The London Review of Breakfasts

"No more excuses. No more apologies. No more of these obvious, desperate breakfasts." (Skyler White)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Special dispatch: Goody Goody Diner, St. Louis

Goody Goody Diner
5900 Natural Bridge Ave.
St. Louis, Missouri 63120

by Louie Slinger

It's a diner, in an urban, old and rather industrial neighborhood. Connolly's Goody Goody Diner began in a converted root beer stand in 1948, and Richard Connolly has never worked anywhere else. Breakfast all day, six days a week - there's lunch, but their reputation, still growing after all these years, is all about morning food.

The kids have discovered chicken and waffles, and Goody's version is exemplary, the chicken hot and fresh and greaseless, to dab with syrup or not as you eat the waffle underneath. But serious breakfast folks have hard choices, lots of them. Which of fourteen meat options? Which of twelve ways to have them cook your eggs? Pancakes – hotcakes, as the menu styles them – or waffles or French toast? Rice, grits or hash brown potatoes? Omelets? Skillets, a sort of mashup of different things? Or just a breakfast sandwich?

I frequently succumb, though, to the country fried steak – beef pounded, breaded and fried until brown, topped with a milky pan gravy, and some over-easy eggs and grits. Or else it's the Wilbur omelet, their take on a St. Louis tradition, the omelet filled with potatoes, onions, sweet green peppers and tomato, then topped with chili and shredded cheese. (By legend, good for hangovers, better at preventing them.) Or else there's the catfish and American-style biscuits.

Much of the food style is of the soul food/Southern kitchen tradition, but the crowd here is gloriously mixed: mechanics and ministers, tourists and students, police and politicians. Al Gore stopped by during one presidential campaign. Richard Connolly is pretty much always on hand. They do lots of takeaway, and there's often a line, but it's worth waiting for. Study the huge menu while you're waiting, watch the hard-working staff, who really earn their Sundays off, and make sure you take advantage of some first-rate eavesdropping.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Bluebelles, Portobello Rd

320 Portobello Road
Kensal Town
W10 5RU
020 8968 4572

by Haulin' Oats

Oh no.

One of the most common and, perhaps, saddest of granola sins. An easily avoidable failure right at the final hurdle. My granola arrives in a glass.

The delights of achieving the perfect proportions of granola, yoghurt and compote according to whim have now been destroyed. The Pollock-esque creative freedom of sometimes mixing elements together in great swathes or perhaps making small, continuing adjustments - flicks and flourishes - is now dismantled. Even doing nothing at all, like Fonzy in the mirror, and eating the granola, yoghurt and compote separately, in the order you so desire, is no longer possible.

In a glass you’re operating in impossibly cramped conditions. Claustrophobia rises as you dig down to try and reach an element. Over mixing is inevitable. Your control has been destroyed.

Also, glasses tend to be smaller than bowls. With granola, especially, there’s nothing worse than being under-served.

It’s a tall glass. It's filled with yoghurt, berry compote and then a meagre sprinkling of sorry supermarket ‘basics’ looking granola on top. It reaches to half-way up the vessel, leaving me feeling hard done by in a, errr, glass half empty kind of way. It looks like an agoraphobic sundae. It’s the last thing a breakfast already struggling under a light-weight, frivolous image needs.

The granola has a supermarket basics taste. The compote is underwhelming and manages the ignominious trick of being not sweet enough and missing a fruity tartness too.

The yoghurt isn’t very nice.

My glass half empty of granola is finished almost as soon as I’ve embarked on my cramped spoon manoeuvring.

I do want to cry a little bit.

So much so, cake rescue needs to be undertaken. And, my, does the pear and almond polenta cake save souls. Moist, delicately sweet with a strong taste of pears complemented by a judicious amount of chocolate and whole hazelnuts on top. Much more like it.

