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Propaganda Donuts | Grand Rapids, MI

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Propaganda Donuts (Facebook / @PropagandaDonut)

117A S. Division Ave. (map it!)
Grand Rapids, MI 40503
Open Mon, Wed-Sun, 8a-12p; open Fri & Sat, 8p-12a
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/Y

Visited: Sunday, March 30, 2014 at 9:30a

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“Danger. Intrigue. Donuts.” That’s the tagline for Propaganda Donuts, a hip new donut shop set up just south of downtown Grand Rapids on Division Avenue. It sets up an air of mystery and curiosity, which is followed through with a location more like a film noir set than a traditional donut shop. The space itself is an old storefront – one I’ve never visited before – with an in-set tiled entryway, a wooden door, and big windows.

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The sandwich board out front gives you another clue that these donuts will be anything but traditional.

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The interior is one long room, the left wall all exposed brick. There’s a small counter, while the rest of the customer space is dedicated to a few seats for waiting and a desk.

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Even the counter itself is stacked with stuff like detective novels, an old wooden filing cabinet, a bottle of moonshine, binoculars.

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A small display case shows off the offerings for the day. It takes a moment or two to triangulate which sign goes with which donut.

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When we visited, 5-6 people were waiting for one of their daily specials – a French cruller – to be made. But we hopped right up to the counter, ordered, and were on our way.

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The old desk in the waiting area keeps up the detective theme, with books, a typewriter, newspapers (some real, some fictional), and photos.

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Propaganda is nailing the style, and it’s not without substance. We grabbed one of each of their daily offerings. These ranged from the standards of plain, powdered, and cinnamon sugar to more unique eats like honey roasted beets, vanilla bean buttermilk with chocolate and raspberry, and a bourbon caramel with mango, pineapple, passion fruit, and sprinkled with coconut. There wasn’t a bad donut in the bunch, although our preference was for the three more creative specials. Even the combinations that might seem too funky for some (honey roasted beets, for instance) worked quite well. And clearly they’re catching on, given the waiting crowd and the fact neighborhood folks were stopping in for coffee and a donut while walking their dogs (that’s always a good sign to me).

Downtown Grand Rapids is experiencing a bit of renaissance, with new restaurants, the new market opening, brewpubs, and more. So it’s fitting that it would get an interesting donut place, too, and I deduce (see what I did there?) Propaganda is filling the niche. With some fun flavor combinations, responsible sourcing of ingredients, and supreme dedication to their branding, they could be on track to becoming a destination like places like Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland.

Propaganda Doughnuts on Urbanspoon

Photos: Brunch at The Torpedo Room

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One of the latest Columbus Food League arrivals, The Torpedo Room, launched a limited brunch menu this past Sunday in conjunction with a monthly event of brunch + a classic movie at the Gateway Film Center. I took my five-year-old to go check out the brunch (although I don’t think he’s quite ready for Goldfinger). The Torpedo Room is located on the main floor of the GFC; you’ll see the signs just to the left of the concession stand.

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As you might expect, the single-room restaurant uses a heavy nautical theme, with round portholes, heavy draped curtains, and a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea feel.

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There’s a good amount of seating, and the restaurant includes a full bar. It’s a cozy and quiet spot.

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The current brunch menu (it may change) features seven items, lots of sides, plus drinks (including the bar). There’s a heavy southwestern theme, with burritos, enchiladas, and huevos rancheros taking the lead. Like every CFL restaurant, you can rely on solid vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options.

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I took the opportunity to finally try a Rambling House ginger beer. Rambling House produces their own natural sodas out of a small space in southern Clintonville (where they host a LOT of live music), and their sodas are showing up on tap around town. The ginger beer is bright, fizzy, and a delightful balance between sweet and a nice gingery pucker. The last few gulps were especially strong with the ginger. You could make some great cocktails out of this.

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I chose the egg and cheese enchiladas, because you don’t see many breakfast enchiladas out there. The two enchiladas are filled with eggs and cheese, and topped heavily with a spicy verde salsa; I added the optional chorizo, because… well, chorizo. They’re served with a small plate of hash browns.

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Will asked for the breakfast burrito, a good-sized one filled with eggs, cheese, beans, sausage, and salsa, plus a side of potatoes.

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It was as filling and tasty as you would expect from a breakfast burrito.

Overall, it’s a solid brunch that’s just getting started. Expect the menu to change and hopefully regular hours to be established.

If you want to visit:
The Torpedo Room
1550 N. High St. (inside the Gateway Film Center)
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 247-4433

Currently brunch is just served with this event. Upcoming movie brunches (cost is $15 for both your meal and the movie ticket) include:
April 6th: Breathless
May 4th: Annie Hall

UPDATED: Regular brunch hours are Sat & Sun, 11a-2p; Cinema Classic brunches start at 12p, movie is at 2.

