Best Breakfast in Downtown LA

Eggslut

I know that “best breakfast” in downtown LA is a tough call with the eternal competition of the Original Pantry, which has been serving breakfast around the clock since 1924. However… if you want a non-diner breakfast at a sensible hour between 8am and 4PM, go to the Eggslut in the Grand Central Market.

I recommend that you first walk down the counter and take a look at everyone’s food and also eye the people that might be finishing so you can grab their seat as soon as your food comes up. Then stand in line to order. There’s always a line but it moves fast and it gives you just enough time to peruse the 7 item menu. You’ll stand there just long enough to change your mind because while you want a breakfast sandwich, you’re definitely tempted by the Slut. And let’s be honest, who isn’t? I went with the Fairfax above and I have no regrets. Those eggs were softly scrambled with chives and topped with caramelized onions. The brioche had a smear of siracha mayo and I got everything everywhere but it was seriously one of the best breakfast sandwiches of my life. Of course you should also order the Cold Brew because a good breakfast always involves a coffee beverage.

Grab a seat at the bar if you’re lucky and then take your documenting pictures quickly so you can watch everyone else style their food for their Instagram feed. If you’re a real rebel, just dig into that deliciousness and forgo the pictures. I’ll salute your priorities.

The whole experience will take you about 30 minutes at noon on a Monday and you have $2 parking next door for 90 minutes. Walk around the rest of the market and check out the rest of the food stalls. Maybe you need a taco? Go for it.

Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie

Berlin street artDespite my best efforts I woke up at 3am this morning. While laying there not sleeping I did all the jetlag math – how long have I been asleep, what are the odds I can go back to sleep, can I possibly have gotten enough sleep… etc. and yet still couldn’t sleep. I refused to get up before the sun, but after laying in bed – AWAKE – for 2 more hours, I gave in and got up at 5.

My lovely, albeit incredibly early morning, was diminished by the discovery that my internet router had shut itself down in the middle of the night. It was hiding somewhere I couldn’t find it so I finally gave up on being connected to the outside world and just read and drank tea for a couple of hours before going to yoga.

Wow, Bikram yoga in German. That was something. I’ll devote a post to it this weekend.

Post-yoga I found free wifi on the street, as a traveler does, and stood on the sidewalk for 20 minutes checking my email and letting my air bnb host know that her internet wasn’t working. She’s in Australia, btw, so that’s a bit far for IT problems but I have no contact info for her or people here.

Went home, still no internet. Started laundry in my pocket sized washer but couldn’t figure out the various cycles because the dial has no text and instead depends on incomprehensible pictures.

Berlin washer

I think that fluff in the corner might indicate cotton? What do I suppose the ball of yarn and the feather mean? Finally I settled on something that looked like a cold water cycle and it told me I had an 1 hour and 49 minutes until my wash was finished. How in the world does a wash cycle take almost 2 hours?? Although it gave me plenty of time to find internet elsewhere.

Found a breakfast spot called Factory Girl! where the motto is “New York is King but Berlin is King Kong!” I don’t even know what that means but it’s a cute quirky place with what looks like denim pant legs laid over the chair seats. I waited forever for the most picturesque breakfast imaginable

Factory Girl! Berlin

How pretty is that! The caprese-ish omelette and café au lait revived me, as did the free wifi, until I found out that for the second day in a row Microsoft has decided my email is hacked and they’ve shut me down. What’s the security solution to that? A phone call or a text to my American phone. And what does my American phone not receive while I’m out of the USA? Phone calls and texts.

There’s probably nothing on earth that makes me want to go home like a lack of internet and email. I suppose that says terrible things about my character but one can deal with only so much after waking up at 3am.

I finished my breakfast, walked home, got my computer, found yet another café with free wifi and spent an hour with Microsoft troubleshooting my email. By this point it was noon, I’d been up for 9 hours and had basically accomplished breakfast and yoga. I’ve had better mornings.

Which probably explains why I decided to be a big ol tourist and go see Checkpoint Charlie. I figured that there are a lot of serious historical landmarks here so I should get the silly one out of the way.

Checkpoint Charlie

To be fair, Checkpoint Charlie is an important part of Berlin’s history as it was a major crossing point through the wall. But now it’s a giant tourist attraction where those actors in uniform will pose for pictures with you and stamp your passport with fake East/West Berlin stamps. Also, McDonalds.