Bluebelles does have a pleasing ambience. That cake was really, very good. The waitress gave me a pick of excellent speciality breads to take home for free because it was the end of the day (perhaps sensing my earlier disappointment?). However, the granola was obviously a careless afterthought thrown in to appease addicts, which is so often the case in London. It really is an opportunity missed though, because if you do get it right that granola addict is your friend for life. AND WE WILL MAKE YOU RICH. So, buck up, London cafes.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Ace Hotel/Hoi Polloi, Shoreditch

The Ace Hotel/Hoi Polloi
100 Shoreditch High Street
E1 6JQ

by Haulin' Oats

The first thing you notice upon walking into the Ace Hotel is that there’s an awful lot of stuff for sale. Ace Hotel branded T-shirts, baseball caps and two-tone duffle coats are all available, though the staff are kitted out in these, so you’d have to be careful wearing them on site - someone might ask you to do something. Or sell them something,

There are brand new vintage bikes dotted around, replete with faux leather saddles, which you can buy. There’s vinyl tiling the front of the reception desk that you can buy (things like the Easy Rider soundtrack and Fleetwood Mac albums, of course). There’s an old school photo booth which maybe you can’t buy. The chairs at one table are mid century vintage, at the other Swedish minimal. One wall is exposed concrete, another opaque wired glass. The strategy seems to be; if it’s hipster, or kind of arty or sort of design - chuck it in. Perhaps the vision was to achieve a type of maximal, characterful ambience but it just feels confused, contrived and a bit crap.

My friend said it sounds like an East London theme park. He’s good at summing things up.

Unable to find a menu I’m pointed to a thin fanzine with Hoi Polloi printed on the front. It turns out that I’m actually in Hoi Polloi, an ‘English Modernist Brasserie’ from the people behind the cross-dressing and dining stalwart Bistrotheque. It drapes itself across the Ace Hotel reception meandering into a coffee shop area and subsequently through to a more dedicated restaurant.

My latte arrives warm and not extra hot as requested (perhaps satisfying a coffee Nazi responsible for its creation that "the flavour of the milk has remained unimpaired").

The granola has a home-baked feel, a lovely dark colour, but isn’t sweet enough. And in a rare granola switcherooni there are actually too many nuts. I know! But there are.

The compote is 3 strips of rhubarb, which has an incredible perfumed flavour balanced perfectly on the sweet-tart axis. However, its not compote-y (gooey) enough. You can’t divide the stalks with your spoon to get the desired proportions for your mouthful. And there’s not enough of it. The overall amount, is reasonable. Not generous, but enough.

I was really hoping for an Ace-hole in one for this granola experience. I thought the hype and big hotel success would help deliver it. However, mildly satisfied, a couple under par, I move on.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Cabmen's Shelter, Russell Square

The Shelter
Russell Square
Open from 7am – 3pm

by Evelyn Waughffle

On the west side of Russell Square stands a small wooden construction which looks like a prim garden shed. A Bloomsbury garden shed would, I suppose, be necessarily smarter and more sophisticated than its suburban counterpart, sort of like its snooty distant cousin. This one, a very fine specimen indeed, has a neat black hat of a roof and walls painted a shade of racing-green normally reserved for billiard tables. My curiosity had long been piqued by this strayed piece of garden architecture which, for all its nattiness is still somewhat provincial, not so much out of place as it is out of time. Earlier this year I was thrilled to discover that it is not a shed at all. The structure is one of thirteen still standing in London, out of sixty-odd built between 1875 and 1914 by the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund. This was a fund set up by a gang of Victorian philanthropists who took pity on the men who drove hackney carriages at ungodly hours of the day and wondered, presumably, where on earth they would get their breakfasts. It is nice to think that the Victorians thought as highly of this meal as we do, and higher perhaps of cabmen. Not being a cabman I approached the shelter with some trepidation. There was an open hatch out from which blew pleasant frying smells and a door, ever so slightly ajar.

