MORN A MAN CAN TAKE
Munch a Bagel, 5114 North Seventh Street, Phoenix, 264-1975. Hours: Breakfast and Lunch, Tuesday through Sunday, 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Are you one of those morning people who wake up at full speed and leap out of bed hungry and rarin' to go? Do you race to the kitchen and immediately fix eggs, toast and coffee to get your metabolic engines operating at full throttle? After you're fully stoked, do you then eagerly rush out to do battle with the world? Me neither. But through some cosmic irony, I ended up marrying one of these alien beings.
My wife nudges me into where-am-I consciousness at 6 a.m. on Sundays and says things like, "What do you want to do today?" and "I'm starving, get up and have breakfast with me." I, on the other hand, face dawn with all the enthusiasm of a condemned man looking at an early-morning firing squad. When I'm roused by the day's first shafts of light, my initial impulse is to draw the covers over my eyes and pray that it's all a ghastly mistake. Get up and do something? Cryogenically frozen bodies are more inclined to movement. And, naturally, I'm not remotely hungry. My idea of a good breakfast is, well, lunch. Still, I recently summoned up the energy to make the rounds at three breakfast spots. One meal turned out pretty well, another was fair and the third was dull enough to put me right back to sleep. Munch a Bagel, a longtime meeting place for Valley early risers, was the pretty-good entry. The place changed hands about eight months ago, and though it's now Greek-run, it still puts out a hearty, Jewish-style breakfast: bagels, blintzes and matzo brei, a sort of a matzo omelet. The dining area is bright, airy and a bit sterile, filled with patrons deep into coffee and the morning paper. The predominant shade is, appropriately enough, salmon, the same color as lox. An assortment of live and artificial plants gives the room a bit of life. But framed photos of various American cities don't--I've seen the same ones in at least a half-dozen other restaurants. Once spring arrives, the umbrella-shaded patio looks like a pleasant alternative.
The counter people told me the bagels and bialys are made at Karsh's Bakery across the street, using a Munch a Bagel recipe. The bagels are decent enough, and the bialys surprisingly good. You can get either one heaped with generous amounts of lox, onion and tomato by ordering the minimunching platter. But anyone expecting a New York City-size schmear of cream cheese is going to be disappointed. You get just a tiny plastic cup, containing barely enough high-fat spread to impede the flow of blood through your arteries. Blintzes are a well-fashioned breakfast option, perhaps better suited for people who will work off the calories tilling the lower forty than those who burn energy shuffling papers from their desks. You get four doughy pouches, with a homemade look and taste, stuffed full of sweetened farmer cheese, accompanied by plastic cups of sour cream and strawberries. Matzo brei, another ethnic specialty, didn't work for me. There are two schools of thought about the optimum preparation of this dish. The kitchen here obviously belongs to the scrambled-and-soggy school. I prefer a less eggy version, where the egg-dipped matzo gets skillet-cooked to a much firmer texture. Still, this is a subject about which reasonable people can reasonably disagree.
No disagreement about the Greek omelet, though. It's an enormous, tasty specimen, crammed full of fried onions, feta cheese, mushrooms, tomato and calamari. And it comes with a pile of excellent, skin-on home fries along with a bagel or bialy. This plate should take you to the 5 o'clock whistle, if you can stay awake 'til then.
But you may have trouble keeping your eyes open once the French toast comes into sight. It has no flair at all, since it's derived from bland, commercially sliced bread. You could do this yourself just as well at home, even in a state of semiconsciousness.
But enjoyable, home-baked sweets help wash down the coffee. Rugalach, pastries and cookies pass the taste-to-calorie test.
Staffed by friendly people who enjoy schmoozing with customers (pointing to the pastry and deli case, the proprietor dramatically moaned, "We make everything here but money"), Munch a Bagel has the right neighborhood-breakfast feel. Despite the ownership change, the neighborhood regulars should still be in their element.
