minneapolis breakfast of champions
last weekend i went to minneapolis for a conference. a quick search on Roadfood.com, Jane and Michael Stern's website, pointed me to Al's Breakfast in Dinkytown, University of Minnesota's neighborhood. laura picked me up at the airport at 4:30am after i promised to buy her breakfast at this mysterious diner. it took us a while to find the joint, nestled between an Espresso Royale Cafe and a salon:
but laura spotted it. we entered the tiny, counter-only restaurant, and found that there were no available seats. some folks coming in behind us instructed us to go wedge ourselves down at the end of the restaurant, hovering over diners crouched on stools at the counter, and wait. the place seats about fifteen, all at the counter. its walls are covered with old photos, reviews, drawings, etc., and the air smells of decades of bacon, pancakes and eggs whipped up on the grill. the two guys working in the front of the restaurant, switching off at the grill and taking orders, carry on a constant witty banter and chat with the diners.
we finally got some seats and ordered, to split, blueberry pancakes, a side of bacon and The Jose. i feel comfortable saying that there is no other breakfast anywhere in the world that beats The Jose: hashbrowns, grated and grilled until crispy, topped with two poached eggs, a generous dollop of fresh salsa and smothered in melted cheddar. i'm going through a bit of a poached egg thing at the moment, i am obsessed with fried potato anything and, well, who doesn't love real melted cheddar cheese. i wish i had a photo. more, though, i wish i had another Jose, sitting in front of me right now. the blueberry pancakes were fantastic, as well, despite the fact that the guys didn't remember our Real Maple Syrup until we'd gone ahead and used the fake stuff.
al's was so good that we went back two days later (this over a four-day stay in minneapolis), even though we were staying across town. we took a bus, transferring once, and arrived at peak Saturday morning breakfast time. Three hours and two missed conference panel-sessions later, we'd eaten another Jose and also given a bacon waffle a whirl. whew! i never really think to order bacon on my own (it's just off my radar screen for whatever reason), but that waffle, smothered in Real Maple Syrup (they got it this time), was the perfect combination of sweet and salty. unlike most places that chop up the bacon and sprinkle it into the batter, Al's lays whole strips into the waffles.
though i don't tend to eat breakfast during the week, i spent a summer as an egg cook at a fantastic restaurant and consider myself something of a weekend breakfast/brunch expert. and though those cute, brightly lit breakfast places with goat cheese puff pastries and asparagus omelettes are delightful, this place takes it, hands down. i would seriously consider flying into Minneapolis just to eat at Al's.
i think that naming a restaurant Al's might be the trick. Al's Italian Beef in Chicago--best fries in town plus heavenly sandwiches; Al's Hotdogs in Glencoe--best fries on the North Shore until Al's estranged wife burnt the joint down; and Al's in Minneapolis--absolute best breakfast ever.