Breakfast has traditionally been the most important meal of the day -- even the secret way to stay healthy, say some, a means to better concentration throughout the day, a jumpstart for the metabolism, and a means to better weight control. "Breaking the fast" from the night's sleep with a hearty meal is a necessity to refuel for a new day. Foods served for this first meal vary, but for most it combines a carbohydrate, a protein, a fruit or vegetable and a beverage. From this basic four-part plan is a limitless array of menu options.
Some of my most memorable breakfasts include those consumed in Great Britain and Ireland at bed and breakfasts. Traditional breakfasts or "proper fry-up" include such stick-to-your-ribs items as fresh country eggs fried in Irish butter, fried potatoes, rashers (Irish bacon), bangers (sausages), stewed tomatoes, toasted homemade bread with rich creamy butter, jams and jellies, and hot coffee. Now that's a breakfast.
This romanticized view of good, hearty breakfasts of times past were for the most part fully realized as I set out to sample some of the top places to dine for the first meal of the day. What I found in common is that all breakfasts begin with a simple egg and a cup of hot coffee -- from there, the menus I discovered were a seemingly endless array of combinations and outlandish concoctions.
I found that most restaurants begin serving at 7am, which for some early diners can be a little late if the workday begins at 8am. Most times, my trips about town found me the first person through the door at 7am sharp. Over a span of a few weeks, I dined at more than a dozen places, seeking out some of the best breakfasts in town. For the most part, what I found were a number of very good diner-like restaurants serving up traditional breakfasts of bacon and eggs, toast, biscuits and gravy -- but also restaurants with breakfast specialties, creatively stretching the possibilities with eggs.
One of the first places that came to mind as I began this breakfast hunt had to be Brookside by Day, 3313 S. Peoria Ave. For more than 21 years, owner Kyle Phillips has been managing this restaurant, calling himself the "owner, manager, and head bus boy." He said what "sets us apart is that we are very consistent. People always know what they'll get."
He added that on weekend days, that is a lot of people -- serving up to 700 customers. Part of their continued success, Phillips said, is that they try to use high quality products. "There are many types of bacon, for example, and we try to use a high quality bacon," he said.
My friend and I found the bacon to be some of the best we tried on this journey. It was very flavorful, crispy and cooked fully. A result, Phillips said, of cooking it in an oven.
Phillips said the menu has not changed much through the years, only the daily specials change. Some crowd favorites he pointed out are French toast, omelets (especially the #8, which is sausage, onion, jalapeño, and pepper jack) and the Murrito. The breakfast menu is divided into five sections: eggs, omelets, house specialties, pancakes and breads, and side orders. I had one of the more popular menu items, the Basic Murrito and my friend had a two-egg breakfast with bacon, toast and home fries.
The Murrito is a large flour tortilla filled with scrambled eggs, sausage, green onions and cheddar cheese; it is served with fresh guacamole, sour cream and picante sauce. It lived up to its house specialty title; the combination of flavors and textures were great. The home fries (small cubed-cut potatoes) were fresh, hot, and non-greasy. The eggs were cooked perfectly over easy as requested; toast was toast, nothing special here.
This was a good meal, consistent from when I have the same meal years ago -- and it should. Phillips said he has had the same "kitchen guys for 15 years." Breakfasts are served all day beginning at 7am.
My next two breakfasts, back to back, were punctuated with chicken fried steak, at Corner Café, 11th and Peoria and Nelson's Buffeteria, 4401 S. Memorial Drive. The Corner Café, one of the few places opening at 6am seven days a week, has a traditional feel about it, where dining solo at the bar is a good option. However, I sat at a booth this morning with the Tulsa morning skyline in view. Server Tressa Mahoney said Corner Café's success is its friendly servers and good food. I found that to be true on both accounts.
Traditional diner breakfasts are featured here. "Some of more popular selections for breakfast are the Chicken Fried Steak -- it's really big, the skillets and the breakfast specials," Mahoney said. It's an extensive menu with basic breakfasts centered around eggs; Full Breakfasts which center around meat -- ham steak, ribeye steak, sirloin steak, pork chop, chicken fried steak; Skillets, where home fries are topped with any number of meats and veggies then topped with two eggs; Breakfast Burrito; Pancakes; Waffles; French Toast; and Omelets.
