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Standing Orders

October 9, 2011

Sometimes I forget that Sundays are going to be about breakfast. You know, like last Sunday when I wrote about wine again in this post about what might be the best box-wine available in the U.S.

Old habits are hard to break.

Speaking of old habits, when I go out for breakfast, I usually don’t have to look at the menu. Okay, if I’m in some kind of fancy spot that is doing something unusual with breakfast, I’ll pore over the menu. But at diners I now know what I want: eggs, potatoes, toast and coffee. If I’m in Pennsylvania I might get some scrapple, or some Taylor ham in New Jersey. There’s one local place where I’m compelled to get the sausage.

In my book, breakfast meat isn’t mandatory. And really, my decisions surrounding what to order for breakfast could be turned into a book. I’ll spare you the details, and instead give you the highlights.

Remember, for the most part we are talking about diners, coffee shops and greasy spoons here. And really this is where I enjoy most of my breakfasts out of the house. There is something very honest about a real deal diner.

Eggs, potatoes, toast and coffee are a great test for a cook.

The eggs are made to order, so they are being prepared to your specifications. There isn’t room for interpretation or different styles to creep into the mix. Eggs over hard shouldn’t be soft. Poached eggs soft should guarantee a runny yolk. Scrambled should be just that, and not chopped. Omelets get a bit trickier, and I tend to avoid them except on special occasions.

Does anyone like soft bland potatoes with their eggs? People must because they are everywhere. Some cooks will even dust the potatoes with spices to make it look like they picked up some color from the griddle.

The best potatoes take time, fat, and patience. Onions don’t hurt either. But for the potatoes to pick up a crust, they have to sit on the heat undisturbed for minutes on end. It’s not hard to do. It just requires a skilled and knowledgeable cook who is working ahead enough to make sure there will be well-browned potatoes done when the eggs are ready.

If a place uses sweet potatoes, they are playing with fire. I have nothing against sweet potatoes per se. They can add some color and a depth of flavor. But sweet potatoes can get real mushy real fast, and mushy potatoes of any kind have no business in hash browns.

Toast? What could I possibly say about toast?

Breakfast foods are best hot, but cool down super fast. Toast cools even faster than eggs. One great test for a breakfast place is how quickly they can get the food to you once it’s prepared. And the toast is the canary in the coalmine. For the most part, I prefer to butter my own toast. So if you order it dry, and it arrives still warm enough to melt the butter, you’ve got a winner on your hands.

Actually, I’m on the fence about giving up diner toast altogether. Most bread isn’t the wholesome stuff we imagine it to be. And really, I would be perfectly happy eating my soft poached or basted eggs on top of a crispy pile of well-seasoned hash browns.

Coffee is the only thing with which to wash this all down.

Most orange juice is nasty. I’ve recently learned that even the expensive stuff in the market is adulterated with flavoring agents. Fresh squeezed is still a treat, and that’s the rare exception. Sure, diner coffee isn’t going to be winning any awards. But it’s hot, wet and caffeinated. And even though they say that breakfast puts fuel in your body to give you the energy you need throughout the day, the coffee is the ignition.

If it’s really bad, there’s always cream and sugar.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. October 9, 2011 10:20 am

    Excellent points about the potatoes; they always seem to be my final judging factor (in addition to lipstick stains on the coffee mug..shudder).

    I love going out to breakfast, but think Albany has very few options when it comes to having decent eggs, toast, potatoes and coffee all in one place – this golden combination remains elusive.

  2. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    October 9, 2011 10:49 am

    The best home fries must be absolutely dry and parboiled before they hit the pan.

  3. Tonia permalink
    October 9, 2011 11:05 am

    Mmmmmmmm. This is making me hungry. I live close by to the Glenmont Diner. I agree on crispy homefries, but theirs are nicely seasoned, although not crispy, I do allow for the non-crisp in this case because of the seasoning. My favorite diner. And, I have to say, there is something to be said for diner toast, a guilty pleasure, buttery and soggy, yum. You know you love it. ;-)

  4. RealFoodMom permalink
    October 9, 2011 11:22 am

    Diner breakfasts have really declined since when I was a kid, a teen, and in my 20’s. Maybe it’s because their food distributors use so much factory food, and also because diners don’t cook with butter anymore.

