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The demise of american breakfast (and chicken fried steak.)

  • c

I just had an extremely lackluster breakfast at Ole's in Alameda. The place itself is great, you can't beat Alameda for the throwback. The sunnyside up eggs were overcooked on the bottom with runny whites on top. The hash browns looked good, but tasted overwhelmingly of coconut oil from the cheap shortening used on the griddle. The chicken fried steak was not even slightly crispy or crusty and sat on top of library paste, or gravy, it was hard to tell.

This sad state of affairs seems to have become the norm. I haven't had decent homefries in years and I gave up on ham with my eggs since Mel's on Fruitvale closed. Just an aside, but does anyone else miss Anne's Cafe?

Does anyone have a breakfast place, hopefully in the East Bay, that nails all of the elements of a simple american breakfast? At this point, I find Denny's to do a better job with hash browns than any of the specialized breakfast places.

A relate question regards chicken fried steak. Having grown up eating it and watching my mom make it, I realize that it's not really a cooking method that works in a restaurant. That said, does anyone have recent experience with a good restaurant version?

Thanks for the help and feel free to theorize on the reasons behind the death of good eggs/hash browns/homefries.

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    1. re: wolfe

      Amen, on missing Anne's - good food, BIG food and of course, Fran and the amazing atmosophere that she created there.

      1. You may have to travel to the amazing-looking breakfast joints on the "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" episode.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Wiley

          Did he profile East Bay diners? I caught the episode when he went to Bubbas in San Anselmo, which does serve a good American diner style breakfast.

          I do like the food at 900 Grayson for breakfast.

          1. re: Shane Greenwood

            900 Grayson's breakfast is quite good, but I'm looking for more traditional diner/greasy spoon breakfast. I'm not even against frozen hash browns, as long as they're cooked right.

            1. re: calny

              Try Rudy Can't Fail Cafe in Emeryville. A bit of a neo-punk/post 80s vibe but the food is cleaned up greasy spoon but still in that vein. Nothing great and unusual but things are cooked right for the most part. They also serve (or use to) a CFS on a daily rotating menu, although I haven't had it.

              1. re: ML8000

                Rudy's is generally good, but their hash browns are a weird thick cake that is often not crisped up enough. It was on my breakfast list, but the hash browns knocked it off.

                1. re: calny

                  Hash browns in the Bay Area are for some reason something that not many places do right. Even places I like, like Tennessee Grill...the hash browns suck but I just never get them...but I only get breakfast on occasion. Any way, a lot of people like Rick and Ann's near the Claremont. I haven't been in a long, long time but it's a pleasant place...but it gets busy, long waits.

        2. I liked the CFS at Aunt Mary's, but it is not traditional. It was a real chunk of steak, not pounded to death, and cooked medium. Very tasty, definitely CFS, but possibly not what you crave.


          Aunt Mary's Cafe
          4307 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

          3 Replies
          1. re: lexdevil

            Tried a few bites of my wife's CFS at Aunt Mary's tonight and thought it wasn't bad. The meat could have been seasoned a tad more, but the batter was nice and crisp (not soggy), and the beer gravy was tasty.

            For dinner (Thurs-Sat) it's served with a side of mashed potatoes and mixed veggies. These were just OK.

            1. re: lexdevil

              When I tried Aunt Mary's CFS, it was made with a hanger or flat iron steak (memory fails me) and not pounded. . . definitely not traditional CFS

              1. re: Stephanie Wong

                Yes, I believe it was a flat iron steak. Not traditional, but decent nevertheless.

            2. I like chicken fried steak at Jim's Coffee Shop, around the corner from Ole's. Hasbrowns are frozen but usually crisp. They do a decent job for breakfasts, and there is still bit of small-town charm to the place, even though they do a brisk business and have a surprisingly large dining room.

              1 Reply
              1. re: chezchristine

                One of my girlfriends and her husband used to live down the road from Jim's and would eat there all the time -- breakfast, lunch, dinner. Their french dip sandwich was good.

