

FOOD: I gotta say it… Best Breakfast’s food is honestly some of the best diner food I’ve come across. It’s straight-up fantastic: homemade, not greasy, and in generous portions.

A customer next to us recommended the Sausage Gravy and Biscuits. She said to try it because the gravy was thick and full of sausage.

She was absolutely right. This was a peppery and chunky sausage gravy, very flavorful and generously poured over two biscuits that flaked apart. Sometimes I think restaurants serve dry biscuits, thinking you won’t notice if they soften them with gravy, but these biscuits were clearly fresh and soft, just like they should be. The gravy itself was a little darker than most. We figured this resulted from the roux they made, which our server later confirmed. Each batch is made fresh that day.

I added the eggs, potatoes, and bacon. The potatoes were chunky and fairly well seasoned. Not my favorite, but still very good: browned enough yet still soft. Good, crispy bacon – just about how I like it. And the scrambled eggs were prepared exactly the way I like them. Too often scrambled eggs are served dry, but these were a little wet, like the cook pulled them off the flattop just before they were done. I could seriously go back just for a big plate of the scrambled eggs.

Based on the same customer’s recommendation, my wife tried the Corn Beef Hash with two eggs on top. Again, we were told how Best Breakfast makes their own corned beef, with nice meaty chunks of beef mixed with their potatoes. The whole meal was delicious – another strong dish, just like the sausage gravy and biscuits.

Their homemade rye bread. I don’t know whether it tasted better because I knew it was homemade (like all their bread – awesome!), but it just tasted great. Spot on.

I snagged this picture later in the meal: baked potatoes fresh out of the oven, soon to be chopped up. This, to me, summarizes the honesty of Best Breakfast’s food. In general, there’s something nice about diners’ openness: you can sit at the counter and see the whole kitchen. You can watch the cook prepare your entire meal, so you see where it’s cooked and where it comes from. You can talk with them while they cook your food. And I think Best Breakfast does an especially good job of capturing that honesty of the good old fashioned diner. You see the bacon being grilled. You see the potatoes being baked and chopped. They bake all of their bread in house. And this all results in one of the best comfort food breakfasts I’ve had in a long time.

SERVICE: The honesty in their food is matched by the friendliness of the service. Sometimes neighborhood diners make you feel like an outsider. It’s a bit of an in-crowd, a group of regulars who has their routine and is comfortable there, and doesn’t want that disturbed by newcomers. Not so with Best Breakfast. Our server Suzanne was attentive, friendly, and clearly wanted us to feel welcomed. She even introduced us to the owner, Tom, who chatted with us briefly. My wife snapped a picture later of Tom working behind the counter on the potatoes.

The rest of the customers were just as friendly. When we first sat down, the couple next to us started making recommendations on what to try. They playfully bantered back and forth with Suzanne. Another couple who sat there later actually got up and helped Suzanne clean and move tables! Talk about regulars who are comfortable and familiar with the place! But the best part about the experience is how proud they are of their restaurant. Both Tom and Suzanne wanted to talk about what they do and how they do it. Those are the best places – where they involve you not just as a consumer of their product, but a participant in the process that created it.

OVERALL: Best Breakfast is a great experience in every aspect, one of the few places that stakes a serious claim to the “Best” in their name. This is my new model for the small neighborhood diner: excellent service, delicious and homemade comfort food, cozy setting. My wife and I are already eying the calendar to see when we can return.

OTHER LINKS:
-> video clip featuring The Best from Breakfast Special

The Best Breakfast and Sandwiches on Urbanspoon

Banana Bean Cafe revisit

Last weekend we found ourselves visiting Banana Bean Cafe again. I’ve reviewed their former and current locations, but the food is always so colorful I just couldn’t resist taking pictures of it again. Plus, there are some new menu items that had to be documented. Enjoy!


First off, the BB Ranchero. Like a delicious Cuban breakfast, with eggs, potatoes, plantains, black beans, tortillas, and all the accoutrement. Very hearty.


Then the enchilada omelet, filled with ground beef, cheese, sour cream, and the like. All good, except the beef needed MUCH more seasoning.


Banana Bean’s Eggs del Mar gets my award for best seafood use in a breakfast dish.


Grandaddie’s Chicken and Waffles
– my first time trying this dish! Seems like it wouldn’t go well together, but it really did. The base is a large, dark golden crispy waffle. So crispy it was just a tad dry – kinda needed the maple syrup – but still oh so delicious. Topped with fried chicken strips with an apricot glaze. The breading was perfectly crisp and peppery. Taken all together: excellent. I will be back.


