Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Most Important Meal of the Day

It's my favorite meal. I can eat it any time of the day or night. I can eat more of it than you would guess, given my size. And while I might feel full, I will never feel bloated. I have lots of little places in my stomach to hide all the eggs and english muffins and real butter and pancakes and hash browns and biscuits and orange juice and bagels and oatmeal and fresh fruit and skim milk you would care to put in front of me. Right now. TBG and I used to have eating contests late at night at The Rosebud Diner, in those long-gone days when we could eat what we wanted and rely upon our metabolism to do the rest. We always started with breakfast.

I had a really good breakfast in L.A. last week. They waved me in as I opened the door and within the welcome was a sit anywhere efficiency I warmed to immediately. The waitress had water on the table before I had opened my menu, and my challah french toast was dusted perfectly with cinnamon and powdered sugar. "Heah ya go, sweetie" accompanied every dish placed on every table; there wasn't an "r" to be heard from anyone's lips. The rye bread was gorgeous and gooey and had exactly the right amount of caraway seeds. There was a Reserved table which filled with some stylishly dressed 80-ish men, all wishing each other "Gut Shabbos." I felt as if I'd been beamed up to Manhattan without leaving Beverly Hills.

That scene reminded me of another great breakfast place. Every morning, Daddoooo would take the LIRR into Penn Station and cross 7th Avenue to eat at Leon's. There was a group of them, all in the schmatta* business, all of them putting off the troubles of the day for just a little bit longer. They teased the waitresses and pulled quarters out of little girls' ears and always had the booth under the window. I don't remember much about the food, but I can bring back the frenetic, funny, boisterous men-at-work atmosphere without any trouble at all. It made me want to hurry and grow up so that I could have those breakfasts every day, too.

We used to bring G'ma breakfast in bed every Mother's Day, but that involved only pouring juice and opening the bag containing the prune danish we'd purchased at the bakery that morning. If she'd wanted anything hot, we'd have made her come down to the table and be served. After all, breakfast, more than any other meal, is best when fresh off the griddle. I've heard of people who keep their pancakes warm in the oven until they've made enough to serve everyone, but I don't know any of them personally. Those gathered around my table in the morning are happiest when I move the food from the pan to their plates without stopping at a serving dish. They want to taste the love without any delay.

When we lived on Staten Island, we'd wait on the steps for the french toast at The Dakota Diner, hoping for a spot at the counter. In Chicago, the Golden Nugget on Clark and Surf (across from the bus depot that's now condominiums) was our go-to spot. With Big Steve and the SSA crowd, with the Cuters, with grandparents or cousins - we were there, downing french toast and scrambled eggs and hash browns under faux stained glass windows with blue trees. In San Francisco, we became friends with Sal and Stefan at Dottie's True Blue Cafe while staying at the Clift Hotel around the corner. We had no idea that they were famous restauranteurs; they dubbed me "The Skim Milk Queen" and remembered us 3 years and 2 restaurants later. In Marin, we'd default to Denny's. The clientele was as odd as the service was reluctant, but the food was tasty and you couldn't argue with the price. Here in Tucson we're fans of JerryBob's but we're not convinced. It's friendly, but it doesn't feel like home. The Crying Onion is certainly in the running but it, like JerryBob's is closed after 2pm. One wonders, don't southwest desert foodies get hungry for late night breakfast?

And now, that's enough typing. I'm hungry for eggs and toast.

*schmatta - transliterated from Yiddish. Literally, a rag. Thus, "the rag trade" which took place in the Garment District in NYC in the mid-1900's.

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