Eckerlin Meats: Gotta get Goetta…

During my brief stint in the Queen City, I wanted to sample one of those signature regional dishes exclusively found in the city of Cincinnati: Goetta.  Goetta, for those of you as unacquainted as I was, is a breakfast patty style sausage of German American origin believed to have been developed by working class German immigrants in the mid 19th century.  Composed of ground pork, beef, onions spices and steel cut oats, the dish is a holdover from times when meat budgets had to be stretched out over several meals.  Today it stands as a cultural nuance unique to Cincinnati, and worthy of a sample.

Shortly after the Bearcats game, I made a bee line towards the historic Findlay Market in search of a place called Eckerlin Meats, rumored to have the best Goetta in town.  In continuous operation since 1852, Eckerlin has been a family butcher shop for over 160 years, likely the oldest establishment I have visited on my travels.  As I press into the tiny storefront, I’m greeted by Christa and her husband Bob, the 5th generation owners of the cozy butcher shop.  With an enticing array of house cured meats tucked behind glass cases, I motion towards the Goetta, shelved in a long, pressed loaf.

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After sharing my story with them, they generously offer to fire up the cooktop (already shut down for the day), and crisp up a few slices for me.  Bob tells me that they go through about 500lbs of the stuff here a week at Eckerlin’s, and the city of Cincinnati consumes some 2 million lbs of the dish annually.

Already pre cooked the Goetta crisps up quickly. Christa presents me with a golden browned slice of the meat, along with a Goetta and egg breakfast sandwich.  Crispy on the outside, the interior is chewy and filling, with notes of onion and mild spicing.  After sampling both offerings, the dish most closely resembles scrapple or haggis.  But the savory profile of pork and beef pairs perfectly with a few eggs, and this makes for one fantastic breakfast accompaniment.

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Before I leave, I have Bob vacuum seal a few pounds of the stuff for me to take back to St. Louis.   After a long night out on the town, Goetta deserves a shot in the vaunted hangover breakfast rotation and I’ll have a few chunks in the freezer ready to go…

Eckerlin Meats Website:

Runcible Spoon – Irish Breakfast in Bloomington

Walking up to the Runcible Spoon on 6th Street in downtown Bloomington, it looks like any other house lining the side street.A simple cottage in a residential neighborhood, a perennial garden out front and a flagstone patio, the “Spoon” has occupied the same converted home since 1976.An Irishman greeted me inside the door with a warm “What kin I do fer’ ya?”Not exactly the greeting I was expecting to find in Bloomington, Indiana but it turns out the guy was the owner Matt O’Neill, who has resettled to the Midwest from the mother land. He guided me to a small open table beside the aromatic coffee bar in what used to be the kitchen.A quick inspection of the bathroom revealed a cast iron bathtub still in place, now filled to the brim with water and plants, having been repurposed as a fish tank.

After a long ride, I ordered up a massive breakfast.Inspired by the Irish roots, I opted for eggs benedict, adding in side orders of extra eggs, home fries and, true to form, corned beef hash.Despite the influx of homecoming weekend business, my order arrived quickly.The bennie’ was pretty straightforward diner fare; a bit disappointing because based on the ambience I expected a more artisan spin.Thankfully, the corned beef hash delivered.It was packed with tender, real chunks of salty corned beef, and a far more crafted version than its factory canned cousin.

Although satisfying, the Runcible Spoon really isn’t my regular cup of tea.It was a bit too bohemian (read hippy) for my taste.While the food is pretty good, it’s also quite pricey, and my hefty breakfast tallied well over 20 bucks.I’m still puzzled how some of the ragamuffins that traipsed in and out of the place could afford it.Many readers might appreciate a place with a few dozen kinds of home roasted, 100% organic, free trade coffees, delicately sipped in eclectic mugs.And if that’s your thing, you should visit.But in the kinds of joints that I frequent, there is only one kind of coffee; black coffee.It comes in a white mug, and, if you ask the surly waitress nicely enough you might get a pack of sugar and some tepid cream with it.Not that I drink that hideous liquid of course, but it highlights my point.

