Monday, April 7, 2014

The Politeness of Strangers in Oakland

Piedmont Cafe and Bakery is just the sort of unassuming-looking, hole-in-the-wall diner that immediately made my mouth water the first time I passed it. Even on a street packed with every type of restaurant, and literally across the street from the incredible Caffe Trieste (all in due time, my foodies!), the Piedmont Cafe screamed out for a low-key, high-calorie breakfast experience. Just the kind I like! Piedmont is a cool little street, the area between MacArthur and where the street literally dead-ends into one of the most beautiful and sprawling cemeteries I've ever seen, the Chapel of the Chimes. Along this little stretch of street there's three bookstores, five coffee shops, one theatre, any food you could want, a handful of boutiques, and one hundred places to get your nails done. On one of our first explorations of Piedmont, the Lady and I began talking to a local in the A.G. Ferrari's, an impressive Italian deli. One of the first questions he asked of us upon hearing we'd moved to the area was "Have you found your closest Trader Joe's yet?" That's kind of the vibe of Piedmont... lots of chai lattes and North Face jackets.
But not the Piedmont Cafe and Bakery! It is salt-of-the-earth, greasy spoon diner at its best. And by best, I mean they bake their own donuts! I'll wait while you process that.
The Lady and I walked in and stood awkwardly in that way that one does upon entering a new restaurant, when a guy behind us came in and sat down at the bar. We looked at each other, shrugged, and sat in between him and an elderly gentlemen reading on his iPad. We eyed the menu and got coffee in mugs plastered with ads for other businesses, most I suspect are no longer functioning. The Lady ordered a stack of pancakes, while I opted for a chili cheese omelette with home fries because chili cheese omelette.
This would typically be right around the part of the blog where I post a photo of the food, but something happened. I forget how it started, but we ended up striking up a conversation with our bar-mate, as it were, the gentleman named Darryl that had entered behind us and guided us, Moses-like, to our seats. This is a fact about the Bay Area. Everyone is nice here. Everyone will talk to you. Whether it's the guy at Ferrari's asking us whether we'd found our Trader Joe's, Darryl telling the tale of how he stole his dad's comic books back from his mom after the divorce, or the cyclist riding up to me to tell me that I had his name (Read, pronounced like, y'know, the name) on my shirt, strangers will start conversations with you and it does not mean that they are crazy. It's a wonderful thing.
So my omelette arrived, delicious and with two neat slices of melted cheddar on top, the potatoes fabulous if not novel, and the Lady's pancakes floated down from Heaven like a half-stack of clouds, and Darryl got pancakes AND a bacon omelette, I think, because he is a champ and it is a biological law that unless you write a breakfast blog on the regular, if you are a human being you always think you want an entire stack of pancakes but you always, always forget that it is almost impossible to complete them. Also, at least one of the employees had a shirt emblazoned with "Piedmond Cafe," perhaps signaling that he is from an alternate reality.
The bathroom, semi-hidden behind a curtain at the back of the diner, is covered with a pastoral mural, which the Lady and I deduce was executed by the same artist that has painted the entire inside of the Coffee Mill, which if I recall correctly, boasts being the first coffee shop in Oakland. This mural, in turn, has been rather expertly graffitied with unicorns, a couple of creatures which are either flying spaghetti monsters or mi-gos, and a bit of metagraffiti which declares the farmhouse is "HELL." So what I'm saying is, it is awesome.

  Atmosphere: 4/13
Clean: 2/3
Structural: 0/3
Decor: 1/3
Signage 0/2
Service: 1/2

  Menu: 7/8
Variety: 1/2
Size: 2/2
Beverages: 2/2
Prices: 2/2

  Food: 5/9
Presentation: 1/3
Portion: 2/3
Taste: 2/3

  Bathroom: 4/5
Clean: 1/2
Structural: 1/1
Decor: 2/2

  Overall 20/35

Friday, March 28, 2014

Oola La!

Welcome and welcome back, readers! Pinkies up if you're fancy! My first breakfast visit as an official Bay Arean (wait, scratch that... and stop reading out loud!) ...let's just say Oaklander. My first breakfast visit as an official Oaklander is San Francisco's Oola!