The roasted corn and blueberry pancakes. Fantastic.


Potato pancakes
with apples and sour cream – such a great combination of flavors. Who knew you could do so much with pancakes? Banana Bean knows.


Keys Poacher
. Smoked salmon and poached eggs, on top of two biscuits that were a little too hard.


And one of BB’s best dishes: the Cedar Key Shrimp & Grits. Simply incredible for the wallop of flavors this bowl packs. Warm, cheesy, spicy, buttery, amazing.

And that’s it! Just had to share the pics. We’ll be back again!

Beechwold Diner coming soon!

http://maps.google.com/maps/sv?cbp=12,85.33,,0,7.8&cbll=40.054779,-83.000351&v=1&panoid=hmfuiWZU4OCYSUhji1hTMw&gl=&hl=en
View Larger Map

I found this article on This Week News via Columbus Underground about the opening of the Beechwold Diner soon at 4408 Indianola Ave. This is the former space of Rube’s Diner (which I admittedly never visited) which closed in 2005. Apparently much of the menu will be the same, and some former employees will return, too.

With the eventual re-opening of Nancy’s, there’s great hope for neighborhood diners in the Clintonville/Beechwold area of Columbus!

Founder’s Breakfast Stout Breakfast | Grand Rapids, MI


Founder’s Brewery

235 Grandville SW
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
(616) 776-1195
Open Mon-Sat 11 am – 3 am; Sun 3 pm – 2 am
Accepts cash and credit cards

Date of Visit: Saturday, November 14, 2009 at 10:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: This is a little strange in that I’m reviewing a brewery for my breakfast blog. I can’t say I get this opportunity very often, but here’s my chance to combine two loves: breakfast and beer. Normally I don’t find myself drinking in the a.m., trust me.

The event here is the annual Founder’s Brewery Breakfast Stout Breakfast. Their Breakfast Stout is a big-bodied stout brewed with chocolate, coffee, and oatmeal – all things you might find in your breakfast. The event itself used to mark the annual release of the Breakfast Stout in September, but last year Founder’s starting brewing BS year-round, and held the breakfast simply as a fun event.

ATMOSPHERE: Founder’s is probably my favorite brewery, so I love everything about visiting the place. It’s one big open space with a long bar, plenty of tables, a stage on one end, large windows that open onto their patio, and big glass walls so you can see the brewery operations. It’s spacious and cozy at the same time.

During the breakfast they were packed to capacity at about 225 people. It was crowded, but navigable. Kudos to Mark Dorich (the event coordinator) and the Founder’s crew for successfully organizing a sold-out beer event like this.

FOOD: The breakfast food for the event was provided by San Chez, one of Grand Rapids’ best restaurants. All of the marketing for the event bragged about the food catered by San Chez. This had me all excited, because I’ve reviewed San Chez Cafe’s breakfast before, and had heard of some great items at last year’s Breakfast Stout Breakfast.

The food turned out to be okay, and that was about it. While it was catered by San Chez, and all the folks there were super nice and enthusiastic, we were treated to a pretty standard breakfast buffet. This was disappointing, especially knowing how good of a breakfast San Chez can really create (see the review linked above). Granted, the beer, more than the food, was the focus, but after all the advertising featuring San Chez’s food, I expected a little more.

The buffet started out with a basket of pastries, then fresh fruit, then biscuits and gravy (pictured above).

Then scrambled eggs.

And bacon, sausage, and potatoes.

Here’s my first plate of breakfast (yes, I did go back for seconds). The pastries were pretty standard – you had a choice of a danish or a muffin. Fresh fruit was fresh fruit. The biscuits were too dry and hard – they could have done a much better job of keeping them fresh and moist. The sausage gravy (there was a vegetarian option, too) was good, but it couldn’t do enough to soften the biscuits. The gravy itself had chopped up sausage links in it, almost as an after-thought to justify the “sausage” in the title. Eggs were fine, bacon and sausage links were pretty standard. The potatoes were the biggest disappointment – they were essentially stale potato chips. Again, all the gravy in the world couldn’t soak them through.