Fat Shirley’s in South Bend – The end of an era…

The smell of grease and cigarettes hovers in the low yellowed ceilings like a fog. The galley counter is cramped, and patrons straddle spinning vinyl stools waiting. Stainless steel flashes behind the counter, a few corners covered with grime – looks like it’s been there for about twenty years. Who cares when the coffee is strong. Drunk chatter fills the air, interrupted by the sizzle of the grill, fatty strips of bacon popping away. Students slur clumsily about politics, turning green as they struggle to finish a midnight meal. The early old timers huddle around black coffees, jabbering on about local gossip, or such and such “dumb son of a bitch”.

Barb, the short order cook, goes about her work efficiently, turning only to holler at a couple of drunks getting mouthy with the young waitress. They assume their places, returning to silence. There’s a certain authority to a middle aged woman working the graveyard shift waving a greasy masons trowel. She goes back to her work, ladling butter onto the cooktop for the next order. Everything gets cooked in butter here; eggs, potatoes, even the bacon. It sits melted in a steel tray on the grill, refreshed every few minutes with another yellow brick.

My roommate and I watch our breakfasts being cooked, strips of bacon dancing away in the heavy handed butter. I ordered the “Truckers Special”; three eggs, toast, bacon and a pile of home fries. All of it cost four bucks. Paid for up front and in cash only, per the faded paint menu board posted bluntly above the grill. Probably the only place left in America you can get a full breakfast cooked to order, flip the cashier a five dollar bill, and leave with change. With the clock tilting towards 4AM we shuffle the 100 yards home from the diner, stripping on the porch before entering the tiny bungalow we’re renting. The stench of cigarettes and grease is so strong we don’t dare bring the clothes in the house, leaving them to air outside in the cool fall morning air.

Depending on who you talk to in South Bend, that iconic 24 hour diner was known as “Fat Shirley’s” to some, and the “Gag and Heave” to others. Officially, the name was the White House Restaurant, and stories like the above were the typical ending to weekend nights during my tenure in South Bend. I rubbed elbows with a few Notre Dame Football players there, and a truck once hit the building while I was eating. Once I was sure the rickety structure wasn’t coming down, I resumed the assault on my potatoes.

Unfortunately, however, the restaurant as I knew it closed down a couple years ago. After shutting the doors for a while, it has now been reopened as Jeannie’s House. It’s no longer 24 hours, the prices went up a bit, and there are a couple new faces in the room. Fresh pine paneling abounds inside, the ceiling is a crisp new white along with a myriad of updated cosmetics. The whole place it just feels – new. Different. You’re even allowed to use your cell phone now…

Trying to dredge up some memories, I trudged back in there on the Sunday morning after the game. While the glory in Notre Dame Stadium continues to fade, so to does the aura of Fat Shirley’s. Sure the food was fine at “Jeannie’s”, and still relatively cheap, so I have nothing to complain about. But it just didn’t feel the same anymore. Maybe I needed a few dozen beers to really appreciate it, or maybe some things are just better left to memory…

Rest in peace Fat Shirley’s.

(Sadly, I don’t have any pictures of the old place…)

Hamburg Inn #2 – #1 in my breakfast book…


Originally founded in the mid 1930’s, the Hamburg Inn #2 was one of three different burger joints (#1 and #3 have since closed) opened up in Iowa City by the Panther Brothers, and has grown to landmark status since that time. In addition to being an Iowa City icon, Hamburg #2 has garnered national celebrity with their “Coffee Bean Caucus” for presidential election cycles. During the Iowa Caucuses, visitors to the ‘Burg are allotted coffee beans to drop into mason jars with selected candidates names on them. Many presidential nominees have visited the Hamburg Inn to garner Iowan support, claiming such noteworthy visitors as Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

Despite its namesake, I was told by a handful of reputable sources that breakfast was the real attraction at the Hamburg Inn #2. As such, I lined up an early Sunday morning visit to avoid the church crowds piling in after service. What I discovered may be one of the best breakfast encounters I’ve ever had.