The Torpedo Room on Urbanspoon

South of Lane | Upper Arlington, OH

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South of Lane (Facebook / @SouthofLane)
1987 Guilford Rd. (map it!)
Upper Arlington, OH 43221
(614) 586-2233
Open Mon-Sat, 6:30a-2:30p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/Y
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Thursday, December 12, 2013 at 9:15 am

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This year we’ve seen some notable new breakfast places open up, ranging from over-the-top to fancy to simple and casual. One of the newer additions opening in May is this little spot in Upper Arlington: South of Lane. There are many things about this place that scream “Upper Arlington:” the location (obviously), the clientele, the cozy cafe atmosphere. But there are some delightful little surprises, too, a sneaky little irreverent charm evidenced by the full embracing of the initials “SoL.” (Ask around if you don’t know what that stands for.)

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South of Lane also fills a void in the Columbus breakfast map. The greater Upper Arlington area lacks some solid local breakfasts, aside from Chef-O-Nette, La Chatelaine, and nearby spots like Cambridge Tea House (which is technically Marble Cliff), or a First Watch or Bob Evans.

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SoL is not just a breakfast and lunch cafe. It’s a full-blown vintage store, too. You can expect shelves full of jams, plates, hats, jewelry, pillows, you name it.

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Amongst the crowded kitsch, you’ll find some fun little elements, too.

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I liked the branded mugs. That shows commitment, when a breakfast spot will get its own mugs made.

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In fact, it takes a little discernment to figure out where the vintage items for sale end and where the counter or the self-serve coffee ends.

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Continuing back into the space, the wooden top tables and loaded shelves transition seamlessly into the ordering counter and the open kitchen.

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The breakfast menu is simple and all good. Major categories include omelets, waffles, eggs, “grains and goodness” (which means yogurt, oatmeal, and granola), and sides. Coffee comes from Thunderkiss. We chatted with the owner Catherine as she strolled around greeting customers, and in conversation I got the sense that Jason’s no-nonsense attitude matched hers.

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We picked one of the features, the SOL omelet with a side of rye, with peppers, onions, and pepper jack cheese. I have a love/hate relationship with omelets, but this one turned out to be one of the better examples I’ve had in recent memory. The ingredients are layered properly, the omelet is folded tightly, the eggs aren’t overdone, and there’s a little spice to it.

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The PB3 waffle is a good example of the smirky attitude underlying the curio shelves and quiet atmosphere. You might not expect to see waffles loaded with bacon, peanut butter, Nutella, and bananas in a little cafe like this, but here it is. The PB3 tastes exactly as you would expect: crispy waffle, lots of soft and warm PB and Nutella, and a definite crunch from the well-cooked bacon. I mean, eying a list of ingredients like that, it’s hard not to be pleased by it. (You’ll also note the artful presentation throughout.)

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It’s also served with a little glass mug of maple syrup that reeks of “awwwww” adorableness.

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The side of hash browns stands up to any I’ve had. Ohio may generally be home fries territory, but I’ll always prefer the crispy texture of properly done hash browns.

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We had our two-year-old in tow that morning (the restaurant is kid-friendly, but maybe bring your own booster seat), and he enjoyed the two eggs, which are appropriately soft scrambled (which earns points from me) and come with a side of toast.

We’ve heard good things about South of Lane, and we found them to be all true. I think SoL is a good indication of Columbus’ growing breakfast/brunch scene, which doesn’t just mean more restaurants, but more restaurants with real personality serving their neighborhoods and offering solid breakfasts in creative combinations.

South of Lane on Urbanspoon

The Crest Gastropub | Columbus, OH

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The Crest Gastropub (Facebook / @TheCbusCrest)
2855 Indianola Ave. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43202
(614) 261-7128
Open daily 11a-1a (brunch served Sat & Sun)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/Y
Kid-friendly? Y (for brunch, at least)

Visited: Sunday, July 28, 2013 at 12:30 p.m.

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Ah, finally here we are: having brunch at The Crest. I’ve been sitting on this post for a while because the Crest is one of the more talked-about new restaurants in recent months. This is my first time here for any meal, although Mrs. Bfast w/Nick has visited for drinks and snacks, and many trusted friends have been here multiple times at different times of the day.

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So why did I wait so long to write this up? A few reasons:

1. There’s been a lot of discussion about the Crest, more so than any other restaurant that’s opened recently. Some of the debate revolves around the old versus the new Crest, which in my mind are completely different things. The old Crest was a neighborhood dive bar that lived for decades. I personally never went there; I just had no desire to. If I wanted the dive experience in Clintonville, I would go to O’Reilly’s instead (and still can). The new Crest is totally revamped: cleaned out, built up, replanted.

2. The Crest is in my neighborhood, and it’s been central to a small south Clintonville renaissance that’s included Savor Growl and the just-announced Coop Cafe. Maybe some of these newer places are slicker and lack the layers of nostalgia, but they’re bright and approachable. Personally, I love seeing these dingy spots renovated. It’s good for our neighborhood.