Clearly the capstone of the breakfast, however, was the Breakfast Stout itself. Served in a commemorative mug, the stout looks like a real cup of coffee, except with a tan foam across the top and a small bite from that 8.3% alcohol by volume. It’s a delicious, delicious beer, and the breakfast itself is more of an excuse to go drink Breakfast Stout at the brewery. The Breakfast Stout is probably one of my top-ten favorite beers of all time, and my second favorite of Founder’s. It’s beaten out by a similar stout called the Kentucky Breakfast Stout, a stout brewed with vanilla then aged for a year in bourbon barrels.

SERVICE: Founder’s planned out this event to a T. They started right at 10, and handled a line of 225 hungry and thirsty customers easily. We arrived just before 10 and were at the back of a line that curved around the corner, but it took no time at all to get in.

The service was buffet-style, but San Chez planted servers at the stations to control the portions. There turned out to be plenty of it – I heard they ran out last year – in fact, there was food left over a couple hours later. You picked up your mug at the door; each mug had a ticket in it for one fill-up of Breakfast Stout, which you picked up at the bar. All in all, it ran smoothly. We were in a group of five, at the back of the line, and we found a table, got our beer, and walked through the buffet line all by 10:20 or so. Not bad too shabby.

Two servers in particular were having a good old time with it. One of the guys (the one on the left) told me, “Where else can you drink beer and eat greasy food at 10 a.m. It’s America!”

OVERALL: Yeah, I’m planning on heading back for next year’s Breakfast Stout Breakfast. Taking everything into account, it’s a great event, especially for beer geeks. The quality of the featured beer and the brewery itself eclipse the mediocre food. Hopefully San Chez can step it up a bit and major Founder’s quality. But what better way to enjoy a top-notch beer at one of the world’s best breweries, than by adding some breakfast and a little camaraderie into the mix?

Here’s a look at the bar itself, plus the brewery.

Founders Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

Skillet | Columbus, OH

Skillet (Facebook / @skilletrustic)
410 E. Whittier St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43206
(614) 443-2266
Open Tues-Fri 11 am – 3 pm for lunch; open Sat & Sun 8 am – 2 pm for brunch

This past Tuesday I had the pleasure of joining Fox 28‘s Johnny DiLoretto at Skillet in German Village. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to visit Skillet, which has been open for five weeks and received some rave reviews from trusted sources, so I was pretty excited about the prospect. I took a lot of pictures from the visit, and will post a link to the video from Fox 28’s site whenever it’s up.

Skillet is located in the original location of Banana Bean Cafe on 411 E. Whittier St. in German Village. Banana Bean has since moved to a larger location on Greenlawn Ave., and the folks at Skillet bought out the lease on this space. I’ve always loved this location: it’s small, and very warm and cozy on a cold winter morning.

Many of folks involved in Skillet were or are involved in Banana Bean, so there’s a loose relationship between the two restaurants. They produce very different styles of food, but similar philosophies and creativity. Skillet’s kitchen is run by a father and son duo of Kevin and Patrick Caskey. Patrick did much of the refurb on their space, and he said he’s working on a mobile unit to bring Skillet’s food to the masses.

Johnny did a series of short segments about Kevin, Patrick, the restaurant, and me. Here’s a few shots of them working in and around the kitchen.

Kevin started out by creating their warm vanilla mascarpone breakfast risotto. The toasty and sweet risotto is flavored with a bourbon molasses red eye gravy, then topped with seared honeycrisp apples, more mascarpone, and brown sugar, then lightly bruleed. Seriously, this is the ultimate in warm, November comfort food.

And this is what we thought of it.

Next up, Kevin made us a duck and sweet potato hash, topped with two duck eggs (over easy!) and arugula with a basic vinaigrette. I can’t recall ever eating duck meat, so this was a new experience. I would be hard pressed, in a blind taste-test, to identify this meat as poultry. It was thicker and meatier, more like beef. But it was still very tender and went well with the thick-chunked sweet potatoes. The duck eggs were amazing. Patrick showed me how the shells are so much thicker than chicken eggs that he has to score them before he cracks them. The yokes are a deep, rich golden yellow – it runs so slowly when you cut into it – and the egg itself is very hearty. A perfect match for the duck meat and sweet potatoes. Then the acidity of the simple salad cuts through the the big flavors – a great combo.

The hash came with some grilled ciabatta bread.

In between the live spots, I took the opportunity to explore the restaurant. The decor is simple and straightforward, much like the food.

Skillet employs a the order-at-the-counter-then-find-a-seat style. Keeps it simple and keeps their costs down.


The colorful eggs up front are chicken eggs from local farms; the white ones behind them are the duck eggs.

Here’s a shot of the crew. From the left: me, Johnny D, Patrick, and Kevin.