And the remains of important things like signs

Checkpoint Charlie Berlin

And sad remnants of the wall for photo ops

Berlin Wall

I didn’t expect to enjoy the Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie

Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie

which started as just two rooms in 1962, right after the wall was erected, as a human rights protest. Now it’s a major tourist hub and has expanded to a four floor edifice detailing the entire world history of oppression since 1950 by covering each wall with giant panels of text. That’s a lot of reading my friends…

However, the Berlin Wall is a pretty good example of good guys hanging out while evil flourishes. I mean, I understand why the world was reluctant to strengthen Germany after their part in the world wars but still, 30 years of Soviet oppression? And those 30 years… my God. Just one long dark stretch of demonstrations and riots by the desperate East Germans followed by imprisonment and executions followed by protests and pleading by the West German chancellor to have someone, anyone really, step in and help abolish the Soviet rule.

The madness brought out some real heroes though, like this guy Hasso Herschel who helped over 1000 people escape East Berlin and was better known as a great restauranteur. That’s my kind of guy. Or the diplomats who smuggled people out in the trunks of their cars and the guy who built a zip line with homemade rope “chairs” and got his whole family over the wall. Fantastic stories from a very dreadful time.

I spent a long time in that museum just trying to wrap my head around the sequence of events that led to the building of the wall and then the tearing down. I’m still thinking about it and wondering how many other kinds of oppression are happening right now, the stories of which I might encounter in a museum someday. Sobering.

I bought postcards with alleged pieces of the Berlin Wall attached to them that I’m 99% certain are fake. But still, they stand for a time when the right set of imperfect leaders finally stood up and did something about evil and oppression. And they succeeded.

Checkpoint Charlie Museum

Breakfast Around Las Vegas

There isn’t much between Arizona and Elko Nevada except for Vegas. However, I really really don’t like Vegas. Too loud, too noisy, too much artificiality and distraction. Can’t handle it, even for breakfast. So, if, like me, you find yourself on a road trip through the infinite empty roadways of Nevada and you need eggs and bacon, here’s where you should go instead of Sin City.

Omelet House in Henderson

The Omelet House in Henderson Nevada isn’t much to look at outside. Or even inside, for that matter. It’s got a local Denny’s kinda feel to it with big booths, round tables and industrial carpeting. But the food is really surprisingly great

Omelet House in Henderson

And there’s so much of it you won’t know what to do with yourself. That omelet, hilariously, is called the “health nut” and I’m guessing it had 8 eggs with zucchini, mushrooms and swiss cheese. There were a lot more eggs than filling but since I could only eat half of it, I was ok with that. The potatoes were light and crispy crunchy like potato chips and the pumpkin bread was homemade and spectacular. Plus the whole shebang cost about $11, which in Nevada is about 20 seconds with a slot machine. I’d recommend the Omelet House if you have a big love for breakfast or a big family with big appetites.

World Famous Coffee Cup Cafe

Slightly further from Vegas, The Coffee Cup Cafe in Boulder City is World Famous. It says so on their T-shirts. And all those people you see in that picture are waiting for a table.  Some places are famous because of hype and TV coverage and some are famous because they serve really fantastic food and their service is top notch. Coffee Cup is both. It’s been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, their food is outstanding and their servers are cute-as-buttons college girls that handle incredibly busy shifts with smiles.

World Famous Coffee Cup Cafe

I had a basic breakfast and the bacon was thick cut and peppered, the browns were crispy and the toast was also thick cut homemade sourdough. Had I tried to get a table at 9am on a Sunday, I think I might have waited 45 minutes. But I slid in and sat at the breakfast bar and had eaten and gone in 45 minutes.

Coffee Cup deserves the hype. Go check it out. Either sit at the breakfast bar or try to get a table in the shade outside and maybe have a mimosa while you’re waiting.

So, clearly I lied because I had one more Nevada post in me. But this is it. Promise.

Tomorrow is Arizona and Route 66. See you then…

New Restaurants in Tucson

Tucson street art

Tucson has a somewhat conflicted food culture. The overall vibe of the city is casual and some of its best food can be found in open air taco stands. However, there’s a growing group of Tucsonians who want to dress up and go out for dinner and cocktails. Every time I come back to town I find new upscale, urban restaurants with long wait times and unusual food choices.

