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Monthly Archives: December 2010

2010: A Year In Breakfast

It’s New Year’s Eve, which means it’s time to look back. How was your 2010? It was a benchmark year for breakfasting (for me, at least), and I thought it’d be worth recapping some of the highlights. Of course, we made many return visits to old favorites like The Best Breakfast and Sandwiches in Westerville, or Real Food Cafe up in my hometown of Grand Rapids, but we also discovered some great new eats around Columbus:

  • Linden Cafe – a soul food joint serving the best chicken and waffles in town. I seriously crave these all. the. time.
  • Resch’s Bakery – 100-year-old bakery on the East Side serving donuts to their loyal fans. Enjoy fresh donuts while you watch the constant line of customers cycle in and out the door.
  • Starliner Diner – we finally visited this Hilliard restaurant on my birthday. Their Cuban fare quickly became one of my favorite breakfasts in town, and one of my top recommendations for out-of-town visitors.
  • Due Amici – my favorite brunch in Columbus. The Due Brunch Burger is probably one of the best dishes I tasted in 2010.
  • Tommy’s Diner – finally visited this Franklinton institution. A good breakfast in fun-looking diner, where you can chat with Tommy himself.
  • Knead Urban Diner – new addition to the Short North/downtown area that focuses on locally-sourced ingredients in creative dishes. We visited during the soft opening; I still have to do an official write-up.
  • Beechwold Diner – opened on Indianola Avenue at the beginning of the year, in the old Rube’s Diner space. Decent food with a good clientele.
  • Nancy’s Home Cooking – after closing June 2009, this Clintonville institution came back to life last February with the help of a generous community. It’s so rare to see this happen.

My wife and I had the opportunity to travel a lot this year. Some of my favorites included:

New York City: Kitchenette. A mix of small diner and country kitchen. They feature made-from-scratch breakfasts in a tucked-away Tribeca location. Real maple syrup, homemade apple sausage.

New York City: Jing Fong. An overwhelming but fun first experience in dim sum. A simply massive room full of brunchers. We were inundated with carts full of steamed dishes, and eventually dove in and enjoyed one of our best overall experiences of our visit.

Baltimore: Cafe Hon. It was hard to beat Blue Moon Cafe’s Captain Crunch French toast, but Cafe Hon had the best overall experience. Great potatoes, fluffy pancakes, funky diner that reeks of Bawlmer culture.

Lexington: Winchell’s Restaurant. Breakfast in a sports bar, oh yeah. Two of my brothers live in Lexington, and they took us here. Great white chocolate & blueberry pancakes, country fried steak, and jalapeno grits.

The Outer Banks: Dajio Restaurant. We discovered this new spot on Ocracoke Island during our family’s annual vacation. Fantastic blend of Kentucky cooking with Island spice. Best breakfast on the OBX.

Pittsburgh: Square Cafe. Admittedly my only stop so far in Pittsburgh, but oh what a good one. Creative use of ingredients, passionate employees, colorful atmosphere. I wish I lived nearby.

Portland: Gravy. It’s hard to pick a favorite breakfast in Portland, one of our country’s best breakfasting cities, but Gravy stood out with huge portions, an astounding smoked salmon hash, and their Oatmeal Brulee.

Bethlehem, PA: Blue Sky Cafe. One of my favorite discoveries of the year. We were on the road from a family wedding in New Jersey, and thanks to Yelp and Urbanspoon we found this hole-in-the-wall cafe in downtown Bethlehem. Brick walls hung with local art, sky lights, cute neighborhood, and some of the best French toast I’ve ever had.

It’s been a momentous year otherwise. In July I appeared in Breakfast Special on PBS. In September I began writing for (614) Magazine. And last month I announced a book about breakfast in Columbus, due out next year.

Thanks to everyone who’s been reading, suggesting places, and joining me for breakfast. Look for big things to happen in 2011!

Happy New Year, and happy breakfasting!
Nick

Photos: Eggnog French Toast


It’s Christmas, and that means food. And that means breakfast. Last year we attempted Captain Crunch French toast, inspired by the Blue Moon Cafe in Baltimore. This year, I found a basic recipe on Allrecipes.com for Eggnog French toast. We tried a local, homemade touch. Pictured above: maple syrup from my wife’s parent’s friends. All maple syrup should look like this. Getting a good (and real) syrup is half the battle; maple syrup can hide a lot of flaws.