Skillet is an excellent addition to the Columbus breakfast scene. It’s a simple menu with some creative versions of breakfast classics, in a small, neighborhood location. I think it’s worth at least one visit, although I can’t imagine going and then not wanting to return to try something else off the menu. Heck, I’m already planning my return visit tomorrow morning. If you’re interested in visiting, here are the vital stats on Skillet again:

Skillet: Rustic. Urban. Food
410 E. Whittier St.
Columbus, OH 43206
(614) 443-2266
http://skilletruf.com
Open Tues-Fri 11 am – 3 pm for lunch
Open Sat & Sun 8 am – 2 pm for brunch

Skillet on Urbanspoon

BwN on Fox 28 next Tuesday!

Tomorrow morning, Tuesday, November 17, I’ll be joining Fox 28’s Johnny DiLoretto (of Good Day Columbus) at Skillet, between 7-9 a.m.! Tune in as we’ll talk about breakfast and explore Skillet’s menu!

Van’s Pastry Shoppe | Grand Rapids, MI


Van’s Pastry Shoppe (Facebook)

955 E. Fulton St. (map it!)
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
(616) 458-1637
Open Mon-Fri 6:30 am – 5:15 pm; Sat 6:00 am – 2:15 pm; closed Sunday
Accepts cash and credit cards

Date of Visit: Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 3:00 p.m.

IMPRESSIONS: Van’s Pastry Shoppe is a small pastry place in an easy-to-forget location on a busy strip of East Fulton Street in Grand Rapids. I say easy-to-forget because my wife and I have been frequenting an Ethiopian restaurant (the AH-mazing Little Africa) across the street for years, and yet have never stopped into Van’s. I think I realized only recently that it was a pastry shop – all the ceramic knick-knacks made me think it was another one of the antique shops that dot the strip. This is all a little sad, because I finally go to Van’s today, order some pastries, and read that the shop has been a family business for, oh, four generations and has been serving Dutch goodies since, oh, the 1920’s. Sheesh, Nick. Shame on you. These little neighborhood gems are the breakfast nooks I pine for.

ATMOSPHERE: Our visit to Van’s was a quick one, but even the ten minutes we spent there showed us a busy crew of four or five handling a constant stream of customers. The shop is small, with maybe ten small tables crammed together, facing the long counter. Van’s does some sandwiches, hot dogs, bread, coffee, cider, and other goods, but the pastries are clearly the featured item. The women behind the counter were all quick to take orders (kudos to them for keeping up with the customers) and get them out the door. I asked one of the girls if they were keeping busy, and she said it had been that way since they opened. Good to hear!

Oh, and don’t let the decor get to you. Van’s is absolutely packed with ceramic sculptures: all the shelves along the walls, all the shelves in the windows. Filled. Fortunately, there are some great retro items in there, so it’s fun to look through them. But don’t let the sheer amount of chotchky overwhelm the history of the place.

FOOD: We tried just two of fifty-odd pastries Van’s offered. Beth ordered a Shakespeare Curl – the standard curled puffed pastry filled with a light cream. I chose a traditional Cream Puff. As far as pastries go, they were delicious. It took us seconds to wolf them down. And I really trusted that they were baked earlier that day. Any place that’s that busy has to keep things fresh in order to feed their customers.

Beth said her Shakespeare Curl was great. I loved my Cream Puff, although it was a little crumbly. It split in the middle, where the two halves were joined around the cream. But the oozing sweet cream and the amazing chocolate on top made up for the loose construction.

SERVICE: Snappy and friendly. I wavered a bit while ordering, and let a couple people go ahead of me, but the girl behind the counter who originally asked what I wanted kept her eye on me. So when I finally did make up my mind, she stepped right in. Impressive. I would have totally forgotten in all the rush.

You can tell, too, that Van’s has its regulars, like any good breakfast or snack place that has been around for over 75 years. One customer came in, sat at a table, and lounged with his coffee. After a while he caught one of the server’s eyes and shouted a hello. She shouted right back and the two joined in conversation like old friends. “Sometimes you wanna go…”

OVERALL: I wish I had a little pastry shop like this around the corner from my house. Or maybe I don’t. Because just the smell alone – much less the good service, freakin’ delicious food, and the wide variety of hand-made pastries – would keep me returning every morning. And then I’d be fat.

OTHER LINKS:
-> a better picture of Van’s on Flickr

Van's Pastry Shoppe on Urbanspoon

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