The Breakfast Problem

In the almost 15 years that I’ve been back in Pittsburgh, the food scene here has for the most part expanded and improved in ways that I would not have imagined possible. I personally would not have believed that our humble city could now be the home of a Chinese place as good as Rose Tea Cafe, an honest- to-god Taqueria (Taco Loco in the South Side), or a Moule Frites place (Point Brugge Cafe in Point Breeze) in addition to several regional Italian establishments (Piccolo Forno, La cucina Flegrea, Lidia’s). It seems to me that at this point in Pittsburgh’s food history, we are finally seeing a growth period in great places specializing in excellent and authentic regional food.

So my question is: Why can’t I get a decent “American” style breakfast? It doesn’t take much to make a good breakfast. All you really need are four things:

1. Good eggs.

2. Good potatoes or pancakes or some similar anti-Atkins food material.

3. Good meat.

4. Good strong black coffee.

The fact that these four things are rare in a place that serves breakfast is shocking, since none of these items is particularly difficult to prepare well. For some reason, most every place you try in the Pittsburgh falls down on one or more of these axes, the most common being either the potatoes or the pancakes. Most places can make an egg over easy without killing it, even if they can’t do scrambled. However, it appears that there is an art to making pancakes and home fries that is just beyond the average cook. What you want in a pancake is something that is thick and airy without being heavy. What you want in breakfast potatoes is similar to what you want in perfect fries. Crispy on the outside, light and slightly starchy on the inside. Instead, we get a parade of thin and rubbery or thin and greasy or leaden undercooked pancakes to go along with stale, or cold, or boiled and burnt, starchy potatoes.

We have searched up and down the Pittsburgh area looking for the one place that manages it to put it all together, but we have never found a winner on a consistent basis. Here is a list of places in Pittsburgh that have failed me:

- Pamela’s: Greasy execrable pancakes and nothing else really going for it.

- Square Cafe: This place is a recent favorite and it gets close once in a while but ultimately, while it has some nice combinations, none of them involve potatoes and pancakes.

- De Luca’s: Probably as close as you will get in town. The home fries here are not the ideal potato, and the pancakes are only average.

- Pandolfo’s: I had really good pancakes here and a good egg. But the place is 45 minutes south of town, so it isn’t worth it.

- That Diner in Millvale: Yuck.

- The Gatto Diner in Tarentum: Generally bad on all fronts.

- The Grand Concourse Brunch: Still great for the cold fish, nothing else good here.

- Lidia’s Brunch: A recent favorite. Great potatoes. Good eggs. Overcooked my steak.

- The Rusty Nail in Bellevue: Greasy.

- Plates in Bellevue: Unremarkable.

- Coca Cafe in Lawrenceville: Scrambled eggs that were like custard. Also, completely tasteless chorizo.

If you favorite place is on this list, don’t feel bad. Mine is too. If you favorite place is not on this list, give me the address.