3. The Crest labels itself as a “gastropub,” and that word stirs up mixed reactions. Again, I’m fine with it (I’m easy-going). Yes, maybe the trend is just making its way to Columbus, having been first applied to gourmet pubs in London in the early 90′s. But if it helps communicate what your restaurant is about (beer + slightly upscale pub food), then go for it.

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This is a lot of qualification for a blog review. I guess that’s because I’m generally not a negative person, but a majority of our experience at The Crest’s brunch was subpar. Not completely awful, just leaving me with no desire to return for brunch.

First, what’s good about it: The Crest’s space is gorgeously re-done. Lots of wood accents, spherical lighting, copper plating. A rooftop garden is growing much of their produce. Even the smaller landscaping around the patio and along Indianola are being utilized to grow vegetables and herbs. The space is bright and beautiful, and as a bar they seem to succeed: interesting (if a little pricy) cocktail list, expansive selection of beer on draft and bottled.

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The Crest has what you would expect of a gastropub menu: dishes that start as basic pub food like burgers, fries, grilled cheese, then modify them with seasonal ingredients and creative preparations. See above: wild boar sausage, grilled cheese with aged cheddar, pomegranate molasses on lamb lollipops.

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While the food seems to be taking center stage, I’ve seen The Crest receive the most compliments – and this was true at brunch – for their drinks. A number of people have said it’s a better bar than restaurant, and from my experience, I’d say that’s true. Case in point here: a pint of Seventh Son’s strong ale at happy hour prices. Yes, please. Also available was the Crestilada, a modification of the Bloody Mary that included beer instead of vodka. The substitution worked around Clintonville’s archaic laws forbidding liquor sales before a certain time on Sunday.

So very good drinks, but they highlight some of the problems with service: no one seems to be talking to each other. The host who sat us told us about the Crestilada, but our server had never heard of it. Our server initially told us all draft beer was half off on Sundays until 8pm. Oh, wait, no it isn’t. Oh, wait, yes it is. Oh, sorry, no it isn’t but we’ll give you the happy price anyway. Our server took our order but others brought our food; which I know other restaurants do, but then our server was no where to be found to answer questions. It was like the service was so decentralized that no one knew 100% what was going on.

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Frustration with the service doesn’t put you in a good mood when your food arrives. We ordered a mix of things, starting with the parfait, a well-done and deconstructed version of the on-the-go breakfast. It’s made with a layer of yogurt covered in fruit fresh and granola with honey. It feels odd at first eating a horizontal parfait, but it does let you mix-and-match your bites.

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I continued with the sweet trend and ordered the orange blossom French toast, made with orange blossom water (I’m not sure how), ricotta, maple syrup, and a berry compote. The ricotta was barely to be found, and quite honestly the berry compote was so overwhelming you couldn’t taste anything else. Not the bread, not the syrup (which if it was there, I couldn’t see it), barely the toast. The compote was simply too tart and strong that the rest of the dish didn’t matter.

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The Mrs. went for the Crest burger and fries, one of the signature items on the menu. As far as burgers go, it’s nicely done although not mind-blowing. We were still negotiating the French toast and the odd service to really appreciate the burger. It’s served on a cutting board like many of their meals (I’m told), which generally I’m fine with. But aren’t wooden cutting boards difficult to clean between uses?

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The burger came with a cup of potatoes, done up with sauteed veggies.

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Honestly, it’s the little details that can make or break a meal. What kind of broke it for us were those little things. Like the server not knowing what’s going on, the French toast being completely unbalanced, or even details like the cap of the hot sauce bottle (labeled with masking tape) looking crusty and unwashed.

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That was our experience at brunch. Comparing what we paid for meals and drinks to what we actually received, I have little interest in returning. Maybe just for drinks or for lunch, but not for brunch. I think the Crest has so much going for it, and I think that the doomsayers are wrong. Despite issues with service or lackluster food, the spot has been consistently busy ever since it opened. It’s now an accepted thing to find Indianola lined with cars. I truly hope that things even out at The Crest, because I like having good food in my neighborhood, and I love seeing a new business thrive.

The Crest Gastropub on Urbanspoon

BonBon Pastry & Cafe | Cleveland, OH

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BonBon Pastry & Cafe
(Facebook / @BonBonBakeShop)

2549 Lorain Ave. (map it!)
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 458-9225
Open Mon, 6:30a-3p; Tues-Fri, 6:30a-8p; Sat, 7a-8p; Sun, 7a-3p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/Y
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Sunday, August 18, 2013 at 9:00 a.m.

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For our last official meal stops on the Positively Cleveland #HappyinCLE bloggers’ weekend, our guides polled the group for Sunday brunch, and the group wisely chose BonBon in Ohio City. We had been near BonBon the day before, when we toured the West Side Market and walked to the Ohio City Farm, but today we had a chance to be treated to brunch at the cafe.

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BonBon’s beautiful corner space is bright and welcoming. The cafe counters are made of marble, with lots of wood accents.

