While the simplest of the day’s standard trio of meals, it is often my favorite time to eat when I’m traveling internationally. Reasons why include its generally easy, I can enjoy it on my own (if I am with others who are not as inclined for morning walkabouts, and the reasonable charges for morning meals makes wonderful meals all the more appreciated (or in the case they bomb, not too hard on the pocketbook, so regrets are tempered).
I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that more often than not, something interesting to eat always lurks around the corner not long after the sun has come up and when I’m abroad in unfamiliar surroundings. I look at these impromptu discoveries as my personal reward. For taking the time and effort to traverse a new locale on foot. Meandering down random streets and alleys taking in the native sights, sounds and often smells, in my never-ending quest to learn more about where I am and this beautiful world in which we live.
My usual wandering (aimlessly and map-less) when I explore a new village, town, or city for the first time can lead me to interact with unknown strangers on the street – language and sometimes cultural barriers included. At times they are helpful. Especially with suggestions about what I might enjoy trying to eat. Local, with some variety, and a “what would you have?” are my usual parameters that I try to get across to my sometimes puzzled conversation mates, achieved in part with some physical gestures and drastically simplified English.
75 East Pender Street
Strolling around in Chinatown is an interesting activity. I see many tourists doing it, with cameras slung from their necks, taking in all this part of Vancouver has to offer. Not only visually but also the many places to eat. After all, Chinese culture has a long culinary history and has pervaded its way into North American dining, and has a wide spread familiarity, albeit perhaps not always along the true lines of authentic and regional cuisine that the country has to offer and is yet under-explored by many. I’d say stick around here on foodosophy, as one of our keen writers GastronomyDomine (aka fmed) is a knowledgeable fellow when it comes to this genre and has posted more than a few reports on places you should try out. And hopefully more to come. (nudge, dudge, wink, wink)
Amid a mainly Asian collection of shops, eateries and other stores, you can find the slow spread of other kinds of places that are merging into this neighborhood. You can notice is especially if you walk from Gastown towards the heart of Chinatown. Now whether this is a good or bad thing, it surely is up for debate depending on your stance. I applaud though from a business perspective to give new things a shot, and inject old areas with new life and different choices. At least for me, coming across these on random strolls makes things interesting. Enough so to entice me to stop and go inside. The Everything Cafe was once such place.
The Grove Yerba Buena
690 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA
Unfortunately I did not bother to shoot a photo of the exterior of The Grove’s outlet in Yerba Buena, so this below capture from Google Street View that shows the location before they set up shop was the best I could do. Suffice it to say, its easy to find being just three blocks from the Montgomery Street BART station, and just a block from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Next door is a coffee house and the general area is populated by numerous large hotel chains for the business and leisure traveler. After overpaying for some ridiculously priced hotel breakfast the previous day, we opted to drag our overworked behinds out onto the streets and by sure luck we found this place where things were more relaxed, both in terms of atmosphere and prices.
Something about the west coast lifestyle that pervades in this beautiful city must have impregnated itself in my mind for breakfast, as I was on the hunt for something nutritious and light. Coupled with a smooth tasting Americano, my order ended up being a simple plate of fresh ingredients, highlighted by two small poached eggs, two thick slices of grilled zucchini, and tomato bruschetta. Given the backup in the kitchen, a number sign was given to me and it was brought out to my table by a server in a few minutes time.
Aling Mary’s Filipino Store
2656 Main Street
Pillowy-soft little packets of sweet-savory goodness. That’s my shorthand description of what you can get at Aling Mary’s Store on Main Street in Vancouver, just off the busy Broadway zone. I can still remember the first time I wandered in here randomly and getting engulfed in the fabulous smells that only a fresh bakery can provide, and walking out with two dozen of their popular Pan de Sal. I’ve heard them referred to as Filipino bread rolls, not sure if that’s 100% accurate, but regardless, they are something every Vancouverite should try once in their lifetime.
Honestly, I’ve been back at least a half dozen times since that virgin visit, and even found them being sold in Richmond of all places too. White flour, whole wheat, tried them both. Nothing better though then getting then right out of the oven, timing is important, and I’ve had hits and misses when I’ve gone inside here, depending on their baking schedule and how voracious other customers are in walking out with batches of them. On my last weekend morning stop, I got lucky.
