After covering kebabs and burgers in my last two columns, I should, in the interest of my own constitution, undertake my signature psyllium screwdriver cleanse, which involves copious amounts of vodka, orange juice, a hot water bottle, and, well, you get the idea.
Instead, I’m soldiering on, and have been eating eggs and meat for breakfast, lunch, and the occasional dinner for the past week in search of the perfect anytime meal. As one single soul (and gullet) charged with covering every available economical breakfast option in town, this is obviously not a comprehensive sampling. It is random and perfunctory. Shoot me. Better yet, e-mail me your own favorites and I’ll visit them and tell you why you’re wrong.
Though I am not native to the region, I feel qualified to comment on the common-man cuisine hereabouts as I too hail from a place (Los Angeles) given to similar self-aggrandizement, where the people labor under some mass delusion that their town and its citizens are somehow special. They are not and you are not. But we can all eat eggs together.
There really is nothing more satisfying nor anything more American than the all-American eggs, meat, and potatoes breakfast. Yeah, chocolate bread to start the day can get you in the right state of mind to shuffle around art museums and stroll along the Left Bank. The same as cappuccino and biscotti may be perfect preparation for a gondola ride through the canals or flirting with pigeons on the Spanish Steps. But nothing will bolster the spine to take on the drudgery of an empty workday, or a mind-numbing road trip into the teeth of a blizzard like fried eggs, a couple slabs of sausage, and a pile of potatoes, washed down with boiling hot coffee.
Let’s start with Chaps (1), where the menu is rife with pleasant surprises, and raises the bar a tad for standbys like Tip Top. The sizeable sausage patties are perfectly spiced and griddled to juicy perfection. Over easy eggs here means over easy —great for dipping the thick rye slices in. The home fries are cooked to the optimum consistency, fluffy but not mushy, and hot and soft all the way through. The Downtown Mall joint serves breakfast all day and throughout the evening. The coffee is great too and sometimes you can get a homemade donut for dunking.
Over on the other side of the railroad tracks, on Second Street SE, Bluegrass Grill & Bakery (2) puts out a hearty spanakopita omelet for the Appalachian gourmet set. There’s feta cheese, spinach, mozzarella, and gyro meat folded into a thin casing of scrambled egg. I go for the grits side. They are piping hot and perfectly creamy. And the plate comes with a hefty homemade, whole-wheat biscuit. At almost $11, it’s the most expensive option among this week’s considerations, but well worth the upgrade. The breakfast menu here is expansive and it’s served all day too, but the day ends at 2pm at Bluegrass. There’s always a line on weekends but it’s fairly accessible Tuesday through Friday.
On the days you just can’t be bothered to sit and interface with a human being, Calvino Italian Bar and Eatery at the Main Street Market (3) turns out some fine breakfast sandwiches, with evocative names, over the counter. Last time there I tried the Isolina and ordered with my sunglasses still on. Prosciutto (a thin-sliced, cured ham), mozzarella, basil, and scrambled egg on buttery grilled Italian bread. Butter, cheese and meat, what could go wrong? Nothing here. Plus, it’s five bucks. There’s also an array of fruit smoothies on offer. And solid espresso coffees at clearance prices.
This week’s winner for me was an old breakfast-in-the-afternoon standby: huevos rancheros at the Fry’s Spring Guadalajara (4), which is two fried eggs drowning in ranchero sauce alongside refried beans and Mexican rice with flour tortillas for scooping and sponging up all the goopy goodness. The sauce is a dark, oxblood color, rich and zesty. It is tomato-based, spiced with chiles, ancho and guajillo. If you’re getting a late start to the day and need a little extra wake-up boost, the spice will set you right. If, by chance, the rest of the day is all yours, nothing complements rancheros better than an icy margarita. Which gives me an idea for another cleanse. Orale.