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From what I’ve read, the business started as a market stall with baked goods, and transitioned into a brick and mortar space two years ago. So not surprisingly, pastries, donuts, rolls still feature strongly on the menu.

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It’s almost unfair, walking into the restaurant on an empty stomach and being faced with a giant tray of cinnamon rolls. Unfair, until you realize that you can order one of those bad boys.

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We started with coffee, and then moved quickly into brunch.

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BonBon’s brunch menu is eclectic and creative, one of the more interesting ones I’ve seen in recent months. You can find your standards like omelets, breakfast sandwiches, and eggs benedict, but there are some more unusual scores, too, like breakfast nachos and morning tacos.

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On the suggestion of our guides, the table started with a plate of cinnamon sugar donuts. These little lightly-fried nuggets are served with sides of mascarpone, chocolate sauce, and preserves, and they had just the right sugary crunch.

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Maybe it was the whole pastry theme, but I was in a sweet mood, so the vanilla bean French toast stood out to me. What also caught my eye was the toppings of blueberry compote, mascarpone, and corn. Maybe putting corn on French toast might seem strange to some, but after years of eating Jeni’s sweet corn and black raspberry ice cream, it makes perfect sense. Like Jeni says, it’s just like putting jam on cornbread.

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I got to photograph and sample some of the other bloggers’ meals, too. BonBon certainly knows how to plate their brunch, and how to work up some interesting combos. For instance, the corned beef hash loaded with brussel sprouts, egg, potatoes, mushroom, onions, peppers.

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Or the silver dollar pancakes with real maple syrup and cider bacon.

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Or the breakfast sandwich with a big, homemade maple sausage patty, eggs, cheddar, tomato and a side of sweet potatoes. I tried a bite of this sandwich and really loved it – the sausage is terrific. I’d order this the next time I visit.

All in all, our brunching at BonBon was excellent. Good service – able to handle our large table with ease. And some delightfully creative and tasty brunch dishes. If that’s not reason enough to visit, consider their breakfast happy hour: Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 3-8pm, you can get their breakfast entrees for $5.

Bonbon Pastry & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Lucky’s Cafe | Cleveland, OH

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Lucky’s Cafe
(Facebook / @LuckysCafe)

777 Starkweather Ave. (map it!)
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 622-7773
Open Mon-Fri, 7a-5p; Sat & Sun, 8a-5p (bfast served 9a-3p daily, all other hours feature coffee and pastries only)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/Y
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Saturday, August 17, 2013 at 9:00 a.m.

Lucky’s is the first breakfast I’ve had in Cleveland, and judging by the recommendations I’ve had for it over the years, it’s a very good place to start. On a recent weekend excursion hosted by Positively Cleveland, our blogger group visited Lucky’s for our Saturday morning breakfast stop. Our exact itinerary was guided by Cleverlanders through social media using the hashtag #HappyinCLE, and they overwhelmingly sent us to Lucky’s.

This breakfast was provided as part of our weekend visit. If you want to read about Part 1 of the visit, see here!

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Lucky’s is situated in the heart of Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood, an up-and-coming area full of beautiful houses with little shops and restaurants tucked in between them. Approaching Lucky’s from the front, you’ll see a large patio and a garden next to it. By 9 a.m. on a Saturday, the place was filling up.

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We learned that the owner Heather Haviland is originally a pastry chef, and she began her role at Lucky’s baking an array of delicious goods before she eventually took over the business.

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Because of that, there’s a big counter up at the front with loads of beautiful baked goods and full coffee service. The cafe even has opening and closing hours during which they only sell coffee and pastries.

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The inside of the cafe is bright and crammed full of tables, with the rear section raised up a couple steps.

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Our meal kicked off with an appetizer of sorts: a few orders of Lucky’s pecan bacon. I’m a fan of bacon in general (that goes without saying), but you’ll always keep my attention by doing something to the bacon. Lucky’s bacon is cooked through without being too crisp, and the topping is earthy and sweet without being over the top. If you were just coming to Lucky’s to eat a plate (or four) of pecan bacon, you’d be in good shape.

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I ordered one of the suggested dishes: the Shipwreck. There are certainly days when I can’t or won’t decide on what to get for breakfast, and that’s when catch-all meals like the Shipwreck are handy. It’s a little bit of everything: bacon, eggs, potatoes, veggies, cheese, plus toast and fruit on the side. Although it’s a big dish to reckon with, it was all cooked well without being dried out. Suffice to say, I finished it.

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Another member of our party order the bruleed steel cut oatmeal, a heaping bowl of oats covered with winter fruits and lightly torched. It also came with a beautiful side of eggs en croute, baked in a dish with spinach and cream.

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There’s also the biscuits, topped with cheese, eggs, and gravy, plus a side of potatoes and fruit. It’s a big chunky gravy, served in a huge portion.

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Our server did a great job handling our slightly larger group, and the food came out quickly (although it was nice having the pecan bacon appetizer). Part of me really thrives on seeing busy breakfast and brunch cafes on Saturdays and Sundays. These are the biggest days for the morning meal, and places like Lucky’s are at the heart of any local scene.

