Sunday, July 26, 2009

Best Breakfast Restaurants

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, yet I rarely eat it because I am always hustling to the office early, thinking only about the mountain of work awaiting me. It just doesn’t feel like there is any time to sit down and eat a meal at the beginning of a workday, and even if I did eat one, thinking about the waiting work would prevent me from enjoying it.

So I tend to savor every minute of breakfast when I am on vacation. I love its freshness. I love its distinct flavors and aromas, and the relaxed feeling of drinking coffee while waiting for it to be served. I love the promise it holds as the beginning of a day on which you can do whatever you want -- a day on which you are liberated from schedules and deadlines.

And here, in alphabetical order, are five of my favorite places in America to eat my favorite meal.

Alexander’s Country Inn; Ashford, WA

Set amidst a dark green forest a mile from Mount Rainier National Park, this historic inn (Theodore Roosevelt once stayed here) has a restaurant which stands out as one of the most memorable culinary gems Erika and I have ever encountered. Its locally focused menu changes with the seasons and features high-end dishes at modest prices. When we were there several years ago I had salmon quiche for breakfast -- which sounds odd, but turned out to be the single best breakfast I have ever eaten, anywhere. As we dined at a window seat, mule deer grazed on the lawn right on the other side of the glass.

And on a side note, if you’re planning on spending the day hiking, Alexander’s will prepare a big boxed lunch for you to take with you when you depart. When we left breakfast, we took one for each of us at a cost of just $5 each. A few hours later we were eating those lunches while sitting above timberline and staring out at glorious alpine peaks.

Café Eleven; St. Augustine, FL

On the outside it looks like a convenience store (which it once was) and on the inside it looks like a funky modern bistro (which it now is). Five miles south of downtown and across the street from the ocean, Café Eleven offers a breakfast menu with five sandwiches, nine entrees, and nine sides, plus a good variety of coffees and teas. Erika is partial to the Praline French Toast and I am partial to the Café Omelet. However, the next time we go I think I’ll have to try The Scramble, which consists of scrambled eggs with cheddar and asiago cheese, peppers, mushrooms, and onions on top of homefries, with a choice of white, wheat or rye toast. And if looking at the décor and layout makes you think this place would be good at night, you are correct, for that is when it transforms into a live music venue serving craft and import beers plus wines from around the globe.

First Watch; Multiple Locations

Typically, I am against recommending chain restaurants to travelers. But there are exceptions to every rule, and in the case of First Watch I would be remiss not to recommend it. I remember when this plucky little chain consisted of just a handful of eateries scattered across the Tampa Bay area, but today it has 75 locations in 11 states reaching as far north as Pennsylvania and as far west as Arizona. That means you don’t have to be in just one place to experience First Watch, and its expansion has been accomplished without any sacrifice in quality.

Menu options that are big on both flavor and health have always been a First Watch trademark (we once saw Derek Jeter eating in one) but that does not mean the menu has no guilty pleasures, for alongside banana-crunch-with-granola pancakes they also offer chocolate chip pancakes. Personally, I favor the Breakfast Scramble -- a croissant topped with scrambled eggs, ham, and melted cheese, topped with hollandaise and served with fresh fruit on the side. No matter what you choose, however, you will leave satisfied and ready to seize the day.

Mud Street Café; Eureka Springs, AR

Situated below street level, in a brick building that was constructed in 1888 -- in a mountaintop town that ranks as the highest in Arkansas -- about 50 feet from an auditorium where concerts have been performed by everybody from John Phillip Sousa to Willie Nelson -- Mud Street Café is certainly unique. It won 16 awards between 1997 and 2007, and has been mentioned in publications as diverse as Southern Living and the San Francisco Chronicle. It offers 19 different coffees and 17 different teas, and whips up everything from scones to muffins to Greek omelets to sour cream blueberry pancakes. A large oak bar centers the dining room, local artwork adorns the walls, and the carpet is Victorian. There is nothing here not to like.

The Old Chickahominy House; Williamsburg, VA

Miss Melinda’s pancakes are 10 inches in diameter. The Virginia ham tastes every bit a salty as one of those blocks that horses lick in their stalls. A beverage called the Special Rebel Cocktail is a combination of tomato juice, hot sauce, and beer. The restaurant occupies a white clapboard building that has three stories, three dining rooms, four dormer windows, and is bookended by a pair of chimneys. And there is an antique shop to boot. And Williamsburg’s history-soaked colonial section is just 1½ miles away. When it comes to The Old Chickahominy House, need I say more?

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