One thing that Americans love is their breakfast. Hardly a restaurant across this great land of ours doesn’t serve breakfast. They all have their specialties, from health food to ham n’ eggs, you can get any breakfast you like almost anywhere in America.
David Reed and Rachel Robertson have a unique relationship. They are both pilots, flying a corporate airplane. They started flying together five years ago, for a bank in Illinois. They hit it off right away as best friends, sharing common interests besides flying. One of those interests was breakfast. Today they fly for an organ transplant company in St Louis.
In their travels around the country, they get to visit many restaurants. Sometimes it’s for dinner, but many times they arrived early enough to have breakfast. Before long this became sort of a hobby of theirs, a common interest. The more places they ate, the more they compared.
“We used to just eat at Denny’s or Waffle House,” says David. “They were cheap and consistent. We liked Waffle House because of their counter. I love restaurant counters, love eating at them. You get to see the action behind the counter.”
Rachel added, “He does! You never know who might be sitting next to you. I’ve met some interesting people that way. Plus, there is a Waffle House everywhere, and they’re open all night.”
On one trip to Ohio, to a small town near Akron, they asked the airport people for a recommendation. Rachel says, “People who work at the airport usually know the best places to eat. Sometimes, sometimes not. I’d say maybe 70%, 80% of the time they do. Sometimes they send you to McDonald’s.” For private aircraft they don’t use the regular airline terminal, but a private terminal in a more remote location, called a Fixed base Operator, or FBO. They can be quite basic, or very luxurious, depending on the location. The smaller the airport, the more basic the FBO is. If you go to Stevens Aviation in Chicago though, it’s quite luxurious. “They get some very high-end customers, flying in very fancy jets,” explains David. “They have crew cars, like free rental cars that a flight crew can borrow to go eat. Stevens has brand new Fords, while Bob’s Flying Service in Nowhere, Indiana might have an old minivan that kinda runs. One place even had a new Mercedes. Took us five minutes to figure out how to start that thing,” he laughed.
They drove to a nearby place that the airport had recommended. Inside they sat down, the waitress came right over. “That’s important,” says Rachel. “I don’t like sitting around forever waiting for a cup of coffee.” They opened the menus and discovered there were at least six large pages of breakfast items. More pancakes than they ever imagined. “It really raised the bar on breakfast,” said David. The proof, though, is in the food. “Just because a place is fancy doesn’t mean the cook knows what he’s doing,” says Rachel.
This place though, lived up to its reputation. The food was excellent. For a while, it was their favorite pancake house. At other cities, they found local diners.
“Locals can be either hot or cold,” says David. “They usually have great atmosphere, friendly customers and staff. The food though tends to be just average.” By average they mean the scrambled eggs are a bit overcooked. The coffee is a generic brand. The pancakes are only so so. “We look at the details when we eat at a new place,” Rachel added, as she took another sip of her coffee. “Like this coffee. It’s OK, but nothing I’d write home about. At least they have real cream, not powdered.”
They ordered their usual- scrambled eggs, sausage patties, pancakes. “No reason, it’s just what we both like. Sometimes I try to mix it up with eggs over easy. Eggs are important to breakfast.” The waitress eventually brought out the plates of food.
“First of all,” says David as he digs into the scrambled eggs, “the plate is cold. That means you have to eat fast or everything gets cold that’s on the plate.”
He asks Rachel, “What do you think of the eggs?”
“They’re ok, but not special. I’d say average. Some places add real cream, even a little bit of cheese for flavor. They don’t overcook them either. They should be light, consistent, one piece. See how these are overdone? Kind of plain, too. And when you put you fork in them, they break up into small pieces. I think they’re mixing powdered eggs with real eggs.”
David tried a pancake. “Sponge cakes I call these,” he says. “Too much flour or something. When you pour syrup on them, they just soak it up like a sponge. Jeesh, the syrup’s cold, too.”
At this diner they aren’t very impressed. “Wonder why the airport recommended this?” Dave muses.
