The Egg and I

Breakfasts excite at downtown icons Dottie's and the reborn Sears Fine Food

"'When you wake in the morning, Pooh,' said Piglet at last, 'what's the first thing you say to yourself?' 'What's for breakfast?' said Pooh. 'What do you say, Piglet?' 'I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?' said Piglet. Pooh nodded thoughtfully. 'It's the same thing,' he said."

I generally go a step further than Pooh: I think there are several opportunities for excitement during the day, and their names are breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In reality, however, where most of us live, breakfast isn't often all that exciting. I try to draw inspiration from John Thorne of Simple Cooking fame, who offers fascinating archives containing miniessays about -- and photographs of -- many of his intriguing breakfasts on his Web site, www.outlawcook.com. (And, adding yet another opportunity for excitement, Thorne manages to fit into his singularly interesting gastronomic life a midnight snack, which gets its own archive.)

My breakfasts usually do not achieve the level of invention of Thorne's (the first three entries in his breakfast gallery are beef kidneys, beef satay, and cabbage pirogi pan-fried with onion and prosciutto). Left to my own devices, I tend toward the open-faced breakfast sandwich: sliced avocado on a toasted bagel, sliced tomato on toast with a touch of mayonnaise, melted cheese on toast (sometimes, if I'm feeling ambitious, I'll top the last with a fried egg). An even lazier (and slightly health-conscious and self-righteous) breakfast is shredded wheat with blueberries. I'm very fond of all the classic American breakfast foods -- eggs and preserved meats and potatoes, et al. -- but I've found that preparing even the simplest classic diner breakfast results in an appalling number of dishes in the sink, starting the day off with domestic drudgery rather than excitement.

Fresh Face: The resurrected Sears is much 
more welcoming.
James Sanders
Fresh Face: The resurrected Sears is much more welcoming.

Location Info

Map

Dottie's True Blue Cafe

28 6th St.
San Francisco, CA 94103

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Hayes Valley/ Tenderloin

Details

Dottie's True Blue Cafe

Open Road breakfast $10.75

Black bean cakes and eggs $7.95

Caramel pear coffeecake $3.95

Sears Fine Foods

Swedish pancakes $5.50

Eggs Benedict $9.95

Spinach omelet $8.95

Dottie's True Blue Cafe, 522 Jones (at Geary), 885-2767. Open Wednesday through Monday from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Closed Tuesday. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 27, 38. Noise level: moderate.

Sears Fine Foods, 439 Powell (at Sutter), 986-1160. Open Sunday through Thursday from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 2, 3, 4, 76, cable car. Noise level: moderate.

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For the multidish breakfast, therefore, I frequent (not often enough, ha ha) restaurants, though not without a certain tension: Breakfast out is less expensive than lunch or dinner, and yet it still feels mildly illicit to me, something of a treat, whether I enjoy it alone or in a group. Two recent breakfasts at well-known downtown eateries reminded me of how delightful (and exciting!) the first meal of the day can be.

I took myself to Dottie's True Blue Cafe on a Monday morning. You can't miss it, among the excellent Indian and other ethnic spots that line Jones, because there's almost always a line outside Dottie's, people patiently waiting for their chance at a small table inside the snug room. At 9:30, there were a dozen in front of me, and I wasn't the last in line for very long. Several of the parties clutched lists of nearby restaurants provided by their hotels (I heard German and an English accent). Boy, I thought, they were lucky to have gotten this tip: Dottie's facade doesn't really hint at the coziness or the quality hidden behind it, the place is on a superficially unpromising block, and tourists could easily stumble into other breakfast spots that cost about the same for standard, uncaring slop.

Dottie's cares. Within its self-limited purview, which is breakfast and, on a lesser scale, lunch, it is ambitious and inventive (though not as inventive as Thorne). The juices are fresh-squeezed, the maple syrup is real, the baked goods are fresh and homemade. There is an evolving list of daily specials on a board (which, as the very specific menu helpfully states, is posted "next to the small window"); another board lists the day's baked goods. I pondered: Should I have the dependably good black bean cakes with eggs, potatoes, sour cream, and salsa, or try something I'd never had here before, such as the Southwesternized scramble with chipotle'd ground beef and onions?

But the lure of the classic American breakfast was too strong, especially because Dottie's has a special called the Open Road, which includes your choice of pancakes or French toast and a glass of juice, along with eggs any style, your pick of meat (bacon, ham, or sausage), and potatoes. My eggs over easy were perfectly cooked (is there any other foodstuff that I enjoy so many different ways? The egg is really a miracle), the very smoky bacon properly soggy and copious. The moist chunks of sautéed potatoes came scented with oregano, and the two big, tender pancakes lightly cinnamoned. The heavily mascara'd eyes of some Hollywood starlet, imprinted on the tabletop, smiled up at me between the dishes; I peppered and salted my eggs with tiny simulacra of King Kong and the Empire State Building. The service was friendly (when I started to tell the nice man who'd brought me my menu and water what I wanted to eat, he smiled, "Oh, I'm not your waiter, I'm your minion!") and thoughtful. When I recklessly decided to bring back to the office one of every pastry on offer that day (plum streusel coffeecake, chocolate chip oat scone, apricot oat scone, cinnamon pecan roll, raspberry mango bread, carrot cranberry muffin, blueberry muffin, caramel pear coffeecake -- the kitchen had just run out of the blueberry peach bread), the server asked me if I wanted them warmed, and everything was swiftly wrapped individually in foil and packed carefully into boxes.

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