Never work before breakfast; if you have to work before breakfast, get your breakfast first.

--Josh Billings (1818-1885)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Lynn's Paradise Cafe

Last January, Lynn's Paradise Cafe closed and, despite rumors to the contrary, will remained closed indefinitely. There are many reasons to get up in the morning, don't get me wrong, but there is one fewer now.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop, 825 Church Street, Evanston, Illinois 60201

As a friend of mine once said, "A beignet is the lacey architecture for suspended powdered sugar." True that. There are too few places in Chicago that serve beignets and even fewer who do it well. The Dixie Kitchen and Bait Shop serves beautiful beignets.

I ate an enormous breakfast here--plates and plates of food. But, it was last June, so I can't begin to remember how much anything cost. I remember thinking it was cheap. I remember thinking that any single dish I ordered was enough by itself for most people to call it a hearty breakfast. I remember my table was cramped and uncomfortable. I remember my server was disinterested. I remember the room was decorated in early 20th century bait shop with the smell of bacon and coffee instead of bait.

I remember that those beignets, a couple cups of chickory coffee, and some orange juice were good enough to encourage me to drive the hour or so from my house to Evanston again. Yes, this is a place that has many dishes that would qualify for the perfection zone, but I'll have to go back again to really give them a score. I will return.

The Measuring Cup, 217 Barrington Avenue, East Dundee, Illinois 60118

Scrambled Egg Pizza with bacon and onions from Arlene Botta's cafe is a reason to get up in the morning. She serves it with other toppings, too. I'll be back to try other combinations. Both of us who follow my blog know that coffee is not really my thing, but I am enjoying the cup I have right now--sweet, hot, and blonde. Ha! I didn't mean that the way it sounds, but I can live with it.

There are 10 seats inside, and there are half a dozen tables on the patio beside the bike path. I bet many people carry out slices of quiche, cups of coffee, and pies. There's a pie on the chalkboard called Strawberry Explosion. Unless I'm weaker than I think, I'm going to wait until next summer to try that.

I'm certain that a half dozen of those Thanksgiving Turkey-shaped cookies are leaving here with me in a few minutes, but I'm not certain how many of them will make it home.

The menu here is simple. You can get a PBJ for $1.75. But I just bet kids love it as much as their moms and dads love the pot roast.

The Measuring Cup measures up well by P$4B standards. The tables and chairs aren't meant for long stays, but the music and ready access to the outdoors make up for it. My pizza starts the scoring at $6.45, but the base pizza is only $4.95. TMC competes in the perfection zone. I'm giving them 50 perk pennies for the alfresco setup even though I sat there for only a few minutes while I waited for them to open. If they had waited my table or been as friendly as they are known for being, they might have scored even lower. Think golf. Low is good. I'm cheap.

Bottom Line:  $6.45 - .50 = $5.95
 That's a wonderful score for a wonderful spot.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Benedict's La Strata, 40 North Williams Street, Crystal Lake, Illinois 60014

Benedict's La Strata
40 North Williams
Crystal Lake, Illinois 60014
(815) 459-6500

7:00 AM to 2:30 PM Daily
5:00 to 10:00 PM Fri & Sat only
I've heard plenty of good things about Benedict's La Strata since reviewing breakfast at their sister restaurant several months ago, but I haven't been there until today. What a treat! After a week of end-of-semester projects and assignments, Debbie and Shelby slept late. I did, too, but my idea of late was 7:00; theirs was more like 10:00. So, waiting until after 11:00 to get out of the house and eat made me ravenous. I'd planned a smaller, earlier breakfast at another restaurant, but how could I pass up the opportunity for their company and a breakfast abbondanza at Benedict's? The restaurant is in downtown Crystal Lake just a few steps from the Raue Center for the Arts.

Who cares what time you get there as long as you get there before they shut down for the day? The menu is extensive, so even though I knew pretty quickly that I was going to have the Goat Cheese, Artichoke, and Ham Strata, I had to wait for Debbie to narrate the menu and for Shelby to decide. He chose the Jambalaya Eggs with shrimp, andouille sausage, onion, and green pepper scrambled with cheddar cheese and topped with hollandaise sauce for $8.95. Debbie ordered the Biscuits and Gravy on two homemade savory scones covered with homemade turkey sausage gravy, served with two over-medium eggs and fresh fruit for $7.95. By all accounts, the food was hot, fresh, well-prepared, and good.

