The fried chicken and waffle at Beachside Coffee Bar & Kitchen is worth the beach drive in San Francisco. (Photo: Kevin Alexander)
By Kevin Alexander and Liz Childers
According to doctors and the backs of cereal boxes, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And because we always agree with whatever they say on Lucky Charms boxes, we spent months eating those breakfasts at places all around the country, and then going back for more biscuits and gravy … just to make sure.
At the end of it all, these spots offered up our favorite breakfasts in the nation (and no, we’re not talking about places that exclusively serve that made-up weekend meal of brunch — these places do breakfast all the time). If you disagree, or think we omitted something, or just want to tell us an unrelated anecdote because you need someone to talk to on the Internet, drop it below in the comments. But for now, just come in and sit down. Breakfast is served:
Beachside Coffee Bar & Kitchen - San Francisco
WHAT YOU’RE GETTING: Chicken and Bacon Waffle
If you knew nothing of San Francisco, and just spent an entire day in the Ocean Beach neighborhood, you would come away thinking that SF is not all that different from its more beach-focused Southern counterparts. The hood (which obviously sits right across the Great Highway from the actual Ocean Beach) is more of a surfer’s enclave, more laid back and less bustling than the rest of the city, and offers some (relatively) undiscovered gems — Java Beach owners Patrick and Buffy Maguire’s Beachside Coffee Bar being one of them. Though they keep the same exacting standards with the coffee that they do at Java Beach, it’s the food here that shines, from the fantastic Irish Breakfast Sandwich, to our personal favorite, the fried chicken and waffle, with their bacon-in-the-batter waffle substituted in.
(Photo: Matt Houska)
11-Worth Cafe - Omaha, Nebraska
WHAT YOU’RE GETTING: Country Potato Casserole with two eggs and toast
Most VIP Clubs require you to be a high roller, or, at the very least, be highly invested in wearing tight black T-shirts and sunglasses at night, but all it takes to get into the 11-Worth Cafe VIP Club is filling out a member form when you go to eat at the legendary Omaha joint run by Tony Caniglia and his family. And when you go, you better be hungry, especially if you opt for our move, and get the #18, aka the Country Potato Casserole, aka hash browns sautéed with onion, tomato, pepper, mushroom, American & Swiss, plus chicken-fried steak, all topped with their infamous country gravy. You can get two eggs and toast on the side as well for an extra $1.50… or cheaper if you happen to know any Very Important People.
(Photo: Michael Giberson)
A1 Diner - Gardiner, Maine
WHAT YOU’RE GETTING: Blueberry pancakes
Brief history lesson: back in the early 1900s, a man named Philip Duprey started the Worcester Lunch Car Company, which had the peculiar gig of just building “lunch cars” or diners. The company lasted 51 years, making over 600 in that time, including one that, since 1946, has sat in Gardiner, Maine. As you may’ve guessed from every other clue, that is now A 1, and though the scene inside does feel a bit like a time capsule, the food is very much up-to-date, and delicious (what other diners are regularly whipping up Korean vegetable pancakes with spicy green beans, huh?!?), though — being that it is Maine — we prefer to keep it simple with their light, crispy local blueberry pancakes. Luckily, the nostalgia comes free.
(Photo: Flickr/Peter Merholz)
Al’s Breakfast - Minneapolis, Minnesota
WHAT YOU’RE GETTING: Bacon waffle
The Dinkytown diner is only 10 feet wide, a planked shack that would look just as at home on a weathered beachside strip as it does propped up by two buildings in the narrow alleyway where it’s been wedged since 1950. Come early — a line before the 6 a.m. opening is completely normal — and plan to wait with stalwart regulars for one of the 14 stools. While hash browns — cooked on a griddle so well-seasoned that Southern cast-iron skillet-wielding grandmas would be jealous — and blueberry pancakes are also winners, trust us on the bacon waffle. Rather than wimpy bits of crisp pork, huge chucks of salty porcine goodness are layered through this fluffy monster. Pour on syrup for a sweet-savory breakfast that’s basically a side and main baked into one.
(Courtesy: Ann Sather)
Ann Sather - Chicago
WHAT YOU’RE GETTING: Swedish breakfast sampler & free cinnamon rolls
The Chicago morning institution offers plenty of your standard breakfast fare, but you’ll want to give a nod to their Swedish roots with their sampler (technically listed as a special but always available), consisting of one of their Swedish pancakes with lingonberry jam, a juicy potato sausage, a Swedish meatball (weirdly tasty at breakfast time), and an egg in whatever your preferred egg-consumption method is. Normally it’d be a fairly easy breakfast to tackle, but since you will have already mowed through their icing-laden cinnamon rolls that they lay down on the table before the main course, you’re walking out of here stuffed.