Zibetto Espresso Bar
1385 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY
Manhattan Gourmet 56
1377 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY
A sunny 86F day in NYC with nothing to do in the morning. A perfect setup for a casual walk in Manhattan and to grab a simple breakfast to enjoy on the benches of Central Park. As a die-hard addict in need of a stiff cup of coffee in the morning, my first stop after bypassing those dreadful Starbucks outlets was Zibetto. Essentially a long narrow space that couldn’t be more than eight feet wide and anchored by a sleek looking, white tiled and similarly colored marble counter-top bar accented with some metallic touches, it fit with my mental image of an Italian espresso bar.
Staffed with some slick looking, white shirted gents efficiently buzzing around behind the bar, there was already a strong lineup in place, as well as some other customers enjoying their cups of hot liquid at the tiny armrest like shelves jutting out from the walls. Clearly, its a place to have your drink in a jiffy, no lounging around here sucking up free wi-fi or anything and generally disrupting the business need of turnover on the part of the proprietors.
Without significant commentary or respectable photographs to complete more solo posts on establishments visited earlier this month on a trip to Calgary, I thought I’d quickly sum up a few thoughts on a trio of places to wrap up this busy week…
Breakfast, drinks and an unfortunate lunch…
12111 3rd Avenue
An early morning visit to Steveston village precipitated the need to indulge in that classic weekend jump start – bad coffee and breakie in a greasy spoon – as we were in dire need of some sustenance and were tired of driving and walking around. Just another random stop resulting in a brief foodosophy posting, I swear if not for the sake of filling up space on this blog, I’d probably never step foot into them.
Situated across the street from the relic buildings of an old cannery and a museum featuring the same, as well as a pub next door, the Steveston Cafe is a definitive example of a small town breakfast joint. Nothing extravagant on the outside, and indoors, full of young families, and older folks who are probably on some kind of fixed income support and appreciate the low prices of diners like this.
36 Blythe Road
(020) 7603 5262
The West Kensington neighborhood I found to be an interesting place to stroll around. Mainly functioning as a residential area, its streets were relatively quiet during the day and empty aside from the passing commuters on their way to work. And at night, a slightly eerie silence engulfed the streets as I meandered about with my camera and only saw a few folks out walking their dogs in the darkness. For fans of classic architecture, being in this place makes for a lot of neck craning, with all of the attractive multiple-level, terraced Victorian-style buildings. I noted a few for-sale signs posted outside some flats, no doubt not the cheapest place to buy real estate in town. I thought it would be fantastic to live in a neighborhood like this, with plentiful access to transit and assorted shops and eateries located nearby.
One morning, jet-lagged and finding myself awake at 5am despite only turning the lights off in my room just four hours earlier, I took part in a must-do activity in London – have a hearty English breakfast. Near an Underground station was a simple greasy spoon that served just that, and I happily stepped inside George’s Cafe.
Mon Mom’s Cafe
821 12th St
New Westminster, BC
On the quick and easy breakfast trail in New Westminster, I chanced upon Mon Mom’s Cafe located along 12st Street. Situated in a wooden building reminiscent of structures popular from an earlier era, it certainly has its charms and nostalgic sidewalk appeal. The slow pace of things on the road outside took a turn as I stepped inside the place which was full of chatter and customers. The sounds and smells of a breakfast diner never fail to disappoint me.
With breakfast plate offerings (eggs, toast, ham/sausage, French toast/pancakes) in the $4 to $4.75 range, and omelets in the $5 to $6 range, great value can be had. Preferring French toast over pancakes, I ordered one of the choices from the top half of the menu and sat back to take in the scene. Families, groups of working class men, single diners taking up the smaller tables near the front window, it was all a regular mix of common folk out for a relaxing morning meal.
Helen’s Grill & Restaurant
4102 Main Street
Despite being called “the most important meal of the day”, I often find myself skipping breakfast and making due with a cup or two of coffee in the morning. I applaud those that make the effort to start their day with a hearty meal instead of doing without, or just wolfing down whatever last night’s dinner leftovers might be lying around. On weekdays, I just can’t gather the energy to make breakfast, and even on weekends, despite the luxury of more time, its not one of my favorite things to do from a food perspective.