                Jim's Coffee Shop
                2333 Lincoln Ave, Alameda, CA 94501

              2. I did not grow up on diner food, so forgive me if you've been and hate it, but I like St. Francis Fountain in the Mission in San Francisco.

                And this isn't going to help you, but I noticed when I visited Seattle that traditional American diner breakfasts seem to be thriving there in a way that they aren't here. Even somewhere like St. Francis, you'll see a lot of "California influenced" omelets or pancakes with fancy organic whole grains (all for over $10). There, you see $3 biscuits and gravy and the fanciest pancake is one with fruit jam on it instead of syrup. And the coffee is always good.

                1. I really like the chicken fried steak at Doug's Place in Castro Valley. Juicy, well-seasoned, crispy crust, and the gravy's not gluey. Their potatoes are good, too.

                  1. Rico's in downtown Oakland does a nice chicken fried steak, both as an entree and as a sandwich.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: abstractpoet

                      I've been meaning to try Rico's CFS. I've seen it on the menu but always got the burger and because the CFS always struck me as a lot for lunch. If it's on par with the burger, it should be good, although perhaps not traditional. Someone will have to report.

                      My go to place for CFS is Tennessee Grill on Taraval in SF. They use brown gravy so that might scare away traditionalist but it's good. If you sit near the grill you can see them pull out a pounded steak, dredge it in flour and cook it, no frozen patty or what not. Something $7 bucks, a buck more gets you soup, bread and coffee.

                      1. re: ML8000

                        Haven't had the Rico's CFS for a little while, so I can't give a detailed report, but my recollection is that it was fairly traditional and definitely on par with the burgers and the meatloaf.

                        1. re: abstractpoet

                          Thanks for the tip. That's solid info given Rico's does a good job on most things. I'm going to have to try it some time. It's just too bad they're not open for dinner because I'm sure I would have had it by now.

                        2. re: ML8000

                          Adding the link.

                          Rico's Diner
                          400 15th Street, Oakland, CA

                          1. re: ML8000

                            Based on CH remarks on Tennessee Grill, a while back I tried it -- since I live in Sunset, why not? It was just not for me at all. I could overlook the "atmosphere" if I liked the food but...ordered the cfs and it looked so bad I would not touch it (my daughter is less picky and ate it). It was a really depressing space -- even more geriatric than Chicken Coop (at least the food at CC is edible).
                            Just my opinion.

                            1. re: walker

                              I probably like TG for the same reasons you dislike it. I can see your point about the physical space but after going there for years since grad school (every few months and then once a week for lunch when I worked nearby for a year) I've come to appreciate the prices but also the social reality of the place and the service it provides to the geriatric set.

                              I'd rather see them (old people) in there kicking and smelling like Ben Gay then in a home, eating fast food, having meals on wheels, or paying more.

                              Not aimed at you but this is an old fashion social network (where an old guy gets a meal for $6-7 bucks) and the fact that it's not like the rest of SF ( young, hip, yuppie, localvore, "pavement cuisine", hand milked Madagascar yak gruyere, etc, etc.) makes it more endearing.

                              Any way there's other stuff on the menu. Not everything is great but there is good stuff. The fried chicken is very good (half a chicken, fried to order - $7 bucks) and the burger (Tennessee special) is fresh ground chuck, char-grilled to order (med rare, etc.), w/ fries for $4.50. Elsewhere in the city that will cost you twice as much.

                        3. I had the exact same experience at Ole's. Their gravy is TASTELESS. I tried adding tons of pepper, but it just didn't work. Horrible.

                          The best chicken fried steak I've ever had was at the Black Bear Diner in Gilroy. They're a tiny CA chain with the closest locations in Walnut Creek and Rohnert Park. The Walnut Creek location is better.

