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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice, Breakfast Joints, and Life Without Lingonberries

March 1, 2010

BOULDER, CO— I am in Colorado for a quick, fly-in, fly-out business meeting. Whenever I’m in a new town, I always ask the front desk clerk at the hotel to steer me towards the best “local” independent breakfast joint.

I am sitting in The Original Pancake House eating Swedish pancakes while trying not to get lingonberry sauce on my keyboard as I try and finish a column before my deadline.

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, and breakfast joints are my favorite places to be in the morning. I can always learn a lot about a new town or city just from hanging out at the local, popular breakfast joint. Most of the information can be procured from one table— it’s the table of retired men who gather every morning over politics and biscuits. They are the “coffee guys.” Find them, and you’ll gather more information that could ever be attained at the local chamber of commerce.

As I look around The Original Pancake House, I see a family of four who may or may not be on vacation. I see a retired couple at a two-top enjoying coffee and not speaking because they choose to— not because of any tiff. Across the restaurant a young couple is holding hands across the table, they shared a long embrace when they joined each other as if they hadn’t seen each other in a while. There are three tables of apparent business meetings, a table with two couples drinking coffee together, a man speaking loudly on his cell phone, and the two guys next to me are discussing which of Neil Young’s albums is the best (I vote for “Harvest,” though “Rust Never Sleeps” is a close second).

There are no coffee guys in the Original Pancake House, which leads me to believe that this might not be THE breakfast joint in Boulder.

My favorite breakfast joints in Mississippi are:

Big Bad Breakfast in Oxford— The consummate 21st Century breakfast joint. They cure their own bacon, smoke their homemade sausage, make their own jams and preserves, and buy local, cage-free organic eggs, and local stone-ground grits. It’s a good thing that I live 260 miles away from Big Bad Breakfast.

Southbound Bagel— Located in downtown Hattiesburg where I can be found two or three mornings every week eating a whole wheat bagel with egg and bacon, with a cinnamon-raisin bagel on the side. It’s located in the historic California Sandwich Shop building next to the railroad tracks and has all of the low-key character and charm of a perfect breakfast joint. All the bagels and breads are made fresh every morning, and if you don’t get there early, your favorite will be gone.

Broad Street Bakery in Jackson— is really not a “joint” in the classic atmospheric sense, but it’s an excellent place for breakfast. I love croissants, and as croissants go, they don’t get any better than Broad Street. The atmosphere is very intriguing to me as high school students in uniform gather over pastries before class and mingle with soccer moms on their way to the gym, while lawyers on their way downtown rush in for a quick coffee, passing a table of bohemians relaxing while reading the morning paper. Jeff Good and Dan Blumenthal have created a culinary institution that is actually a microcosm of their North Jackson neighborhood.

In the end, I think that’s what makes a great breakfast joint— a place that is representative of the entire community. That, and freshly squeezed orange juice.

The Original Pancake House in Boulder serves excellent freshly squeezed orange juice, but the pancakes leave something to be desired. It took me 48 years to learn that I am not a fan of lingonberries, but I’ve always known what makes a good restaurant joint.

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