Here are the four new restaurants I tried this visit:

Nook Downtown

Far and away my favorite of the four, Nook is a downtown Tucson’s newest breakfast/lunch place. With wooden tables and flooring, brick walls, padded chairs and a light open airy feel, Nook follows the latest restaurant design trend of stylish comfort. Like you’re at home but it’s way better looking.

Godfather benedict

I had the Godfather Benedict, one of Nook’s signature dishes, with arugula, prosciutto and poached eggs topped with hollandaise sauce and a balsamic reduction. Everything about this dish was perfectly on point. The proscuitto was thinly shaved and slightly fatty, the arugula had a nice peppery bite and this hollandaise might have been the best I’ve ever had. I fear thick clunky hollandaise sauces and so I rarely order benedict but this sauce was thin and creamy with a lemony kick to it. I wanted to lick the plate. Nook is Matt and Nikki Thompson’s first restaurant and I think they’ve knocked it out of the park. I hope Nook gets lots of love and attention so it’s going strong the next time I’m in town.

Oink Cafe

The unfortunately named Oink Cafe is another new breakfast place in town. That picture above pretty much says it all: bacon. Lots and lots of bacon. Pig is the trendy animal of choice in the 2000s and while it’s hard to argue with crispy fatty luscious bacon strips, I don’t know that Oink is doing anything new with the pig. The flight of bacon, above, had 8 different preparations, largely indistinguishable from each other.  I think your average breakfast diner would rate them as “good, slightly spicy, good, maybe sweet?, good, good, smoky?, good.” The rest of the food we had was also good but nothing I’d return to eat. I’d rate this place as solidly average with lots of bacon.

Jackson Tavern

Given that I just spent a week in Maine, i was amused to hear that one of Tucson’s newest restaurants serves New England style seafood. Jackson Tavern is Brian Metzger’s newest restaurant (also Poppy Kitchen and Gio Taco). The polished wood tables and open design of the restaurant bring a casual neighborhood feel to the dining room and the U-shaped bar in the next room definitely looks like the northeast. Of course there are pictures of lighthouses, since I can’t get away from them even in the desert. Design aside, I think the seafood concept is such an unusual choice for the southwest. Who comes to the desert looking for clam strips? But I think this restaurant is a perfect example of the growing food culture in Tucson and underlines the desire to move beyond all the usual food options in town.

IMG_1747

I had the clam strips, which were surprisingly tender albeit with quite a lot of breading. We also had deviled eggs that were ok and my friend Chris had the mac and cheese, which he said was really delicious. I think Jackson Tavern is a unique offering for Tucson. It might be a hard sell in a place so far from water but for people who want good seafood in the desert, they won’t be disappointed here.

Reforma Cocina y Cantina

Reforma Cocina y Cantina is going to do really well in Tucson because the St Phillips Plaza area is known for good dining, these owners also run the very popular Union Public House next door and the restaurant itself is lovely. Designed like a Spanish style adobe hacienda with white lights outside and a dazzling full wall display of agave spirits inside, this is exactly the kind of location the Tucson dinner crowd wants.

I wish the food were better. The best things we had were side dishes: the arroz oaxaqueno with poblano chilies and queso fresco was flavorful, spicy and delicious and the esquites, charred corn with chipotle lime crema, tasted exactly like the grilled street corn slathered with crema and cotija sold in Mexico. However, my shrimp tacos had overcooked shrimp and a lack of flavor – though the hand made tortillas were good – and the chili en nogada with poblano chili and vegetarian chorizo had way too much dried fruit and the strangest mealy consistency. Even the tortilla chips in the picture above were slightly tough and the salsa lacked salt and heat. Given Tucson’s well deserved reputation for excellent authentic Mexican food, Reforma’s food was disappointing.

However, like I said, the food isn’t the point here. We had a hard time getting a reservation on a Saturday night so it’s certainly popular and the restaurant has a nice vibe and it’s beautiful.

I’m happy to see another excellent breakfast restaurant in Tucson just as I’m happy to see Tucson’s food culture grow.  I hope that the burgeoning interest in dining out will actually develop Tucson’s food scene into a place where the beautiful restaurant spaces have food equal to the surroundings.