Also, is it just me or is it getting harder and harder to find a local joint that serves up a quality, satisfying breakfast service, AND at a reasonable price? Just my opinion but I get the sense that too many places are trying to “get with the times” and make this part of the day more “fancy” than is ever needed. Which in turn, results in one plate breakfasts breaking the ten dollar and over barrier, which is something I can’t fathom. To me, some eggs, potato hash, bacon/sausage and some toast should (or at least I wish) hover around less than half that.
540 South Main Street
Memphis, TN 38103
Food Network. Tourist destination. Foodies declare a “must visit”. It seems every town has one or two of these. Either featured on “Diner’s, Drive-In’s, and Dive’s”, or some other equally “Middle America” kind of show, it is usually an old institution that is still “doing it the old way”, and everyone loves the nostalgia. In Memphis, you have the Peabody Hotel, and you have Arcade Restaurant.
The claim to fame for Arcade Restaurant is that they are the oldest restaurant in Memphis. Located in downtown Memphis, a neighbourhood currently undergoing some “gentrification”, they even claim Elvis as a former regular customer. Considering some of the stories you hear about downtown, Arcade Restaurant resides in a fairly nice part of downtown.
The interior is all old school – I half expected to see Elvis sitting somewhere eating deep fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches after walking inside. This preserved interior has been the set for many Hollywood films. And they proudly state it. I actually kind of like it. While it doesn’t match my usual preferences for decor, it has character. LOTS of character.
Cora’s Breakfast & Lunch
277 Wellington St W
This particular post was recently conducted in Toronto, but was spurred by the sighting of a new Cora’s restaurant opening in South Edmonton. If you’ve ever spent any time in Eastern Canada – chances are, you are already familiar with the popular breakfast & lunch restaurant operating under the cartoon image of a smiling sun.
Cora’s chain of restaurants is the result of the success story of Cora Mussely Tsouflidou and her first Chez Cora restaurant started in Montreal, Quebec in 1987. This breakfast chain has quickly grown to become a very popular breakfast destination, while it continues to expand across Canada and South into the US.
The prominent draw to this establishment is their offering of huge portions of fresh fruit, paired with classic breakfast fare.
The Fresh Fruit Waffles is the go-to option for my friend and Toronto resident. A sweet custard over the waffle is topped with a mound of fresh fruit. Beautiful to look at, and from their expression – it must have been as good as expected.
222 S Main Street
Say what you will, and I’m sure many of our Canadian readers could if given the chance, about the believed shortcomings of our neighbours to the south, but you have to admit they really know how to go all out when it comes to combining two of the classic male pastimes – eating/drinking plus sports…
Where else can you start from the early morning, drinking beer and gobble down a hearty, greasy breakfast in a pub while watching sports on giant tv screens amid the company of many others who are there for same purpose as you?
After making the short drive down from Vancouver, a group of us made our way down to Pioneer Square, just a few blocks away from Qwest Field, the home grounds of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. With Opening Day kickoff hours away, we thought we could easily find a free (as in not having to pay money to park) spot to watch the early games playing in the eastern time zone, before we made the short walk to the stadium. Oh how wrong we were.
Barb & Ernie’s old country inn
9906 – 72 Avenue
Phone: (780) 433-3242
The unique German inspired exterior of this establishment has always caught my eye, but as it is not on a usual travel route for me, my mind rarely thinks to this part of the city when deciding where to go for my morning meal.
The sign out front reads “Best Eggs Benedict”, which made my choice easy – leaving me ample time to read the summary of 30+ years of history on the menu cover.
We arrived just past 11am on warm Sunday morning, and every table inside and out – were FULL. The interior was decorated just like its exterior with German knick-nacks on the walls. This also includes Ernie – dressed in lederhosen and a Bavarian hat.
As a group got up to leave, Ernie exclaimed “thank-you, come again! I need the money!” to which he had many restaurant patrons laughing. He seated us with his exuberant charm, passing a menu to my wife with a pleasant “here you are beautiful”, and passes me mine with a simple nod of the hat.
I know many people who would find his boisterous personality annoying – but I personally find characters like Ernie entertaining, especially as this is his establishment. (Had this been a patron, I would have a target to fling the mustard spoon).
With no obvious formality of assigned servers, Barb scanned the floor and came over to take our order. ‘Barb’s Special Omelette’ for my wife, and the Eggs Benedict for myself. They have a full array of options for the bene – (ham, bacon, seafood, bratworst, schnitzel) so I asked Barb what she recommends. “Have bratworst today, and come next week for schnitzel”!
