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Monthly Archives: January 2010

Going to New York City!

Hello, Breakfasters! We’re heading to New York City this week on a mini-vacation with some dear friends. I have a few breakfast choices and possibilities lined up – definitely stops at City Bakery for a pretzel croissant and Magnolia Bakery (to mack on some cupcakes!). I’ve had a number of people suggest Sarabeth’s, so we might hit that up. Or Veselka for some Ukrainian diner food. We’ve also had suggestions of dim sum in Chinatown (a form of breakfast/brunch, I’ve learned). But I definitely have my eye on Kitchenette, just around the corner from our hotel. I’m open to any other suggestions, too!

I’ll try to update here as I find things, but at the very least expect a series of posts on breakfast in New York City!

Once we get back to Columbus, I’ll have research to do for an article on Columbus diners…

Gena’s Restaurant | Westerville, OH

Gena’s Restaurant
5947 S. Sunbury Rd. (map it!)
Westerville, OH 43081
(614) 895-0089
Open Mon-Fri 7 am – 2 pm; Sat & Sun 8 am – 2 pm
Accepts cash and credit cards
Date of Visit: Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 9:30 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: On the same day I visited Beechwold Diner with CMH Gourmand, we also did a little breakfast recon up to Westerville. Jim had heard tell of a three-pancake challenge, and we decided to scope it out. We found Gena’s in Westerville, just off Sunbury Road outside the 270 loop. When I mapped out the address in Google Maps, it originally told us to go a half mile north of the actual location. (it looks like they fixed it now). To find Gena’s, you need to locate the Kroger Marketplace, and then head around the south side of the building. Gena’s sits in a tiny strip mall attached to Kroger.

ATMOSPHERE: The restaurant consists of one entire room, half full when we arrived. It smells and looks like something out of yesteryear. Jim and I discussed this phenomenon. Businesses that have been around since the 1960’s/70’s have this certain smell and look to them. There’s a barbershop in my hometown just like this. Wood paneling. Brown signs with movable white lettering (see below). Plates, cups, and silverware that seem original. Weak coffee that conjures memories of so many similar breakfasts in so many similar diners. The smell is indescribable but instantly recognizable. It’s the smell of forty years of business. Restaurateurs try to create retro diners or “authentic” Irish pubs all the time, but they can never actually do it. You need decades of people coming and going to create that kind of atmosphere.

FOOD: One of Gena’s claims to fame is the Greatest American Pecan Roll. The name is trademarked. And it’s not just the GREAT. They chose the superlative. It’s the GREATEST.

Jim and I each ordered one. They’re made in house, gigantic and warm, sliced horizontally so you can butter it. Laced with cinnamon on the inside and topped with pecans. There’s a delicious buttery hint to it, and it’s not too sweet. Is it great? Certainly. Is it the greatest? Debatable. To be honest, it could be sweeter. Maybe they don’t want to ruin it with a sugary glaze, but I think they could go in that direction.

As part of our recon, Jim and I each ordered one of their pancakes, and were treated with a delicious and humongous flapjack. They mean business. Not the greatest pancake I’ve ever tasted, but still very good. Even at that size, they manage to get it golden brown on the outside and warm and fluffy inside.

Frame of reference for you. The pancake felt like it weighed well over a pound. We discovered that there is, indeed, a three-pancake challenge. Our server said all three pancakes stacked together look like a birthday cake. If you eat three of these pancakes in one sitting – there’s no time limit – you get your picture and name on the wall. Over the 5+ years they’ve been doing the challenge, only thirteen people have finished it.

Jim and I discussed tactics… do you use lots of butter? Do you drown each piece in syrup? I’m sure Adam Richman would have some tips. Sometime soon we may organize a group outing here to take the challenge together, similar to the Dagwood Challenge from a couple years ago. Stay tuned!

Here’s the wall of fame. Note, only thirteen champions. All male, I believe. Of varying ages. Just recently they had to add the second frame to accommodate the achievers.

SERVICE: Our server was the sort of kind, matronly woman you would expect at this type of establishment. She was very excited to talk to us about the challenge, the history of the restaurant, and more.