    Now that I purchase fresh, local and/or excellent staples: eggs, butter/oil, bread, potatoes (I don’t make coffee; only buy it), etc, all of those items at diners simply don’t taste good to me and don’t have as much flavor. Bland eggs cooked in bad-quality oil, tasteless potatoes (I always ask for my potatoes well-done or crispy), yucko bread (even the “wheat” and rye), packets of flavorless butter for the toast, bad coffee with packets of half and half.

    I almost always order the same basic breakfast as the Profussor. Now, I mostly indulge in a diner breakfast for the fat fix, but I’m almost always disappointed, and leave thinking “this was supposed to be a treat, but I didn’t really enjoy it.”

  5. October 9, 2011 11:32 am

    Coffee is the only thing with which to wash this all down.
    I dunno. I really like a good mimosa with brunch. Though, point taken about the OJ. The Simply Orange is better than most, but it still has problems.

    • October 9, 2011 9:05 pm

      Though, generally, mimosas aren’t served at diners, which is a key factor I missed in this post … oops.

  6. October 9, 2011 1:33 pm

    I think there is a general lack of seasoning all over. I suspect it stems from not wanting to prepare separate items for people requiring less sodium. Specifically, hash browns pretty much everywhere in the area seem to be prepared with no salt, under the presumption that you can add your own at the table. As you know, not only is the salt necessary to brighten up the flavor of the potato, but properly seasoned potatoes will also develop a crust more efficiently than unseasoned due to the ability of salt to draw moisture to the surface. Not to go too deep into the science, but basic equilibrium theory dictates that the faster the water within the potato evaporates, the faster the Maillard reaction on the surface of the potatoes will occur.

    So I believe the heart of the issue with not being able to find great hash browns lies with food not being properly seasoned prior to execution.

  7. October 9, 2011 4:08 pm

    Good diner breakfasts are elusive. I’m frequently disappointed with this most simple of meals for most of the reasons you state and a few of my own.

    Most of the time when we go out to breakfast we end up feeling like we’ve wasted our money and I get annoyed because what I make at home is so much better.

  8. October 9, 2011 11:03 pm

    Any good diner recommendations then for the Capital Region? Since I’ve moved here a few years ago, I’ve struggled to find my go-to breakfast joint.

    • October 9, 2011 11:52 pm

      Generally I make people work a bit to find the recommendations, as my two favorite local places were imbedded in the links. I’m convinced there are more noteworthy spots for a solid breakfast in the region, and am always on the prowl. But for now my top two are Dan’s Place Two (especially for their breakfast sausage) and Dewey’s Diner on Fuller Road (not to be confused with Inga’s Diner next door, which I do not like).

      N.B. If you turned off by a bit (or maybe more than a bit) of grime, then neither of these places is for you.

      • October 12, 2011 6:51 pm

        Thanks for taking it easy on me :) I think grime makes it tastes better. And I have enjoyed a breakfast at Dewey’s before, so Dan’s will be next stop now. Thanks!

  9. Kerosena permalink
    October 10, 2011 12:20 pm

    Great point about toast. Some of the “dirty diners” put nasty margarine on their toast. I pretend not to notice because all the other elements are juuust right. But if I followed your lead and ordered my toast dry, I could use the real butter packets they usually provide.

  10. October 10, 2011 11:25 pm

    You did not mention my favorite breakfast indulgence – corned beef hash. There is something about the crispy-salty-crumbly-mushy combination that really sends me over the edge. I even once had a corned beef hash-stuffed omelette, that still haunts my dreams (and waistline). I hardly ever eat hash these days – can’t even remember the last time.

    I am not a fan of diner coffee, and I always add cream (never sugar).

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