                          Their coating is cruncy, spicy, and oh-so-perfect. The breakfast potatoes are charred, spicy, and contain the right mix of tiny veggies. The gravy is peppery. The biscuits are moist.

                          Just an all-around great breakfast and the best chicken fried steak I've ever had.

                          1. We were recently at Ad Hoc for brunch and loved the chicken fried steak - along with everything else. I don't know how often it appears on their brunch menu but it's worth a menu/website check every now and then. I realize you're probably in search for more of a neighborhood breakfast place but I thought it was worth mentioning.

                            1. Every "country fried steak" I've had at the San Rafael IHOP has been just fine. It's huge and I take half of it home.


                              1. I really liked Cafe Soleil in El Sobrante/Richmond the first and only time I've been there so far. Excellent hash and gravy drenched goodness.

                                As for a theory...I imagine it's due to our west coast society trending fear of all things high in cholesterol and carbos, and american breakfast being the epitome of such things...

                                1. It's hard to get properly prepared eggs in the BA. The best place I've found is Jimmy Bean's in Berkeley. But when they asked me how I'd like my eggs and I responded "blinded," they didn't know WTF I was talking about. Their hash browns and corned beef hash are quite edible and tasty.

                                  I haven't had a decent CFS since I left Oklahoma decades ago. However, an excellent substitute is the pork schnitzel (with a CFS-type batter) at Britt Marie's—but alas, of course, no white, country gravy. You can't go home again.

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: dlglidden

                                    But when they asked me how I'd like my eggs and I responded "blinded"
                                    I'm assuming that is Okie diner speak for poking the yolks. Please elucidate.

                                    1. re: wolfe

                                      Glad to elucidate. A "blinded" egg is a sunny-side-up fried egg which has been splashed periodically (briefly) while the egg is cooking with the hot grease (oil or butter) the egg is cooking in. The result is an egg whose yolk is "cloudy," kind of like an eyeball whose lens has a serious cataract. (It differs in taste and texture from both an over-easy egg and a sunny-side-up egg.) It's not just an Okie thing, the term is used in diners (and restaurants) all over the midwest and the south. Don't know about the east coast, I have never ordered breakfast in that part of the country.

                                      1. re: dlglidden

                                        Kinda same as "basted" egg?
                                        Had CFS at Bayside Cafe in Sausalito. Not bad, not bad, but it's my first and only, so am not sure what they're supposed to taste like. Had the gravy (there was lots) on the side -- might have been a smart move...

                                        1. re: Sarah


                                          Depends on how the eggs are "basted." I've had basted eggs where the hot butter or oil the egg is cooking in is flipped (with a spatula) or spooned periodically over the top of the egg. That's the same as blinded. I've also had basted eggs that were basted with hot water and basted eggs that were steamed by adding hot water and putting a lid on the frying pan. And in some places they actually do poke the yolk while basting the egg—bad idea!

                                          Wolfe, I would have guessed that you could see Russia from your house. (I merely meant to indicate that "blinded eggs" is not an an "Okie diner" term.)

                                        2. re: dlglidden

                                          I used a few search engines to look for blinded eggs with little success.

                                          "blinded egg" - under 100 matches, none were food related
                                          "blinded fried eggs" - no matches
                                          "fried blinded eggs" - no matches
                                          "blinded eggs" - two relevant matches

                                          http://www.hamumu.com/forum/search.ph... - context is favorite types of eggs, but no description

                                          http://www.gumbopages.com/looka/archi... - eggs cooked in bacon drippings with the yolks poked and cooked hard.

                                          Google Books yields one literary reference: http://books.google.com/books?id=Wysm... but "eggs, blinded" is another name for over easy.

                                          I asked a few people who grew up in small farm towns in Ohio and they had never heard of blinded eggs, so I'm not surprised that someone working in a cafe in Berkeley would have been stumped.