OVERALL: Gena’s is another good example of the hole-in-the-wall neighborhood diner. Every neighborhood has one; every neighborhood needs one. There’s not much variety between them – Gena’s standouts really are the pecan roll and the pancake challenge – and their food is good, but rarely exceptional. But they’re cozy, they’re close to home, they’re welcoming, and they’ll feed you well.


Gena's on Urbanspoon

Wolfgang’s | Grand Rapids, MI

1503 Wealthy St.
Grand Rapids, MI 49506
(616) 454-5776
Open Mon-Fri 6:30 am – 2:30 pm; Sat & Sun 7 am – 4 pm
Accepts cash and credit cards

Date of Visit: Monday, December 28, 2009 at 10:30 a.m.

: Wolfgang’s is a staple amongst the proud tradition of breakfast in Grand Rapids. As evidenced by the 20 minute wait we experienced on a Monday, Grand Rapids is a serious breakfasting city (that might explain my origins). Wolfgang’s sits in the center of Eastown, the hipster part of Grand Rapids. Close to Wolfgang’s is another Grand Rapids favorite: Yesterdog. Both places are great examples of the history of the neighborhood and the longevity of some of the eateries there.

: It’s been years since I’ve been to Wolfgang’s, but I don’t remember it being this busy. We visited on a Monday – granted, the Monday after Christmas – and found ourselves in the crowded waiting area for about twenty minutes, which isn’t unreasonable. Any native Grand Rapidian will know that you sometimes have to wait for your breakfast. Ask anyone who’s been to Real Food Cafe or the now-gone Boston House on a weekend. Like I said, Grand Rapids is a breakfast town.

Wolfgang’s is made up of two sections. The first, pictured directly above, is a large dining area with plenty of tables and booths. Fairly bright, and packed the morning we went. The other section (pictured further up) is closer to the kitchen and feels more bar-like: lower ceiling, a small counter with stools looking partially into the kitchen, plus a dozen or so cafe tables and chairs. A little darker, and still packed. I believe this is the smoking section (something I’ve thankfully been able to forget about since Columbus passed its smoking ban a few years ago).

: Wolfgang’s has a HUGE menu, which is my big hang-up about the place (more on that below). Here’s a sampling of our food. Pictured above is my order: the Cooper, a skillet with all the goods: potatoes, onions, peppers, bacon, turkey, and cheddar, with three over-easy eggs on top and a dash of hollandaise. Comes with a side of toast. I’m a little leery of skillets, but this one was decent. Not too greasy, a good amount a seasoning, although they could used a little more seasoning in the hollandaise, and actually put more hollandaise on it.

A side of good chunky potatoes, with appropriate seasoning.

My brother ordered the Mahoney Cakes (what does the name mean?): pancakes with cream cheese, strawberries, and slivered almonds. Hard to go wrong with that.

My sister-in-law tried the Baker, Jr: egg whites, crab meat, cream cheese, and tomatoes, on English muffins with hollandaise. I didn’t try it, but it looked like a big tasty mess. The big disappointment was that they used fake crab in it. I understand that adding real crab would up the price (Michigan’s not terribly close to saltwater), and that fake crab doesn’t taste that bad. But krab-with-a-k… always a letdown.

My wife ordered the corned beef hash. Overall good, although the three “poached” eggs were overdone and not technically poached eggs. Real poached eggs should be completely submerged in water – these were maybe floated in boiling water in some sort of container, and again way overdone.

Wolfgang’s serves up a lot of more-than-decent food, and clearly has a strong following amongst the Grand Rapids breakfasting crowd. You can’t deny that. My big problem with Wolfgang’s is that their menu is too expansive and very poorly laid out. Seriously – it’s a graphic designer’s nightmare. Certainly there’s something for everyone, but that’s good only to the extent that a newcomer can understand your menu. It’s typical for restaurants to have a page of favorites or specialties or signature dishes – something that stands out from the standard items – but Wolfgang’s has THREE pages of it. First, there’s the Hall of Fame Favorites, with dishes named after owner Matt Wolfgang’s friends. Then the Smash Hits, with another dozen odd dishes, all with special names that tell you nothing about the dish. THEN we get a page titled Breakfast, featuring things like benedicts, steak & eggs, etc. plus a la carte items. And we round it out a page of omelets, pancakes, waffles, french toast, and so on. Four pages of breakfast is not a bad thing, but all of the descriptions are in upper case and/or bolded or italicized. Just look at this page or this page of the menu. Take one glance and see if you can easily understand the selections.