The Lady and I met up with mutual friends for brunch last week. It's in a funny spot by the Yerba Buena Gardens, and seems to be a bit of a secret for now. Going for brunch at 9 o'clock on a Saturday is dangerous business, this city loves it some brunch! So I was surprised when we opened the giant, industrial door to find we had the place pretty much to ourselves! The interior is a little cavernous, in that repurposed-warehouse sort of way that is the look du jour. We fell into one of thei soft-leather booths. The Lady and her friend both ordered the Mission Standoff, which includes a shot of Patron, a Bloody Mary, and a PBR. Our other friend ordered all day mimosas, which allowed him to choose which juice he would like each time, as he rotated through their options of orange, blood orange, mango, and pineapple.
I ordered a coffee, which was a surprisingly delicious French Roast from Equator Roasters. Along with the requisite ramekin of cream it came with a tiny mason jar full of sugars, including both raw and bleached sugar cubes, which was a very nice touch. Our server was pretty much THE NICEST guy ever, even acknowledging the shameless foodstagramming going on by waiting patiently until we got our shots. We ordered a round of oysters on the half shell that were pretty incredible, and then a round a fairly hearty breakfasts. Our friends ordered the Loco Moco and two poached eggs on mascarpone polenta, The Lady got some swedish pancakes, and I could not pass up some good old fashioned chicken and waffles.
The chicken comes in nuggets, with lemon and black pepper, and is damn tasty. It's lightly glazed with their apple maple syrup, but comes with another healthy serving if you want to drown those chickies. The Lady's meal was probably the lightest (I fell I should have known this, but apparently "Swedish pancakes" means "crepes"), but the rest were fairly substantial. The Loco Moco was definitely the crowd pleaser, with that seductively tender pork belly. Seriously, it's obscene.
We spent the rest of the morning shopping along Market, before we went our separate ways for the day. Oola is most definitely recommended for a City brunch, especially if you're tired of fighting the morning crowds in Hayes Valley and other feeding zones!

 Atmosphere: 9/13
Clean: 2
Structural: 2
Decor: 2
Signage: 1
Service: 2

Menu: 6/8
Variety: 2
Size: 1
Beverages: 2
Prices: 1

Food: 6/9
Presentation: 2
Portion: 2
Taste: 2

Bathroom: 3/5
Clean: 2
Structural: 0
Decor: 1

Overall: 24/35

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Glorious Return

Hello, again readers! How are you? How have you been? As some of you may know, I have recently relocated. Nowhere near as exotic as Iran or India, but I have recently left the tree-lined streets of sunny Sacramento for the saline shores of the lovely Lake Merritt in Oakland. Do you know what that means? A whole new major metropolitan area to explore! Designer donuts, copious caf├ęs, and so much more. So the Morning Constitution will return, now bringing you the best breakfasts in the Bay! See you soon!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

BaconFest '11!

I heard whispers of Sacramento's Inaugural BaconFest on the breeze, like a choir or angels. Seeing as how bacon is a huge reason I eat meat at all, it was a must-see. I try to eat vegetarian throughout the week for a variety of reasons, but doing so on the weekend severely limits my breakfast options. How else would you, my loyal reader(s), know about the Best Bacon in Sacramento?! I make these sacrifices for you. Last weekend, the 'Fest arrived.
It was a decentralized three-day event; there was no specific, separate location for it, but it was hosted at different venues for different events all weekend. (Un)fortunately, last weekend was a very busy acting weekend for me, so I wasn't able to participate in all of the events, but I made a couple.
The first night was hosted at Luigi's Fungarden, a pizza-by-the-slice joint and music venue. They had a Kevin Bacon Tribute night, featuring bands playing various songs from Kevin Bacon movies, which is a brilliant play on the theme. They had a BLT pizza, although it there was no signage for it, and by the time we got there, there were only a couple pieces off to the side. I took a stab at ordering it, even though it looked like someone else's order. There seemed to be several people who seemed to be under the impression that Bacon Beer was to be served as well, but was apparently not (and I have it on good authority that trying to make your own at the table is a bad idea). The BLT pizza was very good, with thin slices of tomato, lots of lettuce, and a drizzle of Ranch on top. It had a very nice, fresh taste.