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On our way out we sneaked a peak at some of the bakery offerings, although we were so stuffed we couldn’t imagine picking up anything.

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Like many of the restaurants we saw over the weekend, Lucky’s prides itself on usually locally-produced goods. Behind the patio lies a little garden. We were told that Lucky’s employees work part of their shift tending to the garden, so everyone is invested and knowledgeable in the cafe’s mission.

So there you have it: breakfast stop #1 in Cleveland. I’m happy to have finally been to Lucky’s. It’ll certainly be on my radar during any return visits.

Lucky's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Anna’s House | Grand Rapids, MI

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Anna’s House
(Facebook)

3874 Plainfield Ave. NE (map it!)
Grand Rapids, MI 49525
(616) 361-8500
Open Mon-Sat, 6a-2p; Sun, 7a-2p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/Y
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Saturday, July 6, 2013 at 8:00 a.m.

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Even though I’m a native of Grand Rapids, even though I fervently follow the breakfast scene there, even though I follow breakfast just about anywhere, somehow I had never heard of Anna’s House until it was announced that they were voted the best breakfast joint in the state of Michigan. After I got over the shock that my neighborhood favorite Real Food Cafe didn’t win the honor, I was still happy to have something new to explore, and to know that the Grand Rapids breakfast scene is getting its fair share of attention. Of course, voting polls like this always bug me, and you can always get nit-picky about one person’s opinion. But in some ways I feel bad for Anna’s. Whenever something is declared the #1 anything, you’re setting up people’s expectations unnecessarily high. All this is to say that we were still excited and slightly apprehensive to finally check out Anna’s on our recent trip up to GR.

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Anna’s can be found in northeast Grand Rapids on Plainfield Avenue, in a building that must have once been a Pizza Hut or some other fast food restaurant. This is away from burgeoning districts like downtown, Eastown, or Wealthy Street, but it’s good to spread the breakfast love to all four corners of the city.

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Fortunately, the space has been thoroughly redecorated so that nothing remains of the sterilized corporate atmosphere.

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Instead, the interior is colorful and eclectic, with lots of artwork, multiple dry erase menu boards, and plenty of tables and booths. We hit the place up right around 8 am, when the sign inside the door still said “Please seat yourself.” By the time we left, the waiting area was packed full of people. Another double-edged sword of winning awards: you’re full all the time, and you’re full all the time.

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Anna’s has a wide-ranging menu, covering ground that includes skillets, eggs benedict, burritos, sandwiches, omelets, pancakes, quiche, and nearly everything in between.

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Of course, the standard menu barely scratches the surface. The true feature is the colorful menu board listing weekly specials. Here they’re covering more ground that includes seafood, southern specialties like chicken and waffles, French toast that’s baked overnight, a vegan hippie hash of root vegetables and sprouts, and traditional dishes with crazy combinations. This is a wonderful array of things, but this wide-ranging eclecticism starts to undermine the identity of the restaurant.

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Is Anna’s trying to be a working class, third-shift go-to for breakfast grub, like you see with the mis-matched mugs and strong, hot coffee? Or is it trying to be a hippy-haven with servers with flowers in their hair and recipes that they literally dreamed up? Or is it trying to be a pastel-colored casual cafe that appeals to the old folks? There are authentic hints of each of these elements, but at times it felt like Anna’s House (there isn’t an Anna, by the way) hasn’t quite decided what to be.

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Whatever Anna’s is or is attempting to be, you can’t argue with the line of patrons out the door and some very creative breakfast dishes. For instance, I ordered the breakfast lasagna, one of their signature meals that exemplifies their creative spirit. This is the recipe that our server dreamt up overnight and began cooking. It’s an artful combination of tomatoes, mushrooms, sausage, cheese, and fresh herbs. All very flavorful, although the biggest punch is delivered by the dollop of gravy on top. It’s served with a side of well-seasoned redskin potatoes.

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I’m a sucker for any place that makes their own corned beef hash in-house (canned stuff = blech), so we ordered it as a side. Generous pieces of tender corned beef mix well with the house potatoes, accompanied by the random plastic cup of yellow mustard.

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The Mrs. went for the grapes of wrath omelet special: an omelet with Brie, grapes, and bacon. Very interesting combination, although the texture of soft eggs, crispy bacon, and the Brie rinds wasn’t entirely to my liking. Served with a side of toast; I should note that Anna’s very readily does gluten free sides by request. This was also the best presented dish of the bunch. The lasagna and corned beef hash were tasty but a little slap-dash in their plating.

Is Anna’s #1 in the state? That’s impossible for me to say, really, but I can admit that my preference (at least in Grand Rapids) still lies with Real Food Cafe. Again, Anna’s offers some very creative dishes and a comfortable atmosphere, both of which merit a visit to the restaurant, but the hard-to-pin-down identity made it difficult to know exactly what to expect. Here’s hoping, though, that the #1 rating helps keep the restaurant open and the hard-working crew busy.