I ordered the Corner Café Chicken Fried Steak. Two eggs, hash browns, toast or biscuit and gravy came with the steak. The hash browns and eggs were on one plate, the steak with a knife under it was on another and the biscuit and gravy on yet another plate. The steak, as Mahoney said, was battered fresh to order in a flour and buttermilk combo. The batter was crispy and thick in places, the steak tender; it was consumed easily. Dipping it in the white pepper gravy made it even better. (Gravy is not homemade; it's from a powdered mix.) Hash browns were thinly cut and stringy with varying parts being crispy and tender. Very good. The over easy eggs were a little crispy on the bottom (not my preference), and one yolk was prematurely pierced before it encountered my fork. The biscuits were soft, warm and moist.
The next morning, my breakfast destination was Nelson's Buffeteria, a dining tradition in Tulsa since 1929. I knew what I wanted before I arrived: Hello Chicken Fried Steak and Gravy. Owner Suzanne Rogers, wife of the owner when Nelson's was downtown, said "Ours is a basic breakfast, and most all of it is made from scratch." She said breakfasts are served all day, beginning at 7am. The menu has fewer options from Corner Café. Specials include such items as basic egg and hash browns, ham and eggs, French toast and two eggs, bacon and tomato sandwich, breakfast hamburger (grilled burger topped with fried egg, lettuce, tomato) and short stack and two eggs. Also for breakfast are omelets and open-faced burritos.
My Hello Chicken Fried was yelled in the traditional way to the cook, "One Hello Chicken Fried!" to the smiles of customers who remembered the call at the downtown Nelson's. My server, Kailyn, was very attentive and friendly, filling coffee and making sure my meal was as ordered.
Sticky Buns at Blue Moon Café
It was. The Chicken Fried Steak, two over easy eggs, hash browns, and biscuit and gravy were a good way to begin the day. Rogers said the steaks are "made from scratch each day." She did not divulge the full recipe, but loosely said it is "breaded with flour, dipped in egg and milk then deep-fat fried."
It was served smothered in white creamy gravy on one plate with the eggs and hash browns. The steak was very good, a lighter, more airy coating of crust than what I had at Corner Café. The steak was tender, and was no problem eating it all gone. The hash browns were almost the same as Corner Café's -- Rogers said they are not freshly cut. Yet they were excellent -- crispy and hot. The eggs were fresh tasting and fried perfectly over easy. The biscuit and gravy tasted very similar to what I had at Corner Café. Same vendors? Like Corner Café, Rogers said the biscuits and gravy are purchased from a vendor and prepared in house.
One item she wanted to highlight was the Breakfast Hamburger, which is a grilled burger topped with fried egg, lettuce, tomato and served with hash browns. What makes it so good, Rogers said, is that said they freshly grind the meat themselves every day.
Duffy's Grill, 2424 E. 15th St., was my next stop. Duffy's "home style cooking" serves breakfast all day, which is good because sometimes breakfast for dinner is a necessary thing. The menu is very similar to Corner Café with a number of similar selections and combinations. Two egg breakfasts with corned beef hash or diced ham or top sirloin or pork chops; three-egg omelets; specialty omelets; pancakes; waffles and French toast. The batter for the pancakes and waffles are made from scratch daily. Dishes with a smiley face next to them are a Duffy's favorite. I tried the Pancake Party which had a smiley face. This meal consisted of two pancakes, two eggs, two sausage patties or two bacon strips. I ordered one of each at the recommendation of the server. My dining friend had a smiley face dish, the Ham Steak Breakfast, 8-ounce ham steak served with two eggs, hash browns, biscuits and gravy or toast.
The pancakes were as large as the plate they were served on; they were very tasty with a light, fluffy texture and a solid rich taste of freshness. Hot syrup and soft butter only perfected them. The over easy eggs were beautiful specimens, fried well and tasted fresh. Both bacon and sausage patty had a good taste to them, but the sausage patty was a bit greasy. The ham steak breakfast was very hearty. The thickly-cut ham appeared to have been sliced off a full ham; it was fried with a little crispiness on the sides. It was very moist and flavorful. The sunny-side-up eggs were fried well and the hash browns were from the same vendor and taste from Corner Café and Nelson's. They were consistently good, crispy and tender with a taste of a seasoned grill.
My next stop on the diner trail was Tally's Café, 11th and Yale. Opening at 6am, Tally's offers the breakfast menu until it closes at 11pm, except for waffles, grits, and oatmeal. Jennifer Sanders, who is the night-time cashier, said "what sets Tally's breakfasts apart from other diners is the size of the omelets -- they are very good and for a good price." She even said if she were to come in and eat, she would go for the Everything Omelet which really does have most everything -- ham, bacon, sausage, beef, green peppers, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, cheese and jalapeños.