Putting the aforementioned partisan politics aside, I was there to sample their breakfast lineup, but a glance at the menu quickly diverted my attention to a featured menu item called the “Pie Shake”. Deceptively simple, the “pie shake” is simply a standard milkshake made with your choice of a slab of their homemade pie tossed in. Somehow, I had made it 32 years on this planet without so much as hearing of a Pie Shake, never mind trying one, and my sheltered existence was about to be turned on its face.

Despite the tempting array of various fruit pies, I opted for the Red Velvet “Cake” Shake, which, according to the waitress, was one of their best sellers. It arrived a few minutes later, flecked pink in color topped with whipped cream and a cherry, filled into a tall sundae glass, the remaining contents loaded into the accompanying steel mixing cup. And quite simply, it was glorious. As a purveyor of shakes, this was absolute Red Velvety perfection in a glass. Whatever your predispositions about proper breakfast fare may be, anytime of day would be appropriate for one of these, and only a chump would opt for coffee instead.

The breakfast itself was equally indulgent and delicious. Opting for a traditional corned beef hash and eggs, I was awarded an extra chicken fried steak after a mix up by the waitress. Oddly, I didn’t protest. Traditional and simple, there is a subtle art to a basic breakfast. The hash had a crispy crust browned to perfection, while the chicken fried steak had a crunchy battered shell giving way to fork tender pounded steak inside. I alternated savory bites of salty breakfast meats with sips of the creamy sweet red velvet shake. It was everything that you could want from a simple, old school diner breakfast. Nothing more, nothing less.

In the end, the Hamburg Inn #2 is about as close to breakfast perfection as you can get. It’s rich in history and has all the authentic charm of a quintessential main street café’. During that history, they’ve had time to master the basics – the food is unpretentious yet perfectly prepared, free of any superfluous adornment. Finally, the “Pie Shakes” are one of America’s great undiscovered food secrets. If I were running for President, they would be decreed mandatory fare on every diner menu from coast to coast. I’m sure even ole Bubba Clinton and Ronald Reagan could agree on that platform…


Hamburg Inn #2 Website

Beth’s Cafe – Quantity vs. Quality

“Beth’s Café, happiest place on earth” the waiter snapped into the phone. Tattoos crawled up the sides of his arms and the phone sunk into a haggard beard as he spoke. The short order cook was similarly ink adorned, although clean shaven, sporting a few extra facial piercings as he slapped away on the cook top.

If you’re looking for a hygienic, sterilized breakfast joint with cute accoutrements and a delicate brunch – keep looking. The service here is gruff but efficient, and the walls are plastered with crayon drawings. The portions, however, are epic. In the eternal struggle between quantity versus quality, Beth’s Café has thrust their chips firmly into the quantity ring, which naturally landed them a feature on Man vs. Food. Dishing out breakfast classics to Seattle’s finest 24 hours a day, 7 days a week since 1954, it’s an equally cherished favorite among the late night drunk and early morning work crowds.

I opted for a booth, glanced over the menu and settled on one of their legendary omelettes. A check to the ego, I opted for some corned beef hash and the “small” omelette, prepared with a meager six eggs. The large comes with twelve, and according to the menu, and there is no prize for finishing it.

The food was dropped on the table a few minutes later, a giant pile of quivering eggs atop a layer of hash browns. True to its reputation, the portions are simply massive. The hash browns are even “all you can eat”, but I didn’t have the fortitude to consider more than one round. The food itself is fair at best. While the portions are ample, the hash browns are straight out of the freezer, the hash dropped from a can, and there is a generous dousing with the butter ladle atop all the food that made it excessively greasy. It’s also not that cheap, as my total bill came in over fifteen bucks.