Anna's House on Urbanspoon

Sunrise Cafe | Yellow Springs, OH

Sunrise Cafe (Facebook)
359 Xenia Ave. (map it!)
Yellow Springs, OH 45387
(937) 767-7211
Open Mon, Wed-Fri, 7:30a-2p; Sat & Sun, 8a-2p (open 5-9 for dinner most days)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/Y
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Monday, August 13, 2012 at 11:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: Readers have long been encouraging me to visit the Sunrise Cafe in Yellow Springs. The small Ohio town, less than an hour from Columbus, makes for a fantastic day trip, what with the shops, trails, parks, restaurants, and the always-enjoyable Young’s Jersey Dairy. And you can’t have a good day trip without a good breakfast. Fortunately, my readers haven’t steered me wrong.

ATMOSPHERE: You can find Sunrise on Xenia Avenue, the main drag leading through the center of town. It’s a fairly tight space, from the entryway full of 90-degree turns, to the smattering a tables in the front of the restaurant, and the thin corridor down the back.

The booths themselves are snug but not uncomfortable. For our family – two adults and two kids – we fit pretty tight together. But the high backs of the wooden booths create a nice little sense of privacy.

FOOD: Readers have given Sunrise’s coffee rave reviews, and I have to agree. It’s a special organic roast (fitting with the general mission of the restaurant), although I was a little surprised that it wasn’t from a local roaster. Still, it’s delicious, comes automatically with cold cream, and is served in tiny mugs. There’s something I really like about small coffee mugs. They cool  off faster, and if you’re a cream-and-sugar type like me, it’s easier to maintain that balance with refills. I know, I know, I’m completely over-thinking this…

I was in a bit-of-everything mood, so I ordered the Morning Fill-Up, a platter of eggs, meat, potatoes, toast, and two pancakes. All of it was very, very good: eggs and toast were spot-on, potatoes have peppers and onions mixed in. A reader suggested asking for the bison patties, which I did. They were dense and lean, but flavorful.

Mrs. Breakfast With Nick tried a couple half-orders. First were the huevos rancheros, a colorful and well-mixed rendition of the Mexican classic. Many versions of this don’t properly blend the ingredients, meaning the salsa is overpowering or the tortilla is dry. But this comes together nicely. And the egg was cooked just right.

These are the pancakes with my order. Sunrise’s cakes are thin and crispy. Most places go for thick and fluffy, but there was something I really liked about these. You get the pancake experience without stuffing yourself on carbs. The mugs of melted butter and real maple syrup help, too.

The Mrs. also tried a half order of the Sunrise Gravy and Biscuits. Like the huevos, they were very flavorful and came together nicely. The buttermilk wheat biscuit was dense, and different than we expected, but I liked it with the white, chunky gravy.

Our son ordered silver dollar pancakes from the kid’s menu. They’re just like the regular pancakes, but smaller, and again less filling.

A view of our table. Obviously, the baby bottle isn’t on the menu.

SERVICE: Our server was helpful, but he did seem a little rushed the whole time. The restaurant was full, with a line out front, and we could only see two servers total. They’re clearly a little pressed to keep up with everyone.

OVERALL: Sunrise exemplifies the overall feel of Yellow Springs: a little hippy, a little touristy, and dedicated to small town life. Using plenty of local and organic ingredients, the restaurant forges a delicious breakfast with a very good variety. Vegan and vegetarian breakfasters: Sunrise has you in mind, too, from sandwiches to omelets to sides. Gluten free breads are also available on request. All in all, this is an excellent spot to start a day of exploring Yellow Springs.

OTHER LINKS:

-> Yellow Springs’ Chamber of Commerce site: www.yellowspringsohio.org

Sunrise Cafe on Urbanspoon

Square Cafe | Pittsburgh, PA

Square Cafe (Facebook / @TheSquareCafe)
1137 S. Braddock Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15218
(419) 244-8002
Open Mon-Sat, 7 am – 3 pm; Sun, 8 am – 3 pm
Accepts cash and credit cards
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/Y

Date of Visit: Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 9:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: I learned about Square Cafe from the inimitable Rick Sebak of WQED Pittsburgh. Rick shot footage there for his latest documentary Breakfast Special, although Square Cafe didn’t end up in Part 1. (But Part 2 is hopefully coming soon!) While on a recent trip to Pittsburgh, we asked Rick to meet us for breakfast, and he of course recommended Square Cafe.



ATMOSPHERE: The Cafe was fairly quiet on the morning we visited; a few tables were full outside, a handful of businessmen and women in huddled various corners inside.

Always, always a plus for me to see local artists on the walls. This particular artist’s work fits the bright, bold coloring of the Cafe nicely.


FOOD: The menu was separated into four main sections: Tasty Selections (including burritos, grits, hash, and muesli), Eggs & Omelets (scrambles, Green Eggs & Ham), Crepes & Biscuits (crepes!), and From the Griddle. Square Cafe also serves a huge variety of coffee drinks, smoothies, and milkshakes. My wife ordered a Caramel Latte: delicious and made just right. I always take comfort in a breakfast place that takes its coffee seriously. Square Cafe has got the equipment for it, and clearly they know how to use it.