The event I was really excited about was the next morning at Magpie Cafe. I'd only recently been to Magpie for the first time for dinner, and was excited to taste that all the buzz was substantiated. They have a regularly rotating menu, and I was sure they'd come up with something exciting for BaconFest.

Not having been there for breakfast before, I can't vouch for what their menu usually looks like, but there didn't seem to be a huge selection of bacon-related items. Well, perhaps that's not entirely true, and I have a confession to make; I don't like BLT's. I know, I know, I just enjoyed a BLT pizza the night before, but here's my thing; I'm not a huge fan of tomatoes. "You have to have them fresh from the farm, etc," I've heard all the arguments, but a combination of their watery taste and texture does not appeal to me. It doesn't appeal to me, at least, when it is the focus of a dish. Used within something, that's fine, and I liked the pizza the previous night because the 'maters were sliced thin. Magpie's menu had four bacon-related items, two of which were BLTs. Having crossed those off my list, that left their breakfast sandwich and a pork belly frittata. Out of the two, the sando sounded the most appealing, but I figured that was something I could get any day of the week, and I wanted something unique. I ordered the frittata, which included tomatoes and brussel sprouts. I also saw a bacon peanut butter hazelnut brownie in the pastry case, as well as a bacon maple bar. I ordered the brownie as well, and a coffee.

The brownie was damn tasty, with little bacon chunks that added a little salt and texture, but nothing overpowering in the bacon department (which would not necessarily have been bad). It was rich and delicious, and felt good with the hot coffee slicing through it. Our food arrived (Emily ordered a sausage sandwich, having a fickle relationship with bacon herself) promptly despite the place being near full. I snuck a bite of her sandwich, which came on a toasty ciabatta. It was really good, and I look forward to enjoying one of my own in the future. It also came with caramel-drizzled fruit that was extremely tasty; the caramel lent a delicate flavor that was not overbearing. My frittata came with some breakfast potatoes, which included some purple potatoes, which were beautiful and pretty darn tasty. The frittata itself came garnished with a veritable tiny salad on top. The pork belly was good, but it had a fairly light flavor to it as well, and the brussel sprouts gave it the least bit of sourness. Over all, I was honestly unimpressed. Not that it was bad by any means, but for "BaconFest" I wanted something greasier, saltier... baconier. Something, perhaps, less delicate. I realize that perhaps I have only myself to blame for excising myself out of the running on the BLTs.

Other events included bacon beer and food at Pangea that night, bacon brunch at Golden Bear the following day (which I was sorely disappointed I had to miss), and the main event at Mulvaney's Sunday night. That included a bacon - related competition featuring some of Sacramento's top chefs. The event was $20, included three beers or glasses of wine, and bacon-related appetizers and small plates while watching the competition. That is a pretty good deal, except that I don't drink, as a general rule, and I don't really enjoy beer or wine at all. Twenty dollars for small plates and snacks seemed steep, while watching chefs prepare delicious food I wouldn't be able to eat.

Even though my personal experience was about 50/50, I'm excited for the next 'Fest. It seems they had a larger group of venues wanting to be involved than they expected, but the only way to find out about those seemed to follow BaconFest on Twitter. It would be amazing to have a more centralized location, if possible, like the Garlic and Asparagus Festivals in the area, while still offering deals or special menus at various spots around town. Any way it might manifest, I'm excited for the BaconFest of the future!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Having The Chops

Good morning again! Today brings reports of another Constitutional, this time to the City By The Bay. It seems a little strange that I've reported back on breakfast in Seattle before San Francisco, but seeing as how SF is only a couple hours away, it's been a long time since I've actually spent the night there (or been there early enough to get breakfast!). My lady and I recently spent a couple days of adventure down there, however, and I made it a mission statement to enjoy as many breakfasts as I could!