We used two loaves of my wife’s homemade bread. She’s the master of making bread.


French toast in the pan. Some of the browning egg came up from the bread when I flipped it.


And the finished product. It’s hard to go wrong with this batch of ingredients. One thing I would change: more spices. I doubled the the batch, and I don’t think I adjusted the spices accordingly.

The Tin Shed Garden Cafe | Portland, OR

The Tin Shed Garden Cafe
1438 NE Alberta St. (map it!)
Portland, OR 97211
(503) 288-6966
Open daily, 7:00 am – 10:00 pm (bfast served till 3)
Accepts cash and credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/N

Date of Visit: Sunday, October 24, 2010 at 10:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: My wife and I have some close friends in Portland, Oregon, and take any opportunity we can afford to go visit them. It’s a super added bonus that Portland – like Columbus – is a great breakfast town, and it had two breakfast joints featured in Rick Sebak’s documentary Breakfast Special. The Tin Shed was his first stop in PDX, led there by Paul Gerald, author of Breakfast in Bridgetown.

You can find the Tin Shed on Alberta Street, a charming stretch of shops and restaurants that, I am told, has been improving in quality over the years. If you’re going to visit The Tin Shed, get familiar with this sight: the outside. Chances are you’re going to wait. A long line always speaks to the quality and popularity of the place, but a.) be prepared and don’t let the long wait make you grumpy, and b.) be careful that your expectations aren’t raised too high. Breakfast joints with long waits – whether because they are local favorites, or because they’ve been featured on national television, or both – can raise expectations unrealistically and lead to disappointed customers. With a group of six (4 adults + 2 kids), on a Sunday mid-morning, we waited about 30-40 minutes.

But the folks at Tin Shed know you might have a long wait (and there’s a good chance you’ll wait in the rain), so they’ve got a coffee stand set up out front. Coffee, tea, water: all there for you.

ATMOSPHERE: As if you couldn’t tell already, you can expect a busy atmosphere at Tin Shed. The sidewalks will be lined with hopeful customers. To join their ranks, you need to sign in when you arrive. (Fun note: if you’re sitting outside, you can bring your dog.) The seating is grouped in two areas. The first is the small inside, with about five tables and a few stools overlooking a small bar. It’s crowded, tight, and noisy. The decor is an eclectic mix of funky lighting and colorful art.

The second seating area is mostly outdoors. There you’ll find the more-charming covered patio, with a fireplace, big fans, heat lamps, and rustic tables. On a slightly chilly, damp October morning, there was something enticing about the patio. It seemed so cozy, despite the outdoor location, that I was almost disappointed we were seated inside.

FOOD: Tin Shed has the hip menu to match its layout and decor. Each section is a different variety of “goodness.” Stacked Goodness (potato pancakes). Sample Goodness (the big platters). Sweet Goodness (porridge, French toast). You get the idea. Pictured here is the Spike Lee, from their Specialty Goodness. Most of the items in this list are named after movie stars. The Spike Lee is a burrito filled with scrambled eggs, veggies, and black beans. It’s spiked with jalapenos and chipotle. Our friends let us try a bite: very nice.

Our friends also chose the Everything Nice. This is one of two options in the Sample Goodness category. Its counterpart is the Everything Naughty, loaded with all the bad but delicious stuff. The Everything Nice, however, features their signature potato cake, fruit, French toast, and a choice of meat. Our friends opted for the pork sausage. I love how it’s split and grilled.

A point for their kid-friendliness: a cheap but good-tasting children’s menu. We ordered our son the Freddy: a kid-sized portion of the French toast.

My wife and I split the Roll Over. This comes out of the Stacked Goodness, in which everything is based on the potato cakes and named for canine commands. I was drawn to this because I wanted to try the potato cakes, plus you could get it with rosemary mushroom gravy. Um, yes. The stack is rounded out with a sausage and egg scramble, and it was simply delicious. The gravy really made the dish. I keep craving it, well after our trip.

I chatted with one of the managers for a bit, connecting over the fact that we were both featured in Breakfast Special. As a little perk, they gave us a couple Bloody Marys to try. I’m not usually one for alcohol with my breakfast, but these were most certainly worth a try. This is the Cajun Bloody Mary, which had a big dash of spice around the lip of the glass. Garnished with lime, onions, celery, peppers, and olives.

We also tried the regular Bloody Mary, which was very smoky. Made with their own bacon-infused vodka.