I felt like Lucy, who discovered Narnia inside a wardrobe, except that in my case Narnia was the size of a wardrobe. The shelter is both larger and smaller than you might imagine. One half houses a very well stocked kitchen, the other benches and a strange adjustable running board of a table. The eating-half is not quite as small as a matchbox, more like a decent sized bathtub. But eating your breakfast in a bathtub (with three sturdy workmen flanking you to the left and a refrigerator hemming you to the right) is not for the faint-hearted. Like Archimedes, I was suddenly keenly aware of the volume of irregular objects. Everything worked with a floating co-dependent gravity; we all had to be very careful not to upset the ketchup or the boiled eggs would fall out. Turning the pages of the Sun was a feat of marvellous collaboration.

The root of this extreme spatial curtailment is the adjustable table which loops above the benches and holds diners in place like a harness on a theme park ride. It was how I imagine eating breakfast in a lifeboat might feel; birdcage on your lap, bobbing up and down in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by rather grim strangers who you can’t quite be sure understood your request for them to ‘pass the salt’. Interestingly the ‘lifeboat’ approach to seating has been adopted (perhaps in homage) in the back of the Monmouth Coffee shop not far from here. It is as though they either don’t want you to eat at all, or for you not to be able to leave if you do.

The food. I opted for a sausage sandwich. But I could have been more imaginative as the size of the kitchen does not reflect the limits of the menu. If you want it, Terry can probably make it. The sandwich was piping hot, a tidy squelch of thick white bloomer (margarine, un-toasted) and a crush of sausages. It was a full sandwich, as if, in an unconscious echo of the shelter, the bread had been stuffed, packed, crammed. It was a rush-hour-platform of a sandwich; I was a little overwhelmed. I sipped my coffee and waited for the sandwich to cool, wondering how to tackle it. The coffee was of the milky, sugary, instant variety that I associate with youth hostels. It was lovely. The sausages were good; thick and pink, crisp and brown, but there were so many of them! The sauce to sausage ratio (there was a generous slathering of HB and tomato ketchup) was such that the thing started to lose its shape. The integrity of the structure crumbled entirely when not one but two sausage halves slipped from my grip, and out onto the plate; men overboard!

There is no cutlery in the cabmen’s shelter so I ate the escapees with my fingers which, while it may have been a little revolting to observe, was both necessary and satisfying. It also gave me the chance to effect an introduction to the three men I was breakfasting with. Our knees were practically touching but English breakfast sang-froid meant we had not shared anything but gruff nods and evasive grunts during the pantomime of sitting down without knocking anything over. There aren’t many situations as disarming as being temporarily incapacitated by a sausage sandwich. They saw me floundering, offered a stack of paper napkins and we all made friends. They were lift-repair men and gave me some very good advice about why you should never take lifts. I wondered if the shelter were smaller or larger than those famously claustrophobic spaces but kept it to myself. I will be going back. The food was good, the price excellent (£2.50 for vast s/w and coffee), and the surroundings, not to be missed.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Special Dispatch: Breakfast in Yangon

by Daw Aung San Mue Sli

Most shop-bought food in Myanmar is consumed sitting on tiny plastic stools of the sort you might find in a kindergarten. They come with both backs and no-backs, and in numerous colours though sun-bleached red and blue are favourites, usually with matching tiny tables. I have seen many of these stools stapled back together where a particularly heavy customer has flattened one. Such fixing is proudly described as doing it ‘Bamar-lo’, the Burmese way of getting around even the most arduous junta-imposed restrictions. These stools are not limited to teashops and rice shops, they can also be handily brought out to seat passengers sitting in the aisle of a bus. Myanmar's people may be small and stunted through years of malnutrition but their knees almost reach their ears when they sit on them too. They are quite small.

Not necessarily the most comfortable position in which to digest breakfast.

