1. Le Bonbonniere — Here’s the prototype breakfast. The yolks are runny, the whites slightly browned, the sausages tasting strongly of sage, every third bite of potato good, toast nicely done and delivered buttered, coffee OK and refills endless.
You may think all diner food is the same. Well, the menus may be the same, but each diner executes the standards in its own idiosyncratic way. Take the regular egg breakfast. Each place makes, say, sunnyside-up eggs differently. Diner food is all about nuance. Sometimes the yolk is really runny, and the white is slightly runny too. Sometimes the yolk is half-hard, and the white crisps up around the edges. Sometimes the breakfast comes with good potatoes; sometimes the potatoes are mediocre or even awful.
I’ve been eating the same breakfast at Le Bonbonniere for nearly a decade: two eggs over easy, buttered whole wheat toast, hash browns, sausage, and coffee. The sausage comes in three thin links, like the kind I loved as a kid in the Midwest, and the flavor is sagey. One day I decided to try the same breakfast at several other diners within hollering distance to see if I could find a better rendition. Here are my notes.
2. Washington Square Diner — Eggs slightly less done than I like with no browned albumen, potatoes good and nicely crusted, sausages tasting plainly of pork and little else, but very nicely split and grilled, toast arrives buttered, coffee above average.
3. Waverly Restaurant — Serving the breakfast in a mock-skillet is pretty nifty, eggs not too nicely done, though, hash browns of the shredded variety and not crusty enough, sausages profuse and porky, lemon on top of potatoes plainly weird, coffee OK and refilled at intervals, but the worst part is that the toast arrives cold with butter pats on the side — won’t melt!
Next: The final two
4. Bus Stop Cafe — A friend recommended this place because the sausages used taste a lot like English bangers, and indeed they do; eggs done OK, toast arrives buttered, potatoes in a novel cube shape and nicely done, except there’s green bell pepper in addition to onions — grrrrr!
5. Village Den — The eggs have real character, the sausages juicy but a little runty, potatoes way better than average, and free fresh-squeezed juice comes alongside, but the undressed baby lettuces are an annoyance.