SERVICE: We were treated very well at the Tin Shed. You could probably be soured by a long wait, but I think we were prepared. Our server (forget her name, dangit) was super nice and attentive. Despite the crazy crowd, the Tin Shed is accommodating to children. Our party included two youngins, and our server was prepared with high chairs, crayons, coloring books, and fun cups. This is a quick way to win parents’ hearts.

OVERALL: Tin Shed has a fun location, a really great vibe, and creative food. Again, the long wait could easily put you off or build your expectations too much (being featured nationally doesn’t help), but we found it to be a great community experience. Even the wait was fun with our friends there, and once in the restaurant, we felt welcomed and well cared-for. Their menu features a lot of creative options, and while it wasn’t my favorite in Portland, a couple items stand out, especially those potato cakes and that rosemary mushroom gravy.

OTHER LINKS:

Tin Shed Garden Cafe on Urbanspoon

Breakfast Pet Peeves

At the risk of sounding whiny or acting like I know more about the restaurant business than I really do, I’ve begun compiling an on-going list of preferences I’ve uncovered throughout my breakfasting experience. I don’t necessarily hold a restaurant in lesser regard if they do one or more of these things; none of these are hard and fast rules. But it’s the little things that count, and overall I’ve had better experiences at breakfast joints that avoid some of these recurring issues.

My breakfast pet peeves
(last updated 12/20/10)
  • Serve your butter soft. No one likes scraping frozen solid slabs of butter onto their toast. No matter how hot the toast is, it can’t melt the butter all the way, and we’ll inadvertently destroy it through our efforts. Tossing a couple pads of frozen butter to your customer makes us feel like you’re just pulling everything out of the freezer.
  • Take pride in your coffee. Your customers aren’t there just to get caffeinated; they want something good to drink. Partner with a local roaster to buy a special blend, and get rid of that acidic bulk food club coffee.
  • Whether you’re serving hash browns or home fries, chop your own potatoes. Too often I see uniform square potatoes that are clearly frozen, and too often these turn out tasteless and under-spiced. The best places bake or boil their own potatoes, and then brown them on the flat-top. In my opinion, there’s no other way to do it.
  • Use fresh cream or milk. Give us a small cup of chilled half-and-half or milk to go with our coffee. It can be a small cup; it’s easy to refill if we want more. Those little plastic cups of ultra-pasteurized half-and-half frighten me. How long to they really last?
  • Use some spice! At the very least, toss some salt and pepper on your eggs and potatoes. Breakfast should not be bland.
  • Know your specials, but be prepared to make anything. This doesn’t mean that restaurants should just cater to the whims of their customers, but you should be flexible, especially with your regulars. Nothing feels more welcoming than being told the chef can make last Wednesday’s special for a valued customer.

Buckeye Donuts | Columbus, OH

Buckeye Donuts (Facebook)
1998 N. High St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 291-3923
Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
Accepts cash and credit cards
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? N/N/N

Date of Visit: Tuesday, October 5, 2010 at 9:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: I’m a terrible member of the Ohio State University community. Why? Because after 8+ years of teaching and studying at the University, I’ve never once been to Buckeye Donuts. I’m surprised they gave me my degree. Buckeye Donuts has been maintaining tradition for a scant 42 years, and it was my duty as an Ohio State student and Columbus resident to patronize the establishment.

Fortunately, I have remedied my misdeeds and paid them the first of hopefully many visits. Buckeye Donuts is located, as you would expect, right across from Ohio State’s campus on the main drag of High Street.

It’s a small family business that’s been running since 1969. Jimmy Barouxis followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, and took over the business in 2001.

Aside from their pastries, Buckeye Donuts has a small menu of sandwiches, French toast, and the standard sides. Note two things in the picture above: the spelling of “Breakfast Spesial,” and tater tots on the menu.

Buckeye Donuts is a good stop on any Columbus diner tour as well. Check out the curving counter and the tiny red stools.

FOOD: But of course, the real stars are the donuts. Students past, present, and future visit Buckeye Donuts for a taste of their apple fritters, Bismarks, Buckeyes (choc + peanut butter), longjohns, sprinkled, cake, glazed, and more. A donut is a cheap snack; perfect for the college student budget.

I ordered a mixed half dozen. Each one of these donuts was delicious. My personal favorites were the longjohns. These always bring back memories of getting donuts from a local grocery store growing up. To this day, whenever someone mentions getting donuts, this is the first thing that comes to mind. Always custard-filled.

