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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

A Pretentious Brunch to Cure the Homesick Australian

Jan.05.17

A Pretentious Brunch to Cure the Homesick Australian

by Tania Braukamper

Bengali Eggs in Amsterdam

It’s impossible to adequately describe or define Australian cuisine. That’s
possibly because such a thing doesn’t really exist, beyond Vegemite and Lamingtons—the sponge cakes that are, outside of Australia, either despised or unknown.

Nevertheless, I miss it. I miss how you can go anywhere in my home city of Melbourne and order an overpriced, wholesome, incredibly delicious dish that’s really just a fancy version of some other cuisine. I miss walking into a café with full confidence that my flat white can be made with some organic almond milk.

I miss sitting down to peruse the typewriter-font menus, bursting with inventive adjectives that serve not only to tantalize, but to justify the hefty price tags of the dishes. In their pages, strawberries are macerated, nuts candied, raisins drunken, halloumi molten, and avocado most certainly smashed.

While visiting Amsterdam for a weekend with my sister I happen to spot a café in the cool De Pijp district called Little Collins. I immediately know it must be run by Australians, and that I must visit. How do I know it’s Australian? Because Little Collins is the name of a charming street in Melbourne’s central business district, and because Australians love opening up cafés in hip corners of the world. Put two and two together and that little name is a promise of all the almond milk and smashed avocado a homesick Melbourne girl could want.

We saunter into the café on a Sunday morning and, sure enough, are met with a soundtrack of Tame Impala and brash Aussie accents. I opt for the Bengali Eggs, a skillet dish of spiced chickpeas with baked eggs, roasted peppers, coriander, feta and yoghurt, served with a devastatingly flaky house-made flat bread. The bread turns out to be the best part. The egg dish is good, though not the tastiest I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve no idea how faithful it is to the actual Bengali dish from which it borrows its name and flavors (but isn’t that the point of Australian cuisine?) And yet, its a welcome taste of home. This is what Melbourne café fare is all about.

One more almond milk flat white later and I’m ready to go. But not before I take one last, longing look at the nectarous language on the hip-looking menu.

A Czechoslovakian Restaurant in Northern California Circa 1960

Jan.23.17

A Czechoslovakian Restaurant in Northern California Circa 1960

by Alexa van Sickle

Schnitzel in Marin County

Recently, I got to experience a long-held dream, if only for a couple of weeks: living in the woods with only a diabetic cat for company.

I had jumped at the chance to cat-sit for friends who live in a cabin in Inverness, CA, a town of around 1,000 on the southwestern shore of Tomales Bay, on a jagged peninsula north of San Francisco. The cabin, set high up on a ridge overlooking miles of forest, comes as part of the job when you work as an ecologist studying the local owl population. Yes, cat-sitting (and owl-observing) is nice work if you can get it.

On my first full day, after a night struggling with jet lag and the feline alarm clock, the sun was already high in the sky when I coasted the car down the hill in search of coffee and perhaps some kind of wholesome muffin.

It may be rural, but this corner of Northern California is far from undiscovered. People come to hike along dramatic beachside cliffs and spend many happy hours at Hog Island Oyster Company. (There is also an excessively-Instagrammed shipwreck that an amateur photographer accidentally set ablaze last year, apparently after trying to create a dramatic backdrop using sparks from steel wool.) But despite the robust visitor numbers, West Marin still has an appealing idyll. Inverness has only a couple of small clusters of businesses along the bayshore, all looking on-message for Marin County: clapboard storefronts, dusty general stores, and ocean-themed inns.

So I did a double take when I saw Vladimir’s: a cartoonish, colorful, squat building, flanked by an old-fashioned coat of arms fitting for a Medieval Inn at a theme park, plus several sets of old-school skis propped underneath for reasons, at that point, unclear.

Vladimir’s turned out to be a Czech restaurant, specializing in Moravian cabbage rolls, garlic rabbit, paprikash… and Wienerschnitzel. As a quasi-Austrian (and a quasi-Wiener no less) I couldn’t pass that up, so I thought, screw the muffin and coffee. My first breakfast in Inverness was a Schnitzel, with potato salad, red cabbage… and yes, a stein of Pilsner. (In my defense, it was well past noon.)

To shamefully paraphrase someone I have no business paraphrasing, one could say that all good Schnitzels are alike, but bad Schnitzels are bad in their own way. Maybe the cut of the veal is not tender enough, or it’s too thick, or undercooked, or the breadcrumb coating is too soggy, or the crumbs are too sparse. This one was not the best I ever had, but it still scored respectably on all those fronts.