But dear reader, the breakfasts are worth it even if you have to eat them folded up. The greatest of all breakfast food in Yangon (and many other parts of the country) is mohinga. Your mohinga server unthreads a handful of fresh noodles from the clump of noodles in the display case, dumps them in a bowl, and spoons over them a grey-brown coloured fish broth out of a big tin tureen. It’s optional to add a boiled duck egg, or broken up bits of fried corn wafer, or fried gourd, or a few other fried items. This dish [there's a recipe at] is then brought to your plastic table where you can add a squeeze of lime, a pinch of fresh coriander from a little tin bowl, a spoonful of dried chilli.

Tin Tin Aye mohinga shop on the roadside in Yankin Township (and 4 other locations in Yangon) produces the richest, fishiest broth (if you prefer it thinner, you are better off at Myaung Mya Daw Cho). Tin Tin Aye’s broth is made in a factory somewhere in Okkalapa, an old kingdom of Myanmar on the outskirts of Yangon. Apparently it tastes so good because of the special salt that they bring from the seaside resort of Ngapali, but it could also be the MSG, which adds a special zing to most breakfast options in the Golden Land.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Hackney Bureau, Hackney

Hackney Bureau
3 Mare St
E8 4RP
020 8533 6083

by Typhoo Mary

I mooched my way to brunch, the first time in Hackney for four years, beyond the beginning of the Saturday kerfuffle of Broadway Market, arriving at the Bureau in a slightly detached frame of mind.

There were chilled beats and big bay windows, allowing one to gaze out at the multitudes of white vans roaring past on a soggy Mare Street. There was a lot of light wood: cork floors, mixed and matched tables and chairs with an open plan kitchen. Above my head, it looked like someone had pulled the ceiling down and thought – bare boards, bare lightbulbs, concrete I-beams, protruding nails and visible trap doors – that looks GREAT, let’s just leave it like that. If Rachel Whiteread visited, she’d embalm it all in resin.

I thought that for my first LRB review, I should go traditional with a full English (£8.50). I decided on poached eggs, and there was not a flicker of disapproval when I asked for fried tomato rather than black pudding. The veggy option, £7.50 had also looked tempting, with mashed up avocado and sourdough bread. Another option, truffled mushrooms, had also appealed, although the mention of rocket should have been a warning for what was to come.

The French chef bore more than a passing resemblance to Matt the Horn from the Blues Brothers sans hair net and saxophone. The waitress made a comment about the distance to her art studio. A father and his sons came in silently, in football strips, presumably from a Vicky Park practice. The boys looked miserable. Perhaps their team had lost. Perhaps their dad was the coach. He looked stern as he barked at them as to whether they wanted bacon rolls. Which were not on the chalk board menu… Regulars then? A small child gleefully was sat in the window pulling a huge croissant into piles of decorative crumbs. His beatific American mother carefully sipped her soy latte.

The counter groaned under a huge pile of pastries. I am always suspicious when there are so many cakes – are they fresh is my question… But I suspect one of my usual companions to brunch, Edwardian Man, would have been pleased at the breadth of selection. But he was in Russia with his lady, so he’ll have to wait.

Artist/Waitress cheerfully delivered my breakfast. The poached eggs looked perfect, the tomatoes golden, the bacon crispy, and although the sausage was cut in two to be fried flat on a hotplate (not aesthetically pleasing please note chefs – it indicates a need-for-speed over traditional means) it looked home-made or at least well-sourced so I was pacified. The baked beans were home-made, carrots and beetroot ahoy, and were DELICIOUS. (I first came across baked beans with veg in my stalwart Little Georgia, and these beans could give them a run for their money). The bread was glorious. But hold on, wait a moment, what’s this… Oh dear god. SALAD? Salad with DRESSING?

Like vampire films, brunch will always have its variety on the core themes – different riffs on bread, bacon, black pudding, baked beans, but never in my life have I seen a full English with a handful of salad garnish. Dressed garnish no less. These were jolly leaves, and they looked like they were dressed well – but in my book the only thing green on a brunch platter should be wilted spinach with eggs Florentine. Et c’est TOUT! Edwardian Man would have sniffed. I, in turn, did not touch the jolly salad.