They generally make two big batches each day. One early in the morning around 5:00 a.m., and a second smaller one roundabouts 7:00 or 8:00 p.m.

SERVICE: Service is very quick and friendly. They can pack up donuts to go for you, or you can have a seat and enjoy a pastry or a hot breakfast. While I visited, Jimmy let me poke around in the back, too.

Two guys were running the small kitchen, making egg sandwiches and French toast on the flattop.

Jimmy asked this gentleman – in Greek – how long he’s been making donuts there. The reply, in Greek: 34 years.

He was working on a batch of cinnamon rolls.

Lots of donuts ready to go…

…ready for some glazing!

The best way to become someone’s hero is to show up with a box of donuts. Buckeye Donuts can help you achieve that.

OVERALL: As I said, I think Buckeye Donuts is a must-stop for donuts in Columbus. They aren’t my top favorite, and they certainly keep mostly to traditional styles. But it’s got a unique Columbus flair to it, it’s part of a long tradition at Ohio State, and it’s always good to support a family business!

NOTE: There is another Buckeye Donuts on Columbus’ south side, but it is only loosely connected with this one. This store is the original; the south side location is run by another part of the family.

OTHER LINKS:
-> my (614) Magazine write-up on donuts (including Buckeye Donuts)

Buckeye Donuts on Urbanspoon

Cracker Barrel | Beckley, WV

Cracker Barrel
2112 Harper Rd. (map it!)
Beckley, WV 25801
(304) 256-3820
Open Sun-Thurs, 6 am – 10 pm; Fri & Sat, 6 am – 11 pm
Accepts cash and credit cards
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? N/N/N

Date of Visit: Friday, June 11, 2010 at 10:30 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS & ATMOSPHERE: Yes, this is a post about a Cracker Barrel. Another one. I simply had to post about it, because a.) I’m a bit neurotic in that I’ve got to record every breakfast journey, and b.) Cracker Barrel is the model of consistency. There is little difference between this Cracker Barrel in Beckley, West Virginia and the first one I reviewed in New Stanton, Pennsylvania. And what better way to demonstrate this than by writing about another one?

Every Cracker Barrel is situated close to a highway, with a tall, tall sign to draw weary travelers. The gift shops, the restrooms, the counters are all the same, as is the big covered porch with rows of rocking chairs.

The same bustling dining room, with sections separated by those lattice walls. Same wooden tables and chairs, and the big stone fireplace.

Their breakfast does have my favorite phrase – Breakfast Served All Day – emblazoned on the menus.

FOOD & SERVICE: The food at Cracker Barrel matches the decor: consistent, but lacking some character. You will certainly get a good and filling meal here, and the servers are always friendly, fast, and helpful. But don’t expect anything out of the ordinary.

I like country fried steak, so I gave Grandpa’s Country Fried Breakfast a try. Big piece of steak, nice breading, decent gravy. But you couldn’t cut it with your fork. For me, a country fried steak should be tender enough you can slice it with the side of your fork. Sides of eggs, their potato casserole, and grits. Also decent.

My wife tried the biscuits and the grits. The grits aren’t bad – there’s a little bit of butter in the them. And the biscuits held up. But nothing extraordinary.

OVERALL: I certainly don’t mind Cracker Barrels. Their consistency is a nice relief when you’re on the road and you want some place you know you can count on. From what I’ve heard, they really do cook everything from scratch. This may certainly be true, but the downside of such consistency is that everything can be too generic: there’s a low level of seasoning to keep the appeal broad. I don’t hold anything against Cracker Barrel, but I wish the local road food had as much big signage as the chains.

P.S. I said “No” to the vegetarian-friendliness of the place. While you can order pancakes or waffles or the like, I say it’s not necessary vegetarian because their menu states (scroll down), many of their dishes are prepared using meat seasonings. So I can you can make special requests, but there aren’t special menu items created for vegetarians.