But if you’re a man of large appetite, or coming off an all night bender looking for a greasy mess at 3AM, Beth’s Café would indeed be the “happiest place on Earth” for you…

Wagners Pharmacy

In the shadow of Churchill Downs racetrack, quite literally across the street from the entrance, sits a little pharmacy that has been in operation since 1922. Wagners Pharmacy is a legend in Louisville, and nary a horse racing fan hasn’t walked through their doors at some time or another. Scenes from the recent movie “Secretariat” were filmed at Wagners, and the walls are adorned with an archive of black and white Kentucky Derby photos.

With the height of racing season over for the year, I eased into Wagners early on a Saturday morning and took a gander over the traditional, unpretentious breakfast menu. A few regulars sipped their coffee a few stools down from me, exchanging stories with the waitresses about the Louisville tailgating scene the night before. I gazed around, curious at all the racing paraphernalia, admiring the history in the walls.

I ordered up a simple breakfast, some eggs over easy with ham, then watched eagerly as the lady at the grill scraped the cook top clean and cracked a few white eggs onto the hot griddle. A few minutes later, she plopped my breakfast onto a paper plate and slid it across the counter in front of me. Paper plates were an odd choice I thought, perhaps they just didn’t feel like doing dishes yet. Paper doesn’t have quite the same satisfying scratch sound when you scrape a fork across it, but with the ample portion of ham on my plate, I had little to complain about.

Settling up, I hopped into the car for the morning ride out to Lexington

Wagners Pharmacy Website

The Grove Cafe – Proprietary Pancakes

I had to have breakfast at least once during my trip to Iowa, and fortunately there is a little downtown café along Main Street in Ames that has been dishing out the classics since 1949. The Grove Café would be the perfect morning fill up prior to my run out to Field Of Dreams, and they were rumored to serve up some rather legendary pancakes.

John and I sauntered in early on Sunday morning to beat the game day after crowds, took an obligatory glance at the menu, and promptly ordered up traditional egg breakfasts. I also tossed in one of their famous pancakes with some peach preserves to see what all the fuss was about.

A few minutes later the food arrived, simply and efficiently, and my picture taking soon drew the attention of the owner Larry. I was curious to hear about the trade secret to these renown pancakes. They are nearly a full inch thick, yet incredibly fluffy, and have a deeper orange hue to them and some spice notes that I couldn’t quite key in on. Certainly distinguishable from your typical Bisquik sawdust pucks at a regular diner, I figured Larry might be willing to impart some of that pancake wisdom to a polite stranger.

I figured wrong.

Although extremely friendly and welcoming to an out of towner, Larry was pretty tight lipped about the secret sauce in his pancakes. Evidently, when he bought the place some years ago, the pancake recipe came with the building, and he’s not about to give it away. To this day, it stands as a closely guarded company secret that only a select handful of people know about.

Perhaps the mysteriously addicting pancakes add to the allure and intrigue of the Grove Café, but the food stands on its own. And breakfast always seems to taste better in a Main Street café…

Jack & Benny’s – Breakfast Buster

Few treats in the world are more satisfying than a quick, affordable, greasy diner breakfast on a Sunday morning.There is a welcome simplicity in stooled laminate counters flanking a sizzling open griddle, the rattle of a deft short order cook slapping away on a cook top dotted with glistening yellow eggs.Expanses of stainless steel flash the piercing morning sun while you squint hungrily amidst a handful of selections from a yellowed backlit plastic menu board.

Sadly, the idyllic street corner breakfast diner is quickly going the way of the dodo and the complete game starting pitcher.Displaced by an irritating trend of delicate “brunchy” style cafés featuring goat cheese frittatas, $17 exotic mushroom omelets, parfaits, and assorted other bourgeois French crap daintily arranged with sliced cantaloupe.Many of these places even have the nerve to serve my meal on actual tablecloths.