Emily's recommendation was for the Pork Store Cafe on Haight. Due to the limited seating, we had to wait outside, but not too long. We sat at the diner counter, a perfect spot to breathe deep the greasy spoon vibe. There's something reminiscent of Sacramento's Pancake Circus in the happy cartoon pigs painted on the walls, only without the unbridled terror the former destination's paintings bring. Keeping with my general idea to order the weirdest -- or at least most insane-sounding -- item on a new menu, I selected "Eggs In A Tasty Nest," while Emily decided on the Pork Store Special. We both go juice, and I had a coffee as well to help restore my humanity. As much as I enjoy artisan, extravagant, exotic coffees, there is a certain charm to burnt diner coffee. It's a different beverage entirely, one you alter with milk and sugar to become a caramelized candy confection, but it is just as enjoyable as a well-brewed cup of Ethiopian. Sometimes, even more so.
The "tasty nest" the menu describes is a delicious mess of cheese, hash browns, garlic, tomatos, green peppers, bacon, and onions topped with two over easy eggs and served with biscuits. It was very tasty, indeed, an huge pile of pretty much everything I like about breakfast. I snuck a bite of Emily's pork chops as she scaled the stairs to the bathroom, and found them equally enjoyable.
Given how busy it was, the service was very good, if not not extraordinary. I sat next to an Australian cyclist, and it was clear very quickly that it was kitschy enough to be a hipster hot spot. It was crowded, but not so loud we couldn't hold a conversation about meditation vs hallucinogens.
The upstairs bathroom has a balcony overlooking the restaurant that makes it feel a little like a Wes Anderson set, and the bathroom itself is covered in graffiti, as any good, hip, urban bathroom should be. All in all, a very fun experience and a great way to start your day if you plan on burning calories exploring and adventuring! More from this particular Constitutional coming soon, but get ready for this next week's coverage of Sacramento's Bacon Fest!

Atmosphere: 7/13
Clean: 1/3
Structural: 2/3
Decor: 2/3
Signage 1/2
Service: 1/2

Menu: 7/8
Variety: 2/2
Size: 2/2
Beverages: 1/2
Prices: 2/2

Food: 6/9 pts
Presentation: 2/3
Portion: 2/3
Taste: 2/3

Bathroom: 3*/5 pts.
Clean: 1/2
Structural: 0/1
Decor: 2/2

Overall: 23/35

*This is a complete matter of personal taste, and could easily be a score of zero, depending on such. I'm counting the copious amount of graffiti as decoration, since it surpasses a few scrawls and is so dense it's visually arresting. However, I completely understand if you feel that this makes the bathroom look disgustingly dirty. I understand, but you're wrong.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy 2012!!

A Belated Happy Holidays from the Morning Constitution! I apologize for the lack of recent posts, but the last couple months have been incredibly busy in both the predictable, and some unpredictable ways.
I celebrated Christmas Eve at Tower Cafe with a good group of friends, enjoying their delicious, seasonal, Eggnog Pancakes. Yesterday I celebrated New Year's Eve at Orphan with some Nutella Pancakes! Both varieties were extra delicious.
I received two Christmas gifts which will directly contribute to the awesome ratio of this blog; a new camera with better.... everything, that actually focuses, and a notebook with two tigers on it (important!) to take notes during breakfastses. I'm excited about being able to make the blog more entertaining and far prettier due to both of those!
It's been a year already, and I'd like to offer a truly heartfelt thank you to all of you who have followed or otherwise enjoyed this blog. It's been a true pleasure, and I hope to continue it for a while to come.

Here are some fun facts from the first year of the Morning Constitution;

Two people found the blog by searching for "Stephanie Hyden" (thanks, Steffie!).
One person found it by searching for "person in the wolf suit!"
As of this moment, the page has been viewed 550 times! Twice in Latvia, five times in Ghana, and 43 times in Malaysia, certainly largely due to the fact that my last name translates to "Gecko" in Malaysian.
French Toast, Pancakes, and Omelettes tied for the most tagged food items this year.

Lots more to come in 2012; a new mini-Constitutional coming soon, new reviews, and lots more excitement! Thanks for sticking around!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

October; Horror-ibly Busy!


I've been trying to get around to an update for weeks, now, but October's been so crazy I haven't had time! I have, however, had lots of breakfasts! I made it out to Golden Bear on a couple occasions (official review pending!).