Pischke's Paradise, 7000 East Shea, Scottsdale, 596-7909. Hours: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Long a downtown Scottsdale favorite, Pischke's opened a second branch at the up-and-coming shopping and dining plaza at 7000 East Shea about a year ago. It's got a tropical, beachfront look: stunning aquariums, canoes suspended over the bar, framed seaside paintings. Each of the four televisions, one in every corner, was silently broadcasting Regis and Kathie Lee the morning we visited. I wish the sound had been turned up--even Regis and Kathie Lee would have been preferable to the annoying jazz Muzak assaulting our ears. There's nothing surprising on the breakfast menu: eggs, French toast, pancakes. But there's a certain hit-or-miss quality to the fare. Best things first. That would be the fluffy shrimp omelet, at $8 the most expensive breakfast item, and worth it. The menu promises Rocky Point jumbos, but I found no crustacean bigger than a thumbnail. Still, I was in a forgiving mood, mollified by a luscious blend of jack and cream cheese and a zippy filling of onions, mushrooms and peppers. A small plastic cup of fresh fruit provides refreshing accompaniment.
The Calypso, a frittata-style egg dish, also gets the day off to a hearty start. The ingredients don't have any novelty--diced ham, onions, peppers, cheese--but they're tasty enough. And so are the wedges of skillet-fried potatoes that come alongside. But Pischke's needs to find a better bagel supplier. The ones sharing the omelet platters don't get much beyond supermarket quality.
Gringos rancheros is about as wild and crazy as the breakfast offerings get. But it's not exactly the kind of dish I crave first thing in the morning. You get a crisp tortilla heavily coated with refried beans, blended with minuscule amounts of insipid pork sausage. It's all topped with cheese and two eggs. This platter furnishes more heft than flavor. French toast, though, is right on target. The kitchen uses thick wedges of eggy bread, and stuffs them with a choice of fillings. The spiced cinnamon apple model is a good option. The biggest disappointment? No question, the pancakes. I like that Pischke's lets you order them singly, instead of by the stack. I also anticipated enjoying the whole-wheat batter and tempting fillings. The Tropical pancake, for example, is flecked with pineapple, coconut, raisins, apple and papaya. But these flapjacks are much too dry and rubbery to wake up for. And the syrup makes eating them even more of an ordeal. Pischke's brings tacky plastic containers of Log Cabin Lite--labeled "Reduced Calorie Syrup Product"--a horrifying blend of sugar and chemicals without a molecule of maple. This stuff should be buried.
Pischke's shows some a.m. promise, but it's not yet worth leaping out of bed for. Wrigley Cafe, 6001 North 24th Street, Phoenix, 553-7391. Hours: Breakfast and Lunch, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
If you're hit with the urge to leap out of bed and eat breakfast at the Wrigley Cafe, I suggest you lie down until the feeling passes.
Part of the Wrigley Mansion complex, the place registers zero on the charm scale. There's an antiseptic Southwestern motif--ristras, by-the-numbers paintings and regional gimcrackery. Institutional metal buffet tables around the edges of the room display cans of juice and soda pop, individual boxes of cereal, containers of yogurt, out-of-season fruit and doughnuts. Nothing on them suggests that the cook is going to be breaking much of a sweat preparing breakfast.
Those suspicions are confirmed once breakfast arrives. Clearly, I was deluded by the ritzy address and Wrigley name into thinking I'd get something other than coffee-shop fare. I didn't.
The instantly forgettable Wrigley sandwich features egg, ham, cheese and some chunks of avocado on a croissant that could have been left over from an executive breakfast the day before at the mansion.
The breakfast burrito is harmless enough, about as close to a ringing endorsement of the food here as I can muster. Eggs, peppers, cheese and bland chorizo come rolled in a tortilla, accompanied by an ice-cold metal cup of less-than-sensational salsa. The Wrigley muffin is another reason to skip breakfast. It's a snoozer, an English muffin coated with cream cheese, and topped with egg, bacon and tomato. The French toast is just as boring. At least it wasn't made with Wonder bread. Assorted pastries and muffins are alternatives to the full breakfasts, but no improvement on them. One more thing. Despite being armed with Wrigley Cafe's address, I had a hard time tracking it down. It's not on 24th Street at all, but back behind the Arizona Biltmore. However, as a public service, I'll refrain from providing more explicit directions.
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