                                          1. re: dlglidden

                                            >["blinded" egg] is used in diners (and restaurants) all over the midwest and the south.<

                                            Not the part of the midwest I came from (Central Missouri). Basted, for sure. Blinded, nope. I had never heard of the term until it appeared in this thread.

                                      2. If you are ever in Pleasant Hill give the Plaza Cafe a try for breakfast. I really like their breakfast - big menu, fast and cordial staff, I think it is family owned and run. Located in a strip mall on Contra Costa Blvd. (where Safeways and Nation's is located) a few blocks North from "downtown" Pleasant Hill (downtown meaning where they built the shopping area and Century Cinemas 5+ years ago)

                                        1. While I don't recall if CFS is on the menu, for a classic breakfast, huge portions at a rock bottom price, try the Alley Cafe in Pinole. Hash browns? Mounds of hash browns. Pancakes ordered singly: just one spills over the edge of the plate and an inch thick. The biscuits and gravy are terrific. This is no-nonsense breakfast at it's small town best. Be warned though - it's small, only one cook and, if it's packed, expect a wait. Guaranteed you won't leave hungry! 2265 Pear St, Pinole - across from St Joseph's Catholic Church.

                                          Another favorite breakfast spot is Sukie's Country Kitchen in San Pablo. Just pure Americana 50's/60's style food. By pure I mean, with an owner named Sukie, you even have a few Asian dishes on the menu! Large portions, very fast service, staff is efficient and friendly (rare combo!) and the place has a very large dining room. 2400 El Portal Dr San Pablo - in the International Marketplace complex.

                                          1. I had a quite good chicken fried steak at Polker's in SF earlier this year, for breakfast (I think breakfast is served until 3pm). I went there based on at least one good review here, so the place is known. My notes say "Very good CFS, very good (white) gravy, very good large biscuit! Next time ask for more gravy for the biscuit. A bit funky, a mixed bag of people (a good thing)."

                                            No Places link and can't add one, so ...

                                            Polker's Gourmet Burgers
                                            2226 Polk Street (near Green)
                                            San Francisco

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                              (places has some problems with punctuation)

                                              Polkers Gourmet Burgers
                                              2226 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                                            2. For good hashbrowns (sorry, no cfs), try Jody's place on Masonic just of Solano in Albany. He's got a way with eggs, too.

                                              Jodie's Restaurant
                                              902 Masonic Ave, Albany, CA 94706

                                              1. Calny, Mama’s Royal Café on Broadway, Oakland had the best fried potatoes by far for the longest time but like most good things went away over time… Jimmy Beans on Gillman, Berkeley has a pretty good breakfast selection although I can’t seem to find a place that makes really good homemade corned beef… I once had a lady friend that made great corned beef but again went the way of so many good things… good luck!

                                                Jimmy Bean's
                                                1290 6th St, Berkeley, CA 94710

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: THEIBMGUY

                                                  Have you tried the hash at Cafe M (off of Fourth St)? It's a different take on the concept, and delicious.

                                                  1. re: ernie in berkeley

                                                    Can you please describe how it is a different take on the concept?

                                                    1. re: sydthekyd

                                                      Instead of being chopped (or even ground), the corned beef is in thick chunks. The meat is layered among paper-thin slices of potatoes, rather than chunks, and there are generous slices of red bell pepper and onions. The whole thing is minimally agitated on the grill, so the layers are minimally disturbed and you don't get the gloppiness you sometimes do with hash. It's a colorful work of art on the plate, and for those of us who are obsessive about condiments, it's easy to dip a chunk of corned beef into dijon mustard in one bite and slices of crisp potatoes into ketchup in the next. Bonus: the pot of homemade strawberry-jalapeno jam for your toast or English muffin.

                                                      1. re: ernie in berkeley

                                                        I can visualize it now… coupled with two perfectly pouched eggs, adorned with a gentle dusting of paprika and as I press a slice of marble rye toast against the blushing mounds they split slightly and cause little rhythmic arcs of yellow to pulsate gently in the morning sun.