The Most Important Meal
GOING OUT TO BREAKFAST IS AS MUCH ABOUT THE RITUAL as the meal. Anyone can boil an egg or toast a bagel in solitude, but breakfast in a public place declares that you are open to conversation and community, and that you are self-confident enough to order a preposterously oversize omelet without worrying what anyone thinks. Besides, the guy sitting next to you at the counter is busy putting away an equally gluttonous stack of pancakes swimming in syrup, and all he wants to talk about is the Phillies’ bullpen.
Restaurants that specialize in breakfast tend to be run by characters and to attract characters, and a $10 bill still goes a very long way. At these three new places, that ten-spot is well-spent.
Honey’s Sit ’n Eat
He’s a Southern boy from Texas who grew up with chicken fried steak. She’s a Jewish girl from Abington who knows lox and latkes. Put them together in the kitchen, and the result is Honey’s Sit ’n Eat, the cheerful corner breakfast place that Jeb Woody and Ellen Mogell didn’t have in their Northern Liberties neighborhood until they opened it themselves.
This is comfort food for an audience that appreciates the nuances of freshly extracted heirloom tomato juice, eggs from free-range chickens, high-hatted buttermilk biscuits, pepper-flecked pork sausage made in-house, and excellent turkey bacon. The latkes are a crisp cross between hash browns and traditional potato pancakes, with white cheddar and onions in the mix. French toast comes plain or decadently deep-fried. Tofu scrambled with onions and diced sweet peppers is overwhelmed by the curry powder that helps it mimic scrambled eggs, but the hand-cut fries alongside are addictive. The imposing chocolate layer cake with mocha icing is made with Valrhona. Nothing is stopping you from getting a slice with your morning coffee.
Food and service have settled down after a rough opening last year. Jeb realized he couldn’t handle the cooking alone, and wisely hired a team of cooks. The servers, who look like they walked out of a Benetton ad, have learned to cope with the crush of people who fell in love with the place overnight — a good thing, because Honey’s sometimes cranks out as many as 300 orders on Saturdays. The airy space, which has been an industrial junk shop and a produce warehouse, has a gritty grandeur that looks indigenous, but isn’t: The knotty pine floor, purchased from a salvager in Scranton, came from a Brooklyn sewing factory; the thick pine plank lunch counter is recycled barn wood. The cute but not very comfortable chrome counter stools have already completed a tour of duty at the Snow White diner at 2nd and Market. Iron beams that span the ceiling look sturdy enough to support the Market-Frankford El. The colorful coffee cups appear to date from when Ike was president, but they’re new, from Ikea.
Lunch specials are available during breakfast hours, and one of the best is the brisket sandwich with horseradish mayonnaise, sweet-potato chips and bacon-enhanced collard greens, all smushed together on a soft roll. Orthodox it’s not, but it sure is good.
The Pop Shop
Five kinds of eggs Benedict. Fifteen different omelets. Twelve types of pancakes, five riffs on French toast, two massive breakfast burritos, and a breakfast “sundae” made with vanilla yogurt, granola and berries. The Pop Shop’s 200-item menu is so vast that an indecisive customer might never get around to ordering. On the other hand, so much variety guarantees that even the pickiest eaters — kids, vegetarians, mothers-in-law — can find something to like. It’s basically crowd-pleasing diner fare, but the Pop Shop’s particular niche is making nearly everything from scratch, from the spicy ketchup for the hand-cut french fries to the pancakes with crushed Oreo cookies folded into the batter.
Bill Fisher, an actor who goes by the stage name Stink, and Connie Correia Fisher, a cookbook author and marketing consultant, opened the Pop Shop last September with young families like themselves in mind. They have a four-year-old son and are expecting a second child, and they sensed that Collings-wood would welcome a family-friendly restaurant that bridged the gap between kid food and quality food. They found a space with seating for 80, furnished it with chrome tables and chairs, and bought an old soda fountain on eBay. Connie wrote the tongue-in-cheek menu, which lists dishes like Green Eggs and Ham (scrambled eggs with pesto and prosciutto) among the breakfasts and a Fluffernutter among the sandwiches, then hired Nonna-Marie Reikert, who has cooked at Hamburger Mary’s, the Down Home Diner and the White Dog Cafe, to execute it. Her grown-up version of Toad-in-the-Hole incorporates thickly sliced sourdough bread from Metropolitan Bakery and two fried eggs, topped with smoked salmon, crème fraîche and chives. It was delicious except for the hash browns, which were plentiful but not crisp. The Hoedown Biscuit Scramble is scaled for Wing Bowl-size appetites, filling the plate with three eggs scrambled with scallions and Jack and cheddar cheeses, and an enormous biscuit with sausage gravy. This meal will sustain someone who isn’t a competition eater for the balance of the day, and perhaps into the next. The customer favorite Bananas Foster French Toast is similarly sized, but so sweet that I stopped after a couple of forkfuls. A breakfast burrito yields scrambled eggs, shredded grilled chicken, Jack cheese, avocado and mildly spicy tomatillo sauce. Our food came quickly, a real plus when little ones are at the table. The very young can pick a free breakfast from the kiddie page on Saturdays if they come in pajamas before 10:30 a.m.
The New Gladwyne Village Lunch
When you’re here, you’re a Gladwyner. Breakfast is the meal where movers and shakers mingle with laborers and the leisure class, finding common ground in simple omelets and plain pancakes. No brioche, no challah French toast, no eggs with a pedigree here — just blue-collar basics in a blue-blood zip code. Radio talk-show host Michael Smerconish is a regular at the L-shaped counter, sitting elbow-to-elbow with landscapers, small business owners, real estate agents, and teens who sip Snapple with their scrambled eggs. Lean ladies with bulletproof manicures pour Equal into their coffee and brag about what they’re not eating this week. I sat near two of them on a weekday morning, and I almost sent over a nice Belgian waffle.
The much-loved Lunch moved to a new address in December, after operating for more than 60 years in a cottage-like building at the intersection of Righter’s Mill and Youngsford roads. Bill and Laura Faust, owners of the business since 1994, reluctantly packed up their spatulas after their landlord didn’t renew their lease. That put the Lunch in limbo, but not for long. A group called Friends of Gladwyne Lunch raised $12,000 to hasten the renovation of a new home, a vacant storefront six-tenths of a mile away. Thanks to their effort, the village of Gladwyne was Lunch-less for fewer than 14 weeks.
The Fausts now carry on in slightly larger quarters with an energizing cobalt blue and butter yellow color scheme, in a cottage-like building behind the Old Guard House Inn. The weathered picnic table that stood outside the old location made the transition with them. Eggs Benedict and Belgian waffles have been added to the menu, and the Fausts are thinking of serving creamed chipped beef on toast year-round, not just in wintertime.
I’m happy to report that the egg-and-bagel sandwiches are as good as ever. The Ladies Who Lunch, and don’t eat, don’t know what they’re missing.