It was only afterwards I learned that the local wisdom is that you go to Vladimir’s for the history, not the food. The story is that founder Vladimir Nevl skied over the border from Czechoslovakia into Germany when he was 18 to escape the Communist government. He ended up in Australia for a while, before landing in California, and opened the restaurant in 1960.

Nevl died in 2008, and now his daughter runs it. They’re proud to say the décor has not changed since it was opened. And that’s really the best way to describe the place: a Czechoslovakian restaurant in Northern California, circa 1960. Dim lighting, bucket-sized beer steins behind the bar, chandeliers, trophies, pencil sketches of Czechoslovakian towns, and every inch of the wall covered in old photographs of horses and other hobbies of Nevl’s—who apparently liked to wear full equestrian gear in the restaurant.

The dark interior certainly has a rumpled charm, bordering on the dusty. Maybe Vladimir’s isn’t about the food. But I still wouldn’t say no to Schnitzel for breakfast.

Photo by Martin Hapl.

A Cocoa Puff Latte and a Box of Diabetes, Please

Jan.20.17

A Cocoa Puff Latte and a Box of Diabetes, Please

by Candy Moo

Coffee and Donuts in Miami

Not that long ago, rows upon rows of abandoned warehouses made up Miami’s Wynwood Arts District. Now it’s a haven of street art, galleries, and bars, and the area has become what most of Miami is not: walkable.

Tucked in the backstreets away from the foot traffic of 2nd Avenue is The Salty Donut, a coffee and donut shop peddling flavors like Nutella, Maple Bacon, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch—endless options of oversized doughy goodness.

I dragged my mother along for her first Wynwood experience. I wanted a Cocoa Puff latte and box of donuts for my family. As I tasted the soggy, chocolatey puffs in the latte, I thought of summer camp and PBS reruns of Arthur. My mom’s first bite into a Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cannoli neutralized her accusing glare in my direction. She’s not usually one for sweets or alcohol, but the whiskey caramel and RumChata white chocolate erased all protest.

As it turns out, we had chosen a special day to visit the Salty Donut: they were unveiling a highly coveted new product. The newest donut on the menu was an even bigger hit of nostalgia: a Knaus Berry Farm cinnamon roll wrapped carefully in the arms of a brioche donut, topped with caramelized pecans. Deep down south in Homestead, FL, Knaus Berry Farm is a well-known strawberry farm where families can pick their own produce. Together with fresh strawberry smoothies, their cinnamon buns are a staple for any South Florida native.

Biting into my Knaus Berry Farm Sticky Bun Donut, I recalled a time when the sun was high overhead as I ran, clad in overalls, through the strawberry rows. With this donut and another sip of my sugar cereal-latte, I was in memory lane heaven.

Sitting at the communal table, I glanced at the never-ending line filing out the door. There were people clad in army uniforms, women clutching papers and chatting on their cellphones, and others holding expensive cameras with long lenses and eager expressions, everyone yearning for a mid-day sweet treat.

The Only Thing Better Than a Tamale is a Tamale Sandwich

Jan.19.17

The Only Thing Better Than a Tamale is a Tamale Sandwich

by Susan Shain

Tamales in Oaxaca City

Every morning, her smooth face, her fresh white apron, and her metal cart stand vigilant in the Zócalo, the central square. Her name is Rosario, and for the past eight years, she’s dutifully guarded this post from 6:30-10:30 a.m., seven days a week.

Unlike other vendors, she doesn’t need to hawk her services; for her, patrons jostle, anxiously awaiting their breakfast of tamales. I am one of them.

These heavenly wedges consist of masa (corn dough) and lard, plus meat (in this case, chicken) and sauce (in this case, delicious), wrapped and steamed in either a corn husk or a banana leaf. Or they’re placed snugly inside a bolillo (bread roll) to create a torta de tamal, a simple but filling carb-on-carb delight.

Rosario offers three sauces: mole—decadent, with more than a dozen spices and chilis; salsa verde—spicy and tomatillo-based; or rajas—made with strips of roasted poblano peppers. I choose the mole because I always choose the mole. Oaxaca is famous for no less than seven varieties of mole. Rosario usually uses coloradito or rojo. The sauce is reddish-brown and rich, with hints of chocolate and cinnamon.

Protesters, another of Oaxaca’s specialties, march behind us. Shoe shiners loudly settle their stools. Wheels rattle, birds sing, but none of it distracts me or my fellow tamale pilgrims from our goal.

Rosario grabs a bolillo and scoops out the innards, making room for what really matters: one of the more than 150 tamales she labored over for hours yesterday afternoon. Then she reaches into the cart. As she puts together my order, deftly removing the leaf before depositing the tamale into the roll, she is unwrapping the best kind of gift—the kind you can eat. Steam pours off the mélange of corn and chicken and bread and sauce, floating away into the cool highland air.

