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Aug 6, 2006 05:56 PM

Breakfast out, rants and raves

Why is it so hard to get a good breakfast out? This post is spurred by my second, and sure to be the last, visit to Orange on Clark. On the first visit, I realized too late the huevos rancheros were served with 'bean puree', and the 'poached medium' egg yolks were so crumbly solid I sent them back immediately. On the second visit, my eggs Bene had burnt muffins and floury Hollandais with little lemon taste. And, not a solid potato in sight, just mashed Russets.

I have had the good fortune to work briefly under a completely insane yet fantastic breakast cook, so I know how simple it is to make breakfast if you know what your doing. It really doesn't take much, and the two of us sometimes cranked out 140+ meals in three hours. It is very easy to make brown-crusted and spiced home fries. 'Easy', 'medium', and 'hard' mean very specific numbers of seconds (for eggs over) or minutes (for poached). Why can't places do this????

Here are the parameters:

1) breakfast should be quality comfort food
2) buttermilk pancakes, huevos rancheros, corned beef hash, and home fries cannot be substantially improved upon over their basic form
3) above foods out of cans or pre-mix do NOT qualify as quality
4) any use of organic or all-natural ingredients is to be sought out and lauded

The basic problem is, the first two and last two items above seem to be mutually exclusive. I cannot seem to get free range eggs without also being forced to have chocolate chips and/or orange zest in my pancakes.

Raves go to Milk and Honey, where the ingredients are great and the huevos rancheros casserole, although only really sharing ingredients with the classic, still shines as comfort food. Another rave goes to Square Kitchen in Lincoln Square, with their chiliquiles and decent quality ingredients without the foo factor. A qualified rave goes to one specific morning chef (the female one) at HB, with quality ingredients, genuine homemade corned beef hash - when idiosyncratically available - and real pancakes, yet a dismal concept of potatoes (there's occasionally another morning chef at HB who doesn't cut the mustard, so I'm still trying to work out their schedules). Also, in the Greek diner mold, a rave goes to Tempo, the best of the traditional lot - despite pre-mix pancakes and standard-fare hash and potatoes, the combination of good fruit, solid no-frills egg expertise, honest portions, consistency, and fast service make it a reliable pleasure. Another rave goes to Nookies on Halsted near Armitage, which is old-school like Tempo and a close runner up (beware the Nookies farther north, see rants below).

Rants go to Orange, as I led off. Another rant goes to the Bongo Room, which I know will get hearty disagreement from some, but I went in there and found excellent quality ingredients but found my comfort food disturbingly mangled. Another rant to Nookies on Halsted near Buckingham, which had old-style ingredients (i.e. canned, premix, etc.) but compounded them with poorly prepared food and bad service in a relatively empty restaurant.

And, please, please, can somebody point me to any (preferably kid-friendly) place in Chicago, east of the highway and north of downtown where I can find huevos rancheros approaching one magic breakfast at a roadside diner in the Redwood Forest circa 7am July, 1991? Over easy eggs on black beans and a corn tortilla with salsa and sour cream. Nothing fancy. Just a revelation of basic ingredients, textures, and tastes to start off a long motorcycle ride in the crisp morning air. The motorcycle is long gone but isn't it funny how a seemingly innocuous meal unexpectedly becomes a permanently defining experience? But that is another subject entirely...

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  1. I hate eating breakfast out for all the reasons you list, especially the fact that no one seem to know that hash browns are supposed to be well done and spicy. People with whom I've discussed this say it is their FAVORITE meal to eat out but I don't get it. I'd rather cook my eggs exactly the way we like them, it's so easy; I'm almost always disappointed in breakfast out, and I don't have to get dressed to enjoy it either!!

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      1. Orange is way overrated! Cafe Selmarie in Lincoln Square, Ina's on Randolph, and Wishbone are far better. Yes, even Nookies Too is better.

        1. We tried Orange once and were extrmely unimpressed. Our favorites for breakfast are Uncommon Ground and M Henry. I do aggree though about the home fries, I have just given up.

          1. Ina's on Randolph, about one year ago, was one of the worst levels of inept service I've experienced in restaurant dining since a horrible (never to be repeated) experience at the Chicago Chop House 10 years ago. The hostess seated us right away, but no waiter or waitstaff acknowledged us for at least 10-15 minutes. When the server finally did acknowledge us, she asked if we wanted coffee (which we sorely needed), then brought us none for another 15 minutes. 15 minutes after that, we finally got to order, got our food, and it was just OK. Been there, done that.