I had a second coffee, which was much better than the first, and a teeny blueberry friand from the mound of cakes. It was fresh. It was delicious. It gave me that brunch pudding hit I love.

A bevy of men came in. They all looked French. Some ordered coffee. Their arrival had pushed back the rain, and when I left, the sun had come out on Mare Street.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Breakfast in America: Barney Greengrass, New York

Barney Greengrass
541 Amsterdam Avenue at 86th Street
New York, NY 10024
+1 212 724 4707

by Pam O'Raisin

I wasn’t going for the lox, nor the sturgeon for which Barney Greengrass is famous: even though this is the self-proclaimed “Sturgeon King”. And whitefish salad I prefer to keep for after noon, thanks. No, this breakfast was all about the blintz. I’ve had them at Katz’s, the vast portion enough to feed a small family for about a week. I’ve had them at Veselka, in the East Village, radically folded around the sweet cheese filling in a delicate triangle.

But I was still in search of the best: so the Upper West Side, and Barney Greengrass it had to be. On one side, a deli and takeaway, counters piled with bagels and rugelach and black and white cookies, huge trays of smoked fish.

On the other side, a crush of Formica tables, all packed with noisy families and kvetching Jewish men, even at ten thirty on a weekday morning. I didn’t need the laminated menu.

“I’ll take the cheese blintzes, no sour cream, but maple syrup on the side.” The waiter’s eyes narrowed. I was tampering with the proper order of things. Would it be allowed?

The blintzes arrived, three plump parcels of pancake, briefly fried in butter, the sweet cheese filling oozing out as I cut into them, drizzled in maple sweetness. This was my perfect Manhattan breakfast – almost.

More heresy was to come as I accessorised the blintzes with my own pack of raisins. The waiter caught sight of my plate.

“Raisins, huh?”

I held my nerve. “Yes, actually. They’re delicious.”

As he took my empty plate, later, scraped clean of telltale syrup and dried fruit, I caught sight of a wink.


He was still smiling when I left.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Frank's Café, Southwark

Frank’s Café
132 Southwark Street
0207 928 3850
Mon – Fri 6.30-3.30

by Evelyn Waughffle

Do you believe in love at first sight? What about love at first breakfast? 

A few months ago at a friend’s wedding I felt that irresistible tug towards another person that is a little like falling over and a little like being gripped about the kidneys by an invisible fist. He was flailing somewhere in the middle of the reception with what looked like a handheld mixer. I was at the edge of the room with a paper plate full of potato salad. Was it his helplessness that drew me to him? His evident laissez-fair attitude to the wrapping of wedding presents? Or was it his coal eyes and crumpled black suit? Whatever it was I longed to be near him. I tried to follow his progress while making small talk and spearing resistant cherry tomatoes onto my fork but lost him somewhere between the disobedient crudité and a story about the bride’s due date (imminent). Moments later he was in front of me, asking if there was room on my bench for one more. I said there was, shuffled along awkwardly, and then wracked my brains for a suitable opener, something that would convey to him our shared fate, our comingled destiny, our blended reasons for being. I found myself looking into his eyes and asking instead, “Do you have a favourite greasy spoon?”.

We talked for a while and in the confusion of toasts, tears and cake were separated. I was kicking myself for being so inane when suddenly he was beside me again, a dark figure in the awkward mill of friends and relatives that had accumulated in the space between the tables and chairs. The band began to play. As the conga line started I felt him put his hands around my waist and tried not to fall over. 

That was three months ago now and I would have forgotten all about the mysterious stranger from the conga line had I not chanced to walk past the café he had recommended during our fleeting (too fleeting!) moments of conversation. What would I discover about him there? Not to be confused with Peckham’s gentrified car park rooftop bar, this café remembers when Campari was as cool as, well, your mother. With an unprepossessing façade, plastic lettering that doesn’t quite achieve nostalgia, and food photographs that look to have been boiled before they were stuck to the window, you would be forgiven for walking straight past this humble humdrum haven. But reader, Franks is the place the proverbial book and cover were coined for. It is an exquisite greasy spoon. If these things do it for you then prepare to be seduced.

