I occasionally have writer’s block, which is to say I have no idea what I will write about for the week’s column. That is not an issue until the night before the deadline. That is when I begin to seriously look for a sign. Tonight, I was looking for one of those signs.
I pulled out my laptop and turned on the television for some background noise. The first thing I saw was the beginning of a show on PBS called “Breakfast Special”. Since our company sells about 20,000 biscuits each week, I am naturally attracted to any program on breakfast. I had my sign and the column was done in less than an hour.
The Public Broadcasting System program features several special breakfast locations around the country. They are amazingly different as you might expect, which is partially a reflection of our own varied culture in this country.
However, the different restaurants all featured some common elements. People go to experience good food, but also for atmosphere and camaraderie. More than any other meal, people are likely to eat breakfast at their favorite restaurant frequently, often several times a week.
Breakfast is a meal that starts the day, giving some comfort before the problems and challenges of the day have had a chance to get our attention. People are more likely to eat with friends at breakfast. Just view the breakfast groups that meet at Hardee’s each morning. Most of the people will actually sit in the same seat each morning.
Grits were featured prominently in the couple of Southern restaurants on the show. One was on Tybee Island and one in St. Augustine. Breakfast potatoes were the staple up north. Risotto was shown in the Pacific Northwest restaurants. Congee was found in California.
Meats varied from country fried steak, to sausages made from duck, deer, and pork. The one common ingredient seemed to be eggs, though cooked and presented in many different ways.
Breads went from the local favorite which are buttermilk biscuits, to something called a cow’s tongue, which was featured in an Asian restaurant in San Francisco. Pancakes were never made from Bisquick or a pancake mix. They commonly featured a blend of flours and wheat, usually buckwheat.
One particularly interesting breakfast location was Cartwright’s Maple Tree Inn. The family that owns the restaurant has been making maple syrup since before the Civil War. The restaurant began in the 1930s as a way to help sell their syrup. It has grown to be so popular that people will stand for an hour in very cold weather just to get a table.
The menu pretty much consists of buckwheat pancakes with a choice of meat. The super fresh maple syrup goes with anything. Here is the catch: the Maple Tree Inn is only open for eight weeks per year. In fact, it is already closed for the year. To top it off, the restaurant is located in the middle of nowhere in the small town of Angelica, New York. That is only two miles from Short Tract, NY.
I guess that proves a point I learned a long time ago. People will go out of their way for good food. It doesn’t have to be in the newest building or have the fanciest surroundings. It does need to serve hot food hot, be consistent in quality, and have friendly employees. The rest will work itself out.
The final segment of “Breakfast Special” asked customers around the country what was their most memorable breakfast memory. For me, it was probably sitting on the back porch at Compass Lake as a child. My grandfather would tell us to go swim before breakfast. My siblings and cousins would come running when he yelled that the pancakes were ready. We would slather them in butter and cover them in syrup and eat until we could eat no more.
What is your favorite breakfast memory? Family, friends, food and fellowship. That is what makes breakfast special as well as the most important meal of the day.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org