Goat Cheese, Artichoke,
and Ham Strata
Now, back to my Strata. Actually, I had no idea what strata is. Frankly, now that I know, I realize as I write this that I have no idea how to use the term.  Do I say, I ordered the Strata, La Strata, Strata, or what? Do I capitalize the S? Article, no article? Just as I decided to order the restaurant's namesake dish without knowing anything about it other than the menu used the words baked bread and casserole to describe it, I've decided to use the term with reckless abandon. Take a close look at that picture. I ate that. All of it. Goat cheeese ... artichokessss ... chunnnks of hhham ... chivvves ... onnnions, sprinkled with ppparmesan cheeese for only $8.95. If it hadn't been about 18 hours since dinner, that would easily have filled me up. But, I also had Cheesy Grits and Andouille Sausage. Shared that with Debbie and Shelby. The English Muffin you see with my Strata came from the Grits order. These are not mealy Mid-western grits. These are grits that were milled by the grindstone of my imagination on the banks of a mountain stream in East Tennessee, meaty and nutty. They might have tasted better if the sausage had turned my thoughts to the Pride of Tennessee. Then again, they might not have because the Andouille was savory, spicy, and ahhh. Debbie didn't like the coffee, so, of course, it was just perfect for me--sweet, creamy, and ahhh.

We waited about 10 minutes for our table, a very brief wait for one of the favorite breakfast restaurants of many people in McHenry County. The place was filled with happy people who were served by cheerful, helpful, thoughtful pros. I have to say that a place like Benedict's La Strata might have trouble competing on a blog that features cheap eats if it weren't for two things: 1) the service and 2) modest prices. They do a lot of things well. They haven't tried to cram a few more seats into the place to increase their profits. Their place is well-lit and comfortable. The menu is easy to read, and items are described without embellishment. Parking is more than adequate thanks to the public lots of Crystal Lake. By my mathematical calculations, that's $2.30 in Perk Pennies.

The Bottom Line: $8.95 - 2.30 = $6.65

That's a great score for a place that has so many hearty items on the menu that I'm positive there's more than one perfect $4.00 combination there!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Panera Bread, 730 Northwest Highway, Fox River Grove, Illinois

I've been a fan since I first ate at the Saint Louis Bread Company on Delmar Boulevard in St. Louis in 1986. Some of the best Sunday mornings I can remember were spent sitting outside down the street from my apartment in the Central West End on Maryland Avenue, eating a bagel and following the Cardinals in the Post-Dispatch in the early 1990s. I know the company has undergone many changes since then, but the neighborhood spirit and the quality of the food has not changed. Panera Bread Company has made artisanal breads available almost everywhere. My current favorite spot is just a few blocks from my house in The Grove.

This morning, I ordered my usual Panera Bread breakfast--Light Roast Coffee (sugar and skim), Asagio Cheese Bagel (Chive and Onion Cream Cheese Spread), and Fresh Fruit (watermelon). Panera's Asiago Cheese Bagel is a good reason to get up on Saturday morning. But here's the thing: Panera has stopped serving Sundried Tomato Cream Cheese Spread. So, I'm stuck with the Chive and Onion, which isn't bad, but it's not Sundried Tomato, the real reason to get up early. Frankly, I put cream cheese in the same category as coffee--one of those things that on it's own isn't very good but, with just enough other stuff like sugar and milk or sundried tomatoes, is motivating. I put Coke in that category, too, so cream cheese is in very good company.

What's hands-down the best thing about my local Panera is the community spirit. I spent three hours in my corner, listening to music and working at my computer without a single interruption or suggestion that I had overstayed my welcome. Often, they call me by my name. They always say hello. There have been many weekends when I've worked through breakfast and lunch there. Sometimes, one or two other people from my office come in. Often my wife and son.

The scoring for this breakfast begins with the entree, which is the bagel and cream cheese ($2.59) and doesn't include add-ons. But, I can't get my mind off what I'm missing at Panera--Sundried Tomato Cream Cheese Spread (50 Penalty Pennies). I really enjoyed my watermelon chunks this morning. They were very sweet and juicy, but they cost $1.99 for about a cup of them. The mark-up's just too high for me on this even though I know they have to pay the good people who cubed and packaged my fruit (100 Penalty Pennies). It's still August, and they didn't have to ship my fruit from far to get the very best.

The Bottom Line:  $2.59 + .50 + 1.00 = $4.09

This is about as close to a scoring a Perfect $4.00 as any restaurant has ever come, and I couldn't be happier that it goes to a place like Panera, a great neighborhood spot and business with a conscience.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe, 1383 North Meacham, Schaumburg, Illinois

Is 11:00 Sunday morning the best or the worst time to go out for breakfast? I had eaten breakfast early and technically this would be lunch for me, but Debbie and Shelby were heading toward blood-sugar level personal record lows with moods to match. I was, of course, my normal, cheery self. While I parked the car, they checked in and were told the wait was 45 minutes to an hour. After a terse mobile-to-mobile discussion of options, we decided to stay. I parked the car two spaces away from any other car.