As soon as you enter you are greeted by two countermen who take your order. Behind them, ’spoon essentials cram themselves into view; epic constructions which have more in common with ancient sites of worship than kitchen ingredients. Stacks of bread teetering like plaster columns, pyramids of butter pats and a vast totem of a peanut butter pot which demands submission from the tea bags that surround it. Along the walls hang framed pictures of sporting heroes, a collage made for ‘the world’s best Dad’ and several shots of a variety of people holding up an implausibly large fish. I felt myself go weak at the knees.

Even ordering was a joy. The man behind the till performed an acrobatic ritual combining money taking and coffee pouring that was the most dexterous thing I have ever seen at such close quarters. He whisked away my note and threw it down on top of his till whilst frothing milk in a small white cup with his other hand. Between filling the cup with coffee from a great silver drum and placing it onto a saucer he had somehow also scooped the note into the till and fished out my change. He handed me coins and cup with a flourish and, after admonishing another customer for swearing in a lady’s presence, told me to sit down. 

I sat down obediently in a booth next to the kitchen hatch. Lists of ingredients were shouted out when ready. Delicately tuned combinations like, “Fanta, chips, lasagna!” “Sausage, chips, beans!” and “Double scrambled eggs on brown toast!” The words were like music to my ears, a song sung which only I could hear. Is this what love feels like? My breakfast arrived in a three-slice stack which glistened pleasingly. It was thinly sliced bread of good quality (crisply crusted but forgiving in the middle) and generously spread with crunchy peanut butter. The coffee was too hot to taste and somewhat overwhelmed by bathwateresque foam. I followed it up with a black one which was thick and bitter (much better). 

As I sat in the booth, enjoying my second coffee and the clatter of crockery, I could not help but think about what might have been. A man who knows how to breakfast is hard to find. Could it be that he is sitting somewhere, above a fried egg sandwich, dreaming of me?

We’ll always have the conga line. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Op-Egg: Pro tips for a good business breakfast

by T. N. Toost

There was a recent article in Forbes by an attorney named, curiously, Judge, that discussed the advantages of breakfast for business. It was an article worthy of Forbes. She told stories about breakfast, and how she was in a big city in the States and learned how to eat breakfast and do business at the same time, and oh! when she came to London it was such a foreign concept to the peasants! and she discovered The Wolseley before it was popular, and now it's popular, so she goes to The Lanesborough, but it might be a bit expensive for you, and it has a lot of tourists so it is good for business!  

Sigh, sigh, sigh.

It is nice to see a rag like Forbes getting into the breakfast game. Maybe they're trying to diversify their income stream or something. Of course, any regular reader of the LRB can tell that they have a lot to learn, but they have to start somewhere, don't they? At least she brings a lawyer's attention to detail to her observations.

While she touches on some of the virtues of a business breakfast, she doesn't really get into the finer points of how to pull one off. Instead, if one were to read this piece carefully, one would learn:

1) She started in the business breakfast world by being nice to the maitre'd;
2) Breakfast is generally cheaper than lunch or dinner, and she does not drink as much;
3) Lawyer Judge quotes herself;
4) She can laugh if she makes a joke about breakfast, because it's funny;
5) She won't pay £15 for a cup of coffee, even if it comes with breakfast;
6) She will deny it, but among some people, her opinion of breakfast restaurants is rated very highly indeed;
7) She likes to have breakfast where there are important people like her around; 
8) She can't hear very well;
9) WTF is that picture? Don't tell me she chose it for herself? For God's sake, don't these Americans have any taste?  

