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Six Degrees of Bacon

Farmhouse, 11421 South Gilbert Road, Gilbert, 926-0676. Hours: Breakfast and Lunch, Monday through Saturday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. I'm not much of a morning person. My blood doesn't usually start stirring until the crack of noon. How do I deal with the rising sun? Throw the covers over my...
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Farmhouse, 11421 South Gilbert Road, Gilbert, 926-0676. Hours: Breakfast and Lunch, Monday through Saturday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.

I'm not much of a morning person. My blood doesn't usually start stirring until the crack of noon. How do I deal with the rising sun? Throw the covers over my head and pray the spreading daylight is a bad dream that will go away. If I can just stay in that position for the next 12 hours, I tell myself, my prayers will be answered.

Naturally, I'm married to one of those infuriatingly chipper, chirping early risers. My spouse will wake up, take a peek at the clock, nudge me and warble, "My goodness, look at the time. It's already 6:30. What do you want to do today?"

What do I want to do today? I have to suppress the first plan of action that comes to mind. After all, I groggily reason, if my wife weren't around, who'd make the bed? Who'd accompany my daughters to the feminine products aisle at Walgreens? And could I get a date for New Year's Eve?

Morning people, I've noticed, want to do more than rise and shine: They also want to eat breakfast, now. Of course--their motors are revved up, and they require immediate fueling. My motor and my appetite, on the other hand, take several hours to kick into gear.

Still, whether it's the break of dawn or high noon, everyone has to eat breakfast sometime. So I recently roamed all over the Valley trying to get the day off to a tasty start.

First stop: the Farmhouse, in Gilbert. The setting is pretty enough to get me out of my pajamas in the a.m., a real slice of agrarian Americana. The restaurant occupies a lovely 1928 Craftsman-style house, surrounded by dwindling acres of cotton and alfalfa cropland.

The converted homestead looks like it sprang from the cover of an old Saturday Evening Post. Among its charms are several cozy, homey rooms, wood floors and white-ruffled window curtains. You'll also spot an old breakfront and display shelves lined with china.

The best decor feature, however, is the shaded porch. You'll probably get to spend lots of time on it, too. That's because unless you get here about the time your roosters start crowing, you'll be waiting for a table (especially on Saturdays). But it's no hardship. Strike up a conversation with other waiting folks, a well-scrubbed lot of early risers, many with kids in tow. Or go inside and fetch a copy of the daily paper to pass the time. Just make sure you've scrawled your name and the number in your party on the notepad outside the door.

Operated by a mother-daughter team, the Farmhouse puts together a traditional American breakfast. That means omelets, pancakes, waffles, French toast, muffins and cinnamon rolls. It also means that this is a breakfast that will see most folks through to dinner, via an afternoon nap.

The Farmhouse doesn't spoil you like some other breakfast spots do by offering a freebie basket of bread, muffins and rolls. Still, you won't regret purchasing the house model, lined with apple muffins, biscuits and a sweet, gooey cinnamon roll. Fresh-squeezed orange juice also gets the meal off to a good start.

If your day's plans include plowing the lower 40, the full stack of buttermilk flapjacks should provide you with sufficient energy. These oversize disks are notably fluffy, so you'll stay light on your feet. But they're notably tasty, too, so you don't need to pour on a bucketful of syrup. You also won't need a side of bacon, which came just short of ashes the day we ordered it.

Folks concerned about getting their daily recommended allowance of butter should consider the waffle. Every one of its tiny crevices comes filled with melted butter, which supplies the principal flavor note. Fortunately, the waffle is served with a small cup of assorted fresh fruit, which furnishes a welcome complementary touch.

If the Denver version is any indication, the omelets are the best things here. The eggs are whipped up as light and airy as cotton candy, and crammed full with shaved ham, green pepper, sauteed onion and lots of jack and Cheddar cheeses. Wonderfully crunchy home fries and whole-wheat French-bread toast accompany all the omelet platters.

Machaca and eggs, an occasional daily special, should also help shake the sleep from your eyes. That's because the dish had an unexpected hot chile punch. (The kitchen was out of beef on our visit, so the cook used shredded chicken instead, with no ill effect.) Sides of home fries and ranch beans fill in any lingering appetite cracks.

The only breakfast disappointment? It's the French toast, prepared from undistinguished slices of thin, commercial white bread, sprinkled with powdered sugar. This snoozy dish almost put me back to sleep.

