Archives for posts with tag: al’s breakfast

ever since working at al’s breakfast in dinkytown during my college and post-college years at the university of minnesota, i have been highly critical whenever ordering eggs benedict. don’t get me even started on the one at bottega louie which i sent back twice. nick’s cafe has a pretty good version, but i have yet to find one that equals the one at al’s, especially the hollandaise sauce. the one at mf gourmet in grand central market comes close. they make their’s with applewood smoked bacon (which i prefer to canadian style), kendor farms eggs, on top of fresh baked baguette. i was skeptical because the hollandaise looked a bit thin, but the flavor was all there, and even though it didn’t quite have the lemony taste of al’s, it was combined so well with the quality ingredients i didn’t even miss it.

grand central market is filled with meat and fish vendors, produce stands and restaurants, but mf gourmet is unique because their

“offerings are prepared from scratch, executed by skilled artisan craftsmen…[they are] committed to sustainability, through locally sourced ingredients when available…with health and nutrition always in mind.” (from their website)

they only have a small counter covered in brown craft paper with maybe 8 stools (reminiscent of al’s too), so i assume during busy lunches there could be a bit of a wait.

the menu is on a chalkboard, sugar comes in a lidless canning jar, s+p is in tiny metal cups, and tea is served in pretty floral cups on saucers. cute touches all around, not to mention, the coffee is good as well. also, in order to promote cake pops la, we were given complimentary desserts!

they only have two items for brunch right now: the eggs benny, and french toast with potatoes and bacon. they do have a more extensive lunch menu including a burger, fresh pasta, and a fish of the day.

besides being able to purchase a few basic items at the counter to take home, such as apples, select cheeses, potatoes and garlic, they also have several different fresh baked breads and pastries to choose from.

i chose sourdough. the loaf was so big i wondered if i would be able to eat it all. no problem…three days later it was gone!

i know it’s shocking, but i don’t actually make any money writing this blog, and there are only so many hours in the day, so i need to find out a way to continue to post things of interest regularly. i’ve decided to add guest bloggers. to no surprise i have many friends who have an interest in food, and because my hope is to expand this blog into other areas than just my experiences, i am going to integrate submissions from other people. i want this blog to be more than just recipes and restaurant reviews, so i hope this is a way to further the scope of wild, fresh + tasty. my first guest blogger is my good friend elia. she has traveled the world, lived in many places (including italy, vietnam and mexico), has a great palete, and is an amazing cook. i look forward to more from her in the future.

dinner party menu by elia (recipes by peter hoffman)

my dearest gretchen (greta to me), author of this blog, has been my friend since college. i’m not going to tell exactly how long it has been, but suffice it to say—a while. we have seen each other through cross-country moves, overseas moves, love and heartache. greta has always inspired me. she is fearless, fun, and as all you readers know a fantastic cook.

our eating days began in college when greta worked at al’s breakfast, where i was the beneficiary of her breakfast griddle skills. i’ve watched with awe as greta has developed into a true gourmand, and while i have always liked cooking, i have poor knife skills and my timing doesn’t always work out. imagine my surprise and honor when greta invited me to be a guest blogger on her site.

at the moment i live in mexico city, but for this blog however, i’ve chosen a sephardic menu, inspired by morocco. the recipes are tried and true favorites of peter hoffman, chef extraordinaire. i made his zucchini and spicy harissa, and for the first time i made the harissa at home, opposed to buying it store-bought. the zucchini was roasted, then once cooled, chopped and warmed again on the stove with the harissa. i will say it was awesome. a word of warning: it wasn’t too spicy for my mexican friends, but i would guess it would be too spicy for my minnesota friends. this is not a pejorative statement, just a statement on who is used to spice and who is not. i also made the wonderful carrot dish, the mushrooms with the walnut herb paste, and of course the most amazing chicken dish. i will say that this chicken dish is something i’m famous for making…thank you peter hoffman.

i am my mother’s daughter and my mom always set the table the night before. i didn’t do it the night before, but i did set it first thing this morning. i have to say this is a great way to get that out of the way and you start to feel like the dinner party is well in hand.

next i headed to mercado medellin. this is one of my favorite local markets, and one of the reasons is that they carry caribbean products.

carribean section

nuts + spices

pile of ancho chiles + other ingredients

squash blossom + other produce

smiling chicken man

the dishes don’t really take that much time, but there is a good amount of prep. i will say that this menu of peter hoffman’s is one my favorites. it was originally part of a food & wine passover recipe collection… and it is awesome for pesach, but i make it all the time, all year round.