Now, I've similarly had a "lifetime of breaking bread with clients," even if my lifetime has been much shorter than hers, and not nearly as tied to the rise of atomic energy. Regardless, here, mes amis, are some pro tips that you can use to have a good business breakfast:

1) Keep it to a reasonable hour, and leave when you have to. Don't be shy about cutting it short in the name of D-U-T-Y.  
2) Scope the place out beforehand, and figure out where the restaurant has its clocks. You want to sit where you can see a clock so that you don't have to rudely glance at your watch when you think you might have to leave.  
3) Become a regular at a place. In fact, become a regular at a few very good places, and offer to meet clients at a place convenient for them. They think that they have the home court advantage, but you should have already left several healthy tips for the waitress, who will remember how you like your eggs.  
4) If you can't be a regular at a place, at least get there a few minutes earlier than your breakfast companion. Review the menu and choose what you will order. If they know what they want when they arrive, it puts you on equal footing; if they have to scan the menu, it gives you an upper edge.  
Order coffee early and put a discreet amount of sugar in it. Opt for brown crystals over white, of course; hell, if they have pieces of raw cane on the table, use that. Just get a small amount of it in your system early so that you can regulate your blood sugar. If your dining partner decides not to poison his veins with that tropical filth, laugh inwardly at him, knowing that your brain will be working faster, faster.  
5) If you're at your regular spot, order the same thing every time. There's no need to make it the healthiest thing on the menu, but don't order the Fullest English in England. Tweak it in some way - get the eggs shirred, or over easy on the potatoes so you can pierce the yolks, or ask for Sriracha (actually, always ask for Sriracha). Do one thing different so that not only does the waitress remember, but your partner will notice how particular and exacting you are.  
6) Tip well.  
7) Bring paper. Sketch things out with a pen. Breakfast time is no time for tablets, and certainly not a time for your partner to stare at the back of a screen.  
8) Bring a newspaper so that, if you have to wait, you can be productive.  
9) Do not use your phone at all, especially if you're waiting for the other person. Use the moments for reflection and thought and preparing for the day. Or read the paper.  
10) Come with a goal. If you know what you want, clearly, you're more likely to get it from your companion. People are very agreeable at breakfast, all things considered.  
11) Leave with action items that you can email around immediately upon arriving at the office.  
12) If you are not independently wealthy, make sure you tell people what you just did at the office, and get them in on it. "Hey Gary!  I just had breakfast with Lady Judge.  No, she doesn't look like that picture at all. I know, I know. Yeah. Well it's confusing, but she's American. Oh, no discretion at all, mate. Or style. Well listen: we should invest in atomic energy, it's about to blow up. No, no pun intended. Yeah. Well, she's going to send me a spreadsheet of the companies that they're going to contract with so I can move money into the right accounts. Yeah. OK then, ta."
13) As long as your breakfast partner doesn't have a hearing problem, go somewhere moderately loud. The advantage is that it forces you to lean in, forcing intimacy and a sense of camaraderie.  What's more important than anything is the table size; you want to be close yet have a wide surface on which to write and sketch and doodle.  
14) Do not order kippers. In fact, don't order anything that requires any thought or special effort whatsoever to consume. Don't distract yourself; eat something simple and relatively healthy and focus on what you want out of the business, not the breakfast. I once had breakfast with Malcolm Eggs, and we both ordered kippers, and were silent for almost a whole minute. Then we had a bottle of champagne, had a good laugh, became close friends and got on with our business in the allocated hour. On our subsequent meetings during my trips to London we always had breakfast like that.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Special Dispatch: The Breakfasts of Portland

By Grits Lang

You might have heard: Portland, Oregon is kind of a Thing right now. Things, in my humble opinion, always warrant eye-rolling mockery. I, however, am a third-generation Portland native, and being a proper Portland hipster, can say without sarcasm that I was here before it was cool. As a native, I have a love-hate relationship with the television program Portlandia. Portland natives mostly just hate it when Portlandia is accurate, and that show is very accurate about one thing: Portlanders are completely stupid for breakfast.