The Farmhouse's bucolic setting and all-American fare can induce a powerful nostalgic yearning for our rural past. I'm still not interested in hopping out of bed at first light and milking the cows. But I am interested in returning to the Farmhouse.

Harold's Cave Creek Corral, 6895 East Cave Creek Road, Cave Creek, 488-1906. Hours: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to midnight; Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to midnight.

Unlike the Farmhouse, which seems like a Norman Rockwell print come to life, Harold's seems like just what the doctor ordered for those mornings after the night before.

The lights are kept way down low, so your bleary eyes don't have to make immediate full-daylight adjustment. Coffee-wielding waitresses call you "Hon" and move swiftly and quietly. The place is done up in cowboy ranch-house style, with Western paraphernalia scattered everywhere. (There are even hoof prints in the concrete floor.)

The walls are plastered with photos of customers, perhaps every single one who has set foot in here over the past 60 years. Sheriff's deputies furnish an occasional decor touch, sitting in a corner, filling their ample bellies and listening to country tunes from the jukebox. And at 9 a.m., the quartet of guys at the table next to us was freshening up for the new day with a round of top-of-the-morning Budweisers.

If you're looking for dainty, continental a.m. fare, keep away from Harold's. I'm certain that just one look at the massive ranch-hand omelet calzone could jolt anyone wide awake. Is this a breakfast idea whose time has come? You decide: It's a three-egg omelet, stuffed with ground beef, spinach, mushrooms and cheese, wrapped into pizza dough and baked.

Even the growing teenage boy I called on to tackle it had to call for a doggie bag. However, like everyone else, he had no trouble making his way through the scrumptiously oily sauteed potatoes that accompany almost all breakfast platters.

Eggs Florentine, English muffins topped with poached eggs and spinach, are another worthy option. The eggs Benedict aren't quite as successful, done in by rubbery Canadian bacon. In either case, go easy on the hollandaise sauce--there's enough sodium here to topple a moose.

Harold's doesn't look like the kind of place that would rustle up homemade blintzes. But it does. They're surprisingly good, too; soft, doughy and filled with cheese. Unfortunately, for maximum enjoyment, you'll have to scrape off the useless fruit glop they're coated with.

The menu calls the buttermilk pancakes "tender and fluffy," and that's an accurate representation. French toast, thick-cut wedges of white bread dusted with powdered sugar, also turns out well. Less inspiring, however, are the huevos rancheros, a lackluster combination of fried eggs and tortillas, swamped with a ranchero sauce that brings on the yawns.

Are Harold's breakfasts how the West was won? I wouldn't go that far. But I'd say they're an effective way to spur the West to get out of bed.

Rosita's Place, 2310 East McDowell, Phoenix, 244-9779. Hours: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday 10 to 1 a.m.; Saturday, 9 to 1 a.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Sometimes, you have to wake up and smell the machaca.
Especially at Rosita's Place, where the friendly proprietors whip up unusually fresh, tasty, low-cost, south-of-the-border breakfasts that will remind you of what came out of your Mexican grandmother's kitchen, if you had a Mexican grandmother.

Set on a somewhat depressed section of McDowell Road, Rosita's Place doesn't look like much on the outside. Inside, the principal decor motif, apart from beer signs and a warning to "Control Your Children," is a small pool at the entrance guarded by a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

She certainly answers your morning meal prayers. Eggs are the key breakfast item on the bilingual menu. Start off your day with huevos divorciados, two fried eggs set on each end of the plate, one covered in a mild, oregano-spiked red chile sauce, the other topped with zingy green chile sauce blended from jalapenos and cilantro. They're "divorced" by a pool of beans, but the whole creates a pleasing marriage of tastes. The shrimp omelet is also well-fashioned, scrambled eggs fragrantly hashed up with shrimp, tomato, onions and jalapenos, with luscious, cheese-draped refried beans.

Eggs "Mexican style" are not for wimps. They're essentially scrambled eggs, loaded with spicy jalapenos. The chorizo and eggs platter is unusually fragrant. And burro fans will appreciate the first-rate machaca and egg burro, heavy with tender shredded beef and enlivened with chiles and onion.

And if you're recovering from a hangover, consider the traditional Mexican cure, menudo. Cough up an extra buck, and the kitchen will jump-start your day by throwing in a hoof ("con pato") to the menudo mix as well.

You won't need another wake-up call.

Waffle and fruit cup
Denver omelet

Harold's Cave Creek Corral:
French toast
Eggs Florentine
Ranch-hand omelet calzone

Rosita's Place:
Chorizo and eggs
Huevos divorciados
Shrimp omelet

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