Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But it may not be why you think. Sure, our engines need fuel; but if you’re anything like me, you’ve got plenty of “spare fuel”. Breakfast is all about mental health, comfort, and tradition.
Breakfast means many things to many people, so I suppose I should set some parameters on my quest to find the best. To me, the classic American breakfast means two eggs over easy, crispy bacon and hash browns, or grits depending on my geographic location. (When in Rome, Georgia—it’s gotta be grits!) Toast and juice are optional. And that’s it! Nothing fancy. I don’t need parsley as a garnish. I don’t need my napkin folded into an origami bird of Paradise, a cantaloupe ball carved into a lotus blossom, or Espresso with whipped cream and a cinnamon stick. Just give me the aforementioned elements done right, and you’re my new best friend.
Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my dad taking me out for breakfast. Dad always knew where to find great breakfast spots—where culinary artists created masterpieces on canvases of bone china and platters of Melamine. He always ordered the classic, and he always ate it the same way. He’d gently place the bacon atop the eggs. Then he’d slice through the delicate layers diagonally—one way, then the other. Any true breakfast connoisseur knows correctly crisped bacon will simply snap and crumble like old parchment when near-effortless, egg-slicing pressure is applied. The result was a delightful heap and an efficient bite-size mixture. That’s the way I do it to this very day! That is unless the bacon ain’t right.
I can tell if the chef behind the griddle knows their stuff as soon as the plate is placed before me. If the eggs have been miraculously turned without any visible yoke damage, a thin, translucent milky-white veil covers the bright orange yoke, reminiscent of the rising sun on a foggy morning. The hash browns will be toasty and free from excess grease. Good bacon, on the other hand, is a little trickier to detect with the naked eye. A bacon rookie can easily be fooled by two nicely bronzed strips elegantly reclining like a sizzling supermodel upon an egg/tater chaise lounge. But one touch of the fork tells all.
Finding tough, rubbery bacon at this point is more than mere disappointment. It’s devastating! Psychologists have linked limp bacon to manic depression. The source of the underlying pain is often rooted in troubling childhood events, i.e. the loss of a pet, never getting picked for red rover or getting your pee-pee caught in your zipper. Whatever the cause, it’s often suppressed and shuffled off to the subconscious—smoldering on a level undetectable to your adult mind’s frontal lobe. Until something like THIS touches that sore spot on our hearts, and raw emotions come raging to the surface! Most civilized people have learned to repress these overt outward expressions. Only a trained professional would recognize the subtle signs of a potential eruption—a twitching eye, the white knuckles of a tightened fist, an out-of-the-blue verbal jab directed at your no-account brother-in-law. But most of the time it just takes the wind from our sails, and the disappointed eater just lets it go.
Never the less, a keen eye may still notice an involuntarily drooping of the shoulders or a deep accompanying sigh as the poor soul accepts his breakfast fate. Disenchantment has become the norm, not realizing it’s precisely why he grinds his teeth at night and has lost the ability to smile. “Living their lives in quiet desperation,” as Henry David Thoreau so eloquently put it. After he’d been served limp bacon, no doubt. But I digress…
Facing the plate of your discontent, you muster what strength you can and begin sawing, back and forth through the sugar-cured leather belt, while musing that a civil suit might well be justified, and winnable—had the buckle not been removed. Your teeth have begun to clinch again. Fanciful thoughts of a pleasant stroll down memory lane are long-gone, not to mention the pipe-dream of parchment-like crumble! Your egg whites are now mashed into mush under the resilient strips and weight of heavy-handed cutlery. The vigorous exertion of cold steel upon the thick porcelain plate sends a piercing squeal throughout the eatery. Heads turn. Faces grimace. Loss of knife and/or fork control has been reported and has been known to fling a hash brown clear across a table! Even if your breakfast companion has been lucky enough to avoid losing an eye from a flying tater, the natural order things, in your world at least, has been disrupted.
After the last bite has been consumed, and the last dab of egg yoke has been wiped from the corner of your mouth, there still remains plenty of disdain upon your face. You slide out and rise from the irritatingly turquoise plastic booth bench, and with one last show of contempt, toss your soiled napkin onto the yellow yoke and ketchup stained plate, littered with used butter pads, empty jelly-shells, and wheat bread crusts.
Tip-calculations now race through your head, as you weigh all aspects of your dining experience with both mental and emotional scales. Check firmly in hand, you aim yourself at the cashier and her Cheshire-cat smile, glibly oblivious to your inner conflict. That meal didn’t warrant a 1% gratuity, but social mores and civilization in general demand more. Of course, the server shouldn’t be penalized for the cook’s shortcomings; but damn it, this is about justice! Right and wrong! Even so, you surrender to societal pressure and begrudgingly scrawl a barely legible 15%.
Outside you’re calmer, having escaped without incident, outburst, or arrest. The color begins to return to your face as the cool, fresh air fills your tight chest. You pause momentarily to rest your weary bones upon the open car door and bathe your face in the warm sunshine. Your squinted eyes scan the horizon for a reason to go on, but then focus on the daisies randomly strewn amongst the green grass in front of you. Your ears perk to the tune of a robin singing in a nearby tree. It’s nice. It reminds you of “The Magic Flute.” An index finger unwittingly taps to the rhythm of the feathered Mozart. Tilting your head back until your tense neck pops, you notice the puffy white clouds floating in the azure skies above have taken on the shapes of circus animals. There’s an elephant! Oh!—and a panda! The innocent child within you is returning.
I’ve heard that after a woman gives birth, she forgets the pain of labor. It’s like that after a bad breakfast, too. Optimism abounds in a childlike heart, along with the hope that tomorrow will be different. Contrary to personal history and against all odds, you still hope against hope that somehow, somewhere, you’ll find that quaint diner, that tiny cafe, that hole-in-the-wall, that will meet the simple expectations of your youth.
Breakfast cooks—if you only knew how much the world needs you right now. If you only realized how important you are—what comfort you could bring to the table—what fragile childhood memories hang in the balance; you’d never again take your job lightly. You’d never consider serving an overcooked egg, soggy hash browns, or bacon the size of fried baby foreskins; nor expect a starving man to remain politely patient as your ill-timed meal is delivered in installments—by pack-mule! Why—we’d all be better off staying home watching cartoons, wrapped around a bowl of Cocoa-Puffs, than to suffer through such barbaric treatment! And yet I have endured these very indignations at a hands of insensitive, spatula wheedling hooligans masquerading as morning superheroes.
Breakfast artists arise! Awake from your slumber! Don your toques! Tie your aprons! Rekindle that fire in your belly and stir-up the passion that once drove you toward greatness. Renew your kitchen vows, honor your solemn pledge and step up your game! Because I’m coming. If you’re out there I’ll to find you—on my quest for the best breakfast in the Cape!