In Portland, foods that, anywhere else in the United States would be eaten only by farmers and the working poor, warrant an hour-long wait and $20. True, there are things like marionberry-studded pancakes with honey from neighborhood bees, and cold-smoked fish wrested from local waters. These things are not at all a cliché, and are, in fact, delicious and worth every inconvenience; these are examples of Portland doing things properly. But for the most part, everywhere you go, you’re beaten over the head with foods invented to sustain lumberjacks and other beardymen. I don’t even have to mention any specific establishment, because no matter where you go, this is what you’re offered:

1) Biscuits and gravy. Seriously, I can’t think of any restaurants that don’t have B&G on the menu. Due to the overall drear of our climate (and a populace overwhelmingly originating from drier states) Portland is in the middle of a long, sordid love affair with gravy. High-end places have their versions using sausage made in-house from hazelnut-fed pigs; dives have theirs served with gravy from an industrial food service drum. Even vegan places have their own almond milk versions, just as savory and delectable as library paste. Biscuits and gravy are more ubiquitous than bacon and eggs.

2) Fried chicken and waffles. This combo dates back to the 1800s in cookbooks from the South, which is an instant formula for success in Stumptown. Take a waffle, put a bird on it, and then douse the whole thing in honey or maple syrup. This sweet/savory flavor profile is ideal for our city, since Portlanders are prone to smoke crippling amounts of marijuana.

3) Strange amalgams of fried chicken/biscuits and gravy. One place serves this beautiful chimera under the name “The Reggie”: fried chicken, bacon and cheese on a buttermilk biscuit, topped with gravy. Some genius thought to himself one day, “Let’s just take all of the things and put them together on the same biscuit. Oh, what the hell: Gravy.” Jealous? Well, take heart. Your friendly neighborhood breakfast joint is just one wake-and-bake away from its own Reggie.

4) Grits. Seriously, what is this, Louisiana? Restaurants don’t even bother calling it ‘polenta’ anymore. Grits sounds folksy and rustic, and Portland, with its penchant for pairing flannel with expensive spectacles, is all about being rugged, or at least the illusion of it.

5) Shit with bacon on it. Shit with kale on it. Bacony kale on grits with a fried or poached egg on top. (Disclaimer: I will admit that I have been known to make grits and put greens, gravy and fried eggs on top. Completely sober!) Speaking of fried or poached eggs,

6) Things that are hashed and have fried or poached eggs on top. I think it goes without saying that the yolk must be runny. Yolks are nature’s gravy, and Portland loves gravy! Pork shoulder, duck confit, beef brisket; all are fair game for shredding and frying with root vegetables. Being in the Great Northwest means there are several places to get a good smoked trout or salmon hash, but the hash scene is justly dominated by meat. But hey, some places offer vegan hash, and they don’t even get laughed out of town.

7) Ridiculous Bloody Marys with like, fifty different house-made, artisanal pickles on top of the glass (Portlandia also got the “we can pickle that” thing embarrassingly correct). One place I frequent even includes a pickled, hard-boiled egg on the same skewer as spicy asparagus, lactofermented pearl onions and a cube of house-cured pork belly. With bacon and eggs in your morning cocktail, do you even need to look at the menu?

I guess I should be thankful that the worst thing about my hometown is that the food scene is a parody of itself. It sure as hell beats living in Darfur. If your heart yearns for handcrafted foods created by aggressively handsome people who take pride in their craft— in everything from growing baby heirloom turnips to slinging shade-grown, fair-trade espresso— then please, come to the gastronomic wonderland that is Portland. And while you’re waiting in some line— some god-forsaken, Communist Russia-length breakfast line, remember that there is probably a really decent plate of pancakes at the completely empty café across the street.

Grits Lang is the alter-eggo of Heather Arndt Anderson, author of Breakfast: A History.

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