The breakfast menu has a number of similar items as the other diners, but there is enough difference to make it interesting. There's a High Energy Omelet with diced chicken tender with onion, mushrooms, tomatoes, and cheese; a Mediterranean Omelet with artichoke hearts, tomatoes, onion, feta cheese, and green olives; and a Farmer's Omelet with golden hash browns, diced sausage, green pepper, onion, and cheese. Tally's also has traditional egg breakfasts, but they have jazzed it up with these combinations: French Scrambled Sandwich (croissant stuffed with scrambled eggs, mushrooms, bacon, American cheese and hash browns); Smart Bomb (hash browns with diced ham, bacon, sausage, beef, onion, green pepper, jalapeño, mushrooms, tomatoes, cheese topped with two eggs and toast); Pasta Tiamo (penne pasta, scrambled eggs, sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, onions, and green peppers, sprinkled with parmesan cheese and served with Texas toast). Hot Cakes include Fruit Pancakes (blueberry, strawberry, cinnamon apple, banana), Pecan Pancakes, and Cheesecake Pancakes; there are also French Cinnamon Toast and Tally's famous homemade cinnamon roll, which fills an entire plate. Sanders called this the "sin-namon" roll, which "is homemade, of course, from scratch each day." I did have one of these, and what I enjoyed most was the generous glaze drizzled over the top of the roll; it had a slight coffee flavor to it. The roll was fresh and tender, "good and gooey" just as Sanders said.
For my main breakfast, I ordered the Popeye Omelet which had spinach as the headliner, of course; bacon, onion, mushrooms, tomatoes also filled the egg. All this was topped with a good measure of Hollandaise sauce and melted cheddar cheese. A more--than-generous portion of home fries came with the omelet.
The omelet was very good, each bite with a little different taste. The crispy bacon added not only flavor but a good texture; the Hollandaise sauce and cheese on top really complemented it all. The home fries were cubed-cut potatoes and fried. They were good, but probably not from freshly-cut potatoes. I had a side of biscuits and gravy, and both were very good. The biscuit was tender, moist, and flaky and the white gravy was creamy and rich. Sanders said both are homemade.
My friend who was dining with me had a simple breakfast: two eggs, bacon and grits. Nothing special with this breakfast -- eggs were cooked well, bacon was crispy and rich in flavor and the grits added a real Southern flair to the meal.
My next stop was one of my favorite hamburger haunts, Brownie's Hamburgers, 2130 S. Harvard Ave. There are often a lot of cars there in the morning for breakfast, so I stopped in one morning to see what they offer. Waitress Mandy Smith explained that "it's a small menu of eggs with ham, bacon or sausage, biscuits and gravy, pancakes, and Belgian waffle." She did say the ham is cut off from a bone-in ham, and that a new menu item is the breakfast sandwich, which is Texas toast, white or wheat, with anything added to it from the breakfast menu. Pancakes are a popular breakfast item; she described them as "delicious, big and fluffy." I opted for a very basic breakfast of two over easy eggs, hash browns, bacon and biscuit and gravy.
I have to say I was disappointed with this breakfast. The potential was there, but it just was not executed well. The hash browns were overcooked -- too brown, crispy and greasy. The bacon could have been crispier and warmer. The eggs were the best thing going for this meal. The biscuit and gravy were barely warm. The server did say if the gravy was not warm enough, she could "nuke it in the microwave." That did not sound too appealing, so I passed. I haven't counted them out for a return visit, but for now I'll stick to Brownie's hamburgers, which are some of the best in town.
Probably my favorite diner was Savoy, 6033 S. Sheridan Road. Bill, the owner and manager, said Savoy began in downtown at 3rd and Detroit, and was there until urban renewal forced them out in the early '70s. "My father and grandfather started Savoy in 1954, and we've been here at this location since 1975," he said. "Everything we do here is all from scratch -- pancakes, bread, and we try to use all fresh ingredients, vegetables and fruits."
It's been years since I've dined here, and I was surprised by the number of cars in the parking lot before 7am this weekday morning. Savoy serves breakfast from 6-11am weekdays. You seat yourself here, as happens at most diners. I selected a table in a room filled with a number of early morning business meetings. Bill said they want to give the customers "the best experience," and Georgia, my waitress, had a very pleasant and welcoming demeanor serving me. She brought me hot coffee as I reviewed the menu. Eggs and Omelets, Skillets, Pancakes and More, and Cereal are the breakfast divisions. Skillets seem to be a new item on many diner menus of late. Savoy has two, the California Skillet (home fried potatoes covered with ham, sausage, onion, bell pepper, avocado, scrambled eggs, and Monterey Jack cheese with sour cream and salsa) and the Mexican Skillet (tortilla chips covered with ham, sausage, onion, bell pepper, avocado, scrambled eggs, Monterey Jack and cheddar cheese with sour cream and salsa).