Lake George in Summer

I’m in transit this weekend. But before we leave the northeast I’m going to post about two road trips I took last summer while I was in upstate new york. Since it won’t stop snowing in the northeast, the least I can do is show pictures of what it looks like when the sun is out.

Ambition Cafe

Ambition Bistro is my favorite little place in Schenectady. Super quirky, full of old signs, theatre memorabilia, signed pictures, statuary, decorations and really good food.

Ambition Cafe in Rochester

That’s the Greek omelette with spinach and feta cheese and fresh baked bread. The strawberry garnish was a like a mini dessert (although the picture makes it look gigantic!). Ambition’s owner, Marc, has written a book about being a coffee house owner called Is the Coffee Fresh? He’s a fascinating person to talk to. Ask him about Blackboots, Ambition’s patron ghost.

Driving to Lake George

Lake George is only an hour away from Schenectady, nestled at the foot of the Adirondack Mountain Range. The winding two lane road that takes you up to the lake is heavily wooded and twisty so take your time.

Stop in the little town of Lake George for an ice cream

ice cream

Walk down main street before taking the one-ish lane road to the lake

Road by Lake George

Which is incredibly clear

Lake George

Don’t you just want to take your shoes off and wade right in? I did too and found out it was COLD, even in June.

lake George docks

Better to sit on the dock and read a book

Lake George and Mountains

Hang out for awhile. Look at the mountains. The weather’s perfect.

The Happy Cappuccino

Then head back to the city for a late afternoon coffee and biscotti at The Happy Cappuccino. They make their own biscotti and it’s delicious. I don’t usually like biscotti because it’s so dry and crunchy but this one had a really nice tenderness to it.

A long slow drive to the lake and a really good biscotti afterwards. That’s summer.

Hot Yoga and Brunch in Albany

The Hot Spot Yoga

I had some good looking plans this morning. My friend Ryan McAlpine called me last week and after confused schedule swapping we discovered we were going to be an hour an a half away from each other while I was stopping over in Albany. He offered to drive up for brunch and I told him to come up around 11ish so I could do yoga before he got there.

I wanted to do Bikram, since I’m on a roll this week, but Albany doesn’t have a Bikram studio. However, they do have a few hot yoga places and I found one called Yoga for All Seasons that offered the Bikram method but then I got in my car and programmed the wrong yoga place in my GPS and ended up at the The Hot Yoga Spot. I spent a frustrating 15 minutes realizing that I wouldn’t make it to Yoga for All Seasons in time and I would have to wait an extra hour for a hot yoga flow class at Hot Spot, which meant changing brunch times on Ryan plus I had already checked out of my hotel so I had nowhere to go. It wasn’t even 9am and my whole morning had gone sideways.

It wasn’t the best way to anticipate a yoga class. But I waited an hour and then did the 10am Hot Yoga flow class and it was pretty hideous because I don’t do yoga, I do Bikram. Bikram is 26 yogic poses, always the same ones, whereas real yoga classes can be any one of a trillion poses in any combination. When I do real yoga I want a class where the poses are held and corrections are made and I can periodically look around at what everyone else is doing and then do something that approximates it. That is not how a flow class works. Flow classes are constant movement, changing poses with the breath more or less continuously for an hour. There’s no real time to look at the other kids papers and figure out how to cheat. This means that for a solid sweaty hour I attempted to use my peripheral vision to figure myself out and again remembered how stiff and inflexible I am right now.  Plus the only spot in the room was right next to the heater – HOTHOTHOTHOT – and the class was full of lithe young college students who clearly do yoga flow every day like it’s no biggie after which they wipe the light sheen of sweat off their foreheads and then go drink their skinny vanilla half caf lattes on the way to psych 101 classes. Not that I hate them but I’m pretty sure I’m smarter.

This is where my head goes in the heat when I’m trying to perch on a yoga block, balance my knees on my triceps and figure out crow pose.

Sigh.

Other than my incompetence it was a great yoga studio with two different work spaces, beautiful hard wood floors and those icy cold wet lavender towels as a reward for surviving class. And seriously, I’m complaining about a yoga class? I have no real problems. Let’s move on.