Another note about the menu… as we waited in line before being seated, I moseyed over to the counter and asked a server to fill my son’s cup with water. They graciously obliged, and while I waited I watched the opening into the kitchen, where the cooks set out the finished dishes for servers to pick up. The countertop in the window was completely packed the plates ready to go. I mean packed – it was a busy morning. And two servers stood over them, obviously confused and discussing which plates were which. I could hear them saying, “I need a Westsider.” “That’s a Westsider.” “No, that’s a Westsider without bacon.” And then one of the cooks jumped in trying to decipher the dishes. When the waitstaff and and kitchen staff are confused over what’s what, that means your menu is too expansive.

SERVICE: No complaints here – our server was super friendly and able to handle all the varieties of our orders. How they keep that menu straight is beyond me.

: Wolfgang’s should be near the top of the list in breakfast offerings in Grand Rapids – I honestly enjoyed my experience there and would return – but they need to reign in their menu a bit. Perhaps doing this would allow them to improve some of the menu items, like make better poached eggs and avoid Krab meat. And it might reduce a newcomer’s confusion over what’s what.


Wolfgang's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sneak peak at Breakfast Special!

Check it out! A sneak preview of the PBS show Breakfast Special, created by Rick Sebak of WQED Pittsburgh. I got to join him and his crew as they visited Skillet and Best Breakfast and Sandwiches in Columbus. The special is due out this June or July, and seeing this clip makes me SUPER excited for it!

Beechwold Diner | Columbus, OH

Beechwold Diner (Facebook)
4408 Indianola Ave. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43214
(614) 447-0944
Open Mon-Sat, 6 am – 2 pm (lunch starting 10:30 am); Sun, 7 am – 2 pm (breakfast only)
Accepts cash and credit cards

Date of Visit: Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 8 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: With the New Year comes new breakfast adventures! Beechwold Diner just opened on January 2 in the spot once occupied by Rube’s Diner on Indianola. After fifteen-ish years in business, Rube’s closed it’s doors in 2005. Up until this past spring, the location almost became Ginna’s Eatery (read an article on it’s “opening” here), but the attempt stalled. I never visited Rube’s, but I hear it was about as greasy hole-in-the-wall as you could get.

Well, now Beechwold Diner has taken it’s place and seems to be doing quite well for itself. I visited recently with CMH Gourmand (read his post here) so we could take stock of the place. We asked one of the owners how business was going. He said when they opened on January 2, he panicked, because no one came in the first hour of business. But then, for the next four-and-a-half hours, they were standing room only. Awesome.

ATMOSPHERE: We hit Beechwold Diner up around 8 a.m. on a Saturday, and by the time we left it was full. Typical, the owner said, of a Saturday morning. So clearly word is getting out, despite very little advertising, and the citizens of Clintonville/Beechwold seem desperate for a diner.

Beechwold Diner is a strange combination of old-style diner with fresh construction. Someone put some serious work into the place. New stainless steel everything in the kitchen, new seating, new lighting, new booths and counter, the floor looks new, too. So if Rube’s dirtiness kept anyone way, there’s no excuse now. The layout is open and bright. Big counters with about 13 stools, plus 8 tables. Fairly boring colors of browns, grays, and mauves. Comfy and easy to like. In a nod to the area’s history, a series of black-and-white photos hang on the wall, showcasing past and present Clintonville/Beechwold landmarks like Weiland’s Market, Olympic Pool, an old streetcar, and the amusement park that once existed at High Street and Kelso.

FOOD: My pics are from a combined set of visits – I really don’t order this much food in one sitting. But this allowed me to sample a wider range of things.

BD’s menu features all the breakfast standards – nothing exceptional, but enough variety for anyone. The menu is organized by variations on Two Eggs, Classics (including pancakes and sausage gravy & biscuits), Omelets, Sides, and Drinks. This is my brother-in-law’s 2 eggs, toast, and corned beef hash. Over-easy eggs done right. Buttery toast. And an excellent corned beef hash.