Got to – GOT TO – love the coffee mugs. Clearly their signature style. Like handcrafted pottery. Completely round except for the flat front. And I love it when I can fit all four fingers around my coffee mug handle. You can buy sets of these mugs at the cafe an elsewhere, although they are a little too expensive for me. I’ll settle for having to visit Square Cafe again. We also appreciated being served a mug with cold cream without having to ask. I prefer my coffee served this way; those small ultra-pasteurized half-and-halfs frighten me: they can probably withstand a nuclear blast.

Despite my long-standing obsession with Northstar Cafe’s Big Burrito, I decided to give Square Cafe’s breakfast burrito a try. Sometimes you’re just in a burrito mood. You can have the burrito here with just cheese and veggies, or you can add bacon, sausage, ham, or a special chicken apple sausage.
Q: I added _____.
A: Bacon.

It may not have knocked Northstar’s burrito off its pedestal, but Square Cafe’s is flat-out great. It’s filled with nice grilled vegetables, fluffy scrambled eggs, melty cheese, and perfectly cooked bacon. The whole deal comes with sides of sour cream and a locally-made salsa.

One of the most impressive things about the burrito is that it ALL STAYED TOGETHER! I’ve had many good burritos that fell apart under pressure. But even after I cut it in half (to make it more manageable), the ingredients didn’t come tumbling out.

You can order the same ingredients in the burrito, only in quesadilla form, too. My sister-in-law chose this option, and declared it very good. Instead of the nicely wrapped burrito, you can get the flour tortilla in these crispy wedges. Again with the dipping accoutrement.

Rick ordered the shrimp grits: sauteed shrimp and spinach on a bed of fluffy grits. He gave us all a taste of the shrimp, which were seasoned and sauteed just right. Nice bite to the seasoning; the shrimp were plump and juicy, not over-cooked at all.

My wife ordered the sun-dried tomato and goat cheese scramble, a delightful mixture of tomatoes, spinach, and goat cheese on scrambled eggs. Heaping side of their home fries, all uniformly crispy and well seasoned.

She also added a single lemon ricotta pancake. I love the use of ricotta cheese in pancakes – makes for a moist but stable flapjack. This one’s topped with butter, powdered sugar, and whipped cream on top. The tart lemon in the pancake really balances the sweetness of the batter, sugar, and cream.

SERVICE: This picture didn’t turn out too well, but here’s proof that Square Cafe’s employees are dedicated. Owner Sherree Goldstein has a very busy and accomplished crew. They offered very attentive service, filling in all the details you could want (i.e. cold cream for your coffee). Our server proudly showed us his tattoo, and kept a vigilant watch over us. And we experienced the most religious refilling of our coffee ever. It keeps the coffee hot!

OVERALL: I’ve barely scratched the surface of the Pittsburgh breakfast scene, but if Square Cafe is anything to go by, it’s going to be a tasty ride. I think Sherree and her crew have mastered the total package of the breakfast experience: fun branding and decor of the restaurant, a nice variety in seating (tables, counter, outdoor), a solid coffee shop setup, and a creative and diverse lineup of breakfast items. I would highly recommend it as a must-stop on any Pittsburgh breakfast tour!

Oh… and I just got it: it’s called Square Cafe, but all the branding is circular.

OTHER LINKS:
-> a taste of Square Cafe from WQED Pittsburgh

Square Cafe on Urbanspoon

Marie Catrib’s | Grand Rapids, MI


Marie Catrib’s
(Facebook / @VeganMarie / @GlutenFreeMarie)
1001 Lake Dr. SE

Grand Rapids, MI 49506

(616) 454-4020

Open Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m.-4 p.m.
Accepts cash and credit cards

Date of Visit: Monday, March 17, 2008 at 10 a.m.
IMPRESSIONS: Marie Catrib’s – what a find! As with many of my breakfast finds, this one came recommended by friends or readers. Which is funny in this case, because Marie Catrib’s is located in my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I had never heard of it… even though it opened about 3 years ago! Our usual breakfast stop in GR is the amazing Real Food Cafe, but my wife and I easily persuaded ourselves to hit up a second breakfast (not to be confused with a hobbit’s second breakfast, which occurs on the same day) joint in town, after our friends Jacqui and Ryan recommended Marie Catrib’s.

The restaurant stands on a recently-developed corner in Grand Rapids’ rapidly-growing East Hills district. That area of town, especially along Wealthy and Cherry streets, has seen some really sparkling development by way of new boutiques, bakeries, coffee houses, and art galleries. Previously this corner was an empty lot with a gigantic sign that read “East Hills Center of the Universe.” It’s hard to forget a corner like that.

ATMOSPHERE: Walking into Marie Catrib’s, we got the definite feel of a hip, new, local restaurant.