While we waited to be called to our table, we sat outside in the sun, and I bet Shelby a dollar that Debbie would move the car after she got the keys from me and went to get her sunglasses. We moved inside when it got too hot, and the wait seemed much shorter than 45 minutes. They sell Intelligentsia coffee at a counter in the waiting area for those who are in need of mood elevation. I offered to buy a cup, but got no takers.

The three of us were seated at a table for four near the front of the restaurant, which is huge, so I didn't really get to see what the rest of the place looked like. But, if it's anything like the dining room to the left of the hospitality area where we sat, the restaurant is bright and well appointed.

WB Signature Berry Bliss Pancakes
I ordered the WB Signature Berry Bliss Pancakes ($8.99) to match my cheery mood, a side order of extra-thick applewood smoked bacon, and a small orange juice. A serving is five buttermilk pancakes cooked with whole blue berries, stacked with berry mascarpone cheese, and topped with vanilla creme anglaise, fresh berries, and powdered sugar. The dish is engineered to deliver big flavors, but the berries were a little too jejune for me, and I'm just not a fan of powdered sugar on my pancakes. I don't want to say bland because they were tart, just not quite full-flavored, and I haven't ever before had the chance to bust out the word jejune.

The bacon was very good, but again not quite what I expected. I've learned since I visited Wildberry that they like to pair sweet and savory flavors, and that's a food philosophy to which I whole-heartedly subscribe. But, when the bacon is described as extra-thick, I'm expecting something thick--fatback, pork belly, lardons. I'm from the South. As always, no one should trust my opinion of coffee. I judge it on whether or not they have enough raw sugar and milk. At Wildberry, no for the sugar and yes for the milk.

Our server was a gentleman and a pro. Serving our breakfast was not his first trip to the table, and his expertise was evident. My wife did remark, and I agree, that he was waiting on too many tables to be very attentive to special interests or questions. However, when my wife asked about the roast of the coffee, he returned quickly, albeit harried, to our table with an answer. It was Sunday morning after all.

We left the restaurant satisfied and walked to our car. With some cursing at a driver and cramped maneuvering of the car, my wife drove out of the parking lot. I told Shelby that he owed me a dollar.

If you'd like to see a really good review of the restaurant, watch this clip from "Chicago's Best" by Brittney Payton, my former student. Yes, that Payton.

Certainly no reason to add any Penalty Pennies in place that works hard to get every detail of breakfast exactly right, and any place that's as welcoming to Brittney as Wildberry deserves a few Perk Pennies. We'll call them Payton Pennies today in her honor. It's important to note that Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe serves an upscale breakfast with all the perquisites of a big, well-run restaurant, and that may keep them from reaching a Perfect $4.00 on our scale, but that should never keep customers away.

The Bottom Line: $8.99 - .50 = $8.49

Traveling is a fool's paradise.

File:Globespin.gifP4B has had visitors from Russia, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Egypt, Brazil, Guam, India, Germany. Even India, Singapore, and Indonesia. Mexico and Canada, too, but they're just visits from the neighbors, globally speaking.

When I surf other blogs, they have to grab my attention in about seven seconds before I click onto the next one, so I figure that's the equivalent of P4B spending seven seconds in Latvia.

Emerson may have feared being stalked in Naples and Rome by the giant of his unrelentingly stern, sad self, but P4B spent seven seconds in Latvia, and I'm good with that.

Where next? 100 in 365 spent seven seconds in Egypt!

So, P4B, forget Emerson, pack your e-trunk, embrace your friends, embark on the Cyber Sea, and wake up intoxicated with sights and suggestions. Maybe I'll go out for breakfast.

Scoring Guide

The best score a breakfast can receive is, of course, The Perfect $4.00. A base score is determined by the cost of the entree. That score could rise if the other factors that contribute to breakfast (service, atmosphere, and food quality, for example) warrant a penalty, scored in penalty pennies. The worst score a breakfast can receive is $10.00.

Theoretically, a breakfast could score better than a $4.00 if we walked in, were given the best seat in the place, got called by our names, were served pancakes, two eggs, bacon or sausage, and hash browns for $3.95 with great coffee or ice cold juice. But, if that happens, we won't tell a soul about it because we don't want a horde of other cheapskates messing up the place.

Let's say that Shelby ordered a plain Belgian waffle, a side order of bacon, and orange juice. Since the waffle cost $5.25 and the bacon and orange juice were sides, the breakfast's base score begins at $5.25, and Shelby could opt to begin the score at $5.00 if the conditions warranted it. If the service were bad, then Shelby might add a quarter penalty. If the seats were uncomfortable, he might add a dime, and if his syrup had that icky film on the top, he might add a nickel, resulting in a final score of $5.65. I have to say that $5.65 is a very respectable score.

Let us know how well the scoring guide works for you.