Portions are huge, shredded hash is seasoned well, and fruit was ripe and fresh. Now, I know there are lots of opinions on how an omelette should be made (milk, water, carbonated water / whipped, stirred, forked / high heat, low heat / butter, oil, non-stick / fluffy, thin / etc). So I will just report that this particular omelette was of a thin variety, and the filling was plentiful and tasted good.
The Eggs Benedict was good – the bratworst was fantastic! Two large bratworst sausages, shredded hash and a side of various fruit – I have nothing to complain about here. Now, to address their claim of being the ‘best’ — I think you put yourself up for unnecessary scrutiny when you make claims like this; however, it scores above average for me and worthy of another visit.
My only complaint – is due to my personal requirement for a big glass of OJ in the morning. Unfortunately for me – I received a small glass, luke-warm, and tasted like it came from a low-grade brand tetrapack. Overall – a fun atmosphere, decent food, plentiful portions, and charismatic service. See you next week for the schnitzel, Barb!
The Naam Restaurant
2724 4th Avenue West
(604) 738 7151
As I settled down to write this review, it struck me that it could lead to examining one of the most polarizing Vancouver-area restaurants in Foodosophy‘s brief history.
After a couple of visits to The Naam Restaurant, speaking with folks who live in the neighborhood and/or have eaten there in the past, and a superficial perusing of general online chatter that surrounds this establishment, I strongly sensed that this restaurant generates as much a fierce two-sided debate as say a discussion about the best political party to lead the province through these dire times, what is the best balance between using tax payer money to promote the 2010 Olympics versus helping fund solutions to remedy the growing homelessness plaguing the city, or even what to do about Coach Vigneault.
Much like the other similar sounding ‘Nam, there is always controversy brewing and plenty of those around who think they have it all figured out and are correct in their judgment.
To begin, a little history and background on Naam. It proclaims to be vegetarian. Reporters have noted it to be one of the oldest natural foods restaurants in the city. It is open 24/7, everyday except for Christmas Day. And although the sample size is smaller, I’ve found that each time I’ve dined in there is always a lineup out the door especially at mid-day or on weekend brunch.
Once you are able to get a table, the overworked (and I think outnumbered) wait staff might come to your table in a timely manner. And I’m not saying that to be fescious. They truly are overwhelmed by the crowds, and given the laid back nature of this restaurant (heck, it has its roots in Vancouver’s hippie culture after all), diners are forewarned not to expect quick, attentive service or responses to any of your usual dining needs.
This could include things as just getting a menu, having your water served, the time it takes for the meal to come out of the kitchen and brought to your table, and hailing them down to receive the bill, etc. Be patient, as it will come… in time. As with any restaurant, as long as you know what you can expect, I think you should be willing to bend and adapt to the local customs or way they do things around here. If not, I recommend you find your vegetarian or 24-hour food needs elsewhere. The Naam is best left to those who are in no hurry, not pressed to fit their meal into a nice tidy one-hour time frame, and who generally are by nature, more accepting and relaxed.
For the food, there is part of me that welcomes the slightly funky twist that comes with the eclectic offerings at Naam that are different from your regular greasy spoon or neighborhood diner. As an example, pictured above is the Croissant Witch. Basically a split-in-half croissant is topped with what is dubbed “tofurella” (a cheese replacement) mixed in with scrambled eggs (of more tofu if you so desire) and veggie sausages. On first glance, it looks like a regular hot top creation, and although I only had a few bites, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. And I am a noted carnivore.
As intriguing as the assorted more healthier options looked, I have never been a fan of whole wheat pancakes. So I went with the Pancake Sandwich on this visit, which came with some fresh berries, whipped cream and maple syrup. It felt more home-y to me, and it was a good sized portion, not overwhelming so that I felt stuffed. I’m finding its not only the ingredients but also the portion control that is key to “eating healthy”. Sorry for the diet-speak.
For die hards, I am sure The Naam will continue to be a favorite haunt for them. For those who have heard the talk about this place, I am sure many will try and be satisfied and conversely an equal number will come away wondering what the hype is all about. For me personally, I’m going to have to go the route of Switzerland here, neither extremely for nor adversely against. It is what it is, a long standing business on the west side, catering to a specific clientele in a generally health conscious city, with an interesting take on classic breakfast and brunch items served up in a very casual, some would say slow, style.