roasted carrots and zucchini with spicy harissa

sautéed mushrooms with walnut herb paste

chicken with olives, raisins + onions

the only thing wrong with this meal is that i didn’t get to share it with my darling greta.  i just hope that one of these days we’ll get to cook together again.

buen provecho.

it was the fall of 1989, i was a freshman at the university of minnesota, and i needed a part-time job. i had a couple friends who worked at a small diner near campus in dinkytown called al’s breakfast. little did i know how this place would help affect, influence, teach, and form me into who i am today. sometimes i think the experiences i had, knowledge i gained, and friendships i made at al’s taught me more than anything i learned in college, and not the least of which was how to cook.

i worked on and off there for the next 7 years. even when i moved away and came home for holiday visits, i would go in for breakfast and they would need someone to pick up a shift. i’d take it, not for the money, but just to be apart of the al’s experience again. needless to say, every trip i make back to minnesota, i make sure i get into al’s at least once. this past weekend was no different.

al’s has one long counter with 14 stools. that’s it.

customers queue up behind those sitting at the counter and wait until a place opens up, with the first person in line to be sat first. the exception being if a ‘single’ opens up and more seats aren’t opening up soon, you are allowed to sit prior to those in front of you, but always refer to the employees behind the counter for direction. they will have no qualms telling you how things work, especially if they haven’t had their coffee yet.

there is one grill in front, and one 4-burner stove in back, with a cook at each. there is one dishwasher, and depending on the day, one or two people working the counter. there is no oven, microwave, or freezer. to say this place is small is an understatement, and storage is non-existant, so food is prepped as it used. the vegetables are fresh, which means not only are your mushrooms, peppers, onions, etc cut up in small amounts to be stored and used as needed, it also means hash browns are made from boiling potatoes and hand grating them, and the corned beef hash is made from those very same potatoes. the menu has changed very little over the years (even the prices rarely go up), and consists of the usual eggs, pancakes, waffles, hash browns, bacon and sausage. there is toast, but no bagels, muffins, or other pastry items. they keep it to the basics and do it well.

i order my usual 1/2 bacon benny with a side of corned beef hash, and coffee.

to this day, i have not found anywhere that does hollandaise as good as it is done at al’s. they make it in such big batches, so scaling down the recipe would be difficult, but i did find a recipe from tyler florence on foodnetwork.com that comes close (minus the cayenne and add more lemon juice).

if i am not completely full, i will order a short short whole wheat wally blue, which in translation is one whole wheat pancake with walnuts and blueberries. your order is written on a small pad in front of you, in an al’s shorthand of sorts, and is yelled out to the front cook. the shorthand can vary from person to person, but if the cook needs a reminder of the order, they can just take a mere glance at the pad and know what they need to make.

in 2004, al’s was given a james beard award, and it hangs proudly behind the counter, to the left of the cash register, near the plastic dinosaurs, above the condiments, and among the many pictures, foreign currency, and knick knacks accumulated throughout the years.

a few years ago they were on an episode of diners, drive-ins and dives which will give you a better feel for what it’s like inside al’s.

when i went in this past weekend, i was happy to see my old boss, one of the owners, doug grina at the front grill.

he gave me a big, wet, sloppy, salty kiss over the counter and we caught up between him barking out orders to the back room and cooking hash browns, pancakes and of course my delicious 1/2 bacon benny, and side of cbh.

i often still recognize regulars. on this day it was the cranky guy who always ordered the 3 egg israeli, and john (an old friend of the owners) who comes in the back door, pours himself some coffee, chats with customers and employees, helps out a bit delivering plates, and most likely gets a free breakfast in exchange for a nice addition to the communal tip bowl.

doug and his business partner jim have been the owners since before i started working there, well over 20 years ago. both of their sons, who i remember as just wee lads and are young adults now, happened to be working there that day too. doug’s daughter has also done some time behind the counter. as i was just about to leave, doug’s wife susan, who also worked at al’s in the era that i did, showed up with a friend. i did a double take it had been so long, but it was so nice to see her. as my friend and i slipped out the front door, i can only hope they were able to take our seats, because i didn’t notice if there was anyone in line ahead of her, and relatives and friends don’t get special privileges. they would have to wait just like everyone else.

my visits to al’s will always remind me of the many memories and friends i have there, but that day it showed me that al’s not only runs in the family, it is family. a very big family.

EDIT: due to the covid19 virus, al’s has been struggling and trying to stay afloat, and if it isn’t apparent, this place means a lot to me, but also to a lot of other people, and it is a dinkytown and american institution. please donate to the gofundme page set up for them here: https://gf.me/u/ybbvfi

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