They have eaten breakfast in Orlando, in Las Vegas, in Des Moines, Mobile, Dallas, just about everywhere. “When we used to stay overnight, we sometimes stayed at a Bed & Breakfast,” explained David. “They had some of the best breakfasts. Remember that place near Daytona in Florida?” he asked Rachel.
“Oh God, do I,” she answers. “I had such a hangover, I wasn’t hungry at all, just coffee please. But he brought out these amazing strawberry pancakes. Oh my, they were so delicious,” she says, rolling her eyes thoughtfully.
They were in Las Vegas once, found a little restaurant inside a casino in Old Las Vegas. They liked that part of Las Vegas “Because it’s old school. The streets are two lanes, sometimes even closed off. Much quieter without the traffic. The bars are much better, too. Not so touristy.”
David continued, “In Las Vegas we ate at this one restaurant. The oriental woman, is that politically correct? Oriental?”
“I think so,” said Rachel as she put syrup on her sausage patty.
“OK, well she sat us at this small table. We ordered the usual. It was amazing. The pancakes were great. The sausage…”
“Oh yes, those sausages were huge, weren’t they?” said Rachel.
“The biggest sausages I’ve ever seen,” said Dave laughing. “We ate there every day. The same Oriental lady sat us at the same table every day. We met some really interesting people at the table next to us. Remember the gambler?”
“Yeah, lost $1500 he said. Said he would eat breakfast, go back and win it back. So casual about it. I would have died if I’d just lost $1500,” she laughed.
One day they landed in Kansas City, at the downtown airport. The FBO recommended the Corner Café. “We fell in love with the place,” said David. “Terrific atmosphere, great food. The pancakes were delicious, the syrup warm. Best scrambled eggs ever.”
Rachel agreed. Whenever they went to Kansas City, they always went to the Corner Café.
“Des Moines was good too,” said Rachel. “We drove that airport car, you called it a ‘ghetto cruiser’, across the bridge to this diner. Middle of a run-down neighborhood. Great place though.”
I asked why she thought so. “The atmosphere. The place smelled terrific with all that good food. Great eggs, great pancakes, great coffee. Such a friendly place. Everyone seemed to know everyone else.”
I asked where was their all time favorite. They looked at each other and chuckled. David said, “Well, that’s funny. Here at home we’ve been to First Watch, Egg & I, IHOP, the chain restaurants. Not a fan of First Watch. Too ‘all natural’ if you know what I mean. Too healthy. I mean, whole wheat pancakes? Seriously, only communists and Democrats eat whole wheat pancakes.”
“Rachel added, “Egg & I is good though. Good eggs. The biggest damn apple pancakes I’ve ever seen.”
Dave said, “Yep, true that. Egg & I is good. That apple pancakes feeds both of us, with leftovers. Denny’s is cheap, so is IHOP. Then one day we went to this place called the Original Pancake House, down in the Valley, right by our airport here.”
“It was amazing. The service was super friendly. The OJ was literally fresh squeezed. The syrup was hot, the butter whipped and room temperature, not frozen little packets. The eggs were perfect. The pancakes were the best.” David took a sip of coffee, looked at it. “Pancake House coffee is better. This taste’s old.”
Rachel agreed. “The Pancake House had the best. We talked to the manager once. She said the secret to a good pancake is to use potato water. Something to do with the startch. I’m sold.”
Dave said thoughtfully, “Imagine, the whole time, the best place was right by our home base.”
They finished their breakfast, Dave grabbed the check, went to the register and pulled out the company credit card. “One of the perks of the job,” he winked. They walked outside, stood on the sidewalk in the warm sunshine.
“You know how you can tell if it was a good breakfast? If you feel like a nap afterward, then it was a good breakfast.”
They walked off to the airport car together. Their quest for pancake perfection continues, it may never end. They may find it in a New York deli or a roadside café in Garden City, Kansas.
Rachel says, “Sure it’s about the food, but it’s also about the journey. When you have such a good friend, any diner is a good diner.”