EatDrinkShopCook: Breakfast not exactly the 'toast' of town
Published 5:41 pm, Friday, December 10, 2010
I was eavesdropping on a conversation the other day between three women. They were discussing restaurants and one woman noted that, ever since Zest had closed in Westport, there wasn't any place local to get breakfast anymore.
Zest was the casual sister-restaurant to the pricier, more intimate Da Pietro's. Their brunch menu included things like poached eggs, omelets and pancakes. Although seemingly pretty popular, they filed for Chapter 11 in April of this year.
"We go to the Sherwood Diner now," the woman said. "It's good, but not the same."
Well, no, it's definitely not.
Which brought me to thinking, where do people go for breakfast these days? If you're willing to drive, there's the Bluebird Inn in Easton, which is quaint and comfortable, with a decent choice of eggs and pancakes, and then there's King's in Newtown, which serves creative omelets and waffles as big as iPads. But if you're not willing to trek that far on a weekend morning, where do you go?
There appears to be three levels of breakfast experience. There's casual, consisting of a bagel or a doughnut with the newspaper. There's hearty and quick, with menus of pancakes and eggs. And then there's celebratory, where you can't get away with wearing your pajamas, although you can make up for that with a Bloody Mary.
Saturday mornings definitely seem to bring out the more casual crowds. The café area in Garelick & Herbs in Westport on a recent visit buzzed with friends meeting for coffee and families stopping for a bite to eat. The hot seller seemed to be the bagels, with the usual butter, cream cheese or lox.
A stretch down the Post Road, Balducci's was hopping. Back when Hay Day occupied the building, the coffee bar had some ambience, but now it's more New York deli-style, with harsh lighting and a generally unattractive vibe. Funny, considering the rest of the store is so focused on presentation. Here, for $4.99, you can get an egg sandwich with bacon, sausage or prosciutto on a bagel, croissant or English muffin, or for $6.49, a bagel with smoked salmon. The bakery offers Tom Cat Bakery Danishes and Deere Street scones.
So there you have casual.
As for something a little heartier, there's the aforementioned Sherwood Diner, which serves the need for breakfast nicely. There's nothing special about it. You could spend all morning reading the menu, but really, who needs to? It's a diner. If you want it, chances are, they've got it.
Westport Pancake House seems like it should be a good idea. Housed in a former IHOP, you'd almost think this would be a step up from its chain-equivalent. Instead, though, it turns out to be more of a knock-off, and as with all knock-offs, it's best to stick to the real thing.
Perhaps Westport's most unique breakfast place, then, is Coffee An'. With its cult-like following, it hardly seems necessary to even mention it, but I will. Tucked in the middle of a short strip of stores, Coffee An' has an old-fashioned lunch counter (complete with chrome stools) and a few tables. The menu is simple: eggs, pancakes, omelet's, home fries. They're all fine. But what people really come for are the doughnuts. Freshly made and often still warm from the fryer, Coffee An' doughnuts are what makes this place unique. There's glazed and plain, chocolate frosted and jelly, cinnamon and coconut. At $9.95 a dozen, they're comparable to Dunkin' Donuts in price, but certainly much better in quality.
I love how one fan writes about Coffee 'An on Yelp.com, real reviews written by "real" people: "As a kid growing up in Westport, I always knew I had something really good in my hometown, but all my travels around the country and many online gourmet reviewers have borne out my gut feelings. They are nonpareil, superlative, the very acme of donut gastronomy. The very experience of eating one of their plain or coconut twist donuts (my two favorites) sends me into paroxysms of ecstasy." I don't think I'd put it quite that way, but they are darn good doughnuts.
Lastly, if you're feeling the need to make breakfast more of an occasion, there's always Tavern on Main, which, though they don't strictly do "breakfast," has an egg menu at lunch (scrambled eggs with petite filet mignon, Eggs Suzette, Eggs Benedict and Omelet of the Day), and on weekends they offer Challah French Toast and Belgian Waffles. And I should mention, the tavern has a full bar.
Certainly, there are other places around town where you can get your eggs over easy on a Sunday morning, but clearly, Westport is not the breakfast capital of the Gold Coast. Seems like there's a real business opportunity there.
Contact Patti Woods, author of the weekly "EatDrinkShopCook" cuisine features and blog at firstname.lastname@example.org.