The color palette includes a lot of neutral, earthy tones like orange, yellow, green, and off-white. Black wooden tables and chairs fill the space. The whole eating area is big and bright, thanks to the large windows looking out on the street. The kitchen takes up a big corner of the main space.


Next door to the main restaurant is a deli (you can see it through the door in the picture above – and check out that copper door frame). There is additional seating in the deli, and there you get to eye the stacks of bread and pastries. The deli is decorated with tall grasses, and along the walls you can buy tea, coffee, and some of Marie’s specialized spices used in her restaurant.


Here’s a weird shot of the kitchen. To the left is seating along the counter (classic diner!), and right in front of you is a case displaying more of their lovely pastries. The kitchen behind it all rattles and hums with activity.

FOOD: Marie Catrib’s really knocks it out of the park when it comes to the food. I will point out that their goal is to create fresh, local, and often vegetarian or vegan dishes (not to say there isn’t any meat on the menu). So if you’re looking for a straight-up inexpensive diner breakfast, Marie Catrib’s is not your best bet.


First things first: the coffee. Marie’s serves their coffee in these funky lime-green ceramic mugs. They really fit the decor. The coffee is brewed fresh – I had to wait a couple minutes for mine – which is surprising that they would run out, but overall good because I know it hasn’t been sitting in a coffee pot all morning. And when I requested coffee, our server actually asked me what roast of coffee I would like. Awesome! Although I’ve come across places with different roasts on hand (such as Northstar Cafe), I’ve never been asked my preferred roast by a server. I like that. And I chose the medium roast – usually my choice.

The coffee was excellent – obviously freshly brewed, and not at all acidic or bitter. Beth asked for a glass of whole milk (pictured above behind the coffee). It was local milk, and thick and creamy like real whole milk should be. A dash of this milk made my coffee even better.

Now on to the food… first, I have to say that the menu is big… a little too big. Beth and I had to spend a few minutes deciphering each category, and figuring out what can be substituted or added to meals. It begins with a simple listing of eggs, then omelets, with a side-bar on adding cheese or potatoes, then a listing of “B-sides”: bacon, granola, toast, etc. The second page continues with “Super sweet goodies” like pancakes, French toast, etc.; a section of favorites like oatmeal, granola, and potato pancakes; a list of drinks; and finally a section on the “Boulangerie,” which includes breads, rolls, muffins, and scones. It’s a LOT of stuff, and while I certainly value selection, the layout makes it a little confusing.


I chose the Baker’s Omelet Both Ways, which is a pastry in bowl stuffed with sausage, mushrooms, spinach, onions, and topped with Swiss and cheddar cheeses. It’s baked in the oven and comes out piping hot – the menu actually suggests pulling some of it out of the bowl to let it cool. The omelet is served with a side of Marie’s seasoned potatoes. The entire meal is delicious and more than filling. The pastry was light and flaky, while everything inside was cooked to perfection. The flavors of the sausage, mushrooms, and veggies mixed well. Meanwhile, the potatoes were prepared just the way I like them: big chunks, lovingly browned on a grill, and nicely seasoned with salt, pepper, oregano, and seasoned salt (or “special salt,” as my family knows it). The whole meal was a big piece of comfort food.


Beth ordered the Blintzes at the suggestion of our server. Blintzes are basically crepes filled with sweet cheese (mascarpone and cream cheese, in this case), then covered with all manner of sweet business. Marie’s covers them with caramelized bananas, real maple syrup, and a cream sauce, and the resulting mixture is a sweet piece of heaven. Seriously, they came out all warm and sloppy and sweet. They were amazing. Just looking at this picture makes my mouth water.

One final note on the food… Marie Catrib’s uses local, naturally-raised ingredients whenever they can, and their menu lets you know that. They list which farms the cheese, milk, and eggs come from. You can add local eggs or cheese to any meal for a small extra charge (usually a dollar or so).

SERVICE: Our server was very nice and attentive. Nothing extraordinary, but just what you could ask for. She kept my coffee filled, took our orders quickly, was happy to make recommendations from the menu, and generally welcomed us to the restaurant.

OVERALL: I think Marie Catrib’s is definitely worth the visit. Their food is top-notch, and the attention to the origins and treatment of it is to be commended. Again, this means that the breakfast will be a little more expensive that traditional diner fare, but it’s worth it. Marie’s also offers a wide range of vegan options, so if that’s important to you, Marie’s is a must-stop.

The folks there are also very interactive with their community. A sign on the wall listed a “slicing demonstration,” where you could daily learn how to slice and prepare bread. And Marie’s doesn’t just do breakfast. Their lunch and dinner includes salads, sandwiches, soups, pastries, and cakes.


And finally, here’s a shot of the corner that used to boast the memorable “Center of the Universe” sign. Now that that corner is developed, they still kept the name. And Marie’s is an integral part of that area. I suggest a visit!

Marie Catrib's of Grand Rapids on Urbanspoon
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