Cafe Madison

Brunch at Cafe Madison was good. Actually, the company  – Mr. McAlpine and Lady Allie Lin – was fantastic and the food was good. My broccoli fritatta – lower right corner – was light on broccoli and heavy on cheese but there were lots of different homemade breads and Allie’s bacon looked scrumptious. It’s a cute place with a patio. I bet in the summer time it’s gorgeous. I love Ryan and Allie for making the drive to see me. They’re good people and I’m lucky to know them.

I do have to give a shoutout to the Ala Shanghai Chinese Cuisine, a place from which I ordered takeout and expected very little and had my expectations blown to bits by the incredible food. I should have known from the menu, which looked very much like menus I encountered in China, offering things like “sea cucumber” and “lions head” and something called “yan-du-xian casserole.” I ordered the chicken and baby bok choy and it was delectable and perfectly cooked in a buttery white sauce. I wanted to go back with a bunch of people and order all the things I didn’t recognize so I could try everything.

If you’re in Albany, try the Chinese food at Ala Shanghai Chinese Cuisine and if you’re up for it, do a little yoga flow. I bet you’re super smart as well.

Summer in Maine

I didn’t do many blog worthy things today so instead I’ll show you what Maine looked like last summer when I drove from Boston to Maine with my friend Hailei.

We stopped in Portsmouth NH for breakfast at Colby’s Breakfast and Lunch

Colby's Breakfast and Lunch

Very low key tiny place with handwritten blackboard menus and no real website but a hollandaise sauce to rave about.  Colby’s is the kind of small town joint that was localorganicfarmtotable long before that was a thing and they don’t need to advertise because they’re on a main road and everyone knows who they are and when they’re open. Breakfast and lunch. Obviously!  I had the corned beef hash benedict, two things that I’ve never seen combined before but that go together shockingly well. I think it was a daily special.

We got back on the road and drove slowly up Historic Route 1, the long 2 lane highway that runs from Florida to Canada. You can rarely drive faster than 40 miles an hour and you’ll hear GPS directions such as “stay on Main Street for the next 37 miles” as you drive through the interconnected main streets of 5 small towns.

It runs right along the coast

Coast of Maine

Past public beaches

Maine public beach

And gussied up houses because lots of people on the shore like to decorate with colorful old buoys

Buoy house in Maine

We drove up to Kittery and stopped at the Nubble Lighthouse I mentioned yesterday

Nubble Lighthouse

Very pretty but not open to the public, although there’s a big gift shop and several markers to tell you all about the history of the area.

We stopped for a sparkly beverage at Sun and Surf

Sun and Surf

Right on the water’s edge

hailei and her margarita

And then went to Fisherman’s Dock in York for a lobster roll

Lobster roll at Fisherman's Dock

As cold lobster rolls go it was a good one but I have discovered that I prefer hot lobster rolls, tossed in drawn butter. That’s where the money is! But if cold lobster rolls are your thing, Fisherman’s Dock has a wicked good menu with lobster by the pound, checkered tablecloths and outdoor seating and bottles of Moxie to wash it down. Super atmospheric and very Maine.

After our lobstah rolls, we rushed back to Boston to get to work. But if you don’t have to rush back, I’d recommend two different restaurants on your route back to Boston:

Lil’s Cafe in Kittery for lunch

Lil's Cafe

For  butternut squash bisque that’s like a bowl of creamy sunshine. They also have sandwiches, coffee, breakfast and a big spread of baked goodies. Lil’s is a right smack in the middle of town and connected to an art gallery so eat and browse and then do a little wandering around Kittery while you’re there.

For dinner, try the Portsmouth Brewery in New Hampshire

Portsmouth Brewery

I had the mussels, which were really fresh although I didn’t love the curry sauce. It was only ok. But the fries were spectacular as was the Chocolate Rye Stout I drank with it. Not quite the beer pairing a brewmaster would recommend, I’m sure, but I like mussels and I like stout so there you have it. This brewery is also taking a lot of steps to implement composting and recycling and reduce their carbon footprint so i respect them for that.

And there it is, Maine in the summer. Very similar pictures but with about 200% less freezing cold reality. I’ve loved cold wintery Maine too but I think I’m ready for Spring to really arrive.