On my first visit I order the garbage omelet. Never actually had one of these, and our server recommended the omelets. Came with potatoes and toast. The potatoes were good – sliced thin and crispy enough. Definitely needed more seasoning, at least some salt. The toast was buttery and soggy (read: delicious).

The omelet itself had some highs and lows. Some of the ingredients weren’t spread out too well, so one end had no cheese while the other end was loaded with it. One of the cheeses looked and tasted like Velveeta – maybe it was American cheese? – and it turned me off. My advice to the Beechwold Diner folks: be a little bolder in your seasoning. We can take it. And it will make your already good food more memorable. You want people to take a bite and then start looking forward to their next visit.

On the more recent visit, I picked a half order of the sausage gravy and biscuits. Similar experience to the garbage omelet – lots to like: good biscuits, very chunky gravy – but they could punch it up a notch with more seasoning.

Half stack of pancakes, too. Nice and fluffy – I never how to get them this way at home. Very good.

And why not start the day with some dessert? Jim ordered the Hershey’s Triple Chocolate Layer Cake. It doesn’t disappoint: nice fluffy filling, great frosting, chocolate chips.

SERVICE: A very friendly group here, who seem at home with their customers. The diner is actually named Suzzie’s Beechwold Diner, but we didn’t get to meet her. Still, BD has a very comfortable atmosphere already. The servers seem to know everyone’s names already, so in this department the diner seems right on track.

OVERALL: Jim and I talked a little bit about the nature of diner fare. When you really compare diners side-by-side, there’s not much variety. Anywhere you go you’ll find the old standards, in a pretty warm and inviting atmosphere, and in a place that naturally pushes everyone to be neighbors. And that’s really what defines diners. Not the food. But the neighborhood identity, the regulars who gather to see each other and the wait staff, and the pride everyone takes in a local establishment. Beechwold Diner seems to be filling a niche for the Clintonville/Beechwold area. Sure, Wildflower Cafe is down the road, but I honestly find the place unimpressive. Nancy’s is hopefully-soon-to-be-re-opening over on High Street, but when you really think of it, Beechwold Diner feels miles away up on the northern stretch of Indianola. Clearly the neighborhood desires this establishment, because the regulars filling the tables and counters here seem to have picked up right where they left off when Rube’s closed. I’m happy to see this, and look forward to being one of those regulars, too.

-> CMH Gourmand’s post on BD

Beechwold Diner on Urbanspoon

Breakfast news: miscellaneous happenings around Columbus

A few of the breakfast happenings around Columbus:

1. The Beechwold Diner opened January 2, 2010. I first heard about it a couple months ago from This Week News. I plan to visit tomorrow with CMH Gourmand; look for a review soon!

2. According to this recent article from The Lantern, Nancy’s Home Cooking is close to opening. They’re waiting on some final approvals from the city of Columbus, and then hope to be up and running again soon. As I read this article, I was stunned by how this neighborhood diner was almost single-handedly saved by the efforts of a generous community. Truly amazing.

3. And according to this discussion on Columbus Underground, Michael’s Goody-Boy in Short North is temporarily closed, as the main cook has landed himself in prison. I had never heard any of his back story, but given what I know, it’s better he’s off the streets. If only someone would buy the place and convert it into a 24-hour diner!

Photos: Real Food Cafe visit

I just can’t resist taking pictures whenever we visit Breakfast with Nick-favorite Real Food Cafe, especially when we try something new there. Every time we travel home to see family in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Real Food is a mandatory stop (in a good way!). It was especially cozy over a snowy Christmas holiday.

So here are the specials we tried. Up top is a Greek Benedict, with lamb, spinach, and feta cheese added to the standard eggs benedict lineup.

And here’s the pumpkin french toast. They used a dense pumpkin bread – I never thought of using that for french toast – and topped it with a cinnamon whipped creamy. Deliciously sweet, warm and thick, and perfect for a cold winter day.

By the way… congrats to Frank, Renee, and the crew for getting voted the Best Breakfast in Grand Rapids by readers of Grand Rapids Magazine! Frank showed me the article. As if there was any doubt!


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