 

They probably even offer turkey bacon.

 

Real breakfast, I surmised, would lie close to the students with their ample appetites and slender billfolds, so I narrowed my search in Columbus near the heart of campus. With the combination of Michigan weekend and the 40,000+ dedicated students attending The Ohio State University, you can bet a sizeable portion of those scholars had themselves quite a session the day before.If it’s one thing that takes the head splitting edge off an all night bender, it’s a platter piled with various combinations of eggs, potatoes and pork products.Fortunately, breakfast (the way god intended it) is still alive and well in Columbus, and I had a smattering of greasy spoons to choose from on a sharp Sunday morning.

 

Some of the choices included highly touted places like Eggfast, Skillet, and the aptly named Hangover Easy.

 

http://www.hangovereasy.com/

 

In the end, I settled on a legendary OSU staple named Jack and Benny’s largely due to their showcase breakfast item called a “Gut Buster”. In addition to the Gut Buster, Jack and Benny’s also features the Buckeye Pancake (chocolate and peanut butter chips) as well as a full page array of omelets. Despite its landmark status in Columbus, the diner has only been around since the mid 1990’s, although the scarred wood floors and dark wood paneling give it a classic feel.

Shortly after plunking into an open chair at the counter, I confidently ordered the revered Gut Buster, which consisted of a formidable layered pile of hash browns, a potato pancake, bacon, ham, eggs, sausage and cheese topped with country gravy.Naturally, I opted for the gravy on the side, because if you follow my barbecue posts, you are all too familiar with my general aversion towards obfuscating sauces.

The individual ingredients in the Gut Buster are fairly straightforward and unremarkable, but layered together in a pile it made for a daunting, albeit satisfyingly greasy way to start the morning.My true breakfast fix satisfied and topped for the morning, I flipped the waiter a ten dollar bill and beamingly left with change.

 

The way breakfast ought to be.

Big Bad Breakfast Decisions…

Sunday morning I was presented with two highly acclaimed breakfast haunts in Oxford and, sadly, only enough appetite for one. The choice would come down to a newer upstart called “Big Bad Breakfast” versus an established square favorite; “Bottletree Bakery”.

One of them was literally named “Big Bad Breakfast”, featured a glut of artery hardening hearty breakfast choices, and smoked all of their own ham and bacon on-premise.

 

Did I mention they smoke all of their own ham and bacon on premise in the Big Bad Smokehouse?

 

The other location specialized in delicate pastries, dainty baked goods, and I’m sure a handful of “cute” accoutrements. I was assured by more than a few beaming locals that Bottletree Bakery was “Oprah’s Favorite”.

 

Given my general repulsion to all things Oprah, I’ll give you two guesses which one I decided upon. The first one doesn’t count.

 

Bypassing the hour long wait for a table, I straddled an open stool at the counter only moments after walking in the door to Big Bad Breakfast, drawing a few audible groans from the anxious families behind me. While the outside is a non descript beige box within a line of mini mall store fronts, the interior of Big Bad has all the usual appointments of a standard breakfast diner.

After some deliberation on the menu, I settled for one of their famous breakfast sandwiches topped with the house smoked Ham. Not wanting to miss out on the other white meat – bacon – I added in a side of their in-house Tabasco Brown Sugar cured bacon, and a couple more eggs for good measure.

I salute any place with such extensive dedication to home made meats and offerings, and it’s not often you run across a place that smokes their own protein. Both the ham and bacon were markedly different than their mass produced brethren, offering a sweeter profile with a biting, tangy finish. The sandwich was a full sized affair, and paired with the potatoes, eggs and bacon left my appetite more than satiated for a long car ride home. A great way to start the morning.

 

Now let’s just hope Oprah doesn’t find the place…

 

http://citygroceryonline.com/restaurant.php?bbb