Related: Cheat Sheet: San Francisco
(Courtesy: The Busy Bee Cafe)
The Busy Bee Cafe - Buffalo, Wyoming
WHAT YOU’RE GETTING: Occidental French Toast with a side of bacon
Smack in the middle of the picturesque mountain town of Buffalo, the Busy Bee is a tiny, charming cafe housed on the end of the town’s centerpiece, the historic Occidental Hotel, which also houses a saloon that hosted everyone from Buffalo Bill to Teddy Roosevelt. The modern-ish cafe specializes in huge, cowboy-tranquilizing breakfasts ranging from overstuffed breakfast burritos to baked goods and locally farmed chicken-fried steaks. But nothing is quite as insane as the Occidental French Toast, which is actually a gigantic cinnamon roll dipped in French toast batter, fried, and soaked in maple syrup. Pair it with a side of bacon and maybe book a room in the hotel. You’re not getting up for a while.
(Photo: Flickr/Garrison Gunter)
Clary’s Cafe - Savannah, GA
WHAT YOU’RE GETTING: Corned beef hash
You cannot talk about Clary’s without mentioning Clint Eastwood, which, perhaps, isn’t the best start to breakfast (or maybe it is?). But the cafe, which reached national acclaim thanks to its role in John Beredt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and Eastwood’s film adaptation, was famous in Savannah decades before. Its reputation in the film as a local hangout for snagging the gossip is true, albeit there’s a lot more tourist traffic these days. While you may not know who the regulars are discussing, you can at least pretend to be part of the Southern town while housing the giant plate of corned beef hash, which is meal enough on its own, and that’s before you get to the two eggs, grits, and a biscuit. Get your eggs fried, let the rich yolks mix with the salty, malty, oniony goodness of a forkful of hash, and layer it up on the biscuit. You may not be able to eat again all day, but maybe that’s the point.
(Photo: Found Media Group LLC)
Counter Cafe - Austin, TX
WHAT YOU’RE GETTING: Biscuits and gravy
You can find a greasy spoon diner in any neighborhood in America, but few griddles are blessed with the level of charm as Counter Cafe. Save for a few sardine-packed tables, CC is almost all counter, and the line cooks are close enough that you’ll be able to smell every single piece of bacon that comes off the grill. But what sets Counter Cafe apart is food, which nails the platonic ideal of breakfast with plates like biscuits smothered in sausage-studded gravy.
(Photo: Kathleen Cavalaro)
The Friendly Toast - Portsmouth, New Hampshire
WHAT YOU’RE GETTING: King Cakes
The first time I went to the Toast, I was so intimidated by the menu, I think I ended up just getting a plain waffle, and it felt like everyone else in the restaurant was sad for me. FT is not a place for regular waffles (though they are made using a homemade mix and are delicious). It is a place to get something a little outlandish (after all, their Daily Specials the other day were all based around Full House characters), like their Sklarmageddon omelet “built to kill” with sausage, bacon, ham, red-chile pecans, jalapeño-Jack & Swiss, plus a zesty maple sour cream, or my new personal favorite, the King Cakes — two not-very-“mini” pancakes packed with chocolate chips/bananas, slathered in peanut butter, topped with whipped cream, and surrounded by bacon. Suck it, regular waffle.
(Photo: Hamburg Inn No.2)
Hamburg Inn No.2 - Iowa City, IA
WHAT YOU’RE GETTING: Hawkeye Hog omelet with a side of Cinnamon Roll French Toast
Forget about the fact that presidents now consider it a must-stop on their way through Iowa or that we sat next to a signed picture of Roseanne and Tom Arnold from the very early ’90s or that it happens to be the oldest family-owned restaurant in Iowa City. You can even forget about the fact that No.’s 1 and 3 no longer exist, or the fact that I may’ve gotten really excited about buying a T-shirt from here on a drive back to the airport in Chicago, and only discovered it was youth size when I was 30 miles from O’Hare. But don’t forget their omelets, especially the terrifyingly unhealthy/delicious Hawkeye Hog, featuring sausage, hash browns, and American cheese, all smothered in country gravy. Or really make the state proud and make that Hawkeye Hog a Tater Topper, and then tuck griddled home fries or hash browns under it. Oh, and while your eyes are locked on Tom Arnold’s sick ‘do, you might as well get the Cinnamon Roll French Toast too (and maybe a large adult T-shirt for me).
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