Bill said if he were to come in and eat at Savoy as a guest, he would order the omelet. I took his suggestion and ordered the Garden Omelet with spinach, onion, bell pepper, tomato, and mushrooms and covered with cheddar cheese. This omelet had to be one of the best I've had. The eggs had a freshness about them that was not evident with other diners. The cheese was quite generous on top and the vegetables (especially the spinach) inside were the ultimate in freshness. Fresh hash browns came with this; they were fried well, soft with some crispiness. I had a biscuit and gravy with the meal. Savoy is one of the few places where the gravy and biscuits are still homemade. Georgia said the kitchen staff arrives at 3am to begin the breakfast prep -- no microwaves used here, she said.
I would be remiss not to mention Savoy's famous cinnamon rolls -- they are the best in town with a crispy top, lots of glaze in and around the concentric circles of warm soft dough.
After the doing the diner circuit, I was ready for something new. I tried a few other places -- some recommended to me and others that I already frequent. Blue Moon Café, 3512 S. Peoria Ave., was a place I was happy to return to. Kim Nelson, one of the co-owners, said what's different about Blue Moon Café is that "our meals emphasize the Mexican side -- migas, wraps, burritos, and tacos." She additionally said they feature Lavazza coffee, an Italian roast, and I did notice that coffee at Blue Moon was so much richer and tastier than all the diner coffee I drank.
My friend and I happened to order two of the more popular breakfast menu items according to Nelson, the Chile Verde con Huevos (two eggs any style over slow cooked pork in green chili sauce served with flour tortillas) and Huevos Rancheros (two over easy eggs on corn tortillas with melted cheddar and topped with ranchero sauce, served with potatoes). Both dishes were excellent! The chile verde was mildly spicy yet light enough for breakfast. Piercing the yolks over the tortillas, mixing the gravy yolk with the salsa was an incredible taste. Thinly sliced home fried potatoes came with this. Kim said the potatoes are boiled, sliced then fried to a delicate crispiness. They were excellent.
Blue Moon does have basic breakfasts as well as French toast, pancakes, steel cut oatmeal, and quiche. And it's fun to check out all the different salt and pepper shakers.
My next stop took me to Broken Arrow, Egg It On Café, 1131 S. Aspen. The menu here is an interesting collection of dishes of all sorts. The meals are divided into Traditionals, Oatmeals, Off the Griddle, Pancakes, and Egg-Sclusively Ours (Oklahoma Burrito, Macho Man, Breakfast Eggchiladas, Sun Rise Tacos), Egg It On Benny's, Egg-Cellent Omelets, Basic Omelets, Mini Omelets, Crepes and Eggs, Heath Department (Nurse Lowe's Wrap, Veg Out Scramble, Dr. Paul's Parfait), Egg-Citing Skillets. The problem with a menu such as this is the time it takes to select something. Eventually, my friend and I came to a decision. I went with a Frittata and my friend ordered the Egg It On Benny's with corned beef hash.
My frittata was good, but not excellent. Scrambled eggs were cooked with spinach then topped with fresh chopped tomatoes, chopped bacon, black olives and topped with Monterey Jack cheese. Salsa was served on the side. It was filling and tasty, but nothing too special. This came with a two buttered English muffins and home fried potatoes. Again, nothing special about these sides. The Egg It On Benny's, on the other hand, was one of the best dishes of this breakfast adventure. Halved English muffins were topped with fresh corned beef hash, two poached eggs, and Hollandaise sauce. Eat bite had deep, rich flavors; the hash was crispy in places and had a pleasant flavor of the grill. This non-traditional eggs Benedict was something I'd go back for. This dish came with two more English muffins (not sure why) and a few pieces of fresh fruit -- strawberries and cantaloupe.
