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Basic Breakfasts

April 15, 2013

Food is different than it was 50 years ago. In many ways it’s a lot more complicated. Even at a simple meal like breakfast.

Eggs are now raised mostly from chickens that live in deplorable conditions and are fed unconscionable mater that poses as feed. This goes for cage free and free range eggs too. The bread that is used to make toast is almost sure to contain high fructose corn syrup and a long list of unpronounceable ingredients. Conventional potatoes are raised using so many chemicals that there are potato farmers who won’t eat the potatoes they grow. And that’s just scratching the surface, because there are modern problems with breakfast meat, butter and cheese, maple-flavored syrup, and even ketchup.

I know all of this. I care about all of this. Yet still, on occasion, I’m able to ignore these concerns and enjoy a basic breakfast at a diner. Other times it’s a bit more of a challenge. But just yesterday I found myself sitting down at the counter of a diner deep in Schenectady. Not some gussied up version of a diner, but the real deal.

And I did the best that I could.

One of the tools I use for finding good places to eat is employed from the road. The theory goes that if you drive past a restaurant that looks like it should be out of business, yet the parking lot is filled, there is probably something good going on inside.

The first part of this definitely held true at the Bellevue Cafe which is just over the Schenectady border in Rotterdam. At about ten in the morning there was a line spilling out the door.

Once upon a time I would wait in line for a good basic breakfast. But those days are over. For the record, I’ve never waited in line to get into a bar. That’s something I could never wrap my head around.

Fortunately, I had passed another (slightly less) busy diner just up the road. It was Broadway Lunch. Maybe one day I’ll get back there for their “famous” hot dogs with chili sauce, mustard and onions. The fact that they have bottles of HFCS-free ketchup on the counter, give me hope that they are using better than average ingredients. But breakfast gave me just what I needed.

Taking advantage of this brief sabbatical in my healthy eating regimen I got an order of the biscuits with sausage gravy.

Really there were two reasons for this. It involves the fewest of the known nasty ingredients from the list above. Sure, there’s sausage in it; but really, not that much. And in addition to it being one of the great comfort foods of my adolescence, the menu had this dish in a special call out section, set off as a specialty of the house.

Paired with a bottomless cup of black coffee that was perfectly pleasant, this meal was just what I needed to reboot my morning. Hearty sustenance that would nourish my body and plenty of caffeine to perk up the mind. A free copy of the Sunday Gazette kept me company and turned the outing from a meal to a chance to engage in one of my favorite activities: reading the newspaper while sitting with a cup of coffee.

Amazingly, leaving over a 20% tip the total for my simple, satisfying and restorative meal came to a paltry $5.75.

As much as I enjoyed myself, I’d be hard pressed to say that this place is worth a drive for a simple, basic breakfast. However there are some of us who may eschew waiting in line, but will gladly drive over an hour for anachronistic places like this that exist in the far flung corners of upstate New York.

The point here is that Schenectady is full of such gems. I’m looking forward to making another trip to Bellevue Cafe, perhaps on a weekday, to see first hand what packs in the Sunday crowd.

And I’m reinvigorated at the notion of how many places like this exist in the region, that are stuck in time and almost completely off the radar.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. WCF permalink
    April 15, 2013 11:14 am

    You MUST have the hot dogs!!! I used to walk there as a kid 40 years ago just for the hot dogs. Last year i went back for the first time in 15 years and they were just as good as I remembered.

  2. docsconz permalink
    April 15, 2013 11:15 am

    For many of the reasons you mention above, I rarely go out for breakfast. I know where to get good ingredients without the social detritus you so rightly point out and breakfast is one of the easiest meals to cook and I do it the way I like it, so why bother? Even buying top quality, locally farm-raised ingredients, it costs well below $5pp for a fully satisfying meal. Still, good sausage gravy may make me reconsider the point.

  3. April 15, 2013 11:59 am

    Husband and I live around the corner from the Bellvue Cafe and never go there as there several other diners in Rotterdam/Sch’dy that are outstanding. It might be worth going there as the parking lot is continuously packed

  4. April 15, 2013 12:10 pm

    Just wondering–with this discussion and the Sunday dining review of the Gateway Diner in the Times Union, is it diner week in the Capital Region? (Just to be clear: a blog post on a diner breakfast seems much more appropriate than a Sunday restaurant review of a diner in a metropolitan area’s major newspaper, but maybe I’m being unfair; I do like a good diner, after all.)

    And I’ll second the notion that it’s way more worthwhile to wait in line to get into a serious breakfast joint (Pamela’s in Pittsburgh, in my case) than a bar or club.

  5. Jessica R permalink
    April 15, 2013 2:17 pm

    I enjoyed a great brunch at the Hungry Fish Cafe yesterday – I am really impressed with their dedication to local ingredients, while keeping costs low. I had the Madame Croquet (sp?), which is homemade toast, ham, fresh greens (from the Community Garden), 2 eggs and a Dijon sauce, served with home fries ($9). The poached egg I had tasted so fresh and amazing. There is homemade ketchup and hot sauce on request! Instead of hot chocolate they heated up some Battenkill chocolate milk for me, and it was great!

    • April 15, 2013 2:41 pm

      Battenkill is one of the local dairies that kills me. All of their stuff should be entirely above board and unimpeachable. What they do to their ice cream is super upsetting. Which makes me only mildly miffed that they add corn starch and carrageenan to their chocolate milk.

  6. Jabroni permalink
    April 20, 2013 2:45 pm

    I am suprised you would have sausage gravy at such a place as it most likely comes out of a 6/10# can and put on a frozen biscuit.

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