One of those brunches was a pre-emptive birthday breakfast with a couple of film-makin' buddies. We went out to see the prequel version of "The Thing," which was thoroughly entertaining, and well executed. Is it as good as John Carpenter's? No, but honestly, few movies are; his version is a beautiful example of suspense, horror, sci-fi, and film-making in general. My parents also took me out to Tower on my actual birthday, and I enjoyed the seasonal french toast, a side of their great bacon, and a delicious, free dessert! The next day I trucked it down to Orphan to have a tasty smoothie and breakfast quesadilla!

I spent a lot of free time hunting for various costumes for the multiple events over the month, and it was nice to see the city getting in the mood, too! I co-hosted the Comedy Spot's Cage Match on Thursday, a competitive comedy show hosted by my new buddy Chris Miller. In a Halloween theme, I played my scary-clown-luchador character El Payaso Del Diablo. It was a lot of fun and a good chance to perform on stage again! El Payaso is a fun, bizarre and creepy character to play, a sort of odd mix of innocence and ultra violence. Chris: "So, you're a clown...and you do birthday parties. What sort of things do you do?" Payaso: "Well, you know, I know some balloon animals, and some magic tricks." Chris: "Oh. magic tricks? Like what?" Payaso: "Well, I can pull a guy's intestines out of his ear!"

The next weekend was insanely full; all three days I utilized my pass for the Sacramento Horror Film Festivalto its fullest, spending as much time as I could in the historic Colonial Theatre, soaking up some great horror films! The festival is very well organized, and has a great variety of small, indie films and studio films. The first night I took in some shorts, and then the appropriately named "Vile," the flagship for cinema's torture-porn armada. Friday and Saturday night I also found myself at the Crest for TFO's showing of Zombie. For the pre-show, I found myself dressed as a pimp, out on K Street with my zombie-boxing cohort Rae Wright, yelling at strangers. It was amazing! Zombie was fantastic, and a true Trash Film; a perfect blend of awesome and terrible, perfect for heckling and appreciation!

Saturday I made my way to the Mighty Kong Cafe for breakfast, and some of muy chosen Halloween reading, the wonderful, VanderMeer-edited tome "Thackery T. Lambshead's Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases," a compendium of fictional diseases that range from the hilarious to the horrific. I got a waffle with their house-made sausages, and some one of their renowned muffins!
At the Fest, I got to watch Nightmare Before Christmas on the big screen, and it was followed by tons of awesome shorts. Then, one of the highlights of the entire festival for me, the feature Absentia. This movie is amazing! It starts a little heavy-handed, but contains some of the most sincere acting I've ever seen, and is one of the best examples of low-budget, less-is-more horror ever. Brilliant! Sunday I got to see another of my new favorites, Trick 'R Treat, and a lot of shorts, including the Filmmaker's Challenge shorts. One was my entry; a short I acted in along with Christina Crowe, Sean Kime, and Steffie Hyden. We filmed it entirely on cellphones in a day or three. It ended up winning not only the Judges' Award, but the Audience Choice Award as well! It was a lot of fun and really rewarding!
The next week, I worked the third annual One Scary Night party. I got to have a bit of a bigger role than the previous two years, including the ability to speak! The last couple times I've worked it, I've been a zombie, but this year I got to be the diabolic Ringmaster. The part was a lot quieter than previous years, however, and since my own entertainment is directly linked to crowdwork, it wasn't quite as much fun, either. I spent the next day recovering, especially since Saturday was ultra-loaded!
I scooted over to Tower for some of their incredible pumpkin pancakes first thing. Always a seasonal favorite. Next, I spent the afternoon with family before spending the evening with friends; specifically, the delightfully demented folks of the Trash Film Orgy. It was an awesome warehouse party, filled with fantastic costumes. I dressed up as the Obelisk from 2001: A Space Odyssey (that's right I did!). There was a Link, a Rattman from Portal, Peter Pan and his (her) Shadow, X-23, Mystique, Wolverine, and Zatanna, just to name a few. It was a thoroughly entertaining night, which also included live performances from Tragically White, as well as the debut of the TFO-produced Tragically White video I got to shoot with them a few weeks back!

Overall, it was a pretty incredible month; I rounded it out with an awesome haunted house, Nosferatu on the big screen, and Rocky Horror. Now I'm trying to get my feet back under me for an equally exciting Holiday season. More soon!