I had to dine at Dilly Deli, 402 E. 2nd St., to revisit their breakfasts. It's just a fun place to hang out. I took some very scrupulous diners with me on this trip -- youth who can be very critical when it comes to eating. The menu is fun with Savory and Sweet selections with names that do not mean much to the customer. Savory includes such dishes as Tina (lox, cream cheese, tomato and red onions on a bagel), Meg (fried egg, tomato, lettuce, bacon and cheddar served on sourdough), and on the sweet side, The Sager (brioche French toast with maple syrup) and Sophie (McCann's steel cut Irish oatmeal with butter and brown sugar). Manager Steve Haddigan said the names come from general manager Drew Titchener's family and friends. He said some of the more popular breakfast items include the Petey Pie which is homemade corned beef hash, two eggs, and a biscuit and the Green Eggs and Ham. That is what I ordered on my visit here.
This dish is a mound stacked with hash browns, spinach, prosciutto, pesto, Parmesan cheese, sundried tomatoes, and two fried eggs. This was a beautiful presentation to cast my eye on, and even better when I began eating it. No bite was the same -- so many textures and flavors made the dining experience an adventure. One of my dining companions ordered the Vince and Joel, one-half order of French toast, two eggs, and bacon. She loved the rich flavor of the brioche toast; the eggs were perfectly fried sunny side up and the bacon disappeared quickly. She was pleased with her meal.
My other companion ordered simply biscuits and gravy, and likewise, had little problem finishing his meal. Haddigan mentioned that some of their meat products come from Fassler Hall, where the chorizo and breakfast sausage is homemade. In addition, he said the pastries and biscuits are made in-house at Dilly Deli, and the cream gravy is a vegetarian gravy, made with oil instead of fat.
One other place for breakfast that needs to be mentioned is off the trodden path of breakfast destinations, Foundations Restaurant at the Culinary Institute at Platt College, 3801 S. Sheridan Road. Talk of this restaurant has made it out among some in Tulsa, but little is heard about the very good and very inexpensive breakfasts served Monday through Friday. Chef Terral Summers, breakfast manager, filled me on of what they do here. "I wanted to start doing breakfast because some of our students did not have time or the money to eat before classes," he said. He began serving breakfasts two years ago, and "it has progressed into this."
"This" is a different breakfast item Monday through Friday for only $3 (no drinks included). "It's geared for a grab and go system," he said. "Guests can come in to sit down and eat, but it is more of a quick in and out thing." Service begins at 7:30am. Chef Summers said all is made to order, and he did mention that he does not take call-ins. "It's quick -- no one should be there more than five minutes," he said.
The daily menu is this: Monday, Breakfast Tacos -- chorizo, scrambled eggs with award-winning Scooter's Salsa (first place award winner at Salsa Fest) on flour tortilla. Tuesday is French Toast -- a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, cream and egg with Texas toast or on special request Challah bread. This comes with Chef Summers famous candied bacon -- smoked bacon with candied brown sugar and coarsely ground black pepper. Wednesday is a traditional breakfast of bacon, eggs, and toast. Thursday is what has come to be known as The Big Sandwich -- a large jalapeño bun layered with black forest ham, fried egg, pepper jack cheese, and creamy-smoky sauce. Bread is toasted on flattop to make it even better. On Friday, it's traditional biscuits and heavy cream sausage gravy. Summers was quick to point out this is a homemade gravy -- no powdered mixes here. He said he makes it with butter, sausage drippings, flour, heavy cream, black pepper and breakfast Sausage. Gravy is poured over a house-made biscuit.
Along with these daily specials, Foundations offers an assortment of sweet items -- homemade cinnamon rolls, cookies, sticky buns, and yogurt parfait (fresh fruit and granola). He also has developed a variety of savory biscuits: ham and cheese, sausage and cheese, bacon and cheese, and chorizo and cheese biscuit.
One other place that I enjoyed needs to be mentioned is The Phoenix, 1302 E. 6th St. Not a traditional breakfast destination, The Phoenix does prepare a few bagel breakfast sandwiches worth mentioning. I had the Green Eggs and Ham bagel sandwich of spinach, eggs, ham, Swiss cheese, and honey Dijon poppy seed dressing. It was light yet filling and very rich with flavor. Also there's a Breakfast of Champions with turkey or regular sausage, eggs and choice of cheese; Rumble fish with nova lox, lettuce, tomato, capers, red onion and cream cheese; and Don Quixote, with turkey or regular sausage, egg, Monterrey Jack cheese, jalapeño salsa and cream cheese.
An assortment of bagels are available as well as pastries and croissants. Operational manager Jeff Thompson said that all the bagels are made fresh each day "in the New York style of boiling and baking." Thompson also mentioned that the coffee served is from Endo's Coffee Roastery of Stillwater and Intelligentsia's drip coffee, as they "want to use both local and national companies" for their coffee.
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