Hurry up, I tell myself as I shuffle my coins, trying to determine which combination will get me the torta de tamal the fastest. But Rosario doesn’t even notice the delay. She’s already taking the next eager customer’s order. Finally, I find the right coins: the equivalent of 60 cents.

At Standing Rock, A Small Reprieve From the Guacapocalypse

Jan.16.17

At Standing Rock, A Small Reprieve From the Guacapocalypse

by Rebecca High

Avocado Toast in North Dakota

California worships the avocado. It might be the perfect fruit: hearty and delicious, sweet and savory, firm and soft, always in season.

But the catch is that in California, one pound of avocados needs around 80 gallons of water to grow, and California’s drought has turned the fruit goopy brown or bitterly hard. “Guacapocalypse,” as people call it, is naturally distressing for Californians. Some shops and cafés have pledged not to serve avocado—and the ever-popular brunch staple, avocado toast—until the water shortage ends. The greater implications of the drought, of course, are far more alarming.

I joined several hundred self-described Water Protectors at Standing Rock, North Dakota. We were protesting against an oil pipeline being constructed under a river, potentially polluting the area’s drinking water. I met Katie and Genie, grandmothers from California who told stories of their days in Greenpeace 40 years ago. We shared an interest in garden produce and in protecting clean water sources.

After sunrise on my last chilly morning at Standing Rock, I stopped by Katie and Genie’s camp to say goodbye. Katie pushed a hot Mason jar full of tea into my hands as Genie looked at me conspiratorially over tinted glasses. “Let’s make avocado toast!” She pulled two avocados seemingly out of nowhere and winked. I marveled as she sliced the avocados, then deftly pulled small slices of wheat bread out of a bag and placed them in a pan on low heat. These women spent days freezing in North Dakota fields, and preserved these perfect avocados to share with me.

When the bread started smoking, Genie scooped avocado generously over it, spritzed it with vinegar, and handed me the first piece. I was hungry from days of protein bars. The bread was hot and crisped around the edges. The avocado was somehow perfectly ripe and sweet, even though Genie told me she bought it a week earlier at a market in Santa Cruz. The vinegar was piquant on my lips. It was the most simple, yet most satisfying avocado toast I’d ever had, and I thanked them for their gift.

The Best Lebanese Bread in Salt Lake City

Jan.13.17

The Best Lebanese Bread in Salt Lake City

by Haley Gray

Man’oushe in Salt Lake City

Moudi Sbeity’s favorite dish to serve friends, family, and customers is man’oushe. Supple dough is baked in a wide-mouthed oven like flatbread. Bubbling, salty cheese, a tangy herb blend with olive oil, or a spiced ground-meat mixture are spread over of top thin disks of dough, baking into the bread as truly as the flour and yeast.

Man’oushe is to Lebanese what the bagel is to New Yorkers: filling, cheap, and ubiquitous. It’s most often consumed for breakfast (but is by no means off-limits for afternoon hunger pains). The dish is a mundane thing in Sbeity’s mother country, sure, but only because it is so deeply intertwined with daily life. Sbeity likes sharing this part of his home.

But one doesn’t go to Laziz Kitchen in Salt Lake City for just-another-day kind of breakfast. We’re here to brunch. And though there are three man’oushe options on the menu, my two friends and I only go for one. I’d order them all, but one serving of man’oushe will apparently set you back $9 state-side. The forces of supply and demand, I suppose.

Laziz Kitchen, the brainchild of Sbeity and his husband, the aptly-named Salt Lake City Councilman Derek Kitchen, is immaculately designed. The space is clean and cohesive: a carefully chosen color palate leans on generous use of white spaces with pops of green and gold.

We order a sampling of the most tempting items. In addition to the essential za’atar man’oushe, we split the muhamara, a savory and luscious red pepper and walnut dip made with pomegranate molasses; a satiating fried cauliflower wrap dressed in cool, creamy tarator sauce and rich tahini; spiced labneh (the rich yoghurt is my personal favorite for dipping pita); and artfully herbed fried potatoes.

To create his thoughtful menu, Sbeity flew his mother in from Beirut and hired a kitchen staff of all Middle Eastern refugees, of which there are many in Salt Lake City. He and his mother trained the cooks together before she returned to Lebanon.

Sbeity says his particular staff makes the food better, because they already possess the lexicon of cooking techniques and tastes that his dishes need.

I tend to agree: as each element of the doughy man’oushe spreads over my tongue—the warm, bready base; the herby za’atar’s roasted sesame seeds and bright, citrusy sumac; the fresh, flavorful olive oil—they intertwine in a way not easily achieved by unpracticed hands. Nine bucks well-spent.

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