OTHER LINKS:

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store on Urbanspoon

Resch’s Bakery | Columbus, OH

Resch’s Bakery (Facebook / @Reschs_Bakery)
4061 E. Livingston Ave. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43227
(614) 237-7421
Open Mon-Fri, 7 am – 7 pm; Sat, 6:30 am – 6 pm
Accepts cash and check
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? N/N/N

Date of Visit: Friday, September 24, 2010 at 9:45 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: Resch’s. Resch’s. Resch’s. I’ve heard the name for so long. Any time I used the words “Columbus” and “donuts” in the same sentence, someone would utter the word, “Resch’s.” So there I found myself, on the road for the (614) November edition, writing about family-run donut joints in Columbus, with Resch’s at the top of my list. Out of Livingston Avenue, on Columbus’ east side, sits their little red brick building with a glowing red neon sign. At first, my son and I accidentally drove by the tiny strip, which Resch’s shares with a Wendy’s and a pharmacy. Once we turned ourselves, we nabbed a spot in the parking lot out front, and headed in…

…and found ourselves at the back of a hungry crowd, hovering near the counter, with numbers in hand.

And there was reason to hover, what with case upon case of donuts staring at us.

Resch’s Bakery has been around since 1912. That’s nearly 100 years of serving baked goods to the masses. Despite the city changing dramatically over the years, Resch’s still makes their wares the same way, and if their lines are anything to go by, they won’t be slowing down any time soon.

Remember that Resch’s is a full-service bakery. Donuts and breakfast pastries = yes. Cakes, bread, cookies, and more = also yes.

ATMOSPHERE: Aside from the hum of hungry customers and a kitchen in full swing, Resch’s is a quiet place. The decor is a little bland: basic creams and browns, with all dark wooden display cases. There are a couple tables, each with 2-3 chairs, near the big front windows, although they’re clearly intended more for those who are waiting in line than for those eating there.

The biggest splash of color is a wall mural of Miltenberg, Germany, Mr. Resch’s mother’s hometown.

But I won’t complain about the view. While you’re waiting in line, you get to stare at racks…

…and racks…

…and racks of donuts, cookies, and bread.

FOOD: Now let’s get down to the business of breakfast pastries. Quick alert: gratuitous amounts of donut pictures ahead.

Resch’s loyal fans trek down East Livingston for the donuts. In case you couldn’t tell from the rows of shelves above, Resch’s has all the donut bases covered.

I ordered a box of a mixed dozen (poor me). It’s the best way to get a good cross section. You’ll see, in the pictures below, the variety. Chocolate, glazed, cake, cinnamon, twisted, swirled.


I have a soft spot – right around my waistline – for glazed donuts covered with chocolate.

This is one of Resch’s most popular pastries. Well, a version of it. This is a cinnamon roll covered with nuts. When drizzled with white icing, they call it a granny roll. This is the non-iced version: I only wanted one, and the granny rolls come in groups of six.

More donuts: some chocolate, some dusted with cinnamon and sugar.

Lots of the soft gazed donuts.

Covered with powdered sugar, filled with jelly.

I forget the name of this one, but it was delicious. In fact, I probably need to brush up on my donut nomenclature overall.

I’m also a big fan of custard-filled long johns.

Another one of my favorites, and one of Resch’s signatures: the twisted glaze donut.

More donuts…

…and more. My poor son – he had to help me try all of these. Then we went to the airport to watch the planes. All around, a pretty rough day.

SERVICE: I love the old-school style of service. Reminds me of the grocery store we went to growing up. It’s not super easy to spot, but when you enter the bakery, look for the red dispenser hooked on one of the metal shelves. Take a number, then sit back and enjoy the smells. During our visit, there was a consistent line of 10 people. But don’t let this intimidate you. When we arrived, they were serving 99. Ours was number 6. After about twenty minutes, they were serving customers in the 40s. That’s nearly 50 customers in twenty minutes! (Note: this was misprinted as 15 customers in (614).) With a small army of old German ladies at the counter, plus another crew in back actually making everything, Resch’s is more than capable of handling their steady stream of customers. Everyone I spoke to was very friendly, too, and loved to share about the store. There’s a reason they’ve been in business for 100 years.

OVERALL: I can see why Resch’s is synonymous with donuts and Columbus for many. It’s a little out-of-the-way the for me, and their donuts are not my favorite in town (the honor still goes to DK Diner), but with their years of experience, wide variety of baked goods, and just high general quality, Resch’s is a must-stop on any Columbus donut tour. On October 1, 2010, the bakery’s owner, Frank Resch, passed away at age 76. You can read about his passing and some history of the bakery in the Dispatch, and his obituary mentions the bakery’s founding. I hope that the bakery gets another 100 years of business to honor his family’s legacy.

OTHER LINKS:
-> my (614) Magazine write-up on donut joints (including Resch’s) (article offline)

Resch's Bakery on Urbanspoon

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